St. Peter's Basilica. December, 2014. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

Capturing the Christmas spirit... again

Rome, December 24, 2015 -– Every December, I have the same assignment – take pictures that say ‘Christmas in Rome.’ You might think that doing the same thing in your job year, after year, after year gets boring or monotonous. But I really enjoy it. I look forward to it in fact.

St. Peter's Basilica. December, 2012. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

Every photographer in the world tries to get Christmas shots in the weeks preceding the holiday, but if you’re a photographer in Rome, it’s expected of you. This is Christmas central in a way – you know, the pope, the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful. December, 2008. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

I’ve been with AFP since 2005, but started taking pictures in 1992 as a freelancer and since then I’ve been taking Christmas features.

St. Peter's Basilica. December, 2014. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

After so many years, I have a general game plan. I go to places that are well-known as being in Rome – the Colosseum or the Spanish steps –- and start looking for something interesting. Going to places like this, you get both things right away –- the Christmas feeling and the fact that you’re in Rome.

The Colosseum. December, 2011. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

I never get bored. First of all because I like taking pictures and second of all because I like walking around. I get an opportunity to take stock, to see what’s going on in the streets. When you walk, you get in touch with a place, especially if it’s a place you know well. You realize what the situation is. You see what’s changing around you, what’s staying the same.

Nativity scene in Piazza Venezia. December, 2011. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

But you have to enjoy walking around, because you have to do it a lot. You walk and you just hang around, looking for interesting people, or interesting moments, good light.

Christmas lights at Piazza Venezia. December, 2011. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

Believe it or not, it’s not repetitive. There is always something very different, something that you hadn’t seen before.

Girl Santas on the Spanish Steps. December, 2009. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true.

Trevi Fountain reflected in a window shop. December, 2015. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

One of my favorite Christmas photos was from last year. There was this Santa Claus doing some drawings and there was a band playing nearby, so the guy just started dancing. It was me and some other photographer colleagues and he didn’t see us at first. But when he did, he started dancing even better. It was quite funny and it made for a really nice picture.

Dancing Santa. December, 2014. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

That’s another reason I like this type of work – you get to interact with the people you’re taking pictures of. That’s rarely the case with news photography, but when you take features, like Christmas, or heat features in the summer – and for these I walk along the same streets, by the way – you talk to your subjects and it’s nice.

Ukrainian faithful in St. Peter's Square. December, 2011. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

Another nice one was of a Santa in a Fiat 500, one of those old cars.

Santa in a Fiat 500. December, 2014. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

I guess I like taking pictures of Santas because in the end, they’re very colorful and they’re recognizable all over the world.

Motorcycle Santas. December, 2014. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

Of course you miss a ton of shots. I always say that some of the best pictures you take are with your eyes. You’ll see something interesting, but by the time you get your camera out and get into the right position, the shot is gone.

One time I was on my moped and there was this guy standing under a bridge in just perfect light. But I was on a moped, and by the time I would have stopped and taken my camera out, the moment would have been gone. Plus to get that picture I would have had to take it in the middle of the road, with cars passing by. So I didn’t even bother stopping. That’s one of the ones that I took with my eyes.

St. Peter's Square reflected in Christmas decorations. December, 2013. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

I have ones like that for Christmas, too.

St. Peter's Basilica. December, 2011. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

In Italy you have these characters called zampognari. They’re shepherds who come down from the mountains around Christmas time and play a horn made of sheep stomach or something, which makes a nice sound. Kind of like bagpipes. They are very difficult to find. And you never come across them in the right place. Or you’ll see them when you’re off work and don’t have your camera nearby. Or walking around in an area that’s not recognizable. They’re nice characters and very Italian and I have taken pictures of them, but not THE shot.

Zampognari in St. Peter's Square. December, 2007. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

Sometimes you have to put yourself in some uncomfortable or odd positions to get a shot. You’ll have to lie on the ground, for example, to get everything in. It’s never bothered me, having to do something like that. Some people look at you a bit puzzled, others don’t even notice.

Rome's Piazza Venezia. December, 2015. (AFP / Filippo Monteforte)

This year has been ok for the Christmas features, but nothing too outstanding. But of course I still have some time left….

Filippo Monteforte is an AFP photographer based in Rome. Follow him on Twitter.

This blog was written with Yana Dlugy in Paris.

Click on a photo to start the slideshow and see Christmas features by AFP photographers around the world:
Filippo Monteforte