Posted on 4th February, 2019
I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Venice at the start of the year. It’s a city I know well, having been a regular visitor when I lived in the north of Italy for a couple of years, but this was my first visit for quite a while and I have to say, it was a real pleasure to be back.
It’s a unique city, consisting of a group of 118 islands connected by a network of canals and bridges and built upon wooden pilings driven into the mud at the bottom of the lagoon. But it is more than just a remarkable feat of engineering - this compact city contains some of the most beautiful architecture in the world and many of its sights are so iconic, that even when visiting for the first time, they will seem strangely familiar.
It’s remarkably photogenic, with great opportunities literally around every corner. It can all seem a bit overwhelming at first - with so many possibilities, where on earth do you begin? It’s probably best to start with the obvious and head to Piazza San Marco. Unsurprisingly, it can get really crowded here, but arrive early - say 45 minutes before dawn - and you’re unlikely to encounter many people and most of those will be locals on their way to work. The added bonus is that this famous square really does look its best in the ‘blue hour’.
There are many possibilities here and you may struggle to capture them all in a single shoot: the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace; the Campanile; views across the lagoon with gondolas bobbing in the foreground; or for something different, you can use the arches to frame views of the piazza and the campanile. It’s a similar story at the Rialto Bridge - it can be mobbed during the daytime, but practically deserted pre-dawn. There are many angles to shoot it from on both sides of the Grand Canal; for dynamic compositions, use pontoons and street lamps to lead in to and frame your subject. Also, don’t forget to get up onto the bridge for views down the canal. I always think that these shots look better with boats and other signs of daily life in them; if you’re patient, you may find a helpful gondolier sculls his way into frame.
For the best view down the Grand Canal, however, you should head to the Ponte dell’Accademia, where the canal widens out into the lagoon and the church of Santa Maria della Salute provides a natural focal point. This is another location which looks best during the blue hour - either in the morning or the evening, though if you go in the morning, you will (depending on the time of year) also have a decent chance of getting some colour in the sky.
Obviously, you can’t limit your photography time to these hours, so where can you shoot during the day that will get you away from the crowds? There are in fact plenty of options. You can head to the Arsenale, a complex of former shipyards or the Cannaregio, a quarter largely unspoilt by tourists, with its picturesque canals and atmospheric corners. Likewise, the Dorsoduro, a more studenty area of the city, is less populated with tourists and includes the Accademia bridge, probably the most attractive stretch of the Grand Canal and many smaller, very pretty canals.
One of the great pleasures of Venice is getting lost. Just head off, with no particular destination in mind and you never know what you might come across - and the Dorsoduro and Cannaregio are the perfect areas in which to do this.
From a photography point of view, one of the best aspects of Venice is that it looks great in almost any weather - sunshine, rain, fog - I’ve shot it in all sorts of conditions and it always looks fantastic. My favourite time to visit is winter, when the crowds are thinner and the whole city seems to take on an air of mystery, especially when the fog descends and you start to feel as if you’re on the set of Don’t Look Now…..
If you’re keen to photograph Venice, why not join Dawn 2 Dusk on our inaugural Venice workshop in January 2020? Keep an eye on the website, as details will be released very soon. Or to register your interest, please email firstname.lastname@example.org