It is a city of romance and canals; it is also photographer’s paradise. Whilst it is hard for a photographer to return from Venice without at least some good shots, to maximize your shooting potential and increase the number of great shots, it’s best to plan ahead. This article will give you a brief introduction to Venice from a photographer’s point of view.
There are many options for getting to Venice. From Europe, there is a plethora of mainstream and budget airlines flying to Marco Polo, Venice’s main airport. From other continents, you will probably need to fly to a major hub, and then go on to Venice. I have included this short section because, as a photographer, you will know that not airlines are equal.
You should always take your camera equipment as hand luggage, not checked luggage. It is this factor that you should consider, over price when booking your flight. Many of the budget airlines have very strict hand luggage limits—often 5kg maximum. There are also stringent size restrictions, and don’t expect budget airlines to be lenient with you. More often than not, they will insist on switching excess weight into checked luggage. If connecting from outside Europe, make sure the Venice leg has similar hand baggage rules as your main flight.
When to go
The best times to visit Venice are in the spring or autumn. In the summer, Venice is severely overcrowded and very hot. Either side of summer, the crowds abate a little, and the later sunrises and earlier sunsets—the photographer’s golden hours—are at more convenient times. The morning golden hour in Venice is particularly attractive to the photographer, because Venetians and tourists alike are fairly late risers, and it is the only time you will find the streets and canals of the city almost deserted.
Dawn is a great time to shoot
What to shoot
There is so much to shoot in Venice that any shot list could quickly become unrealistically long. To narrow it down, there are some places that are on the essential photograph list.
Predawn in St Mark’s Square gives you a fantastic opportunity to shoot, not only the stunning architecture in the soft morning light, but also the rows of gondolas bobbing in the green waters of the Grand Canal. Spending two hours in St Mark’s Square, you will see Venice come alive, giving the possibility to shot candids of locals as they head to work. There is also a good chance that you can capture a large cruise liner as it heads into Venice port for the day. The contrast between its huge size and the architecture on the island of Zittelle opposite make for some really interesting images.
The island of Zittelle from St Mark’s Square
Once the sun has risen, a good area to shoot in the morning light is the Arsenal, a short walk from St Mark’s. A bridge across the canal there affords great viewpoints of the Arsenal itself, and at the gates, massive stone lions can make for interesting close ups and dramatic wide angles.
The middle of the day is not a great time for shooting the narrow canals of the city. The strong Mediterranean light casts very harsh shadows on the waters of the canals, making exposure calculation a very tricky exercise. Even shooting HDR is going to be difficult, partly because of the sheer amount of activity going on in each scene.
For this time of day, the best photographic opportunities can be found aboard one of the many river buses that ply their trade on the main canals. With a long lens, you can pick out some of the unique architecture of the city, as well as the multitude of different canal vessels, such as fire boats and water taxis.
Lighting can be harsh in the middle of the day
As the evening draws in, the best places to shoot are near any of the famous bridges on the Grand Canal. The Scalzi and Rialto bridges look fantastic in the low sun, and the hustle and bustle of the evening rush hour brings them to life. Both are quite well lit for blue hour shots too. For a different perspective, try long exposure shots from the top of the Scalzi Bridge. The Gondolas use lights at night, and you can get unusual light trail shots as the sun goes down.
Gondola light trails from the Scalzi Bridge
Venice rush hour
You should not neglect to visit the minor canals of the city also. These are best shot in the hours just after sunrise and before sunset, when the soft light still gives some details in the shadows. For the ultimate romantic shot, look for a minor canal where the sun is rising or setting at the end, and just wait for a gondola to come past. Your patience will be rewarded with a great shot for the portfolio.
What equipment to take
As Venice is a walking city, carrying your equipment all day can get tiresome. If you have a compact mirrorless system, you might favor that over a more traditional DLSR camera. As for lenses, you will need a good wide angle to cover the narrow canals, a standard zoom, and a reasonable telephoto to pull in the details. For predawn and night shots, a tripod might be handy, but using it in the evenings is going to be tough due to the sheer volume of people.
The beautiful city of Venice
Venice is an incredibly photogenic city, but to realize the potential from your shoots, you need to do a little pre-planning. By following the tips in this article and doing some prior research, you will come away from the city with a good selection of great shots.