Venice is simply one of the most beautiful and photogenic cities in the world, from the stunning gothic architecture to interconnecting water canals and little side streets joined by ornate bridges.
This city is one of the few that can only be described as unique; it has survived against all the odds built upon a series of low mud banks amid the tidal waters of the Adriatic and is regularly subject to flooding.
It’s worth getting familiar with Venice before you leave and even walk around the city before you shoot, the city is not that large, fairly easily walked but believe me it is so easy to get lost in a maze of little alleyways. Whilst walking look out for the yellow signs with arrows which generally point you in the right direction to a well known land mark, such as San Marco or Rialto. If you do become lost concentrate on the photography. From the airport there are two ways to arrive in Venice; either by bus (ATVO) to Piazzale Roma, followed by a short boat trip depending on your hotel destination; cheaper but dull or a public waterbus straight from the airport which stops at many different locations around Venice, (Take the Alilaguna, blue or orange line) this is without doubt the most dramatic entrance into Venice and costs around £21 return.
The obvious areas of Venice that are very photogenic include, San Marco Square, San Giorgio, Rialto Bridge and Santa Maria della Salute but there are also many beautiful little side bridges, canals not to mention the gondolas. The main archery of Venice is the Grand Canal, this is also a good area to work from, and weaving in and out of the side streets that lead to the many water edges you will be guaranteed to find a platform on the waterside from which to shoot. Most of the Grand Canal is photogenic and many of the iconic bridges and building sit along its shores.
Venice is surrounded by many different Islands and they are all reachable by public water boats, San Giorgio Island is only a few minutes from San Marco Square and when reached it is worth taking the lift to the top of the bell tower, there are stunning views looking back over Venice. It is also possible to take photographs through the openings in the bell tower.
If you are looking for a little peace and quiet, away from the constant crowds, take a walk to the south east side of Venice, the crowds disappear and there is a lovely walk along the water’s edge next to Gairdini public park, from here you can take some long range images of Venice sitting on the open water, alternatively take a boat trip for the day to some of the many islands, Burano is approximately 50 minutes away and is one of the most colourful of the lagoon islands. Its waterways are lined with brightly coloured houses and it takes around one hour to see the island. Burano can be visited in conjunction with a number of other islands on the same day.
It is also worth taking time out to visit some of the beautiful buildings in Venice from the inside and out, Doge’s Palace, Basilica Sam Marco and Campanile, are all stunning and conveniently sit in San Marco square. There are however some restrictions on taking photographs inside. My advice would be; do not take in your camera bag, (no bags allowed) just your camera; it seems to work most of the time. Beyond San Marco, Campo San Vidal is a wonderful building and often exhibits art or photographic work, whilst I was there a Japanese photographic exhibition dating back to the 1890 of different Masters was on display.
No trip to Venice would be complete without a boat trip up or down the Grand Canal; photographically you get a very different image and view point. Unlike most cities everything here is delivered by boats, it’s the Venetianway of life. The best value for money ticket is an all day pass on the public waterbuses, which costs around £14. This allows you to travel anywhere around Venice and the islands for a day.
Venice is very expensive and the best times to go are late autumn, winter and early spring, it’s out of season and the hotels are much cheaper, the madding crowds have also died away. There is also a better chance of snow, flooding, rain or fog, all of which give Venice even more feeling and depth.
Venice simply lends itself to photography; there are so many ways of taking an image here, from architecture, cityscapes, long exposure work, to street or night photography. It is worth bearing in mind where the sun rises and falls, particularly over some of the more iconic buildings.
Fine art photography advice
Fine art photography is all about perfection, keeping images simple, light, shape and form and an artistic eye. It really is worth taking time to compose your shot, find angles that remove any unnecessary clutter. Long exposures work so well in Venice; the long exposure irons out the water, removes moving boats and people and gives a sense of calm. This can be achieved during in the day with an ND filter or in the night by simply using the available light. Lastly, black & white photography is so timeless, beautiful and sophisticated; why not try some conversion work when you arrive home.
Advice, equipment & settings
Always use a tripod for long exposures and a cable release. Compose and focus the shot and before shooting turn off the autofocus, then fit the ND filter if required. Remember to turn your shutter speed to Bulb for exposures longer than 30 seconds. During the brighter parts of the day a 10 stop ND filter can give an exposure of around 40 seconds to1 minute 40 seconds depending on the light and ISO / aperture settings. There are many different long exposure tables available on the internet but to be honest, nothing beats practice and experience. Generally at night I find around 10 to 30 seconds is enough (an ND filter does not need to be used) but again this depends on the amount of light and ISO / aperture settings. Because we live in a digital age you can simply look at the LCD and delete and adjust the exposure time as required. Don’t rely too much on the histogram, its night and obviously the histogram will sit in the black / under exposed area. A good aperture to start with at night is around f11 and auto focusing can also be difficult, so check the image for sharpness, and switch to manual focus if necessary. Always bear in mind if a light is moving across the image, such as boat lights whilst exposing it will appear as a line and a plane can leave either a vapour trail or light line, timing is important.
Using your eyes
It is worth walking around parts of the city, seeing how the light falls on different buildings, canals and bridges, working out where the sun rises and falls and the moon too, moonlight on the water is magical. Set up shoots in your mind, compositions, ready for the best light. Check the weather forecast. Walk around at night; Venice has beautiful ornate street lamps, glowing waters and lit gothic architecture, just waiting to be photographed.
Venice is expensive, look for eating houses and cafes away from the main attractions and Grand Canal. Have a walk down the small alleyways; there are some amazing foot bridges and gondolas to photograph. If you choose to go on a gondola be aware it will cost around £70 for three quarters of an hour, so team up, you may just capture something quite special.