It’s romantic, beautiful and a photographer's paradise yet Venice can at times be a hard place to photograph. It is one of the most visited cities in the world and as such you can have a frustrating time trying to capture its beauty. In this short guide we will show some of the place to see and when to see them.
For Europeans, Venice is highly accessible with numerous budget and full cost airlines flying to Marco Polo airport on the mainland. Non Europeans will be able to connect via most European capitals. There are also very good train links from other Italian cities.
As a photographer the best time to go is the spring or autumn, April/May and late September through to late October. The reasons for this are that it is less crowded, cooler and the light is less harsh than mid summer. Hotels on the main islands are expensive but off peak you may find deals.
The other option is to stay on the mainland and take the train or water bus to the city but you need to factor in the time that this takes plus the additional costs. Water buses are the very best way to see Venice itself and the network covers the whole of the lagoon. Budget wise it is best to buy a multi day pass which will enable you to travel any bus at any time during it’s validity.
What to Shoot in Venice
Perhaps the most iconic location in Venice is St Mark's Square and in my opinion there is only one time to shoot it – early. Plan on getting to the square either on foot or by water taxi about 45 minutes before sunrise. At this time the square is deserted and as the sun rises, the light is truly magical. The water front by St Marks is a great place to shoot Venetian life before the tourists arrive, waiters setting up their tables, elderly Italian’s sitting in the sun reading the morning newspaper and the unmanned Gondolas make fantastic foregrounds to the cityscape shots. From sunrise you will have perhaps 90 minutes of good shooting time before the crowds arrive.
As the crowds do arrive, it is worth a walk to the nearby Arsenal, the very photogenic old fort of the city and largely ignored by tourists. A bridge crosses the canal in front of the grand entrance and makes a great viewpoint for shooting from.
By now, the heat of the day will be kicking in and the light can get a little harsh. Shooting-wise, now is the best time to wander the alleys and backstreets. It is here that you will find fantastic little details such as Venetian masks in shop windows or quirky stuff on buildings such as lion shaped door knockers. The light and shade in the back streets can be used to create images with great atmosphere and the streets themselves tend to remain quiet through the day. Be careful with your exposure here, the contrast between the shadows and the highlights can be very high, expose to get definition in the highlights and if needed pull the shadows back in the post production.
Venice is so full of details that you can spend many hours just photographing them. So many of the buildings feature multiple arches and these can make great frames for a wider shot Another thing to do during the middle of the day is to take a water bus along the Grand Canal. Put on a good long lens and find a spot by the boat’s side and you will find fantastic shots all along the canal, from the suave Italian water taxi drivers to the the delivery boats and even emergency boats such as police and fire whizzing past.
Towards the end of the day and into the early evening is a great time to shoot the bridges. The golden light makes the Rialto Bridge almost luminescent whilst further down the Grand Canal at the Scalzi Bridge, there is some great opportunities to get night shots of the bridge itself as well as some of the surrounding architecture. Many of the main sights of Venice are well lit at night and the hour just after sunset, whilst there is still some blueness in the sky, is a great time to shoot these.
There is so much to shoot in Venice that this short article can only give you just a taster of it. It is a wonderful place to just wander with a camera, there are great shots around every corner. One little non-photographic tip – eating in Venice can be horrendously expensive, but if you look in the back streets, away from the tourist hot spots you will find plenty of cafe’s catering for the locals. Here you will find great food at reasonable prices.