5 tips for exploring Venice with a camera
8th December 2017
Photographer Clive Minnitt on how to get the most out of a photographic adventure to Venice
The word ‘unique’ is thrown around flippantly to describe photogenic locations around the world. Often regarded as the most beautiful city on the planet, the incomparable north-eastern Italian metropolis of Venice is unique in the true sense of the word, though, having been built on over 100 small islands, each separated by a complex system of canals and linked by over 400 bridges.
Venice oozes history, which is evident from the moment the city comes into view when approaching by speedy water taxi from the airport. There’s a surreal sense of ‘James Bond-ishness’ as the boat decelerates and enters the labyrinth of narrow canals. At this point, I'm usually in a state of excitable photographic anticipation, bordering on euphoria. There is no time to lose as the image-making possibilities beckon.
To my mind, an equally exhilarating way to experience your first impressions of Venice is to board a slow vaporetto boat, which travels the length of the Grand Canal from the railway station to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), stopping at every jetty on route. As the boat zig-zags along the canal, the captain has to skilfully negotiate a route peppered with gondolas, vaporetti, traghetti (gondolas for standing only passengers and used for transporting them from one side to the other) and siren-blaring ambulances.
As if that wasn’t enough to entice the camera out of its bag, the vaporetto passes under the impressive Rialto and Academia bridges and past hundreds of incredibly beautiful waterfront palaces, many of which boast their own private barber-style mooring poles that shift from side to side in mesmerising fashion. It is hard to imagine a place more steeped in visual history.
That’s only the beginning… Here are my five tips to help you with your photographic adventure in this incredibly beautiful city.
1: Choose your time of year
Winter in Venice is a magical time for a photographer. My preference is for a winter visit before the world-renowned Carnival takes place. The Carnival lasts for 10 days, leading up to Shrove Tuesday.
Although photographic opportunities during the Carnival abound, with colourful costumes and masks, the city is extremely crowded during that time, as well as being expensive and difficult to get around.
Away from the Carnival period, you can almost have Venice to yourself in winter. If you’re prepared to explore each sestiere (area), you will experience a world far away from tourists.
2: Explore and get lost
Venice is the perfect place for exploring on foot. At the end of a full day, you will have covered several miles but it’s unlikely you will have ventured far from your starting point. While it’s good to carry a map or use a smartphone app for reassurance when you need a helping hand, the sense of freedom is almost palpable when letting your own radar dictate.
Venice is full of surprises and the best way to find them is to wander aimlessly.
Remember that you’re never really lost in Venice. If you keep an eye out for the yellow signs conveniently placed above head height on numerous buildings, you will be pointed in the direction of the well-known landmarks - Rialto, Academia and Piazza San Marco - and regain your sense of place.
3: Start early
Winter days are short, so make the most of every daylight hour. An hour before sunrise is a good time to set out to capture magical pre-dawn glow in conjunction with illuminated street lamps, bobbing gondolas and an unforgettable view across the water towards San Giorgio Maggiore church.
At dawn, the real Venice comes alive with local residents making their way to work. Watch gondoliers as they prepare their prized gondolas for the day ahead, prows glistening under streetlights. This is a different world from the busy, hot summer months, and it’s teeming with photographic opportunities.
4: Embrace the weather
A sunny, frosty winter’s morning is ideal for creating your photographic masterpieces but Venice in rain, mist or fog can be equally as productive and extremely atmospheric.
In wet conditions, umbrellas and plastic macs of all colours seem to appear from nowhere, whilst puddles contain reflections. Damp pavements reflect light and add sparkle to what otherwise might have been a dull scene.
Gondolas appearing through mist is almost otherworldly and a magnet for photographers’ lenses. Venice shrouded in fog encourages our artistic imaginations to wander and create images to our heart’s content.
Whatever the weather conditions, imagine Venice being your studio. Find a location that has an interesting background and suitable lighting conditions. In a short time, all manner of subjects will venture into the scene, providing a rich source of material with which to work.
If all else fails, either seek shelter under the photogenic arcades and colonnades or temporarily retire to one of the seemingly never-ending supply of cafes and bars serving coffee, hot chocolate, exquisite sandwiches (tramezzini) or maybe an ice cream accompanied by a tasty sweet or sour Spritz, which is heaven.
5: Be prepared and adaptable
In addition to photographing iconic architectural gems and a multitude of ornate bridges and hidden canals, you'll quickly discover that Venice is a city with opportunities for creating images everywhere.
Keep an eye out for juxtapositions of people and shop fronts, pedestrians passing colourful posters advertising theatre performances, or a gondola prow suddenly appearing from under a characterful bridge.
Invariably, you will spot well-dressed Italians carrying miniature dogs under their arms and, if you're lucky, raised walkways along which Venetians and tourists alike make their way around the flooded areas whenever there’s an occurrence of the natural phenomenon known as the Acqua Alta (flooding).
There is simply nowhere like Venice. I can’t wait to return.
Photographers Clive Minnitt and Phil Malpas will be guiding and offering expert tuition on Majestic Venice, a photography workshop in Venice, Italy, from Jan 27 to Jan 31, 2018. For details, see www.lightandland.co.uk/photography-tours/view/venice1.
Clive Minnitt will also be tutoring and guiding tours in 2018 to Glencoe, the Isle of Sark, Santorini, Tuscany, Cornwall, Vietnam and more. See www.lightandland.co.uk/photography-tour-tutors/view/clive-minnitt for details.