Mastering Photography at Venice’s Top Sights
Venice is a traveler’s and photographer’s dream….well almost. Romantic gondolas, cafes along the canals, beautiful Venetian architecture, cathedrals and palaces, so much to see and do and yes, eat. We love it all. The problem is that we are far from the only ones that love it. No matter what time of year, there will be tourists, lots of tourists.
The last time we were in Venice was the end of September, which may not quite be high season, but it’s certainly still full of people. We were there for the Scott Kelby annual Photowalk, so for a few hours on a Saturday morning we wanted to capture all those iconic and stunning shots of places like Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, the beautiful bridges, and of course the gondolas.
We had a few issues to deal with, but I think we came away with some decent shots. You be the judge. You can vote for your favorite image below.
Here are the challenges we faced and some photo tips for dealing with them:
1. Dealing with Venice high season crowds
When you visit a city that is as popular as Venice, you will run into lots of people. There is no way around it, there will be people in your shots. The question is, how can you minimize this?
First, go early. When I say early, I mean early. We didn’t go early enough. Our photowalk started at 10:00, and we arrived there about 9:30. I counted 12 full tour groups standing around the square. The square was far from full, but there was no way to get a clean shot of Saint Mark’s Basilica or of anything else for that matter.
What do you do if you don’t get up early? Shoot high, over the heads of the people. We took photos of the clock, the towers, and the top of the cathedral. We took photos of the cafes and waiters, musicians, and people having a cup of coffee, life in San Marco’s, not the square itself or full images of the buildings.
2. Walking around with your gear
Venice is a walking city. In order to get those early or late shots, you might want to stay in the center of the city like we did. If you don’t, you will be adding a minimum of 30 minutes on either end of your day. A day pounding the pavement can be hard on your feet as well as other parts of your body, so make sure to have great walking shoes on and don’t pack too much in your gear bag. Can you get away with only one lens? Two? Will you use that tripod if you haul it around? Be honest with yourself and know that you will get tired. Take breaks. Use the banisters, window ledges, columns for stabilization. Some of Venice’s alleyways and canals are very narrow, so it can be difficult to pull out a lot of gear.
3. Composing the shot without sky
The day of our photowalk, which was not a changeable date, was overcast and rainy. There was no blue sky; it was just gray. Ugly gray. So from my first tip, you can see I was trying to shoot high to avoid having tons of people in the shot, but I was also trying to avoid too much white space, since there was no sky at all. It was a dilemma.
What do you do when you want to avoid sky? You can shoot details and you can shoot inside. If you have traveled anywhere in the rain, you know it’s a bummer. Walking requires a raincoat, an umbrella, a lens shield, and you don’t want to tip your camera up, because it will get rain drops on it.
So, when you are outside, take advantage of shop awnings, doorways, anything that will give you cover as you compose your shot. If you can do this from a balcony, all the better.
Or, you can just go inside. We found the fantastic fish market, which is part of the Rialto Market. It was inside, lit up with plenty of strong fluorescent lights and even some natural light coming through the archways and windows. Markets are always full of colorful images, so we just stayed there a little longer instead of walking in the rain.
4. Hiring a private guide
We were so lucky being on the photowalk. Yes, I’ve been to Venice enough times to know my way around pretty well. I can get myself to all the major sights, find a restaurant, find my way back to my hotel, but I don’t know all the secret vantage points for getting some good shots.
We had two locals guiding us through the throngs of people and showing us the best places to get some fantastic images. Even though there must have been over 300 people on the Bridge of Sighs alone, Antonio and ___ took us on some deserted alleyways, to boat docks that no one would know about except the locals, great places that we wouldn’t have known about without them.
How do you do this on your own? There are a couple of ways. You can hire a private guide in just about any city. The tourist information center or your hotel can recommend guides, and they might even be able to find some that specialize in photography. Another way is to try and make contact with someone through a travel or photography forum beforehand. There are plenty of people that wouldn’t mind taking you around for the day, you just have to find them.
5. Making a “Shot List” before you go
This is another important step in making sure you leave with all the images that you wanted. Jot down the things that you think of when you think of Venice. I think of gondolas, spaghetti, beautifully dressed men and women, cathedrals, and canals. I wanted to make sure that I got all of these shots, so I wrote it down ahead of time. Your list is for you, so if you are interested in say architecture, I would make a list of all of the great buildings and where they are in the city so I could photograph them. If you are into boats, I would find out where the various marinas are. For me, I just love taking images of people going about their everyday lives, so I like to wander the back alleys, quiet neighborhoods and see what I can find.
Practical Information for visiting Venice, Italy
- Venice, Italy is an easy city to walk, you can cross the historic city in about 30 minutes on foot.
- With nearly 60,000 tourists visiting Venice each day, you might consider staying within the historic city to allow time for sightseeing after the day tripping crowds have left.
- There are no motorized vehicles driving around Venice so forget about taking a taxi to your hotel.
- There are boat taxis, and water buses that ply the major waterways but they are ridiculously expensive for constant use.
- Use the Areobus + Ship ticket to get to and from Marco Polo airport and your hotel.
- If you are staying near San Marco square consider the airport water bus, it is a little cheaper but takes considerably longer.
- Staying in the heart of Venice? You might like the Hotel Montecarlo, a few minutes walk from San Marco square.
- Broaden your search a little and see if you can’t find the perfect Venice hotel here!
Have you wandered through Venice, Italy? Do you have any photography tips to share?
Which was your favorite photo? Choose below.
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