Top 5 Tips for photographing Venice
On a misty November morning, I wander through the alleyways and over the canals of Venice, camera in hand. In any other city I’d be mortified with the weather, longing for blue skies and sunshine, but Venice is still stunningly beautiful on a grey, foggy day. I’d even go so far as to say it rather suits it, intensifying its air of mystery. I feel as if I’m on a secret island hidden in the mists. A place that, should I leave it, I may never find again.
Down by the waterfront, the city’s famous gondolas bop up and down and, as the fog clears across the water, the beautiful church of San Giorgio Maggiore reappears.
Here are my top tips for photographing Venice (whatever the weather may throw at you).
The weather may be ever-changing, but the beauty of Venice is not. Here are my tips for photographing this iconic city, come rain, fog or sunshine. You’ll find a map of the most iconic photography locations at the end of this article. I stayed at the Hotel Londra Palace with the specialist tour operator, Citalia, in an excellent location close to St Mark’s Square and the Bridge of Sighs. You can read more about my stay in Venice and this fabulous hotel in my post, An indulgent 48 hours in Venice.
1. When to visit?
The best time of year to visit Venice is in the spring, autumn or even the winter, avoiding the crowds, high temperatures and harsh light of the summer months. Flights and accommodation prices will be cheaper off season too.
2. Work with the weather
The light in St Mark’s Square, and no doubt many other iconic attractions around the city, must be lovely early on a sunny day. On my second (and last) morning in Venice I was up at sunrise. The weather report had been promising, but proved inaccurate. A thick layer of fog lay over the city. Nevertheless, I headed out before breakfast, as I was sure there would still be some interesting photo opportunities.
As I stepped out of my hotel, the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which is normally visible across the water, was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t even see the top of the bell tower in St Mark’s Square.
Back at the Bridge of Sighs, one of Venice’s most photographed bridges, however, the fog added a magical aura to the view. In one of my favourite shots of the weekend, I’ve actually cropped out the bridge itself and focused on the two gondoliers, sans passengers, heading off into the mist.
After breakfast, the fog had cleared a little and the buildings across the water started to reappear. The bell tower in the square was now open so I headed on up.
Normally you’d be able see so much further, but even on a foggy day the view from the top was still wonderful. In my shots over the rooftop of St Mark’s Basilica, I think it almost looks like it’s snowing. Wouldn’t Venice be a pretty sight covered in snow?
And if it is raining, don’t let that stop you either. Take an umbrella with you to protect your camera, making sure not to get any rain spots on the lens. Look out for interesting reflections in the puddles and wet pavements. This is particularly effective as it starts to get dark and lights come on, although you may need to use a tripod if your shutter speed drops too low for you to hold your camera by hand.
3. Make the most of the time of day
To avoid the crowds, even in winter, you need to be up early. I found that there were only a few people out and about just after sunrise – a wonderful time to photograph the city’s iconic sights without lots of people getting in the way.
A few hours later it’s a very different scene, but you can still work with crowds in your compositions.
It’s always worth experimenting with removing the colour from photographs to give black and white images. You’ll probably find that some images are more striking in black and white, while others work better in colour.
And don’t forget to look up and photograph the details above people’s heads.
If it’s sunny, as well as the hour after sunrise, the hour before sunset will also give some really beautiful golden light and long shadows which can be quite striking in compositions.
I love the light on the clouds in the photograph of the Grand Canal below, taken from a bridge east of Ponte dell’Accademia (but oddly I can’t find it on any maps). This was the only time I saw a patch of blue sky during my stay but the bad weather didn’t impact at all on my enjoyment of the city.
A little after sunset, when it’s getting dark but there is still some light in the sky, is another favourite time of day for photographers.
4. Photographing the canals
The two photographs of the Grand Canal above were taken from two bridges, Ponte dell’Accademia and one just east of it. Having decided that these would be great locations for photography around sunset, I was very disappointed to discover that they were made of wood rather than stone, and, as such, they both move slightly as people walk across them. And there are always people walking across them. Even though I had my camera on a tripod I still could not let the shutter speed drop too low, as any slight movement would blur the image. I could have increased the ISO setting on my camera but that would have resulted in a loss of quality.
Another great way to photograph the canals is from a water bus, but you’ll definitely need to use a fast shutter speed to allow for the movement of the boat.
And of course, it’s well worth exploring along the smaller canals on foot, constantly on the lookout for interesting compositions and details.
5. Photographing the bridges
There are a number of iconic bridges in Venice, most notably the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge. The best place for the latter is definitely from the water. I wasn’t happy with any of my shots taken from the side of the canal.
The Bridge of Sighs, on the other hand, can be photographed from the bridges on either side of it. The one south of it, by the waterfront, is the iconic view (pictured above), but there’s a lovely, lesser seen view from the other side too.
It’s worth waiting for a gondola or two to appear in a pleasing spot. You probably won’t have to wait for long.
Come rain, fog, sunshine or snow, Venice is a wonderful city to photograph. And if you’ve time once you finished photographing the main attractions, simply get lost in the alleyways and see what’s around the next bend.
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