Too many tourists who visit Venice do it all wrong.
They get off the cruise ship with thousands of other people and squeeze their way through the narrow alleyways and canals. At noon, they take a gondola ride and end up sitting dead in the water from canal traffic with the intense heat beating down on them. They crowd into Piazzo San Marco and then before they know it, they’re rushing back to their cruise ship shuttles. In my opinion, especially if you’re a photographer, that’s just not the way to experience Venice.
Sony α7R. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM lens (A-mount with E-Mount adapter). 1/320-sec., f/2.8, ISO 100.
If it’s on your bucket list, as I think it should be, there is a way to experience the city nicknamed La Serenissimo, meaning most serene. Follow these seven steps, and you’ll encounter the serenity and have an unforgettable experience.
Take The Train
Experiencing the romance of Venice starts with how you get there. When we take our workshop, we always take the train to Venice because Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia is the most romantic train station in the world. You step out the front doors and have the Grand Canal greet you with picturesque gondoliers dressed in their customary black and white striped shirts punting their passengers along the waterway with the beautiful Chiesa San Simeon Piccolo church in the background. You can’t help but stand in awe, as you take in the view of your first minutes in Venice. Instead of showing you a photo, I’ll let you be surprised.
Take A Vaporetto To Your Hotel
Once you’ve arrived, take a vaporetto (water taxi) to your hotel. I see tourists make the mistake of wanting to save euros by dragging their suitcases through the narrow alleyways and canals instead of taking a vaporetto. Since it’s their first visit to Venice, they don’t realize how dense the crowds are going to be or how easy it is to get lost. By the time they find their hotel, they’re often exhausted, dehydrated and disillusioned with the city from the exasperating journey. None of this happens if you take a vaporetto. It also gives you a chance to start seeing the city and planning your photos. You just can't do that when you're trying to drag luggage through crowds.
Leave The Map Behind And Get Lost
Leave the map behind, grab your camera, and allow yourself to get lost. The experience of roaming through Venice without any agenda is one of the best ways to experience its magic. To get the best shots of alleyways, I hold my camera above my head and tilt the Live View screen. This way I can frame out the crowds of people and capture the scenery above us. Being able to use the camera this way is incredibly liberating photographically and frees you from frustration in the crowded streets.
Sony α7R. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM lens (A-mount with E-Mount adapter). 1/400-sec., f/3.2, ISO 125.
Sony α7R. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM lens (A-mount with E-Mount adapter). 1/320-sec., f/3.2, ISO 100.
Pick Your Favorite Bridge
Venice is often referred to as The City of Bridges. Take time to explore them and when you find a favorite, stay put. There are two iconic shots to capture; the bridge stretching across the narrow canal and then shooting from above as the gondola floats out from underneath you. Get your camera settings dialed in and wait for the gondolas to come floating out from under your bridge to capture that perfect gondola shot. Make sure your camera is on Continuous Shooting Mode, so you take several frames per second. You’re looking for the moment when the gondolier is in motion with his rowing oar. This detail makes the image feel alive. I’ve spent many hours relaxing with my camera on a favorite bridge, waiting for gondolas to float by. It’s a wonderful way to pass the afternoon.
Sony RX10 III. 1/160-sec., f/2.4, ISO 125.
Enjoy a Venetian Spritz at Piazza San Marco
Many of the iconic images you think of when you dream of visiting Italy can be seen in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square in English). The café tables covered in white linen. The waiters floating by with trays overhead, moving in tune to the live band playing a waltz. A bride and groom posing for photos as children chase the pigeons. All of this is happening in front of the magnificent backdrop of St. Mark’s Basilica. When the day-trippers begin to head back to their cruise ships, the crowds thin and you can enjoy the piazza. To top off the experience, order a Venetian Spritz. It’s the classic Venetian aperitif made up of prosecco, orange Aperol, and a dash of sparkling mineral water. Sit back, relax and be in the moment. Now you’re experiencing Venice at its best.
Sony α7R. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM lens (A-mount with E-Mount adapter). 1/200-sec., f/3.2, ISO 400.
Sony α7. Sony 16mm f/2.8 lens. 1/800-sec., f/2.8, ISO 64.
Take The Gondola Before Sunset
By late afternoon, the cruise ships have started leaving, and Venice is much more relaxing to explore by water. This is the perfect time to take your gondola ride. The canals are quiet and wide open. Your gondolier is also feeling the exhale of the day’s end and may surprise you with a song or share historical tidbits. Snuggle up to your sweetheart and breathe easy. You’re in Venice, and it’s a magical place.
Photo by Brian Tausend. Sony α7R. Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM lens (A-mount with E-Mount adapter). 1/320-sec., f/2.8, ISO 125.
Long Exposure Photos On The Rialto Bridge
Make your way to the Rialto Bridge and set up your camera with a flexible support (I use a Joby Gorillapod) or use the stone railing on the bridge itself. As the sun sets, blue hour is about to happen. Adjust your camera to expose the sky for the rich blue color to get a dreamy photo that captures the twinkling café lights and street lamps lining the Grand Canal. Slow your shutter speed down more and more as blue hour ends. Wait till your friends back home see your calendar worthy shots! Time to celebrate with a gelato!
Photo by Brian Tausend. Sony α7R II. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens. 30-seconds, f/20, ISO 400.
If you follow these seven steps, I guarantee you’ll be back again. We’ve gone back several times with our Portrait of Italy workshop and our kids, and each time I fall in love with Venice more.
For more travel and photo tips on Venice, watch “15 Things to do in Venice” on Adventure Family.