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Venice Photography Guide: A City on Water

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A Quintessentially Romantic City, Venice is a Magical and Inspiring Place

It exudes a uniquely old world charm, with cars and roads replaced by winding canals and gondolas. Venice should be on the bucket list of any travel photographer.

There are great photo opportunities tucked away around every bend. Whether it’s the city’s many grand marble palaces, the enchanting lagoon, or its iconic canals and charming bridges, you won’t be able to resist the temptation to capture endless photos as you explore its labyrinth of side streets and alleys.

That said, it can be hard to know exactly what to prioritise when visiting and photographing Venice, especially on a shorter trip. It’s easy to just get lost wandering the city, and whilst you’ll definitely get some gorgeous shots this way, you definitely don’t want to miss out on some of the best sites and photo spots in Venice.

Inspired by his recent trip to Venice, photographer Mark Lord has put together the following photography guide for the city. It covers all the places you definitely need to see and photograph on your next trip, along with some stunning shots of the city courtesy of Mark.

Photo of Venice at dawn

Most of Venice’s incredibly iconic buildings are in the San Marco Sestieri. As this area is so incredibly popular with tourists, it’s best to get to this neighbourhood at dawn to photograph some of the most iconic buildings in the city.

That is if you want to avoid having bustling crowds and cramped canal ways in shot.

The architecture in this area is just inherently beautiful, designed often in the Venetian Gothic style it perfectly combines symmetry, proportion and geometry. These buildings have been photographed from every angle, and will look beautiful from every angle.

The trick to creating unique photographs in such a heavily photographed spot is to think about composition, colour and to use the spontaneity of everyday life. Elevate your photos from being a picture of a beautiful subject, to a beautiful image in its own right by upping your composition game. Combine beautiful shots of these buildings with contemporary Venetian life; how are people still living and moving around these stunning historical sites?

Church of San Giorgio Maggiore

6 Must-Shoot Locations Within Walking Distance of Each Other

St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace

Perhaps the hub of Venice tourism, but not without reason. At the eastern end of St Mark’s Square lies the aureate Saint Mark’s Basilica, with gold ground mosaics and Italo-Byzantine architecture.

St Mark's Square

In the west is the 14th-century wing of the Doge’s Palace. Its intricate traceries and Moorish patterns, typical of the Venetian Gothic style are simply mesmerising. Between the two lies the gold and ultramarine drenched clocktower, the beautiful arches of the Procuratie Vecchie and the striking Campanile bell tower.

Visiting at dawn allows you to catch full shots of these stunning buildings in the delicate morning light.

Bridge of Sighs

A small and incredibly ornate bridge connecting the interrogation rooms of the Doge’s palace with Prigioni Nuove (the new prison.)

Bridge of Sighs

The name was given to the bridge by Lord Byron in the 19th century and this compact piece of architecture has had a prominent place in our global imagination since, inspiring similarly named bridges across the world.

Riva degli Schiavoni

This road runs down the northern bank of Canale Di S. Marco and can be reached from St Mark’s Square. This beautiful street connects many of Venice’s notable buildings, making it an ideal spot to let out one’s inner flâneur.

San Giorgio Maggiore

San Giorgio Maggiore

This island is just south of the main island group and is dominated its gorgeous Palladian church, the San Giorgio Maggiore. You can get beautiful shots of this from the Riva degli Schiavoni.

Santa Maria del Salute

This baroque domed basilica is at the tip of the Dorsoduro sestiere, where the Grand Canal meets the Canale Di S. Marco. A votive offering to deliver the city from the Black Death in the 17th century. The art in the church reflects this morbid theme.

Rialto Bridge

The oldest of the four bridges spanning the grand canal, named after the market it connects with on the eastern bank and famous for its iconic arched design and central arched portico.

Shot form under Rialto Bridge

These spots are so popular that it might be worth setting aside a couple of mornings to photograph each without the crowds.

The Gondolas

Mornings might also be the best time to experience riding in a gondola. Late afternoon, and especially in the evening, are the most expensive times to catch a gondola tour, as more tourists mean higher prices.

Venice Gondolas

If you would rather avoid paying the Gondola prices of the Grand Canal and St. Mark’s Square, try the San Polo and Campo San Barnaba areas. The Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio is also somewhere you’ll find more reasonably priced gondolas.

The fares for gondolas listed on the official site are €80 for 40 minutes, plus €40 for every additional twenty minutes if taken before 7pm. And €100 for 40 minutes, plus €50 for every additional twenty minutes if taken after 7pm. Other blog posts about Venice suggest that these fares are more like ‘guidelines,’ so make sure to set the time and cost of your journey with the gondolier before departure. While definitely pricey, this is a truly magical experience that can’t be experienced anywhere else. So for the experience, I’d say it’s worth it.

If you don’t have the money for a gondola, Vaporettos – water busses – are a great option. These are best in the evening because they’re less crowded when they aren’t being used by commuters. You can schedule journeys here.

But if you just want the experience of being in a gondola, a cheap alternative is the traghetti, undecorated gondolas that ferry people across the grand canal for just €2 (or just 70 cents for regular users.) These two options aren’t nearly as romantic or magical as a gondola trip, but they are much more affordable and can be invaluable in scouting out potential compositions.

Gondolier in Venice

The Alleyways

As noon comes around, the crowds will begin to gather.

This is the best time to duck down into the winding back streets and give yourself a couple of hours to get well and truly lost.

TIP: Head to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Dorsoduro across the canal for some artistic inspiration!

Venice is not just the city of water, but the city of patina, of palimpsest. Around each corner are rich, textured, stunningly aged walls, doors, and fixtures just calling out for a homage in macro.

The clear light of noon that fades into the golden hour is a perfect time to capture these angles of the city. Not only that, but heading out the more tourist focussed San Marco Sestiere will (hopefully) help you find somewhere a little more local for lunch.

The Islands

Wander vaguely north as you head through the backstreets of Venice and you’ll get to see the different sestieri of Venice, and emerge in the direction of the ferries that will take you to the beautiful islands surrounding the city.

Two of my favourite islands were Murano and Burano. If you walked directly from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, you could get to the ferry port that will take you to Murano in half an hour. But, I’d really recommend taking the time to find something fantastically distracting on your journey across the city, even if you have to save the islands for another day.

The small town of Murano

Murano is a fairly small island, famous for being the home of Venetian glass. It’s dotted with studios and shops featuring this unique and colourful glass art. The ferry from the main island takes 25 minutes.

A little further along is Burano, which is a 45 minute ferry ride from the main island, and 35 minutes from Murano. Burano is an impossibly charming fishing island dotted with bright and vibrant houses painted in every colour imaginable. These brightly coloured houses really amplify the surrounding light quality and are especially vivid at dusk.

If you want to visit Murano and Burano islands, book a boat tour ahead of time. That way you’re guaranteed to get a ticket and get it at the best possible price.

Final Thoughts

My takeaway from the visit? The best way to discover and photograph Venice is to get lost! Whilst some aspects of the trip were definitely planned, Venice is a city of fluid beauty, so be prepared to flow with it.

Some of my best shots of the trip came from spontaneous moments where we let the city move us, so be sure to set aside time to be off the clock and just explore.

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