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The Canals of Venice

Canal; Venice, Italy copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Canal; Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Venice is one of those very special places where every direction you look in is “eye-candy” for a photographer. Those who know my photographic approach know that I have spent the past 30 years as an outdoor and nature photographer, concentrating primarily on landscapes – large and small. But in the recent past, as I have begun to travel more of our country, and the world, my emphasis has (perhaps necessarily—if I want to shoot) shifted more to a kind of hybrid “travel/landscape” emphasis.

Canal, Venice, Italy copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Canal, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

In the case of Venice, that is a good thing. I think I might have counted 5 trees. All of the “island” of Venice is man-made; reclaimed from the sea, and is a massive maze of buildings, canals and streets. But for the parking area and bus terminal where the bridge from the mainland ends, there are no motorized, wheeled vehicles on the island! But these very features are what make Venice so photogenic. And, that there is a mix here of 1000’s-year old construction and architecture with relatively modern building, is pretty amazing.

The canals of Venice are a complex and incredible maze

There are so many things to shoot! it is a photographer’s sensory overload. And I wanted to shoot everything. In terms of showing blog readers what I saw, I hardly know where to start. As I noted last week, there are streets, churches, plaza’s, canals (grand and small) and buildings, everywhere that are wonderful photographic subjects. Without any clear sense of what is the “best” part of Venice, I’ll start with my personal favorites: The small canals that are everywhere and are what really make Venice “Venice!”

Canal, Venice, Italy copyright  Andy Richards

Canal, Venice, Italy
copyright Andy Richards

CANALS Venice Italy 091120130016

Canal, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, this kind of photography presents certain challenges to what I consider optimal photographic conditions. For those polite (and patient) enough to listen, I have preached for a number of years, some of what I consider “truisms” of “good” photography. Use of a tripod and cable release, and being on site at the right time of day are perhaps the two most important. Neither lends itself to the shooting I have been doing. Partly, this is because we are generally constantly on the move and because (and I sometimes need to be reminded of this) it’s not all about me and my photography. My wife and I travel together 98% of the time, and we are often also part of a group of people. While everyone likes to take snapshots, virtually nobody has the patience for me to set up a tripod and shoot a scene. And, because of the need to often be at a certain place at certain times of the day, shooting in the “right light,” is problematic. We have reached a compromise that usually allows me to have the morning light (in my view the “best” light anyway), but often I am not on site for the late afternoon or evening light. Sometimes, as a matter of logistics, I am also not able to get to the best sites for nighttime shooting.

Use of a tripod and cable release, and being on site at the right time of day are perhaps the two most important. Neither lends itself to the shooting I have been doing

But, I have tried to make the best of it, learning to use the “bad” light when I must (and post-processing when it helps), and shooting what I can. Another thing for me has always been good equipment. Unfortunately, the best equipment I can afford is my DSLR and “pro” lenses. Also unfortunately, to use them at their most effective level, they require a heavy tripod. None of this is particularly conducive to enjoyable travel. This trip, I eschewed this equipment in favor of a lighter, smaller package of my Sony NEX-6 camera and just 3 small lenses (a 50mm 1.8, a 24mm 1.8 and a 16-50 zoom). I have a very small travel tripod which, with the smaller equipment, really acquits itself surprisingly well, and for the couple times I found it possible to use a tripod, filled the bill. I am really pleased with the results. I think that in the future, I will change things up a bit. I found that the 50mm got used rarely – mostly from the balcony of the cruise ship, where distance is almost always a factor. The Zeiss 50m 1.8 never came out of the bag (I am considering selling it). The zoom was really useful – except not very durable and became the first equipment casualty I have ever had in my 30 years (the NEX survived a small, short fall onto a carpeted floor. Not sure if that was the culprit, but shortly afterward, the Sony 16-50 “kit” lens started misbehaving, and eventually stopped working altogether).

I am pleased with the results from the Sony NEX and Lenses

CANALS Venice Italy 091120130026

Canal, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The Zeiss 24mm had to be my primary lens for the balance of the trip, but I certainly missed the ability to zoom in and out at a few of the spots we traveled to. The good news is it isn’t an expensive lens (already replaced). However, I am re-thinking my “bag,” and will probably eventually boil my “kit” (as they say across the pond) to a Zeiss 24mm f1.8 and their new 16-70 Zeiss f4 offering. The 24 gives me medium wide and very fast working lens for both landscape in walking around. The 16-70 is going to be “better” than the 16-55, both in terms of specifications and, hopefully image quality.

There are hundreds of scenes like this in Venice on the many secondary canals Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

There are hundreds of scenes like this in Venice on the many secondary canals
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The canals. They are amazing. And they are everywhere. The Grand Canal makes a sweeping “S” curve through the island, and there are only 4 bridges that cross it throughout! Two of them are very close together, right at the Ferrovia (railroad) station and where the busses and auto parking lots are. The other two are quite far apart. But there are hundreds of small foot bridges across all of the small canals.

This bridge is one of only 3 like it left in Venice.  Anybody see the difference? copyright 2013  Andy Richards

This bridge is one of only 3 like it left in Venice. Anybody see the difference?
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The small canals follow absolutely no plan or logic. A more effective maze could not be designed. Virtually every travel book, blog, or other “piece” I read prior to visiting said that a part of the “charm” of Venice is that you will walk along these canals and you will get lost! I took that as kind of an exaggeration. I was wrong. You do get lost. Almost every time you set out for somewhere. We made the walking trip from the Ferrovia station to St. Mark’s Plaza (Piazza San Marco) four times. The first two seemed like a disaster. We never made the same route to or back. But eventually, you find your way—it just takes twice as long. While I don’t think my wife appreciated the “getting lost,” charm, I did see the value of it from a photographer’s perspective. I eventually learned a way to get to San Marco directly and shortened the trip from 45 minutes of uncertainty, to a pretty clear cut 20 minute walk. But maybe I missed another, “better” canal shot.

Canal, Venice, Italy copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Canal, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

You will get lost; I did get lost. But it was wonderfully lost!

As you can see, I shot canal after canal (usually with a small footbridge). For the most part, I couldn’t direct you to one of them if there was a gun to my head. I “discovered” them as I walked around Venice, often in the early morning, before all the people showed up.

Canal, Venice, Italy copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Canal, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On the last day, we boarded the cruise ship and then went back onto the island. We had some specific errands to do, near the Rialto area. We had not been in this area at all. We were dog-tired (Venice wears out your legs) and I was tired of schlepping the photo gear around, so I left it on the ship. It was a mistake. It is hard to tell why or how, but there were more small canals and bridges this way, and they were different. I also made a mistake by not going back off the ship that evening and doing some night shooting. If we are ever back, I will do those things.  I think the name on the sign below is a good comment.  Splendid, indeed.

I borrowed the idea for the Title of this Blog from this restaurant sign image copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Canal and Water Taxi, Venice, Italy
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Change is Inevitable.  Some change is good.  Some maybe not so much.  I, like most people, am often intially resistent to change.   Its new, unfamiliar, and often requires “homework.”  Well, recently SmugMug, my Website Host, unveiled its all new and “better” site, including a brand new look.  We have now moved from “thumbnails” to “tiles.”  For reasons I probably cannot explain, I have succumbed to the change and “migrated” my LightCentric Photography website to the “new” SmugMug; with a new look (though not too new).  I am still learning the new system, so it is a work in progress.  Please give it a look and let me know what you think.

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4 Responses

  1. Very enjoyable and you had clear skies as well.. I have been to a lot of places. I will keep this on the bucket list.

    • Thanks, Ivan. We had a lot of fun. I understand that the “best time” to be there, though, is in the Winter. It was a huge challenge to find photographs without crowds of people.

  2. Hi Andy,
    Lovely shots – I’m including Venice in a trip this Spring and look forward to capturing some canals myself. European architecture is one of my very favorites and I consider it part of their landscape as well. I tend to travel alone to avoid the problems you address for photographers but it is fun to share those travel adventures too:) I can just picture you with the cigar in your mouth, camera in hand – capturing the moment. Interesting to read your experience with the Sony NEX because I’m considering that as well.

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