Posted on July 23, 2016
Point Lobos, just south of Carmel on Route 1, is one of the most popular of the California state parks. I visited the park last month with a photo tour that was run by Mark Common of Creative Academy. The mix of Monterey Cypress and the Central Coast eco-system is enticing. And every turn in the trail brings new overlooks to savor.
Our morning photo session started at Weston Beach, named after one of the legends of American photography, Edward Weston. Weston Beach is a tidal pool area filled with starfish, crabs and lots of stone pattern work — the kind of thing Weston liked to shoot.
After hassling a few crabs with my camera, I followed the trail east to Hidden Beach. The lighting at that time of morning was still great.
Further down the trail I saw this egret poking its head out. But he didn’t want to pose for long so this was the best shot I got.
Going another half mile east took me to the Hidden Beach overlook. The place is like a living emerald. The challenge is to frame a small enough part of the scene so the image doesn’t get too busy.
Late Afternoon Shoot
By late afternoon (after a great lunch and some chill time) we were shooting along the Cypress Grove Trail. This northwestern section of park is home to one of the original stands of Monterey Cypress.
I framed the cypresses there with a twisted tree foreground element. Nothing fancy, just trying to capture the shapes and colors that make this area so enticing.
The stone stairs and twisted cypress below were just around the corner. Here I’m using the stairs to lead the eye in to that wind-twisted tree.
Putting a wind-swept tree into a composition with the rocky cove was hard to pass up. I took several shots here. But I found that putting too much of that twisted foreground into the composition muddled things up. I propped myself up higher so my shot angle keep these red branches from being intrusive.
I had some extra time after that trail and started on the North Shore Trail. The shot below, done from the other side of the peninsula was magical in the evening light. The immense cypresses are backlit by the golden glow and that warmth adds depth to the forest. I worked on the image a bit in LR to eliminate the worst of the light washing and add clarity to the gnarly branches.
On the other side of the cove was my favorite, a huge cypress that played off the stretch of coastline.The challenge here was to use the tree to anchor the composition while giving enough room so the eye can stretch up coast.
Again, there was an issue with light bleed. I’m shooting directly into the sun. But by putting the sun behind the huge tree trunk, I found I could get nice backlighting of the tree branches and that stand of cypress on the other side of the cove. Even so, I had to do local adjustments to lighten or darken areas of the shot.
The final shot was of a plant that looked to be growing larvae. I have no idea what it’s called. But the shape was elegant, a study in pure form.
Point Lobos gets tons of visitors a day. But there are so many potential shot locations that you could spend a week having fun. It’s worth the visit if you’re in the Carmel area.
But one note. Once the park folks hit the allowed number of cars, no more cars can enter until another car leaves. This can happen by about noon, even in fall and spring. But since the park closes before sunset, the traffic going in slows down a bit.
Posted on January 13, 2016
Lots happening right now. In October, I did a research trip for a new book idea that would cover the classic Navajo Nation parks, Monarch Valley and Canyon de Chelly, and several Pueblo reservations in New Mexico. Going in the October/November time frame allowed me to get shots you can’t get at any other time of the year:
But in the middle of that work, I had a conversation with one of the self-pub/epub vendors., ExLibris. Their sales rep caught up to me when I was on my way to Arizona. I’ll get to that later….
Print On Demand & eBook Publishing
Some of these self-pub companies take a fairly aggressive approach. And I have no issue with them for being sales-driven. There are probably a hundred competent publishers in the US self-pub/ebook marketplace now. The biggest publishers are subsidiaries of Amazon and Ingram, the print distribution giant. The rest of the publishers do what they can to survive.
For a narrow-cast writer like me, working with a big-five publisher can be a bad match (and yes, an improbability). So I need these independent publishers. I like the variety of business models they use. Some publishers who’ll do it all for you (except the writing). They do copy edit, layout, cover art — the stuff that gets the book in print, in eBook format, on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Nobles ebook site, etc.
And the full serve folks don’t stop there. They will do the press release and distribution. They do marketing, special events. And if you pay them enough, you can get the royal treatment — and never cover your initial costs.
Or you can work with Amazon’s or Ingram’s folks. And they want you to do almost all the heavy lifting. Though they are slowly expanding into the more full-service approach now.
I do have years of background in business marketing and have no trouble calling and emailing media outlets for book PR. But I also want to off-load much of the grunt work to focus on the fun stuff, writing, travel and foto shoots.
So I’ve ended up talking to the more full service folks and leveraging specific services if they offer a good price.
Talking to Antonio
Anyway, Antonio’s company had my number from before my first book was published (eBook only) by Bookbaby.
And Antonio got me talking about my experience with Bookbaby. I didn’t go into all the ways Bookbaby screwed up. Not a pretty story. But I wanted the ExLibris guy to suggest how I could do a print version on my Sacred Southwest book project that would be cheaper than the $50 Bookbaby had wanted for my Utah book — the reason I never did a print on demand version of my book.
Antonio listened to my crankiness and suggested we start by fixing the problem with the first book — since it never got a print edition. “The first book on the Utah National Parks was too long (180 pages) to do on photo-grade paper. But if you had split it into two, maybe 80 pages each, well that’s the sweet spot.”
That got my attention. The writing and photography were already done. Covering the 5 Utah parks in two books gets the price down to $20-$25 each. Two books means double the total possible sales. (I’m still in the hole, kids.) And a glossy photo-paper version is way more likely to get newspaper and Internet exposure.
So I’m stoked to be able to finally get my book out in a print version. The challenge is now I need to do more copy editing and get the content into the correct format.
How the Sausage Gets Made
Now the question comes up, how to get the two Utah photo/guide books ready for a full print treatment. The basic cut and paste thing is what ExLibris and Antonio prefer. They just want to get it out and move on to the next project. And with a basic approach, the obvious choice is Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in book one:
Then, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef (and Moab locations like Fisher Towers) end up in book two. That approach fits geographically, the two in Southern Utah and the three in central-east Utah. Plus that breakdown gives me books about the same length.
Both books will have a pile of iconic locations. And even splitting the content in two, I have tons of details on the best shoot locations, trails, composition, lighting.
The plan is to keep the wording of the Intro section almost the same for both books. That’s mostly general info on landscape photography and the book format. The content for each park is totally different, so that part’s easy. The Lightroom section can be repeated in both but the example used will be appropriate for that specific park.
But I don’t want these new print versions to be just like the old book. Doing a quick cut and paste for book one and two wold be way easier. But I’ve been moving more and more into a more personal blogging style in the last six months (especially with my Sacred Southwest writing) and I want some of that thinking to inform my Utah book edits.
So in the last month, I’ve done a full copy edit on the text of both new books, an adjustment that is making the writing cleaner and more personal. And instead of that “explainy” guidebook style, the writing is getting more descriptive and personal — even in the photo captions.
I’ve also been doing a re-edit on some of the Utah photos. Very minor touches in terms of Lightroom, a few little tweaks that give the shots more of a 3-D feel. And I’m thinking how these shots will need to display in a print book that’s landscape mode.
I should be able to keep both books in the $20 range even with 80-90 pages to the book. And if you’ve got great photos, why not sprinkle in as many as you can. I’ll probably add a few more trail shots as illustrations.
And in the end, these first two books could become my first steps into a new style of blog post. Kinda exciting.
Posted on January 4, 2016
My earlier post was about photo “walkabouts” — an approach to photo shoots where you allow inner instinct to take over. Here’s a walkabout in action.
In Paris this last summer, I played around with the walkabout process I’ve been trying for the last year. And at that point, my latest trick was to book a hotel or AirBNB in a few (photographically) fun neighborhoods– specifically Montmartre. That way I can do an evening and an early morning walkabout in the Montmartre area without worrying about logistics. More important, staying in an area is the only way to get that neighborhood vibe.
An evening walkabout gives you a lot to work with. First off, the evening light elements are scrumptious, especially in Paris. The business/display lighting that’s used in Paris tends to reflect the more traditional side of the city’s style sensibility. And Montmartre street/restaurant lights are totally 1890s Belle Epoque…. To give us tourists the Paris buzz we crave. The Montmartre lighting is a visual can-can, so why not use it.
Downside of an evening walkabout in Paris? Easy. People. Hoards. Masses. And the only Parisienne to be seen is the one waiting your table. They (we) tourists are all out on the street on this hot July evening. The celebrating tourists make for a fun scene but a lousy picture (until you learn how to trick around it). And trick one is to step as far from the crowds as possible and go wide angle:
Set the Correct Angle and Let Go
Once you’re on location, the first step for your walkabout is to make sure your camera settings are in the ballpark. Shutter speed should at least be 60, people are walking everywhere.
If you’re doing big landscapes, set aperture for as much DOF as you can get. That means pushing ISO up there. But don’t push the ISO to the point you get excessive noise. It’s a different spot depending on your particular CCD. So figure that in.
If you’re doing people shots instead of street /landscape shots, narrow DOF so the image will just have your intended subject(s) in focus. Another obvious trick for dealing with the crowds. And, of course, no flash.
In fact, I had a fun moment at the end of the walkabout when I noticed an enthusiast shooting a charming little shop/apartment. I could see what she liked about it, the warm cream-colored stone and the glow in the upstairs windows. She had already taken four or five flash shots of this painfully quaint Montmartre apartment house. And she was telling her husband something wasn’t working.
I suggested she try it without the flash — just pump ISO a bit. She gave that a thought. Then I shared my quick snap of the scene. And the penny dropped in place. Yes, another convert to the gospel of flash as Evil Incarnate. And if you let the light speak for itself, each light source plays against the other.
Anyway, once I know my settings are in place, I just wander. Walk around. Enjoy the energy of the place. Chat with people. And considering how many of them are Americans, it’s easy. And you get plenty of Aussies and Brits. (Not as many Europeans, natch.) So, breath in the energy of this primal European sport.
And watch how the business entity that is Montmartre interacts with the flowing river of tourists. No section of town except the Latin Quarter gets this many tourist bodies. And all the restaurants and bars and shops are enormously skilled at pulling in the fish.
Whatever this particular walkabout is about, that emerges as you use your camera to play. So enjoy the flow. I eventually zoned in on two elements, the deeper compositional issues and what the residents were doing.
For the shot above, I knew that the warm colors of the Gascogne cafe were a great foreground element. And I shifted position to get the red canopies to act as leading lines taking the eye back towards my far-ground element, the dome of Sacre Coeur.
The other issue I played with for the Gascogne shot was this waiter. He was chatting up the young hostess at the cafe across the road. And he had just the attitude I wanted.
For this shot (above) the focus is just on folks from Montmartre. The tourists are starting to disappear. But it’s too early to head home.
It’s not a complicated composition but the mood, the human element, is key. And that means zooming in enough (or cropping) to see what each person is feeling and their personal dynamics. And isn’t that part of why we love Paris?
The lighting allowed me to isolate the cook and waiter from a background that was particularly cluttered. In fact that is a key in many urban shots, to eliminate busyness from the shot. And if you use the night lights to focus attention, you’re halfway home.
Another people shot, obviously personal. I took this one from outside the restaurant looking in. Again, just playing off available lighting — and once I got the composition that worked, focusing on capturing the person’s inner experience.
Here the guy is talking to a waitress who is a couple of yards away. I instantly loved this guy. He has the look of a Henry Miller for today. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if this lad is a Bodhisattva reincarnation of old henry.
I’m half way across the street. Shooting the two together would have shown lots of clutter and street activity. You can’t fix that. It’s just an ugly pic. Doing a close crop like this one was the way to go.
The menu beside him does steal a bit of focus (I darkened the menu a bit in post), but it also gives us the Parisienne context. And in my crop, I gave the guy lots of space to the left. That way, we signal to the viewer that he is focused on someone out of frame. But coming in close was the trick here, just the essentials. So many people believe their photos need to explain it all. No.
The one eternal secret of photography is, follow the light. The street lights are my leading line that points the eye to the warm glow at the bottom of the hill. And in the distance, the dark blue sky is pure gold. Often I will crop sky a bit if it’s not too interesting. Here it was lovely… Paris night, writ large.
There are tons of folks hanging around Sacre Coeur at night, all over the steps, partying at that next level of steps, looking out at the City of Light. A multicultural touch point. And that’s an equally valid way to go. But I was in more of a Classic neo-belle-epoque-eternal look. And for that, I did a traditional look and allowed the floods and deep blue Evening Sky capture a mood. The people are still there. I didn’t eliminate them (OK, a few to the side). They’re living life. But I kept them as shot, shadowed into a mute still life.
Light is the conductor at night. But it takes a while to see that. This shot isn’t an obvious composition…. It looks obvious here. But the actual scene was less than obvious.
The camera collapses dynamic range, far more so than eyes. So to my eyes, the light in front wasn’t about to go blown out. To my eye, the dark sections in the pic weren’t that dark at all. But I noodled it and took a few test shots.
Finally I had Exposure Compensation dialed back a full notch. And you see how the shot has to be. Dark enough that the Camera’s crappy dynamic range turns an OK shot into a landscape tinkered with by Klimpt.
The compositional issue was that I wanted to get that foreground element aligned with the glow of Notre Dame in the distance. Notre Dame is a bit far to balance the foreground properly. But the eye compensates. Everything else in the shot is Paris wrapping up into blue.
My Montmartre walkabout allowed my lots of exploration. I got to spend more time exploring the dynamic range you have at night. Plus, I’m getting better at letting Night and Color tell the story. Negative Space and Brightness, Unmanifest and Manifest.
I got a sense of how this village within Paris lives. And I found lots of stories being told.
Posted on December 18, 2015
Driving to Taos, you get a wonderful sense of why the town attracts artists. This part of New Mexico is 7,000 feet high, part of the Colorado Plateau. It’s high desert and mostly flat.
But out of the plains, the Sangre do Cristo mountain range rises up, to over 13,000 feet at Wheeler Peak. And the landscape, the backbone of mountain, shapes the town and the people who have lived here for centuries.
Taos isn’t as rustic as it seems at first. It has nice restaurants, lots of art galleries, several museums, distinctive B & Bs, and upscale shops. There’s even a bit of an art colony and a world-class ski resort is 15 miles north of town. For a small town, Taos is enormously appealing.
As a photographer and writer, I couldn’t help notice the stuff that’s made the town an artist destination. Go to the Taos and Santa Fe museums and you see that the Taos landscape and the Taos Pueblo inspired some of the great artists of the time. Georgia O’Keefe, photographers Ansel Adams and Alfred Steiglitz, the writer and painter D. H. Lawrence, the list goes on.
Ansel Adams made the Pueblo a central focus of one of his early portfolios. Unlike his famous Yosemite photographs, Adams immerses himself in the almost Cubist nature of that architecture — the 700 year old town (and San Francisco de Asis Church south of Taos) are an essential part of Adams’ oeuvre.
The Taos Pueblo was also a huge inspiration for these artists. The reservation is just a few miles out of town and it’s distinctive pueblo structures are a visual and architectural marvel. The pueblo town and its people are the perfect embodiment of America’s ancient roots.
You can see why the pueblo and town architecture inspired some of O’Keefe’s best work. She loved the primal colors of the area and the flowing, almost feminine shapes of the adobe houses.
A Broken Wagon
Sometimes the river of history takes a serious right turn. And for Taos, one such moment happened in 1898 when Bert Phillips and Ernest Blumenshein’s wagon broke down a few miles outside. The two New York-based artists were on a painting tour of the Southwest. By the time their wagon was fixed, the coin had dropped, and they knew they’d found a life-long inspiration.
New York was The Art Scene for America. A new breed of painters and photographers were looking to move beyond their European influences. And at that moment in time, Phillips and Blumenshein began to tell their friends about New Mexico. For some of these New York artists, Taos was just what they needed. After all, the right subject is as important for a painter or photographer as it is for an actor.
A few years later, the wealthy heiress, Mabel Dodge Luhan moved out to Taos with her painter husband. Mabel had entertained notable artists at her New York salon for years, her Florence home was popular with Gertrude Stein and Andre Gide.
Before long, she discovered Tony Lujan, a leader of the Taos Pueblo. He set up outside her house, playing on a native drum, inviting her to come out and frolic. And she came out.
The two became very public lovers, shocking the traditional folks of the pueblo. Her husband bought a shotgun but wasn’t able to use it. Mabel continued with her wicked artsy ways, her husband continued to go crazy. And for months, the quiet Taos nights were anything but quiet.
Finally, Mabel dumped art-hubby and married Tony. The two built an elegant house and she invited O’Keefe, Steiglitz, Adams, etc., out. Her place at Taos became like a San Simeon for the art community. Soon high desert New Mexico and the Pueblo community became popular subjects in the art world. Taos was a creative destination.
Posted on October 19, 2015
The more I explore Photo Universe, the more I know that often my best work happens when I leave the structured trip mindset behind and Go Walkabout.
Walkabout. The word really entered the collective consciousness in 1997 when Nic Roeg’s film of that name was released. With my interest in meditation and spirituality, I totally got the message: be in Nature, listen to your own instincts and find your place in the universe.
This shift in gears can happen at any time, it’s built into human experience. — Sunday morning chillout, isn’t that the time we allow ourselves to stop and ask, “What do I feel like doing on this lazy morning?” Walkabout.
The Australian film, Walkabout, plays the theme out by following to contemporary kids who’s father self-destructs, leaving them to fend for themselves in the Outback. They meet an Aboriginal kid who is doing the traditional walkabout in the desert. Roger Ebert describes it this way:
During the transition to young manhood, an adolescent aborigine went on a “walkabout” of six months in the outback, surviving (or not) depending on his skills at hunting, trapping and finding water in the wilderness. [Ebert Review, April 1997]
The young Aboriginal guy saves their lives by showing them how to live off the harsh Australian desert. The two teens seem like they might grow closer through the experience. But in the end, they end up returning to their respective cultures unchanged:
…all of us are the captives of environment and programming: That there is a wide range of experiment and experience that remains forever invisible to us, because it falls in a spectrum we simply cannot see.
So the film doesn’t show this walkabout being of particular spiritual value. But that’s the director/writer Nic Roeg. The real thing should offer the walker some new awareness of our environment and programming (to use Ebert’s words). That’s the point, to start seeing new possibilities in our surroundings.
And that’s exactly what should happen if you do a photo walkabout. Here’s the idea. Instead of going to Paris and saying, “I need to get shots of the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Notre Dame, the Seine, etc.,” we think, “Today I’m going to start at this spot and wander around based on what tugs at my inner energies.” It’s kinda like being Cain in the old Kung Fu TV show — except for the martial arts part.
I first noticed how much a structured travel agenda can stifle creativity when I did a 2 week tour of the Scottish islands a few years back. Rabbies does small van tours for general tourists. They’re quite accommodating when someone sees a cool photo opp. And for a general tour, they’re one of the best companies out there. But a fifteen minute stop isn’t always enough, as I found out on the Isle of Skye.
Skye has some of the best landscape photography in the world. And while on the tour, the bus stopped at the northern end of the island, the area called Quiraing.
This spot is the one place on Skye that I have to go back to. The weird moodiness of the landscape is so unusual. I could spend a day at this one location trying to bottle the otherworldliness of it all. And we were given exactly 10 minutes to get photos. Painful.
A good photo tour with the master photographer is totally the opposite. They cart a bunch of photo enthusiasts to various locations, like a general tour. They know the perfect locations and when the light will be best. But there’s far more time spent at each spot. And the experience is structured to encouraging you to stretch your craft. Of course, a tour for photo enthusiasts will cost 3-4 times as much per day as the average general tour.
The difference between these two types of tours is the difference between a goal orientation (“…We’ll also visit 7 magical locations on the Isle of Skye as …”) and allowing yourself to flow with your creative instincts.
A Walkabout Version
My ‘walkabout” idea makes photography the focus, like the photo tour, but you are guided by your immersion in the environment — and your own inner instincts. And that makes a huge difference.
When you’re immersed in this free-fall type of photography, you’ll find that outside influences, a person or situation, is always enhancing your creativity. Maybe a waiter gives you a guided tour of an old style French kitchen or some lady starts telling you about the famous person who used to live in this mansion. That stuff just happens.
You allow yourself to be totally open to people — seeing how they live and work, seeing stuff the tourists all miss. And you’ll be surprises how many locals will respond to you.
You start connecting to people more intimately. You notice the street cleaners at dawn or the patisserie owner sharing a moment with customers. You’ve turned that annoying tourist brain off. You’re sitting at the cafe watching the world go by. Now you’re in the flow.
The walkaround paradigm helps you pull back the curtain. And that sustained awareness on the pulse of a place is just as much a boost for your craft as taking a photo class.
Go walkabout some time — even if it’s just to a local mall. You’ll be surprised.
Posted on August 30, 2015
Interesting piece by Bryan Carnation on night photography at amusement parks. Bryan has the leading site for Canon DSLR users.
Posted on August 26, 2015
Just spent a weekend in San Diego. Here are a few images.
Posted on August 6, 2015
Just got another book review, this one in the Moab, Utah paper. The review is a good one, I continue to be lucky in that. But the review reminded me that everything you do has effects you never fully comprehend — that old metaphor that each action is a pebble thrown in the stream. It has an impact that radiates into the future and touches others in ways you would never imagine. Here’s what I mean.
The reviewer at the Moab Sun, Rudy Herndon, wanted to do more than a simple review. Moab is the town where visitors stay when they’re visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Rudy knows both parks intimately. So he interviewed me for an hour and asked in-depth questions regarding my knowledge of the parks, the town, when I first visited the parks, and my ideas on photography. He also looked at my book page on Amazon and quoted two reviewers, Ron Zigler and Chris Norman.
The thing is, Ron and I go back a long way. We were buddies when I was doing grad school in DC. And the first time I heard about Arches NP was when Ron showed me some of his shots. (Ron was a photographer even then and he continues to do excellent work.) That was in the late 1970s. A few years later, I was driving west from Colorado and spent an afternoon at Arches to see it for myself — the first visit of many. So in some way this book I wrote is a result of that first picture Ron showed me of Delicate Arch.
Chris Norman’s Amazon review explains a different pebble (or not). He points out that we were both participants on a David Muench workshop a few months back. That was our first meeting and I told him then that my Utah book was coming out. He bought the book and will use it to research an upcoming trip to the parks.
Chris and Ron are both excellent photographers whose work I admire. So I’m not going to say that one book is going to change their lives or their artistic approach. I don’t think the pebble metaphor is describing anything that linear.
No. I think that any skill, any knowledge has layers within layers. Ron’s Delicate Arch shot got me interested in Arches and was a step down the road of landscape photography. And maybe one of the locations I suggest can get Ron or Chris (or someone who reads the review in the Moab Sun) stoked about going to The Narrows or False Kiva. Maybe the discussion on shutter speed or morning light or post-production can give someone another tool in their photo work.
A neat photo can plant a seed but you still need to explore and see if that seed idea resonates with something deep inside. Knowledge doesn’t magically make someone a great artist. It’s a key to a door. But you don’t know where that door will lead until you walk through and take the time to explore. The real work is the time and intelligence you bring to the exploration. As the Beatles said about music, “Now that you’ve found another key, what are you going to play?”
Maybe Ron or Chris or someone I don’t know yet will give me some feedback that resonates with me. That’s one of the themes of my book, that once you start talking to other members of the photo community, you start immersing yourself in all the exploration they’re doing.
It all starts with being open to what other folks are doing, listening to new ideas, appreciating new images, and then seeing what resonates within. Ripples on a stream.
Anyway, here’s a screenshot of the review:
Moab Sun Review
Posted on July 30, 2015
My new book on how to get better photos at the Utah national parks just got a nice review at one of the Salt Lake City newspapers, Deseret News. I’m also being interviewed tomorrow for a story in one of the Moab, Utah newspapers. Book link here.
Here’s the latest review:
Posted on July 30, 2015
I talk to lots of folks that visited Venice and don’t think it was worth it. And the reason is mostly due to the fact that the city is awash with tourists. No question. General tourists, cruise boat passengers, lots of bodies. Go to St. Mark’s Square between 10 am and 7 pm and it’s like Grand Central Station. Add in the guys trying to sell you selfie sticks and knockoff handbags and you can see why people get turned off.
Here’s what I mean:
But there are a few tricks that you can use to make a visit to Venice rewarding. First, most tourists focus on the area from St Mark’s to the Rialto Bridge. These two locations and the connecting streets are the magnet. Many of the marquee tourist locations, St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Clock Tower, Campanile, and cafes, they’re all on the Square. And the streets leading to the Rialto are where you’ll find most of the popular shops and restaurants.
So if you stay away from the 20-30 blocks in that area, you won’t have the crush of tourists. And guess what, the same canals run through the quiet parts of town. Some of the more charming sights and churches are off the beaten track.
So what I tend to do is wander around the 80% of Venice that isn’t a crush of tourists. And when I want to visit the busy parts, I do it at selected times. And this brings us to the trick of this post, timing your visit to St Mark’s.
Come Early or Stay Late
For a photographer, the crush of people makes getting a good shot difficult unless you’re just doing closeups. There’s nothing wrong with having people in your shot. On the contrary, often having a few people in a picture can tell a great story and gives the human dimension to a place.
But the key to visiting St. Mark’s Square if you want good shots (and not to tour the Doge’s Palace) is get there early. For example:
Isn’t that nice. Early morning light, the shadow of the Campanile bell tower and a solitary figure breathing it all in. St. Mark’s Basilica is in the distance. Here’s another example from the same part of the square:
Both of these images were taken between 7:30 and 8 am. And in both these photographs, I’ve consciously chosen to include a person or two to establish the mood. Click on the two images to see the shot blown up and the relationship between person and place becomes even more obvious.
Now, you might point out how lucky I am to have found these two nuns wandering by and placed so nicely into my composition. That’s true. And I didn’t even pay them! But I also took a pile of St. Mark’s Square shots: with these folks, other folks and no folks. And these two shots were the only ones I really liked.
Here’s another early morning shot, this time of the section of the square that is close to the Grand Canal and the two Venice columns:
Same time of day, no people. That’s not by chance. I took about 30 shots of this corridor. And having early morning workers in the corridor would have detracted from the formality.
But most of the shots happened because it took a while to get the shot to work. I started taking pics of this corridor about 40 yards farther back. And from back there, the columns and shafts of light worked best. But from there, the column with the Venetian lion was tiny. Once I realized that element would add something, I moved closer and closer till I got to this.
Every photographer knows that the light is better from dawn until mid-morning. But this rule is also worth remembering if you want to capture the beauty of a popular tourist spot. And of course, none of these shots was taken at dawn. Even a lazy photographer should be able to roll out of bed by 7:30. The rewards are worth it.
And if you want to get up just a bit earlier, there are other good shots as well.