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:
Mid-afternoon in St. Mark’s Square
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.