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Venice – The Most Beautiful City in the World

Until it disappears… Some while ago there was a post by Talha Najeeb, claiming Paris to be the most beautiful city in the world. To which my response was, “I’m sure Venice would have something to say about that”. Yes, Paris is certainly gorgeous, but Venice – well, there’s only one “La Serenissima”.

Time to let the photos do the talking:

NIKON D800 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 1/320, f/8.0

Venice is unique in a couple of respects. The first is pretty obvious – it is built entirely on a series of small islands, enclosed in a lagoon, so there are no roads, and no automobiles. This doesn’t mean there are no traffic jams:

NIKON D300S @ 60mm, ISO 250, 1/500, f/4.8

Secondly, the entire historic city is pretty much intact. There are a few new buildings at the margins, but modest in scale and style. Apart from a small handful of buildings in the centre, a visitor from the sixteenth century would recognize pretty much everything. It’s said there was a tacit agreement between the warring powers in WW2 that wherever else they bombed, Venice would not be touched:

NIKON D800 @ 14mm, ISO 100, 1/160, f/5.0

In its heyday, Venice was a major maritime power, and for centuries controlled much of the trade between East and West. Trade and diplomatic visitors arrived at Piazza San Marco. The Piazza, the Doges Palace, and San Marco basilica were built to impress and overwhelm, and they still do:

NIKON D850 @ 50mm, ISO 64, 1/800, f/3.5

Trying to get a decent shot of the front of San Marco – without either scaffolding or crowds of tourists – is pretty much impossible. Shooting the interior isn’t much easier since photography is not allowed, but just to give you an idea:

NIKON D800 @ 14mm, ISO 1000, 1/250, f/3.5

Yes, the entire place is covered in gold mosaic. The wealthy merchants of Venice splashed their cash on the beautiful palazzi which line the canals, especially of course, the Grand Canal:

NIKON D800 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/320, f/6.3

Most of the visitors (and yes, there plenty of them, even in low season, which is when all my shots were taken) are day-trippers, who arrive, spend a quick day whizzing around a few main sights, and then disappear again:

NIKON D80 @ 18mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/7.1

Many arrive on huge cruise-ships, which are hated by the locals:

NIKON D80 @ 46mm, ISO 320, 1/100, f/5.0

These monsters (which tower over the city) churn up the lagoon floor, damaging the delicate eco-system. They also do very little for the economy (and hence preservation) of this precious place. The passengers are contributing nothing to local hotels or restaurants – apart from maybe a quick pizza and beer at lunchtime. If you’re tempted by a cruise visit, please reconsider – think of Venice as a destination, not a stop-over. This place has more than enough to show visitors for a week or longer. We brought some friends for a four-day visit, and I tried to squeeze in all the ‘A’ list sights (and bear in mind even ‘C’ list in Venice would be ‘A’ anywhere else) – we ran out of time long before we completed the list. Rant over.

NIKON D850 @ 35mm, ISO 125, 1/640, f/2.8

It’s very easy to arrive in Venice and immediately fill your memory cards with the many ‘postcard’ shots, and the amazing changing quality of the light certainly invites you to keep shooting the same subjects, whether it’s almost technicolor daylight, or shrouded in mist:

NIKON D850 @ 50mm, ISO 64, 1/640, f/3.2

NIKON D800 @ 24mm, ISO 200, 1/250, f/8.0

What keeps us going back (and we’ve been visiting every year for the last twenty years) is this changing light, and the many sights away from the tourist drag:

NIKON D850 @ 70mm, ISO 125, 1/640, f/4.0

Every corner you turn presents some interesting detail or composition:

NIKON D80 @ 26mm, ISO 200, 1/50, f/4.0

Even the most mundane-looking buildings have some detail that beckons to your eyes and lens:

NIKON D80 @ 65mm, ISO 250, 1/60, f/5.0

Every corner you turn provides unexpected colors or tricks of the light:

NIKON D300S @ 20mm, ISO 320, 1/125, f/8.0

Even the graffiti is photogenic:

NIKON D800 @ 28mm, ISO 800, 1/60, f/5.6

And of course, for a city surrounded by water, there is plenty of time for reflection:

NIKON D850 @ 35mm, ISO 160, 1/160, f/4.5

You also get to see much more of the locals, whether heading off to work:

NIKON D850 @ 190mm, ISO 160, 1/400, f/4.5

Doing their shopping:

NIKON D850 @ 50mm, ISO 64, 1/160, f/3.2

NIKON D300S @ 65mm, ISO 500, 1/250, f/8.0

Or indulging in the local sport, which they take very seriously:

NIKON D80 @ 200mm, ISO 800, 1/400, f/5.6

Even if they occasionally seem to be lost:

NIKON D80 @ 36mm, ISO 800, 1/640, f/5.6

Or watch the local delivery drivers:

NIKON D800 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/6.3

I said there were no automobiles of any kind. Sometimes you do see one:

NIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 100, 1/200, f/5.0

It’s a great place for street photography. I’m a shy creature, so I prefer not to be noticed:

NIKON D850 @ 200mm, ISO 100, 1/640, f/4.0

Like any major city, Venice is not without its problems. To paraphrase the good book, “The rich you will always have with you” (spoiling your view):

NIKON D850 @ 50mm, ISO 64, 1/500, f/4.0

And the locals do find us tourists a bit exhausting:

NIKON D300S @ 82mm, ISO 250, 1/500, f/8.0

On a more serious note, Venice’s big problem is the thing that makes it unique: the water. The inhabitants have always struggled to keep their city above it, but the rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather are making this an increasingly hopeless struggle. For our first five or six years in Venice we saw no sign of the infamous “Acqua Alta” (High Water), now it seems to be every visit:

NIKON D800 @ 26mm, ISO 800, 1/60, f/2.8

So Venice as we currently know it may no longer exist by the end of this century. In the meanwhile, let’s enjoy this pinnacle of human-made beauty and magnificence!

NIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 800, 1/40, f/2.8

My favorite time is evening, when everything quietens down, everything becomes mysterious – you can really imagine all the old political intrigue (for which the Venetian Republic was equally famous), which figures darting in and out of the shadows in the dark alleys. If that thought intrigues you, watch out for the second part of this article, where I’ll also show you some images from the other islands in the lagoon.

NIKON D800 @ 23mm, ISO 100, 1/200, f/8.0

On a technical note, these pictures date from 2007 to 2018, shot on everything from my first digital toe-in-the water, a Panasonic DMC-FZ20, through to my current Nikon D800 and D850.

In case you’re wondering what Venice looks like by night, check out the next page!

On the previous page of this article, I suggested that it’s far better to see the place by spending some time there, rather than flitting in and out on a day-trip. Let me show you why…

The principal islands of Venice are not the only islands in the lagoon, and weren’t the first to be settled. Some of the earliest refugees (fleeing from raiders on the mainland) settled on the island of Torcello, not far from today’s airport. Little is left apart from a couple of churches, including the first basilica of Venice. Once you’ve admired the amazing ancient mosaics (sorry, they’re very strict about no photos!), head up the bell-tower for a view of how those swampy islands must have looked to the first settlers:

NIKON D800 @ 36mm, ISO 100, 1/1000, f/7.1

Wandering the tranquil pathways and waterways, you’d never guess this was once a thriving town:

NIKON D800 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/7.1

Nearby is the island of Burano, once famous for lace-making, but nowadays better known for the rows of houses that look like paint colour-charts, especially in that intense Venetian light:

NIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 100, 1/125, f/6.3

Legend has it that the bright colors enabled returning fishermen to spot their homes through the fog:

NIKON D800 @ 45mm, ISO 100, 1/160, f/5.6

The other main island is Murano, famous for glass-making. Centuries ago, the city authorities got fed up of the constant fires they caused, so all the glass furnaces were moved out to Murano. Many of the bigger makers put on demonstrations. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, watching a lump of glass being transformed is pretty amazing:

NIKON D300S @ 200mm, ISO 500, 1/60, f/5.6

NIKON D300S @ 130mm, ISO 500, 1/60, f/5.6

And some of the more contemporary designs can make interesting images:

DMC-LX100 @ 10.9mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/5.6

And although not as obviously beautiful as the heart of the city, it’s still worth the occasional shot:

NIKON D800 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/500, f/4.5

Back on the main island, trips to the outskirts take you to some amazing sites, including this, the Arsenale:

NIKON D80 @ 22mm, ISO 200, 1/160, f/6.3

Not the most photogenic place in the world, but what a history! This was the ship-yard of Venice, the first production-line in the world (eat your heart out, Henry Ford!) – at its peak, this place could churn out three ships a day. These days the place is a naval base, with no reminders of how Venice was able to dominate the Mediterranean for centuries.

At the other end of the main settlement, and on a different scale, is the world’s original ghetto. The word didn’t have quite the same negative connotations then – it comes from the Venetian “Geto”, which means “Iron Foundry”, which originally stood on this site. Tucked away in buildings around the square, are several synagogues, some of which you can visit on a guided tour:

NIKON D850 @ 24mm, ISO 3200, 1/30, f/2.2

When you’ve been history’d-out, a bit of mist is always good for a photo-op:

DMC-FZ20 @ 13.5mm, ISO 100, 4/1000, f/4.0

Once you’ve reached the end of the day, the next good reason for hanging around appears, as the light changes again:

NIKON D850 @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/320, f/5.0

NIKON D300S @ 90mm, ISO 500, 1/750, f/13.0

NIKON D80 @ 42mm, ISO 320, 10/1000, f/5.0

If you’re lucky, you might get a wonderful sunset:

NIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 100, 7692307/100000000, f/8.0

NIKON D800 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 5/8, f/8.0

If you’re really lucky, you might get a spectacular one. One year, we’d been to an exhibition the week before, called “Turner in Venice”. We looked at the lurid colors of some of the sunsets he’d painted, and thought “this guy must have been high or something”. Then we saw this:

NIKON D80 @ 120mm, ISO 250, 1/20, f/9.0

The man was just painting what was there! Once the light has gone, the city takes on a different character:

NIKON D800 @ 28mm, ISO 800, 1/40, f/2.0

Sure, the Grand Canal is still a hive of activity, whether you go for a long exposure, to calm things down:

NIKON D800 @ 34mm, ISO 100, 8/1, f/8.0

Or short, to let the waves remind you that this is a city of the sea:

NIKON D850 @ 50mm, ISO 1600, 1/20, f/2.8

But the main Piazza seems deserted:

NIKON D800 @ 56mm, ISO 100, 25/1, f/4.5

And all the back alleys and side canals suddenly become quiet and mysterious:

NIKON D800 @ 70mm, ISO 100, 15/1, f/8.0

You can’t really photograph it, but the sound changes as well. Everything seems quiet and muffled. It doesn’t matter if people walk through your shots. With long exposures, they just become “the ghosts of Venice”:

NIKON D800 @ 52mm, ISO 100, 5/1, f/4.0

NIKON D800 @ 44mm, ISO 100, 30/1, f/8.0

I think I even prefer the mystery of the night-time to the beauty and splendor of the day! Which do you prefer?

#Italy #Travel #TravelPhotography #Venice

The Photograohers
The Photograohers
Welcome to The Photographers, your go-to source for all things photography. We are a team of passionate photographers and enthusiasts who are dedicated to providing you with the latest news, reviews, and educational resources to help you improve and excel in your photography skills.


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