The Magic of Venice photos from my photo workshop in the floating city

Returning to Venice

I've wanted to go back since I hosted a local photo walk there in 2016 for my annual Worldwide Photo Walk. It's an amazing city to photograph, and in 2016 I only had a few days there, and felt I had missed so much, but mostly I wanted to return to spend some time with my new Venetian friends, Robby Pisco and Mimo Meidany — two wonderful ambassadors for Italy, and both ace photographers. When I left last time, I told them I'd be back to do a workshop with Mimo, the king of Venice photography, and one whose long exposure photography is known around the world.

I kept my promise, and last week I headed back to Italy to host a travel photography workshop for 10 photographers who would join Mimo and me for four days of early morning shoots, classroom time learning, amazing meals, and gorgeous sunsets.

Above: This is shot from one of those tiny bridges over the thin canals - just holding my camera out with one arm outstretched over the canal, aiming straight down, and holding on tight to my camera.

We arrived a day and half early

The "we" was my director/cameraman/editor and general wunderkind Juan Alfonso. I wanted to take the opportunity of being in Venice to record a travel photography course for KelbyOne on "Capturing the essence of a City," and Juan was there to help, and we were aided by the help of my buddy Roberto Bon Jovi Van Halen Pisconti (or just "Pisco" for short). We landed in Venice and hit the ground running recording important camera techniques, but more importantly the bigger picture of what bringing back intriguing travel shots when you're on vacation. We also recorded a course on Long Exposure travel photography featuring Mimo, and he is a wizard when it comes to that stuff. He's got all the techniques so down, and the composition and eye to put them to beautiful use, and then couple that with knowing the local area, and it makes for an amazing class. I was there to see it all, and I still want to see the final course — he was that good!

Well, if you can't avoid that big barber pole, might as well make it look you meant to have it there.

Shooting in Venice

I did most of my shooting before the workshop – once the students arrived, I wanted to spend my time helping them make great photos, not just shooting right along with them, but occasionally after they had their shots, if I saw something interesting, I'd take just a few snaps. Shout out to Emma, one of my workshop students, who inspired me to get this shot. The little dock area where we were shooting as a group was a bit crowded, but I had spotted another area nearby, so she and I went around the building where we got this shot.

Every teacher's dream group

I really feel like I was blessed to get the group of photographers that I did for this workshop. Everybody had such a great attitude, fun sense of humor; they were fully engaged (no slackers whatsoever); everybody was ready to work hard, and by the end of day one we all felt like we had known each other forever. Everybody was helping everybody, and there was a real esprit de corps between the group, Mimi and I. Zero whining — just lots of laughing, sharing, and lots and lots of experimenting, trying new things, and making cool images of Venice. Check out my crew, nicknamed "Team Fettuccine" for no particular reason other than we were going to be in the land of Fettuccine.

Here is "Team Fettuccine" - from L to R: Vito, Scott B., Emma, Me, Mimo, Christian, Deb, Larry, Guy, Andy, Ashley, Willie, and Karen, after an incredibly yummy lunch! By the way — at the end of the workshop we all vote on the best shot of the week, and Karen (on the far right, from the UK) won the beautiful custom trophy that I had made for the occasion. Group shot photo by Juan Alfonso.
I went with Mimo's dramatic style of post-processing here. He did a session in the classroom on exactly how he does his post processing and I tried to emulate that look here.

Planning Something Special…

I wanted to start off our first day with something really special for my students, so I set up a special photo shoot for them. I rented an elegant palace-like room not far from our hotel (Kudos for Mimo for finding such an awesome location, and to my buddy Rick Sammon for the Carnivale photo shoot idea), and we hired a local model and rented an authentic Carnivale style dress, all exclusively for our class, and they loved it. While our model didn't really speak English, I was able to give Mimo posing directions, and he would relay them, and within just a few minutes, she was totally crushing it, and the students were firing away as I would set up new angles; explain, composition techniques; use of natural lighting, framing, etc..

After shooting in this spectacular room, we wanted to give the students a chance to shoot with our model outdoors, so after this, we moved outside for a 2nd shoot. I spent my time instructing and working the students during this shoot, I didn't shoot any, but when the class was done, and everyone was heading downstairs, I asked for just five-minutes with the model and here's one of my shots below. This shot is all natural light, but before we headed downstairs I did a teaching segment on using off-camera flash, and we set up a softbox (thanks Robby!) and, each student got to shoot, and experience the amazing difference a softbox with a flash makes.

That's me down really low with my Platypod and a wide angle lens..

Before we got to the street…

We were heading down to the street level for the 2nd shoot, and when we turned the corner and headed down this incredible staircase, and I saw how her red dress beautifully contrasted with the stairs, I asked her (well, I motioned with my hands) to wait just a moment, and I ran down the stairs to get in front of her and she stopped and posed for a moment to let me get this shot. I only had a quick minute, but I do like the shot. No vignetting in post by the way — that's how awesome the light was falling on those stairs. Went he saw the pic on my camera's LCD monitor, my buddy Robby said, "Don't take that away in Photoshop!" (referring to the natural vignetting around the image). I told him not to worry — it stays.

By the way — this shot is taken at 5000 ISO, f/4 on my 5D Mark IV. No noise reduction is post whatsoever.
Here's a behind-the-scenes shot (courtesy of Robby Pisco). My white balance setting in camera gave the shot a warmer look and I liked it so I left it.
I did the most touristy thing you can do in Venice — I hired a Gondola for 30 minutes. Took my 70-200mm and a 16-35mm.

Scouting Locations

The day before the workshop we were scouting possible locations and we went to this small, but very charming museum Palazzo Grimani, one of Venice hidden wonders (it was so hidden, not a single tourist was there except us),

I wish you could see how small this amazing little room was. We figured it was about 30'x'30, but that 16mm makes it look a lot larger. A 14mm would have been perfect! I almost went back borrowing Mimo's 11-24mm just to take it all in but I ran out of time before I had to catch a boat to the airport the last day.
In the previous shot, see that circle on the floor? I put my camera there and shot straight upward to capture the amazing ceiling in this small room. That's 16mm captured the ceiling, but what keeps this from being a really great image is that the 16mm isn't wide enough to take the entire room in. Shoulda brought my magical 14mm. That would have done the trick.
Here's my Canon 5D Mark IV with the 16-35mm sitting in that circle shooting that previous shot (bts photo by Robby Pisco). I used a self-timer to trigger the shot. I'd hit the shutter; set the camera down, and then go get out of the way.
Just outside the door of the Palazzo Grimani's ticket office/gift shop is this amazing spiral staircase. See below for how I got the shot.
Here's how I got the shot — I balanced my camera on a pole holding some rope and stanchion (put there to block visitors from using the stairs), but had it had not have been there, I would have put on the floor like I did with the earlier shot.
How do you get a shot of San Marco Square with no one in it? Get up really early on a Monday. That'll do the trick. This is just before sunrise.
Here's part of our sunrise crew. The rest are further back and to the right. You'd think a row of photographers aiming in the same direction would all get the same shot, yet you'd be amazed at how different they all are. Different focal lengths and lenses; some doing long exposures, some not, some zoomed in, some really wide. It's pretty amazing the differences.
Yeah, we did a lot of this, We had breakfast and lunch together as a group each day, which was great for just getting to know each other and sharing stories (photo by Juan Alfonso).

Here's a few shots from around the town

We did a LOT of long exposure shots each day (it was one of the main themes of the workshop) and by the end, every student was really comfortable with shooting with ND filters and doing crazy long exposures. This one was taken from the entrance to the water bus. We only had 10 minutes to shoot, then a bus would come in and we'd all have to clear out. Mimi, myself, and a number of the students were using the Haida ND filter system, which is just awesome! Their color rendition is spot on. I saw everything from B+W and Tiffen ND filter changing the color in pretty significant ways, but not the Haida filters. So well made, and about 1/2 the price of other systems (they sell 'em at B&H Photo. Highly recommended).

A Night at the Opera

OK, I didn't go at night. During each day of the workshop, after lunch, we take a planned Siesta (from 1:30 to 4:00 pm) otherwise we'd be going from 6:00 am straight through to 8:30 pm each day, and after a day or two we'd all be totally burned out. During that time, students can explore the city, do some shopping, or take a well-deserved nap. During one of our Siesta's I did something that's been on the top of my shooting to-do-list since my last visit - shooting Teatro La Fenice — Venice's famed Opera House. Luckily, they have an inexpensive self-guided tour available daily (note: you have to pay extra to take photos), and I was able to visit and grab a few shots (seen below). The challenge, as always, is avoiding tourists, but luckily there weren't many there. I had to clone out a few folks in a couple of the shots, but nothing too terrible. Shooting low like the center shot hid the tourists pretty well when the room was it's most crowded. Thanks to Robby and Mimo for taking me there, and being so patient.

Another long exposure shot. It's "a thing."

The San Giorgio Maggiore Church

There's a small, beautiful island just off San Marco Square — it takes all of two minutes to water bus to get there, but it's worth the trip. It has stunning views of San Marco; a beautiful bell tower that has no line (and a better view) than the one in San Marco square with 200+ people in line, and it has an amazing church to shoot, and we set up tripods and the whole nine yards and nobody said anything. Here are a few shots (below) from the church I took on location scouting day.

I love how almost all of the pews are gone, and you have this big open expanse between the door and the few row of pews with all this beautiful old tile.
Here's a shot of Juan and me; my camera down on a trusty Platypod Ultra, and I'm triggering the camera (and seeing a live view of my composition) via my Canon 5D Mark IV's built-in wireless, and camera app.
Juan loved the camera aiming technique I used when I used the wireless app so much he had to take a shot of it. Since I could see my composition live on my iPhone (through the App), once I placed the camera on the floor, I could reposition it's aim by just nudging it with my foot (as seen here). 5-points for laziest photographer in Venice that day.
You can go behind the alter and shoot from there.
There's a whole seating area for what I guess is either members of the clergy or perhaps a choir.
Here's a close-up shot of the alter and pipe organ pipes.
The view from San Giorgio Maggiore's bell tower is pretty amazing. Here's a pano from up there.

Some parting shots...

The week was everything I hoped it would be. We had a great group of photographers, a great group of friends, we had great weather, great food, great wine (they tell me), and an unforgettable experience. If I could change one thing about the trip…I wouldn't.

The icing on the cake - we had a day with our dear friend, UK-based travel photographer Dave Williams, who came to Venice to meet up with Juan before the two of them headed up to the Dolomite mountains. You can see Dave in the 2nd row, far left, shooting over Juan's shoulder. NOTE: Behind the scenes photos by Juan Alfonso and Robby Pisco
Team Fettuccine shooting from San Giorgio Maggiore island.

Thank you for letting me share my Venice trip with you.

Ciao, ciao!

Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, Canon 16-35mm f/4, Platypod, Oben Ballhead, 3-legged thing Punks tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead, Haida 10-stop and 3-stop ND filters, Vello Cable Release, ThinkTank Sling Bag.

Created By
Scott Kelby


Photos by Scott Kelby. Behind the scenes photos by Robby Pisco and Juan Alfonso

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