Venice (Venezia) “Once did she hold the gorgeous East in fee, And was the safeguard of the West: the worth Of Venice did not fall below her birth, Venice, the eldest child of Liberty.” William Wordsworth

How do you set out to write an experiental narrative of Venice; a city that has been painted, photographed and filmed so much that it has become difficult to distinguish the real city from its romantic portrayal. Nevertheless, while it is hard to be original, this is my story of the dichotomy of Venice; the sad and the beautiful that is woven along the labyrinth of canals and bridges, as seen through my eyes.

Venice is the capital of both the Province of Venezia and the Veneto Region of Italy. Prior to the fall of the Venetian republic in 1797, this island city was the greatest seaport in late medieval Europe and a cultural link with Asia. It remains today one of the oldest tourist and cultural centers. In 1987 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Venice incorporates more than 200 canals that are linked together to form an urban network on either side of the Grand Canal, which is lined by buildings that once were palaces of the great merchant families . The Venetian dialect, with which I am very familiar as both my parents are from the Veneto region of Italy, is still spoken by roughly 2 million people. There has been a push in recent years to have it designated as an official language, and taught in schools much as German is in the South Tyrol province in the Dolomites.

We arrived in Venice on a stormy afternoon, and armed with a very detailed map, which you most definitely need to avoid getting lost, we set about exploring the surrounds adjacent to our hotel. The major arterial thoroughfares were full of tourists, because of this I mistakenly decided to leave my camera at the hotel. However, as the storm clouds hovered overhead the tourists start thinning out heading to safer corners.....and the light suddenly took on an ethereal appearance. There was no time to return for the camera so I used my Huawei P9 cellphone to capture the scene which was reminiscent of the many artistic renderings of Venice. In processing the images I chose to use Topaz Impression to artistically render the scene.

San Giorgio Maggiore captured from Riva Degli Schiavoni in front of the Palazzo Ducale

Early Morning Light: The only way to beat the crowds is to head out very early in the morning, which we did. We began by capturing the iconic locations that depict the well worn areas of Venice; the Bridge of Sighs, the Gondolas along St Mark's Square, the Grand Canal, etc. Unfortunately the Accademia Bridge, one of the three bridges which span the Grand Canal, was under reconstruction and thus it was not possible to capture the Grand Canal from this vantage point. Below is my collection of iconic locations captured in the early morning. For a little differentiation from the norm I used a Singh Ray variable ND filter to smooth the water and blur the movement of the gondolas. (Quick Guide to Long Exposure by Jason D. Little)

Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens F/22 for 4secs ISO 200
Fuji X-T2 Top: 18-55mm lens f/16 for 1/80secs ISO 400 Bottom Left: 10-24mm f/22 for 1/15secs ISO 400 Bottom Right: 10-24mm for f/22 for 1.2secs ISO 200

Beyond Piazza San Marco, which is always crowded and touristy, lies an atmospheric maze of cobblestoned alleyways and bridges for those willing to wander and explore. Here you find centuries old buildings once brightly painted now faded and peeling but still architecturally beautiful. It leaves you with sadness on the one hand and wonder on the other, this city built on water so long ago. Below are some of my favorite waterways images captured in the early morning light. In order to capture the dynamic range of light in these dark narrow waterways it was at times necessary to capture two images and subsequently blend in post processing using luminosity masks.

These narrow transport routes are used by the Venetians for transporting tourists, produce and all manner of deliveries. The logistics of getting deliveries along the alleyways and waterways have to be carefully managed as shown in these images.

Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens

Early evening Light: Light at the other end of the spectrum is equally alluring and the crowds are less concentrated. Our evening exploration began at at the 'Liberia Acqua Alta' in Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa; a truly unique bookstore and a must see for all book lovers. Books, new and old stored in all manner of shelves: gondolas, canoes etc., and some have been turned into objects of furniture, like the staircase below that covers the walls of the outside courtyard leading to a viewing platform from which you can view the canals.

Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens f/16 for 1/320secs ISO 3200

The alleyway adjacent to the bookshop leads to a small bridge where two canals join.

Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens F/16 for 1/20secs ISO 200-Captured in the early evening

The pink and blue hues of early evening provided captivating imagery. Serendipity plays such a key role at times, such as in the image below where the only traffic on this particular section of the Grand Canal consisted of two gondolas. The image was captured in the early evening from the Rialto Bridge. For a more artistic rendition of the scene, Topaz Impression was used in post processing.

Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens f/16 for 1/55secs ISO 3200

The soft diffused light of the late afternoon lent itself to an artistic rendering of waterways reminiscent of many paintings of the city. Artistically rendering the images enhanced the warm tones of the yellows, oranges and reds in the buildings. Away from the major tourist corridors you will find bridges and waterways devoid of tourists which makes for more pleasant exploration. While the exterior of many buildings are typified by faded and peeling paint, applying an artistic rendering to the images of these buildings serves to restore the buildings to their former glory. The decorative window boxes full of colorful flowers provides a cheerful contrast. The artistic rendering was achieved using selective blending of Luminar 2018 and Topaz Studio.

Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens
Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens

Blue Hour Light: As the sun sets an ideal location from which to view the San Marco skyline is from the Dorsoduro district of Venice near the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. The area can easily be reached by crossing the Accademia Bridge. During Blue hour this area is relatively quiet,at least it was the evening we were there. Here you will find covered gondolas lining the shoreline ready for the next day's influx of guests. In capturing images from this location I elected to use a Singh Ray variable ND filter to increase the length of my exposure such that the gentle swaying of the gondolas would be rendered with motion blur. So with the camera mounted on a tripod I waited until there was a lull in the heavily trafficked area. The images from this vantage point are below.

Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens f/16 for 28secs ISO 200
Fuji X-T2 18-55mm lens f/22 for 15secs ISO 200

As nightfall descends on Venice the narrow empty streets can take on a eerie yet compelling feeling.

Fuji X-T2 10-24mm lens (Right: f/22 for 20 secs ISO 1250; Left: f/22 for 26secs ISO 250

As we neared Piazza San Marco serendipity smiled on us again, the low areas in front of the cathedral were flooded by the high tide of the Venice lagoon overflowing into the Piazza. Along with men, women and children two orchestral groups, one each side of the square were happily playing Italian music much to the delight of all. This was 11pm at night...quite a spectacle to witness. Luckily I had a tripod on hand and so set about finding a section of dry ground; waited for the kids to stop splashing their feet in the water and proceeded to capture the moment. The late hour rendered the sky black however it proved a wonderful contrast to the gold facade of St Mark's Basilica.

Fuji X-T2 f/16 for 20secs ISO 200

It is fitting to bring this post to a close with my favorite image from our adventures in Venice.

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