Yesterday , I just came back from a week trip to cover this year Venice ‘s carnival. As a photographer , I always have had a special interest for carnivals , festivals or people in costumes in general. This was my third time at the Venice Carnival over a period of 25 years. Not surprisingly , one of the first thing that comes to mind is how much the event has changed over that period. Even die-hard fans would have to admit that the carnival has become much more “commercial”. This include large podium stands with loud music on Piazza san Marco, more souvenir shops and some disastrous effects of ” tourism de masse”. That being said , this period of the carnival still remains a wonderful opportunity for people to discover this very special town. For photographers, it still offers great photographic opportunities as long as one is clear about certain factors.
It is also worth noting that Venice is one of these places in Europe which is so popular that it is busy with tourists pretty much all-year round ( very much like Prague or Paris to name a few). In order to make the best of your visit to Venice, I thought I would share some advice :
1/ Be an early riser. During the carnival (and I suspect during the rest of the year too) the day starts early. If you are a tourist wanting to visit the main monuments or go up on some of the Piazza san Marco you need to be there early (think 7 or 8am). For photographers, if you want to get to photograph the nicest costumes without a huge crowd of cheesy tourists who are only interested in selfies, forget about doing any great images on piazza san Marco after 9am !
2/ Be picky about your accommodation. Unless you are honeymooning at the Danieli, my advice is to stay away from hotels right by the main place. In addition to have an overpriced hotel reservation, you may face some noisy nights as there are many events and crowds who might impede on your beauty sleep. I have stayed in different places over the years in Venice and I would advise staying in a Bed & Breakfast if you are traveling solo or with your significant other. If you are traveling in a larger group you might consider reserving an apartment. Those accommodations may not have an elevator or a TV (especially in the bedroom) but that is a good thing 😉
3/ Try to moderate your ego. Very often, photographers are asked why they chose that path (this is not to be rich, that’s for sure 😉 . There are a few possible answers to that question but If I had been asked this week, I would have undoubtedly answer : “to be on the right side of the camera”. I explain : I never make “selfies” but I can see why some people would like to email to friends and/or post one or two images of themselves on the internet in front of a famous monument or with a person wearing a great costume . That is fine. However, taking EVERY picture on a trip with you on a single trip is a sure sign that you are :
A: a self-obsessed teenager who spends too much time on the net and think that everyone is interested in everything you do or post (boy , are you up for a disappointment).
B: someone with an over-inflated ego and who does not understand the magic of discovering new places and realizing that some pics (if not all) are more interesting without you in them. Believe it or not making some pics of people in costumes and places without you in it is also a way to document your travel.
4/Try to be not your typical “follow-the-crowd” visitor. As I have said earlier, the time period between my covering the Venice carnival is very long so I noticed several changes over the years. One thing though seems to be pretty consistent : the amount of tourists which are visiting for several days and yet manage to stick around two or three main areas in the city . The part between Piazza San Marco and the Danieli hotel, the area around the Rialto bridge and the Murano & Burano islands. To put things in perspective, this would be like being in Paris and only visiting Montmartre and the Eiffel tower (or coming to NY city and only visiting Soho & Times Square). These are places that maybe of interest to you for whatever reason but you are missing the chance to get the real soul of the city. In Venice there are so many streets (and some of them are so tiny that they may not even qualify as a street by most standards). This is why any tourist city map only feature a very small portion of them. in Venice you can do something that may not be a good idea elsewhere : you see a small street that is not on the map, take it you might get surprised with a old venetian house with beautiful details adorning its facade or the cutest italian bistro or an memorable off-the-grid “Enoteca”(Italian wine bar). There are several areas you should not pass like the Cannaregio district. this area in the Northern part of the island is the most populated and one of the most genuine parts of Venice. Depending on how many nights you have in Venice, try to establish a program that gives you ample time to wander around the tiny streets of the island and get a true feel of the cité.
5/ Show some respect for the city and its inhabitants. Each year ,Venice has to go super-mega big cruise boats sail very close to the Main island. This does not help with the high waters phenomenon and increases pollution. In my opinion this is a very tacky, disrespectful to arrive in the city. Another thing to keep in mind (this is true in every city by the way) : the world is not your trash. There are many trashes around the city and leaving your ice cream cones or other waste on the floor or on the wall ledges is a big no-no. There is a large consensus thinking of Venice as one of the most romantic cities in the world. Therefore , forget staying in a place with a TV for a few days , follow the small paths away from the big crowds of noisy groups and prepare yourself for the magic of the city.