Gondolas at Sunrise

A photo of gondolas at sunrise in Venice, Italy.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

If you ask people to think of a symbol for Venice, most would reply ‘Gondolas’. The idea of slowly skimming down a canal, with a Gondolier singing Italian love songs, is something that many people dream of. It’s a romantic notion, and one that many tourists in Venice take part in.

Indeed, it’s difficult to walk through the streets of Venice without encountering the Gondolas. Today it’s only a tourist taxi, but for centuries it had been used to ferry locals through the maze of canals that cover the city. In its heyday, there were as many as 10,000 Gondolas roaming the canals, but today there are just over 400. There are strict rules and standards that govern the Gondola industry, including everything from the licensing of Gondoliers, to how the boats are to be painted.

This particular image was shot quite early in the morning, on the same day that I shot the photo of the Campanile in Piazza San Marco. I had gotten up and pushed myself out the door at about 5:30 in the morning. The morning light in Venice is spectacular, and well worth the effort it takes to get up early. When you venture out early, you see places in completely different light. The colours are different, the shadows are different, and often the streets are empty. This was certainly the case in Venice that morning.

Blending images

Like many of my photos, this one is a blend of three images, and then tone mapped into one final image. In situations like this, where there is a lot of differences between dark areas and light areas, so blending multiple images is often the best way to create a compelling photograph. The sunrise was quite bright, causing deep dark shadows, and a blend was the way to go.

Normal Exposure, Underexposed image at -1EV, Overexposed image at +1EV

Although blending photographs can solve many problems with lighting, it can create problems too. In this photo, since the boats are sitting in a canal, they were bouncing up and down as the waves would lift them rhythmically. Since I shot 3 photos, the boats were not in the exact same position each time. Since the photos are stacked in the processing step, it’s important to get a good registration. Using a tripod helps, as I did in this image. But you can’t account for moving water or wind. During the blending process, I had to select parts of the boats as the ‘base’, and erase blurry parts that were not needed. It takes a little bit of time, but the resulting photo is worth it.

As the sun was rising, it was creating a beautiful yellow-orange glow on the left of the image. I positioned the sun so that it was directly behind the lamp post, so the glass in the lamp looked like it was part of the light source. There is some artistic license with the colour saturation as well, making the colours pop a bit more. The resulting image, although not traditionally a ‘pure’ photograph, is a lot closer to how I remember it when I shot it that morning.

1/10, 1/20 and 1/5 sec @ f/29, on Nikon D700 with Sigma 12-24 lens at 19mm, ISO 100 at 7:18 am

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