Piazza San Marco

A photo of the tower in Piazza San Marco, in Venice.

Written by ian robert knight

Travel Photographer, Bangkok

Piazza San Marco

Venice – it’s a photographers dream city. It seems that you can hardly walk 3 meters without seeing something more to photograph. That was certainly the case for me, on any of my several visits to this fabulous city. The endless miles of canals, the ancient buildings, the gondolas with the singing gondoliers, and of course the Piazza San Marco…all add up to countless images that just can’t be captured anywhere else in the world.

One of the biggest challenges when shooting photos in Venice, is finding places without thousands of people. Since Venice is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, there is hardly a time when you will find any solitude. Perhaps in the colder months over winter there will be less people, but there will always be people in your photos. Except if you shoot how I did.

For this photo, I ventured out at about 5 am, which was about 90 minutes before sunrise. The streets and canals were beautifully quiet and dark. Navigating the labyrinth-like streets in the daylight is challenging enough, but even more difficult when it’s dark and there is no one from whom to ask directions. But that’s part of the fun of early morning photography adventures. I often get sidetracked with great little scenes of shadows and lights along my journey. And that happened several times in this case. Venice is a great place to photograph – especially when it’s empty early in the morning. 

I eventually found my way to Piazza San Marco just before the sun was peeking up from the horizon. Piazza San Marco itself was bereft of any tourists or hawkers selling cheap Chinese-made souvenirs. I made my way to the main canal area, and took the expected photos of the gondolas at sunrise. Those were beautiful images that are worthy of another post in the future. For most people, that would have been enough for one day, but I wasn’t ready to pack it in.


After the sun was up, and the daylight was beginning to brighten up the city, it was time to move on and let the tourists invade Piazza San Marco for their morning cappuccinos and cigarettes. But as I was leaving the area, I could now see that the piazza was starting to get some early flooding. It’s quite normal for Piazza San Marco to flood regularly – so much so that the city prepares elevated sidewalks for everyone to walk across the open areas without damaging their expensive Italian shoes.

But to me, it was interesting to see how the water was seeping up through the cracks in the pavement, and how it was possible to see the reflections in the morning light. This wouldn’t have been possible any other time of the day other than early in the morning.

I pushed my tripod down to its flattest level and found just the right angle as I lay on my belly on the ground. The water was slowly rising up and the puddle was getting larger as I was taking photos. Eventually, the whole piazza would be flooded after I was gone. Capturing the image of the bell tower of Piazza San Marco in the flood waters was a truly memorable experience that would be difficult to repeat. Getting up early is, more often than not, the way to make that happen. The early photographer gets the image?

Technical: 1/250 at f/11, iso 400, Nikon D700 with 12mm lens, shot at 8:45 am

If you’re interested in exploring Piazza San Marco in Venice, or anywhere in Italy and Europe, check out Private Photo Tours, for personalized photography experiences.

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