Gondolas – The story behind the image

I wanted to capture the gondolas by the waterfront near St. Mark’s Square basking in the glory of the morning golden hour. This meant getting there at least an hour before sunrise. The alarm clock went off as early as ever. The camera gear was ready from the night before. I put my little folding map of Venice in my back pocket and I was out the door.

Even though St. Mark’s Square wasn’t too far from where we were staying, I allowed myself an hour to get there. Getting lost in the maze of alleyways is part of the charm of this iconic place and it can easily be done during the day. Getting lost at night with no one around to ask for directions would probably be just as easy if not easier, but a bit less charming.

The street lights bathed the narrow alleyways in a calm glow. The closed signs hung proudly on the doors of the snoozing shops. The market stalls tucked away for the night. Along the canals, the gondolas getting their well deserved rest. The silence of the quiet night was quite the contrast to the roar of the busy day.

It wasn’t too long before I noticed little shimmers in the shadows on the side of the alleyway ahead. I thought maybe my eyes are still adjusting to the street light, but there was definitely something moving there. When I realised what it was I got a major flashback to the day before. We were exploring the numerous shops and market stalls, which are around almost every corner, and pretty much every one that was selling printed t-shirts had exactly the same kind of a t-shirt or a slight variation of it. Venice At Night – that was the caption and below it was a drawing of a friendly rat. I was wondering why this is. Now I knew. The rats were moving hastily along the edges of the surrounding buildings, slipping in and out of the ground level cracks and occasionally crossing the alleyway to a nearby rubbish bin. I felt a bit uneasy at first but a couple of blocks down and I got used to them roaming around. Most importantly the t-shirt mystery was solved.

After getting lost a couple of times I arrived at St. Mark’s Square. It looked just as amazing resting there silent and peaceful in its quiet night mode as it did in its vibrant day mode. I paused to admire it for a few minutes.

The golden hour was here. I made my way to the waterfront on Riva Degli Schiavoni near Doge’s Palace. Rows of gondolas gently rocking side to side in the waters of the Grand Canal. I wanted to capture their rocking motion while everything around them stood still. One way to achieve this is to use a long exposure while your camera is mounted on a tripod. Anything from a couple of seconds upward, depending on the amount of available light and the final result you have in mind.

I walked up and down the length of the waterfront between Doge’s Palace and the Palace Gardens looking for different compositions that I liked. At each point I’d put the tripod down and make a long exposure. I was careful with the number of different compositions because I knew that time would run out pretty quickly when working with long exposures. When your exposures are about 20 seconds each, as they were in this case, the golden hour effectively gets reduced to golden 20 minutes of shooting time, excluding any time spent looking for different compositions.

The Gondolas image above was my last and favourite composition so I decided to make a few extra exposures here. All the elements fit perfectly for what I had in mind. The rocking gondolas as the main subject. The little pier, posts and street light as my stationary contrast. The backdrop of the winding Grand Canal and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance. All lit by the beautiful morning golden hour light.

I particularly loved the warm colour of the street light and how it balanced the colder tones in the rest of the scene. That little light added a lot to the image for me. It was my second visual anchor to the gondolas. The warm stationery Yang to the cold rocking Yin. I made 3 exposures and the light went off, as did the rest of the street lights down the stretch of the waterfront. I felt like screaming an epic NOOO, along with a few other words I won’t mention here, but that was it. The Yang was gone and there was nothing I can do to bring it back. I made a few more exposures without it, but it was simply not the same. The travel plans for the next few days didn’t include me coming back to this same spot at this same time (or earlier) so I was very happy and lucky that I got a chance to capture it while it was there.

Daylight was now well above the horizon and the sun was about to show its smiley face. A few people arrived to watch the sunrise as I was packing up. I stayed back to marvel at its beauty as well. I felt its warmth as I started walking back through St. Mark’s Square. It was time to pick a little cafe for some breakfast and flip through the images.

Image Gallery

You can view the complete image gallery from the Europe collection here.

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