Shooting “Old Familiar Places” with a New Eye
San Marco Square, Venice
One of the great challenges of travel photography is trying to find a new way to shoot a place that’s been covered almost to the point of cliché.
I was faced with this sort of dilemma when shooting San Marco Square in Venice for my Marco Polo book. Marco would have seen those two iconic 10th century towers of St. Mark and St. Theodore on the edge of the square facing the Grand Canal as he sailed from Venice in 1274. In my minds eye I envisioned a picture of the square including the two towers with a modern twist.
While researching Venice, I learned that the world’s largest cruise ship at the time, the Grand Princess, was scheduled to arrive there on its maiden voyage, so I planned my trip around the ship’s arrival. Armed with a ladder and tripod, my Italian assistant Marisa and I arrived at the appointed time and date, ready to get to work. We set up the ladder to shoot over the heads of tourists feeding pigeons in the square, with the camera on a tripod for a slow shutter speed. A zealous policeman on duty spotted us and told me that I needed a permit to shoot there, as well as a permit for my ladder and tripod. Directing Marisa to handle the situation, she charmingly engaged the officer with her conversation and blond locks. I kept my eye on the time and hurriedly prepared for the ship’s arrival. Marisa continued to distract and stall as this white behemoth glided silently into view..
The Grand Princess was moving quickly, I hustled to get in place. And just as the ship moved into full sight, a deafening blast from its horn rang out. It couldn’t have been timed better. Startled pigeons flew up and away from the ship, sightseers reeled around, all eyes, including those of the police, focused on the approaching leviathan. I shot all 36 exposures in a matter of seconds. The pigeons provided the unexpected touch, the slow shutter giving just the right amount of motion blur, and I had the shot I envisioned of two columns on the quay with a twist.