13 Tips for Getting the Best Shots During the Venice Carnival

February 13

11 min. to read

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Follow these tips to take mind-blowing photos during the Venice Carnival.

A world of breathtaking costumes set amidst an iconic cityscape, the Venice Carnival is truly a photographer’s wonderland. For a full two weeks in late January/early February, you can hang out in the Piazza San Marco and see some stunning mask/costume artistry, or wander the streets, alley ways and canals randomly bumping into people who look like they’ve just emerged from a fairy tale. The people in traditional Venetian costumes, or “Masks” as they’re called, often spend months dreaming up their character and creating their costumes, and their artistry transforms the city into another world.

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Unfortunately, however, this phenomenon is well-known throughout the world and thousands of other photographers will be there with you, as well as up to three million tourists, most of whom are also trying to get photos. This means that getting the shots you want may sometimes seem impossible, especially if you come not knowing what to expect. So, if you’re planning to enjoy the Carnival of Venice through the lens, here are few tips you should know.

The Where and When

The carnival is so full of opportunities for great images, where to start first? 

1. The Best Shots Start at the Doge’s Palace at Dawn

Yes, you read that correctly. Dawn. It’s an open secret shared by professional photographers and Masks alike. Not only is the light amazing, but there are no tourists, which is in itself a virtual miracle. There’s literally nothing between you and getting the shots you really want, all with the backdrop of the amazing scenery surrounding the Doge’s Palace. So what time is dawn? Generally, somewhere between 5:30-6:00 a.m. Depending on the weather and the crowds, you can still get some decent shots up until about 9 a.m. After that, though, the Piazza San Marco becomes so packed there’s not really any point in hanging around. 

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2. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Lost.

Once the square becomes too crowded to really get any decent shots it’s time to wander. Try checking out nearby plazas, streets, and canals. The Masks enjoy circulating through the town and you can not only find them in the iconic areas of Venice, but also on the nearby islands. Often it’s shots taken while wandering that come out the most memorable.

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3. Evening at San Giorgio Maggiore

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore can be notoriously difficult for photography. Not only are the crowds rather intense, but you’ll often find yourself shooting into the sun. To remedy this (at least the lighting issue), time your visit with the golden hour. Also, a lot of the action tends to move that direction at that time anyway, so you won’t be missing anything. To get there, take the Vaporetto no. 2 from stop San Zaccaria.

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What Gear to Bring

During Carnival, you’ll be sharing the space with around three million others. Here are a few tips on what to carry on the streets.

4. Lighter is Better

Imagine swirling around a city square with up to three million other folks. Sounds a bit iffy for carrying a lot of gear, doesn’t it? While people are mostly polite and try to avoid jostling, it does happen.

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5. The Long Lens

Carrying too many lenses will weigh you down, but there are a couple that will make your life a lot easier. The first is a telephoto lens with a fairly large aperture. With the crowds being what they are, there will be plenty of situations where you simply can’t get anywhere near your subject. A decent telephoto lens will allow you to both isolate your subject and blur the background, fuzzing out the crowds behind them.

6. The Wide Angle

While you’ll probably find it challenging to get decent photos with a wide angle lens when surrounded by a myriad of tourists, there are times when it will come in handy. Use it during those rare times when you have a fairly clear field of vision. It can do wonders for putting your subjects in context, especially with the amazing architecture of Venice greeting you at every turn.

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7. A Good Mid-Range Zoom

This lens will probably be your best bet while wandering the streets away from the square or when shooting in the square from the ground up (a trick that can yield some great shots while getting around the bodies in front of you). If you’re more into working with prime lenses, just make sure you bring ones you’re used to, as positioning in a crowd can be a bit challenging.

8. Try a Shoulder Bag Instead of a Backpack

When photographing any crowded area, a good shoulder bag with top access is often handier than using a backpack. Not only is the access quicker, it can also help you guard your gear from pickpockets.

Telling the Story

Ultimately the best photos will tell a story, and carnival photos are no exception. 

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9. Look for Moments That Can Bring a Bit of Narrative to Your Shot

While the costumes and masks of the Venice Carnival stand quite well on their own, they’re always a bit more interesting when there’s a bit of narrative the viewer can grab onto, even if subtly.

10. Capture Some Candid Moments

While the choreographed events during the carnival can be both beautiful and fascinating, adding a few candid shots can really help the viewer get a better sense of the overall flavor. This goes for photographing the Masks as well. Sure, they look amazing when posed, but sometimes the shots of them relaxed are more compelling. And even the random tourist here and there can provide some interesting content (as in the shot above).

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11. Go for the Photo You Want but Don’t Forget to Have Fun

While the pursuit of the ultimate photo can be a type of fun in itself, it can also be quite frustrating if too many things get in the way. Just remember, if you miss a few shots, the opportunity might come back around. If not, there will most likely be other great opportunities you weren’t expecting. And remember to put the camera down from time to time and live a little. After all, the carnival is about reveling.

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12. Don’t Be Afraid to Exchange Business Cards

If someone you’re shooting offers a business card, this means that they’d like you to send them a copy of the image you took. And honestly, it’s only fair—during the carnival they spend hours posing for photographers, regardless of the weather. Not to mention all the time and thought and creativity they put into making them. So if they hand you a business card, take it and maybe even offer them one of your own. (This is especially useful if you want to hire them for a private session.)

13. Don’t Forget to Edit!

While you may get a couple of stunning shots in camera, chances are that you’ll have a fair amount of post-processing to do with the majority of your photos. With Luminar you can easily erase many extraneous elements in your photos (like tourists), correct for the times you’re forced to shoot into the sun (which will be often), and generally give your photos the shine they deserve. Wanna give it a whirl? Luminar is now offering a free 14-day trial—just in time for getting your carnival photos taken care of. Already convinced? You can buy it here for just $69, the price of a couple great meals during Carnival.

Hopefully, armed with these tips, you’ll have a decent chance of both enjoying the Carnival and landing some fantastic shots. Happy shooting!

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