It lasted 7 minutes and was as thrilling as it was unexpected. This is the story of how I came to create my image that appears on the cover of a new book about Venice, Dream of Venice in Black and White.
I took the shot in January 2017, planning my trip to Venice to coincide with the full moon and high tide. It was a fortuitous decision. When I arrived, Venice was caught in the grip of an icy weather front from the east. Temperatures had plummeted and there were ice sheets floating on the lagoon. Within 36 hours of arriving, I witnessed the Piazza San Marco under 30cms of water and later a dusting of snow, as well as the sea mist that I captured in my image. For a photographer, it doesn’t get much better.
On the evening I took the shot, I’d positioned myself by the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. It’s a prime location since it offers views in three directions: to the north, the Grand Canal and the piazzetta, busy with gondolas and tourists in the early evening; to the east, the church of San Giorgio Maggiore whose marble façade warms to a soft apricot hue in the late afternoon sun; and, to the south, the long, low strip of the Giudecca seemingly floating on the lagoon as if by magic.
The sun disappears early behind the Giudecca and as the light faded that evening, I started to think about packing up. But despite having stood on that same spot with camera and tripod numerous times before, the view held me and I hesitated. And then, as the light faded and the temperature dropped, a mist rose from the lagoon like a sea serpent. Its cold tentacles reached up the great dome as if to ensnare the statue of the Redeemer, before expiring and mingling once more with the inky waters of the lagoon. In all, 7 minutes – just long enough for me to recompose my shot, compose myself, and fire off a few exposures.
The photograph I created from those brief minutes is one of my favourite images. Not only because it records a magical moment in a place that’s very dear to me, but because the image represents so much of the landscape photographer’s experience:
- Knowledge built up over hours of research and many trips to Venice: where the sun rises and sets, how the light falls and changes, of the best places to stand at different times of day.
- Technical and artistic experience learnt through failing and trying again, enabling me to be able to adapt and react to changing conditions.
- The vision required to see the finished image before you’ve even pressed the shutter, and the discipline and faith to stay true to your own unique way of portraying the world.
- The grit and determination required to rise from a warm bed to stand in the cold waiting patiently for something magical to happen and to not throw in the towel when it doesn’t.
- More than anything, it represents hope. The hope that if we persevere and revisit the same spot often enough at the most conducive time, our patience and dedication will be rewarded with something truly magical that enriches us not just as photographers but as human beings.|
‘Dream of Venice in Black and White’ reveals Venice as a narrative in chiaroscuro, with contributions from over 50 photographers who have documented the city to create a visual legacy of elegant realism in light and shadow. It will be published in September and can be pre-ordered from: Amazon UK and Amazon US
Image technical details
Canon 5D Mark IV (body) – Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II (lens) – 53mm (focal length) – f11 (aperture) – 100 (ISO) – 30 seconds (exposure)