Doges Palace Piazza San Marco Venice Italy

Pre-dawn at the Doge's Palace in Venice Italy

It’s 4:40am – the shrill squawk of the alarm clock has just sent shivers down my spine.  Two thoughts come to mind – ‘holy cow – it’s early’ and ‘where’s the coffee.’
Neither thought gets answered very well.   It’s pitch black in this tiny space that someone calls a hotel room.  I fumble around for my clothes and my gear, all the while trying to be quiet enough to let my wife continue sleeping.  I’m a little jealous.

I gingerly open and close the hotel room door, make my way down a flight of stairs to the hotel exit and then I’m out into the fresh morning air.  But I can’t shake that unsettled feeling that I’m forgetting something.  I have my tripod, my small day-pack filled with extra lenses, filters, batteries and memory cards.  I have my favorite trekking shoes on.  Everything’s here…

I walk on toward my selected spot feeling the anticipation of the first day of shooting.  This is going to be a good one – I can feel it.  As I get close to my destination I reach for my camera to start the process that I’ve become so familiar with – oh crap, now I know what I forgot – no camera!

I’m hustling to be in place for a sunrise shoot in beautiful Venice, I have everything I need – everything except my camera.  It’s back in the hotel room along with my beautiful, sleeping wife.  No worries.  Feeling a little sheepish I run back to the hotel, up the flight of stairs and quietly sneak into my room where a friendly mumble greets me.  I mention that I forgot something, grab my camera – trying to look not quite as dumb as I felt, and head back out for some shots.

I have about a quarter of a mile to walk through totally deserted streets.  These streets are so narrow that I can practically touch buildings on both sides at the same time.  With every step I’m reminded of why I love Venice so much – it’s a magical place – so unique and beautiful. It feels like I’ve stepped onto a movie set or opera stage.

I round the corner to Piazza San Marco and come to a stop.  The scene before me is breath-taking.  It is absolutely silent.  The sky behind the basilica is just starting to lighten to a deep royal-blue.  The yellowish lanterns and lamps glow and fill the piazza with rich warm colors, shadows and textures.  I absolutely love this part of my job.

I spend an hour or so creating photos, working angles – looking for ways to convey the beauty before me onto the digital sensor in my camera.  To me, that’s the difficult part; how do you accurately capture the feelings of “being there?”  I don’t think you truly can, but you can come close – I’ve seen it happen.

As the sky brightens I know that I need to make my way to the spot I’ve selected for sunrise.  Once there, I mount the lens on the camera, the camera on the tripod and re-check all the settings.  I’ve done this thousands of times before, but I still make a habit of reviewing all the camera settings.  The scene is framed, I’m ready, and now I wait.

I am still moved by the first moment of dawn as that brilliant ray of sunlight blasts the scene in front of me with an intense warm glow.  A scene that just moments before was grayish blue is now suddenly brilliant – full of color, golden, yellow, orange, red hues – all contrasting beautifully against a blue sky.  With the excitement of a 5-year old at Christmas I begin filling my memory cards with shot after shot.

This is what I came to capture.  It doesn’t always work the way you planned it, but when it does… it’s sure rewarding.

Just don’t forget your camera!

Grand Canal Santa Maria Della Salute Venice Italy

Dawn on the Grand Canal with Santa Maria della Salute, Venice Italy