Travel Notes: Photographing Venice’s Carnival (Part 2)

Photographing Venice Carnival is an exciting experience! In Part 1, I went over how to get around and where to stay. In this article, I will discuss photographer and model etiquette, assess what gear I used and share experiences behind the scenes.

There are many popular locations for photographing Venice Carnival. Many times, the models wander into to those places on their own. Other times they have “handlers” or friends who accompany them. The best course of action is to walk to these locations on a daily basis. Typically, you do not have to wait very long for a model to show up. They may be there for a planned session, but it’s ok to take photographs, too. The models do not charge for their time.

Photography gear

While it is temping to take everything you own, don’t do it! A good zoom lens will be sufficient for most everything you do. On my last two trips out of the country I took a midrange zoom and used it for 99% of my images. I also took a wide-angle zoom, but used it once on both trips. Here is a list of the gear I packed for Carnival:

Gear assessment

When looking at the above list, you will notice there was gear that did not get used or was minimally used. Would I change what I brought with me? I had not planned on taking my wide zoom, but I fell to peer pressure. As for the Lensbaby lenses, they are super light and fun to play with so they will go with me again. The Omni wands give cool effects and do not take up much space and will likely go in my pack again.

Using a diffuser is a must. However, the Gary Fong diffuser I own is rigid and takes up a lot of space. There is a collapsible diffuser available that may fit better in my bag. I don’t like packing a tripod, but there are times when it’s needed. We had only one sunrise opportunity, the other days were foggy. It’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.

A tripod was beneficial in capturing the sunrise

My setup

My setup everyday was my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, M. Zuiko 12 — 100mm f/4.0, and the Olympus FL-700WR Electronic Flash with the Gary Fong flash diffuser attached. Why a flash during daylight hours? First reason, to open up the shadows. Second, they typically wear black makeup around their eyes behind the mask. The flash will make the eyes visible and provide a nice catch-light. Third, during the early morning hours, the flash will make the models standout against the background without over exposing the scene. And finally, the flash will make the colors pop on the costumes.

Keep in mind that as the light changes, so will your settings and the strength of your flash. At times, it’s challenging to find that perfect balance of light, especially on foggy mornings. One foggy morning in particular, it took more than 20 minutes to figure what my settings should be. It wasn’t until I turned off my flash and increased my ISO to capture a few images. I turned my flash back on and noticed that I was getting the images I wanted with a higher ISO.

While I am comfortable using a flash, when you are working fast with different backgrounds and lighting, there is much trial and error.

Many photographers, like me, use on camera flash with some sort of reflector or diffuser to soften the light. There were other photographers who had off camera lighting setups. While having an off camera strobe is ideal, I cannot imagine trying to pack soft boxes and stands. Some photographers held the off camera flash in their hand and used a radio control unit.

Photographer etiquette

Being a photographer photographing Venice Carnival, etiquette is something to take seriously. Standing shoulder to shoulder, back to front with 15 — 20 others who are vying for the same image is challenging. It doesn’t matter if you were there first; someone will step in front of you or try to elbow their way into your space. For the most part, the other photographers are nice and will apologize if they bump you. When caught up in the heat of the moment, someone may stand up unaware you are behind them. There is always an apology.

My advice is keep your cool and be tolerant. With that said, you will encounter those moments when others are not polite. Our group had a scheduled photoshoot with a group of masks. When you have a scheduled time with models there will always be additional people to appear. We were in a narrow alley (“the blue door”), probably about 5 feet wide, since there were three models we had to back up, along with the 20 others who where were behind us. One photographer walked in front of the group and sat down in a doorway in our shot. We kindly asked her to move and she refused. We explained to her that this was our scheduled time with the models and she still did not want to move. Finally, she got the message and huffed away. Don’t be that person.

Managing space

When in crowds, such as those photographing Venice Carnival, make yourself as big as possible. Use your legs and arms to create space around you. Anchor yourself in position. Many photographers stand with one leg in front of the other with about a foot and a half space between the feet. It helps with balance and controls the space in front and back of you.

Being an old film photographer, when I shoot vertical, my hand is on the top of the camera (in position when winding film). When your hand is in this position, your forearm and elbow are pointed out to the side of your head. This manages the space beside you.

Another way to think about managing space is to make yourself into a wall. Being tall has its advantages. When you hold your ground others will have to move around you.

One veteran Carnival photographer told me, “If there are a lot of photographers working with a model, after about five minutes they will get bored and move on.” I found this to be true most of the time. In this situation, just hang back in the back and as they leave move your way in. You may find yourself with a personal photoshoot.

Model etiquette

The key to photographing Venice Carnival is model etiquette. This is why you are there. The models have spent several months to a year on their costume. They want you to take their picture. In addition to taking their picture, they want to see their photographs. The props they carry are an important piece of their costume. Make sure you showcase their props. During the Carnival, I discovered that many of the models came from other countries, like Germany, France, Belgium, and even the United States and Great Britain. Many of the models have been doing this for years and several carry business cards with a photograph of their costume. Other information may be their social media contact or email address. They appreciate receiving the photographs.

Model showing her business card. Photographed with the Lensbaby Sol.

The models are polite, courteous and mostly tolerant of all going on around them. They are gracious when doing selfies with tourists. If you ask them to pose a certain way, they are more than willing. This is their moment. If you are a regular, they greet you. In one instance, one lady (no mask/costume) approached me in the market and was delightfully friendly. I told her I did not know her and then, there was a moment when I realized who she was. She wanted to make sure I had her email to send her photos. The models will remember who you are.

Bottom line, be nice to them and you will have great photo opportunities during the time your are there and in the future.

Post processing

When post processing your images be creative and try new techniques. I am a software junkie and own many post processing items. My go-to’s are Topaz Studio 2 and Luminar Neo. Both products give you preset filter to apply to your images or you can create your own. Topaz Studio 2 is considered a legacy program and you have to have previously owned it and have the activation key to use it.

The image below was first processed in Lightroom 12.2.1 and then using Luminar Neo as a plug-in a filter was added.

The next photograph was made into a painting by using Topaz Studio 2. The original was edited in Lightroom.

Final thoughts

Photographing Venice Carnival was an exciting adventure, one I would like to go on again. I would keep my gear simple and not worry about finding models because they are everywhere. There is a schedule of events posted online in advance. The schedule details the days and locations where the models will gather. Remember, this is their moment and you are there to document the costumes. The models come from all walks of life and are there to have fun. The event is for young and old, as many have been doing this for years. Even the pets get involved! Network and introduce yourself to the models, be sure to share their images with them. They will remember you!