On Location Photographing Venice in Black and White

In October 2018, I made my second trip to Venice. When I’d first visited back in July 2017, the weather was good and it was nice and warm the entire time I was there. When the sun is out the city is full colour and vibrancy and being someone who prefers to shoot in colour, I didn’t consider doing anything else.

You can read about my previous visits to Venice in my two-part article here:

Fast forward to October 2018 and the weather forecast was quite different. Throughout the time we would be in the city, the weather would start to deteriorate. We would have some sunny weather to start but by the last day there was heavy rain predicted so I knew right away that I would need to adjust my plans to capture some photos I would be happy with.

Photographing Venice with the Fujifilm XT2

On this trip, I would have with me my Fujifilm XT2. It’s the big brother to my X-T10 and although the X-T10 is a lighter camera, I decided to take the heavier XT2 as not only does it have the great image quality and tactile controls I love using so much, but it also has a weather-sealed body so it was less of a concern if I was out shooting in damp weather.

With the XT2, I took the following lenses, all of which you will see photos taken with below:

  • XF10-24mm

  • XF18-55mm

  • XF35mm f2 (weather-sealed)

  • XF55-200mm

Although I had all of these lenses with me, I would typically head out with just one on the camera and one in the bag. I like to travel light when on a city break and the Fuji X system helps me do that without compromising on the quality one bit.

Photographing Venice in Black and White

As mentioned above, I usually take colour photos and black and white would tend to be a bit of an afterthought. I might choose to convert to black and white if the photo is not working in colour and it would always be during the editing stage and rarely when capturing the photo.

For this trip to Venice, I decided to change things up a bit. I chose one of Fujifilm’s cracking black and white film simulations so I could visualise the image in black and white as I was taking it, removing the wait to see how it looks in Lightroom. This method worked incredibly well for me and I ended up with lots of images I really liked.

Although I used the film simulations to capture the photos, I did still record the raw files too as I wanted to process the photos myself when I returned from the trip using the JPGs as a reference. This way I retained all the creative control and if I saw an image that looked better in colour, I still had all of that data to play with.

San Marco Basin and San Giorgio Maggiore

A photo of the San Marco Basin in the rain taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/125th sec
f/2

ISO640
35mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF35mm F2

The first set of photos were taken from various angles looking across San Marco Basin towards the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. San Marco Basin is located towards the south of the island at the mouth of the Grand Canal and there are so many angles and compositions to shoot here.

I really like the contrast that black and white processing provides as it helps the tourists and their umbrellas stand out as silhouettes against the brighter background as they cross the bridge in the image above. It really helps tell the story of the conditions that day and I love the feeling I get from this photo.

I have found that black and white photography allows you to push the highlights and crush the blacks much more than you would dare in a colour photo and the high contrast images you are left with can have lots of impact and work well for photos such as these.

A photo of Gondolas in Venice on the San Marco Basin taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/9000th sec
f/4.5

ISO1250
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

A photo of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across the San Marco Basin taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/3200th sec
f/4.5

ISO200
86mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF55-200mm

A photo of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across the San Marco Basin taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/1100th sec
f/2

ISO200
35mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF35mm F2

 

The Gondolier

During both of my trips to Venice, I couldn’t stop taking photos of the iconic gondolas as they would float peacefully along the twists and turns of the seemingly never-ending canals. These instantly recognisable boats are fun to shoot, especially when they catch the occasional light hitting the water creeping through the gaps between the buildings and with those tall Venetian structures flanking the canals they make perfect compositional frames which look fantastic in a black and white image.

A photo of a Gondolier on the canal in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/25th sec
f/4

ISO200
46mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

When converted to black and white, the photo can have a somewhat timeless look to it and in Venice, even more so as without any modern distractions in a lot of the scenes, these photos look like they could have been taken any time in the last 50 years. I guess it’s a bit of a throwback to the past when there was no colour photography and black and white film is all there was to use.

A photo of a Gondolier on the canal in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/1400th sec
f/4.5

ISO200
10mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF10-24mm

 
A photo of a Gondolier on the canal in Venice shot through a hole taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/80th sec
f/4

ISO400
55mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

 

Venice at Night

A photo of Piazza San Marco and San Marco Basin in Venice at night taken by Trevor Sherwin

15 secs
f/16

ISO200
50mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

 

Black and white photography is particular good when taking low key images as those shown here.

I really like the mood in the image above, in particular the tower of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore partially illuminated across the water and the light from street lamps illuminating their ornate shapes and features. This style created the mood I was looking for perfectly.

A photo of a street lamp in an alley in Venice taken at night by Trevor Sherwin

1/125th sec
f/2.8

ISO1600
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

A photo of Piazza San Marco in Venice at night taken by Trevor Sherwin

30 secs
f/14

ISO200
18mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF18-55mm

Piazza San Marco

You can’t possibly visit Venice and not capture a few photos of the striking architecture at Piazza San Marco. I had to get up extra early to capture the images of the square being empty of people but with all of the people removed, these photos portray well how a black and white image can emphasise the lines, shapes and patterns such as the paving slabs on the ground or the buildings that flank the square shown in the images below.

A photo of the Basilica San Marco in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/6th sec
f/8

ISO200
17mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF10-24mm

A photo of the Basilica San Marco in Piazza San Marco in Venice taken by Trevor Sherwin

1/10th sec
f/16

ISO200
10mm
Fujifilm X-T2
XF10-24mm

This was my first attempt at some deliberate black and white photography and I couldn’t have picked a better camera or a more beautiful setting to give it a try. Who knows, I may even attempt a similar approach on one of my regular walks around London. I wrote in my last post how we all should step out of our comfort zone now and then to see what we are really capable of and while in Venice I feel I did this and as I am happy with the photos I took, it was well worth it.

Until next time.