Early morning in The Floating City reveals much of the beauty normally obscured by hordes of tourists.

This is why I packed up my camera gear last Thursday night, checked the train schedule, set my alarm for 5:30 a.m., and fell asleep with the intention to seize the visual opportunities found when Venice awakens. Even arriving at the Santa Lucia station just before 7 a.m. the following morning told me that I’d best plan even an hour earlier next time if I really wanted to capture the most magical light.

Still, the human presence was sparse, save the Venice workers I’d resolved to make the focus of my early morning photo essay. These are the unsung heroes of keeping the city functioning. The choreography of their work, in a city that is only accessed by boats and dollies, is like none other.

I boarded a thinly-populated vaporetto.

Just outside the station, I found the Number 2 line. Within five minutes I was aboard with eight other people, at most. I quickly assembled my gear, opting for my sweet Canon 300mm F2.8 lens which enables me to get up close and personal on the scenes unfolding all along Venice’s Grand Canal. During normal hours this is an impossibility given that my camera, when fully loaded, can be cumbersome as a small hand-held cannon—and a weapon when wielded in a crowd.

As the boat left the stop, I was armed and ready. The boat’s leisurely pace along the canal and the absence of a significant human presence encroaching on my space gave me the calm to look, to explore, and to shoot away. The four images in this post are four of my favorite from this excursion, though there are many more.

What strikes me about the featured image in this post is the backdrop and sense of majesty. I love how the man with the dolly on the boat who stands out, even in his diminutive scale, against the majestic palazzi crowding the sides of the Grand Canal.

Venice Awakens, ItalyWise

Tattoos at Work © Jed Smith


Early morning preparations.

This may be one of my favorite figure studies of all time and I’m still pinching myself that I captured it. My arms were already getting weary from swinging my camera and “big gun” into shooting position when I spied this young man in early morning vaporetto preparations. I captured three frames. Even at the boat’s languid pace, such visual opportunities come and go quickly. This was the second frame, and I’m learning that THE shot is often sandwiched between two less-successful compositions.


Venice Awakens, ItalyWise

Laundry © Jed Smith

Laundry time.

Massive tourism. Innumerable hotels. They generate mountains of laundry. And I’m enamored with laundry pick-up and delivery. This particular image was captured as the Grand Canal makes the turn toward San Marco. Traffic is sparse and, within the hour, this will be an entirely different (crowded) scene.


Venice Awakens, ItalyWise

Before the Crowd © Jed Smith

No customers, yet.

Along the Grand Canal are gondola crossing points (six, I believe) called stazi. Utilizing these quick crossings can lop twenty minutes off a journey normally taken on foot. This gondolier is parked and ready for his first crossing (schedules are posted), his smartphone is his sole companion.

If you’ve enjoyed this photo essay…

Be sure to check out my black and white photo gallery!