Venice in winter with the Nikon D810

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Venice in winter with a D810 by Dominique Robert:

Roughly 60,000 permanent residents versus 28 million tourists yearly, the Venetians are clearly overpowered. Traditional local trades, such as sausage-maker or puppeteer, are long gone, and even daily supply stores such as butchers’ shops or bakeries, are now being replaced by tourist traps full to the brim with Chinese “Venetian-looking” cheap merchandise. Even most of what is sold as so-called Murano glass comes from the industrial sweat shops and factories of the Far East.

No one will deny that mass tourism has brought an enormous influx of cash to the city, but the damages made to the lifestyle of the natives are now beyond repair. Nevertheless, “Venice as it was before” (provided there ever was a “before”: there was tourism already in the Middle Ages!) still remains, in pockets tucked away from the tourist throngs, and largely ignored by the outsiders.

There are also times when pressure from tourism abates a little, such as in the middle of winter, either before or after the Carnival. When you happen to return to Venice during one of those times, even though is it cold, the rain is pouring and the light is lugubrious, there are interesting opportunities for non-mainstream photography of l’altra Venezia, “the other Venice”, which a lover of the Serenissima cannot ignore.

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/1.4, 1/4000th sec at ISO 32

For this trip, I took a D810 body with a couple of Nikkors (24/1.4, 85/1.4, 300/4) and two Zeiss lenses (15/2.8 and 135/2), together with one Sigma (50/14. Art). I left home my Manfrotto backpack in favor of a very nondescript Eastpak leather backpack, very worn and inconspicuous, carrying the lenses inside in their individual pouches. On this subject, I hate to admit that, even though I’ve been a lifelong loyal and happy Nikon user, the lens pouches made by Canon are much better quality, with a strong semi-rigid leather base that protects the lenses really well. The grey rough leather upper parts can be inscribed with Sharpie felt-tip pens or the like, so you know instantly which lens is inside which pouch.

All this equipment withstood persistent rain perfectly. The 24/1.4 was on most of the time, and it got soaked more than once. It and the D810 always worked flawlessly in spite of the rain.

Please keep in mind that I had to degrade the quality of the JPEGs to 85 or 90 percent to fit NR’s requirements.

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/7.1, 1/50th sec at ISO 100

This is a little trick that Venetians like to play on people, even in locations somewhat remote from the beaten tourist track, like here, in this tea room near the Gesuiti church: “Sorry, the credit card machine is not working today…” This has two advantages: one, the shop owner does not have to pay the credit card commission, and two, since the tax authorities will not have any proof of exactly how much business will have been done, there’s room for some creativity…

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 300mm f/4 PF at f/4, 1/200th sec at ISO 125

Venice has grown and been built mostly haphazardly, as the centuries went by and island after island was conquered and their sandy and muddy soil consolidated and made fit for construction. Thus, houses sometimes retain the unlikely shapes dictated by the necessities of the ground they were built on. Sometimes, one wonders just how safe it is to live in some of those houses, but the locals obviously do not mind.

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/6.3, 1/60th sec at ISO 125

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/3.5, 1/50th sec at ISO 100

You will see a lot if this ivory Istrian stone in Venice, as it is almost immune to corrosion by brackish water that fills in and out of the lagoon with the tides, while rivers such as the Brenta pour their own fresh water into the lagoon. Other materials, such as metal, is much less durable and makes for exquisite bits of “rusty and crusty”.

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/1.4, 1/160th sec at ISO 64

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/5, 1/40th sec at ISO 200

This harmonious colonnade, although made famous by a German TV series recounting the adventures of a Venetian commissario, stands in a remote part of town and is almost never found by those who are looking for it.

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/5.6, 1/125th sec at ISO 125

What did I say above about unlikely-shaped buildings?

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/3.2, 1/50th sec at ISO 64

This is what “the other Venice”, that of the Venetians, often looks like today: stairs discreetly leading down to the canal, sorely in need of repair (as well as the surrounding buildings, literally eaten around their base by water), and a dark sotoportego leading to deserted back streets. The shops are gone, there are not many people left, and humidity and cold are everywhere.

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/3.5, 1/60th sec at ISO 64

This is the terrace of one of the most famous ice-cream parlors of all Venice. Bustling with tourist activity from mid-March to late December, it is otherwise sad and deserted… even though the gianduiotto specialty ice-cream is still as yummy as ever.

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/7.1, 1/640th sec at ISO 64

The Giudecca Island is a large island that’s not part of the historical, “downtown” Venice. Living there is less expensive, and the neighborhoods have remained largely untouched, as very few tourists ever roam them. There are large patches of grass, which are virtually unknown in Venice proper, and one feels like one is visiting the countryside. This house below is where a family of fishermen lives. They can often be seen on the banks of the nearby canal, cleaning fish and shellfish that they sell to local restaurants. In the spring and summer, they appropriate the public land in front of their house and set up an outside patio covered with greenery...

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/6.3, 1/125th sec at ISO 64

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/2.2, 1/1000th sec at ISO 64

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/1.4, 1/1250th sec at ISO 64

This island of Murano is of course famous for its few remaining glass-blowing factories, in which artistic treasures are still crafted daily. But it is also a residential island where many Venetians still live: the glass people of course, but also other residents chased away from the historical center by skyrocketing real estate prices, driven by the buying power of the tourists. And with many a house, comes also a mooring and a boat, as most Venetians are sailors, mariners, rowers…

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Nikon D810, Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8 at f/5.1, 1/400th sec at ISO 400

Don’t’ come to Venice to test the distortion of your new lenses on a brick wall, you might get unpredictable results…

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Nikon D810, Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8 at f/2.8, 1/80th sec at ISO 250

Lapping and flapping, water is always right next to you in Venice.

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Nikon D810, Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8 at f/3.5, 1/100th sec at ISO 125

To conclude this series, two more classical photos of Venice, where the sun does shine indeed, even in the winter… From the Accademia Bridge, the Grand Canal, more deserted than I’ve ever seen it, except in the dead of night, and the sun setting over the domes of La Salute church… Thank you for walking the wet, wintery and glistening streets of La Serenissima with me!

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 at f/8, 1/250th sec at ISO 64

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Nikon D810, Nikkor 300mm f/4 PF at f/5, 1/250th sec at ISO 500

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