I live in northern Italy, close enough to visit Venice many times a year, without the need of a place to stay for the night. Therefore, Venice Carnival is a must, for me, and I do not miss the chance to spend a couple of days during the final week shooting wonderful masks and costumes. This year I went to Venice on the last thursday and monday. While my fist day has been gifted by a sunny and pleasant temperature, the second one has been ruined by wind, clouds, a hint of snow and rising tide. Unfortunately, I am not enough of an expert of the city to make good use of it with awful weather. The city where I live, Verona, helds its carnival on friday of the same week. That's an entirely different matter from Venice, as you will see, but given the fact that it's one of our oldest traditions, I definitely can't miss it, too. But, for now, back to Venice!
I travelled to Venice on thursday morning, with a photographer friend, Mauro, and one of his friends. They were going to Venice for another shoot, so we shared the ride and the hefty car park bill. You can have a look at Mauro's web site here: http://www.mauromagagna.it He's a huge fan of South Africa, and some day I might join him on one of his trips. We parted at the train station, and I joined another group of photographers, this time heading to Madonna della Salute, a church close to San Marco, just on the other side of Canal Grande. We spent a couple of hours shooting masks on the church stairs and at the nearby Punta della Dogana. Masks, at least those who come to Venice every year (many of them are French or German), have a kind of schedule, and move between some locations at fixed times. I think this is due to have a decent light for photos. The place wasn't too crowdy, but, even if I carried all my gear with me, I did not set up any additional lighting, mostly because I was moving with a group, and I did not want to hold them for long in case they decided to move elsewhere.
When we left Madonna della Salute, we decided to eat something for lunch. My mates, experienced photographers showed me Clodia, a cheap bar very close to San Marco, crowded with other photographers. Definitely a place to go. After some long technical and artistical chat, we moved to the close San Zaccaria, another of the "fixed locations" for masks, especially in the early afternoon. San Zaccaria delicate pink marble facade is an excellent background for many pictures, and sometimes I happened to spot costumes whose colors had been chosen to match the church's decorations. I spent my time again shooting with available light, and observing the way the other photographers did their job. The clear feeling is that masks and photographers know each other, by having met for years in the same situation, at least most of them. A lot of effort goes into making these costumes, and people travel thousands of miles, spending a lot of money to wear them in Venice, so having some good photos is very important to them, and that's the reason why they might privilege photographers with whom they already have some relationship.
I left San Zaccaria and went back to the bus station, to meet with Mauro and come back home. I spent most of my time shooting with my Canon 5D mkII, my faithful 80-200 f/2.8 L (the "magic drainpipe") and available light, dragging an unused but heavy trolley with my full gear (lights, stands, tripod...). Next time I'll leave it at home.
The day after, it was Verona's turn. Verona Carnival is called "Bacanal", and it's a traditional cart parade, with neighborhood characters and a Carnival Chief, Papà del Gnoco. As far as I know, it's the same "template" you can find in Viareggio or in Rio de Janeiro. The parade runs from one of the city gates through most of the center, with big carts sometimes having troubles to move in the narrow streets and sharp bends of its track. It takes all the afternoon between the leader's start and the last of the carts arriving in Piazza San Zeno, the heart of the traditional Carnival (known as Piazza Bacanal). Some crowded places, like Piazza Bra, also pose a major hurdle for the big carts at the end of the parade. The tradition dates back to 1531, when a riot in Piazza San Zeno, caused by famine and bakers stocking up in wheat, was calmed by some rich people, who, picked at random, had to give a free meal to the insurgents. One of them, probably Tommaso Da Vico, decided spontaneously to donate part of his goods to this cause, and since then, Papà del Gnoco represents him as the leader of the Carnival. I decided to test myself with a prime lens, so I went out with just the 5D mkII and my Canon 85mm f/1.8. Last time I did such a thing, I used a 50mm f/1.4, but I came to the conclusion that it's not the lens for me. Things went a bit better with the 85mm, but I was not impressed. In my opinion, the real killer lens for this event could be the 100-400 zoom. Let's remember that for 2014.
The above image should give you an idea of the size of the carts, and about how crowded the city is. I was with a close friend, we stayed until 6pm and then decided to go home. Not a very interesting day, photographically speaking. I think that shooting things that you are used to know since early childhood just adds a challenge.
A few days later, I went back to Venice. Monday was an entirely different beast: cold, wind, snow, rising tide. That kind of sums it up. I arrived very early, picked up three friends in Mestre, and went to Venice. Luckily one of them was a cosplayer, wearing a dress from Mirror Mirror, otherwise we would have some hard time to find a mask before 10am. The weather was awful, and my friends decided to head back to the hotel, I stayed in the city because I hoped to make some clever use of the snow. Bad idea. When I realized that the tide was rising dangerously, I decided to jump on a ferry and go back home. Just in time, since most of the highway between Verona and Venice was covered in snow, with trucks starting to dump salt on it. While I was walking around close to Arsenale, I had the chance to snap some pictures which reminded me of a work by an italian photographer, Paolo Ventura: http://www.paoloventura.com/work/lautoma.html
Here's my first photo set of 2013. On January 4th, I went to Padua to shoot some pictures with two cosplayer friends: Elisa and Lilie. They were dressing as Sheryl Nome and Ranka Lee, from Macross Frontier action figures.
We chose the location to be the Net Tower buildings, in Padua, where I had already shot a cosplay set with my cousin Luca, a couple of months ago. The Net Tower is an interesting piece of architecture (you might argue whether it's beautiful or not, but I rather like it) close to the East Padua highway exit. It can be easily reached by car, it is home to a big hotel and congress center, some pubs, shops, an english school and so on. I "discovered" it something like a year ago, while searching for a location for another cosplay shoot, which unfortunately has never taken place, so I've put it on my "reusable locations' list" for some other shoot. Vocaloid Magnet with my cousin and Macross Frontier looked quite appropriate for the place. Here you are some scouting photos.
Two things I really like about this place are the textured surface of the buildings, with the smaller ones covered with iron grates, opening and closing on the longer sides according to sunlight, and the huge light spot on top of the tower, which does an excellent job as a massive stage-like projector.
This was also my first shooting with my new lights setup. I recently bought three Yong Nuo 568 EX strobes and four Yong Nuo 622 C transceivers. The features that drove my purchase were the High Speed Sync and the eTTL support. My previous kit did not allow me to shoot faster than 1/160s, and forced me to run around to control every light. I also had only two strobes, and sometimes felt the need for a third one. This kit can be centrally managed from the camera, and syncs up to 1/8000s. I still need to properly learn how to set them, the Canon Speedlite menu is still kind of obscure to me, but I'm confident I will learn my way through it, and spend less time cursing the strobes... I also need some more "mental" practice and a better workflow to set their power, but I've already noticed some improvement during yesterday's shooting: start with the background, set the main light, set secondary light then set any further "decorative" light.
We started shooting at 6pm, after Elisa and Lilie dressed up and applied their make up. Elisa's mother assisted me holding the colored strobe. I used two white strobes, and a colored one. I swapped between two gels for the photos, a purple one, to match Sheryl's colors, and a green one, to match Ranka's wig. The main light fired through a white shoot-thru umbrella, and the secondary was done with the bare flash, sometimes with the integrated flip-on diffuser glass. Unfortunately, I made little use of the awesome location, partly because I was too concentrated on the new light setup, and because my Ranka and Sheryl were a bit too cold to spend a lot of time hanging around the place.
The YN-622C AF-assist light helped me speeding up the pace, compensating for my Canon 5D mark II low light AF issues, most of the pictures are really sharp, even if the place is not very well lit, outside the huge spot of light created by the tower's projectors. I used two lenses for the shoot, my old, trustworthy, god blessed and whatever-good-you-want-to-say-about-it Canon 80-200 f/2.8 L, better known as the "magic drainpipe", and my Canon 24-105 f/4 L, for a full height tower picture and a couple of top-down close ups.
Here's the first processed photo from the set. Some adjustments made with Lightroom 4, but nothing too far from the original result.
This is one of my new year's resolutions for 2013: blog, at least a bit, about photography. I wouldn't count this as a first post, rather as a "post zero", since I'll just explain some choices.
I will blog in english. This web site is meant to be linked from Deviantart, Flickr, Cosplay.com, Twitter and other web sites, most of which are not italian. Zenfolio, my hosting, does not support (yet) multiple languages in blog posts, so I would need to duplicate any post into the two languages, and that would raise the barrier further high for me to blog. Also, I am planning to travel and visit foreign conventions, so this makes even more sense. Finally, I would like to improve my english, to make it "profitable" in other ways. So, bear with it, and if you are interested but do not know english well enough, grab Google Translate, they are constantly improving.
I will blog about my photos. You will not read opinions about gear I do not own, or quite extensively test. I am not here to discuss about rumors. I do not care about Nikon vs Canon vs Sony wars. Neither I care about studio vs non-studio vs natural light discussions, or whatever you want to flame about, be it photographic or not. Most of my posts will probably be about the photo shoots I do, and what I learn from them, by overcoming the difficulties I experience.
I am not here to write tutorials. Whatever the subject, I am not an expert. Feel free to ask me how I managed to do something, but be ready to hear anything ranging between "I do not know" to "that's part of the basics every photographer should know", and sometimes a proper and useful answer.