Photoessay: Monochrome life in Venice

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Venice in winter is grey, with occasional Canaletto skies when the clear window happens to coincide with sunset. But for the most part, light is meagre but nicely angled. Life continues as normal for the inhabitants and tourists, though; in fact, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to spot a local at all; they’re a minority in their own city, which is a little sad. The unifying theme throughout these images is that with the exception of one or two, all of the protagonists are locals. They’re a little bit more elegant, don’t carry backpacks or cameras, and walk with purpose rather than dissembly – here’s to the Venetians.

This series was shot during the Venice Masterclass with a Ricoh GR, Pentax 645Z, 55/2.8 and 150/3.5 lenses, and post processed mostly using the low key and balanced workflows in The Monochrome Masterclass.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. I love the shot of the woman passing by and the one of the shadow on the building facade. Great work

  2. Really like that first image with the Ricoh! Well done! Wonder if the Otus 28 could have done any better?

  3. What a rich set. Thanks for sharing.

  4. With regards to B&W style, what do you think of the Ralph Gibson approach? I’m referring to his use of deep detail-less shadows, extremely high contrast, & simplistic geometric compositions. Have you experimented with this? Philosophically and artistically speaking what do you think of this style? Forgive me if you’ve already covered the general idea in a previous article here.

    • It works for his ideas/ compositions; you need extremely hard light to make it not seem contrived. I prefer smooth, rich detail, but that is a personal bias.

  5. “don’t carry backpacks or cameras”… Pot, kettle? 🙂

    Nice pics as always.

  6. Great to see these so thank you, especially as I am slowly working my way through your Monochrome Masterclass. We were there only a month ago, though the weather was still sunny if autumnal. I found the San Polo area, where we were staying, attractive and productive for local life. There are the food markets at the top end of San Polo, near Rialto, but perhaps they are themselves a tourist attraction these days. The whole San Marco area was simply too crowded, at least when we were there. And too commercial, with scores of big brand shops, even a Disney store. If or more likely when we visit again, I’ll be heading to more outlying areas for photography walks, I think – but Venice is pretty inexhaustible wherever you go. I agree with a previous post: get up early and catch the city going to work!

  7. Venice without tourists is an illusion. It is simply one of those places where tourist are dominating the entire city life. Sad? I have no such feelings. It is the way of life. The city is so full of beauty that attracts all of us again and again. And I am happy for all the tourists that get to see this magnificent spot on earth! Surely it will eventually get to a point where it is no longer sustainable to have such crowds touring the old town and the illusion will fade. However, I trust the locals will find a good balance between the opportunities of tourism and the longer term threats.

    As for the light I think this time of year is one of the best. The sun is low on the horizon and the colors are muted. I also see the muted color palette as an excellent alternative to BW. I can also recommend to get up very early in the morning to capture a different Venice. You will then find some other photographers for sure (for the sunrise) but the crowds of tourists from the mainland have yet to arrive.

    As always excellently crafted Ming. I enjoyed your illusion of Venice.

  8. Gerner Christensen says:

    YES! Thank you Ming. What could be more convenient being pleased with these magnificent shots just a good week before I go to Venice with IC. I can’t wait and wish you were there with us.
    Looking forward to your eventual monochrome life in Tokyo 🙂

  9. Very nice, with masterful use of distinct local details as context! I’m starting to think B&W is the only way to really conquer that grey winter time – of which we have plenty here in the Nordics.

    Btw. #3 seems to make an exception; personally I would have curated that one out, or perhaps there’s a dimension I’m not seeing.

    • Thanks. I would say treat on a case by case basis as there are a lot of reasons to keep subtle color in – sometimes if you go completely monochrome, you lose all separation.

      #3 (station) is the side of venice we don’t normally think about…it is the daily reality for many, not so much the famous places…

      • Well I just picked up an FM2 and some T-Max 400 to play with so I might not always have the option 😉 Fair enough about #3, I was missing stronger clues for Venice (now it could be anywhere in Italy).

  10. Ming, wonderful short portfolio. I can’t imagine these images in other than b/w: IMO colour would definitely spoil the mood. Out of interest, did you shoot natively in b/w, or did you convert afterwards?

    • Thanks. I always shoot raw and convert afterwards – more options for tonal control. I don’t see the value in a Leica Monochrome and B&W SOOC JPEG is never going to give the same tonal transitions.

  11. Ciao Ming, I’m happily surprised to see that this is the kind of photos that I usually take when wandering around Venice, and, most important, you didn’t fall into the Venetian photography cliché.
    A place where 90% of people carry a camera is a good place to feel at ease when taking photographs around, by I can tell you that sometimes Venetians get “tired” 😉 of people taking pictures at them.
    (Really like the fourth from the bottom!)

    • Very difficult to not fall into that trap, Marco – I had to pull myself back from the edge more than once!

    • MarcoSatori. What is venetian cliche? I guess you think about piazza San Marco, Lido, Ponte Rialto, gondole and gondolieri and so on. Well I think there are two approach to this so called turist problem. First one – ages ago while vagabonding in south america I met the guy who didn`t bother with camera and instead of he bought the postcards of the places he liked. He argued that they were taken by the photographers who had both time, equipment and knowledge of the place to take much better photographs then he would do. And the second one ? Well, don’t`t bother about cliche and and take a picture of cliches the way nobody have done it before. Quite a challenge in my opinion 🙂

      • Hi Stanislaw. Well, a beautiful sunset taken from the highest terrace of Venice is something different, for example, than a photo of a couple of gondolas floating under Bridge of Sights. Both can be beautiful images, but to those knowing the place (because they live there, or are tourists) chances are that “iconic” images like San Marco Square, or a view from Rialto Bridge, is something already seen. Thousand of times.
        We usually take photos for ourselves, I think, and that’s why I’m almost sure that Ming has a set of these iconic Venetian places too, but it’s nice to see that so far he showed us a different point of view when posting his Venetian sets.
        I can only agree with you on your last sentence: the challenge to take an unusual photo of an iconic place is a good thing. Another way to turn a limitation into a way to improve creativity and what I call the “third eye of a great photographer”. 🙂

        • Try the March, 2015 series — the Bridge of Sighs backdropped by the multiple decks of a cruise ship. What thoughts pass through the prisoner’s mind as his last view of Venice turns out to be blocked….and by a mammoth party boat!

          • Unfortunatly this is quite a common sight. As someone pointed out, everything rotates around tourists, and Venice and its Venetians are forgotten and left alone. That’s why there are a lot of “stores” selling crappy fake Murano glass souvenirs, run by Chinese people (not offending anyone, be it clear) and old historical labs are disappearing.
            The problem of “grandi navi” (big ships) is a real problem, making them not only a terrifying view from an aesthetic point of view, but also dangerous. Imagine what would happen if one had to hit San Marco, just to say.
            Right now there’s an exhibition right in San Marco square with photos taken by maestro Gianni Berengo Gardin showing the Venetian landscape ruined by the imposing and massive passage of these floating cities.

  12. Gorgeous images!!

  13. A most arresting set of images.

  14. real nice. reminded me of my own Venice series, way back when, still in analog times. Maybe will digitalise them, just for the fun of it…

  15. Rudolkf O. Friederich says:

    Kindles fond memories!

  16. Amazing!

  17. As usual tones and contrast on point. Love #1,#2, and #15

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