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Venice at Dawn

-a story of red eyes, stunning sights, new friends and some photography too

It is rare for me to glimpse the outdoors at 4:30 in the morning, I’m just not a morning person. So whatever possessed me to join a Dawn Photography Workshop?


Well, the location had something to do with it, I admit; it’s hard to resist a few days in Venice. Plus, I had just been to an exhibition of Anthony Epes’ dawn photography at Foyles in London and bought his London book and a gorgeous framed print of Paris.  So it was an overwhelming temptation when I heard he was running a workshop in the city of canals.

My biggest concern was my photography ability. I was new to this art and hadn’t even taken my camera off manual when I first heard about his workshop. I spoke to Anthony and he wasn’t phased by my lack of skill – he was happy to deal with any level of ability (or non-ability).

With a beginner’s photography course and a camera upgrade under my belt, May sees me stuck at Gatwick Airport waiting to hear which planes are going to squeeze their way through the chaos created by yet another French air traffic control strike.

Mine gets through eventually and I arrive at Marco Polo just 3 hours late and on a mission to traverse arrivals in record time. Everything goes smoothly, a bus is waiting outside the door and a vaporetto is waiting when I leap off the bus. My hotel turns out to be just 2 minutes from the vaporetto stop and just 5 minutes fast walk to the meeting point at the Rialto Bridge. I  drop my bags in my room and hurtle down to meet up with my two fellow students and Anthony.  I’ve missed the welcome lunch but am confident that I’ll soon make up for that temporary delay in pizza and pasta consumption.

The first afternoon is spent getting acquainted with each other and with Venice.  Anthony knows the place like the back of his hand and is a brilliant guide. We photograph our way around the town, ending up in a friendly local bar near the Ghetto, where we make our plans for the next morning and relax over an Aperol Spritzand a slice or two of pizza.

Fast forward a few short hours, and I’m fumbling my way around my room, trying to make an unfamiliar shower work.  Eventually warm water rushes out of the nozzles and vaguely awake and refreshed I grab my camera bag and tripod, break out of my well-locked hotel and dash off towards St Mark’s Square. With the Rialto Bridge in my sights, I have an uneasy feeling. What have I forgotten?


Where is my camera?

I run back to the hotel, frantically wake the night watchman (again), grab the camera, break out of the hotel (again) and leg it back to where I was just 15 minutes ago.

There are helpful, and sometimes not so helpful, signposts on walls all over Venice but despite that I seem to be lost!


I hesitate a moment – dark alley to left or dark alley to right? – and then spy a similarly lost tourist desperately looking at the map on her phone.  Relief – a fellow student! We join forces and somehow our combined lack of direction gets us to the meeting point, barely late at all.

With helpful hints and plenty of encouragement from Anthony, we set up our equipment and start shooting.  Venice looks different, more secretive, at this hour.  Street lights and a few lit windows brighten our paths, and the graceful architecture smiles at us from behind the curtain of night.


We are free to shoot what takes our fancy, with Anthony calmly herding us if we stray too far, and imperceptibly guiding us towards the best spot for views of the sun as it rises over the lagoon.  Dawn slowly creeps up on us and brings delight with it.  I am eternally glad that I signed up for this early morning  adventure.  I’m not sure how well the photos are turning out as long exposures and use of the tripod are new to me, but I’m having the time of my life.


As the sun rises, so do the people; floating market stalls set up shop, cafes open their doors, laundry boats deliver clean sheets to the many hotels.  It’s good to be reminded that this is a real, living city, not  a Las Vegas look-alike.

Light and scenery aside, one of the joys is the first cup (or two) of coffee.  Refuelled, we continue our photographic exploration, now adapting to the growing light and just a little disappointed when the street lights go out.  By around nine o’clock it’s breakfast time and we welcome the chance to rest our feet, fill our stomachs and chat about morning number one.  It turns out I’m the first person to attempt to start the workshop without a camera! Oh well, there always has to be one!

Now it is time to return to the real world.  We have the rest of the day to ourselves – to sleep, or eat, or explore some more – until an optional rendez-vous for dinner.  As an addicted explorer I am soon out and about again.  I’m only here for a few days so sleep gets low priority and after a brief pit stop at my hotel I am back on the streets.

A few hours ago the place had been mine, peaceful and real and living, but now it is jam-packed with tourists.  I soon discovered that just short digressions from the main sights enable me to escape the crowds and find my own Venice once more.

By about 5 p.m. things have come full circle and we are back at the same Cannaregio bar, Moretti in hand and an early dinner beckoning.  Having uploaded and reviewed our morning’s work we chat happily about what succeeded and what didn’t.  Tomorrow we get to try it all over again in a different part of town.


If you fancy joining one of Anthony’s workshops you can find typical itineraries and booking information here.  You’ll be guaranteed a fun time, a great learning experience and views of your chosen city that you haven’t seen before, no matter how many times you’ve visited. Anthony is an excellent teacher, guide and friend; calm, knowledgeable and witty.  The groups are small, with opportunities for one-to-one discussions and a team review of the photos taken.

Since this workshop I have treated myself to several other workshops with Anthony and have never been disappointed.  And if you can’t get to join any of his tours, he is now offering an online course with plenty of personal attention.


I went on the Venice tour in May 2014.  Post updated August 2016.
All images copyright Debbie Smyth.
All photos were taken on the workshop.

28 replies »

  1. Ahhh beautiful Venice …and your images certainly do it justice. We visited Venice years ago… we drove for about an hour and just HAD to turn back to stay just that little bit longer. …but we did have a plane to catch in London …


  2. What a great story, well written. I love everything about it, especi ally your photos! And your description of the city waking up! I would love to take one of these dawn classes but it might be a few years before I get to that neighborhood! I suppose I could do something like that here in my Las Vegas look alike city of Venice. 😉


    • You could set one up. Las Vegas combined with empty desert would be a winning combination! The guy who leads these ones in Europe is actually from California so maybe he’ll come back your way.

      By the way, is the Napoleon hat new?

      Sent from my iPhone



      • Maybe one day I will set up an early morning photo tour. Problem is, I’m more a late night kind of guy! Most nights I don’t go to bed till 10, sometimes even 10:30 pm! And yes, the Napolean hat is new. I complimented one too many people on their gravatar, complaining that I loved hats but looked stupid in them. So, a friend drew me with 3 different hats. I will trade off every so often!


        • You know how to live 😉 I’m a night owl too – I usually go to bed about 1 a.m. – which is why seeing dawn was such a treat. You should do a late night tour. I’ll hopefully be in Vegas next Feb for a conference so consider that your deadline. And I think that hat suits you – I look forward to seeing the others.

          On Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at 9:47 PM, Travel with Intent wrote:



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