Ahh, Venice. There’s no city quite like it. Rich with winding canals and bobbing watercraft, quaint bridges scattered here and there, the whole place dotted with hidden piazze nestled amongst haphazard cobblestone streets. In this place, the hustle and bustle of busy tourists contrasts with the quiet grandeur of the ancient buildings, creating a truly special experience. It feels magical – a perfect place for a romantic couples photo shoot.
When heading into a place like this for a photo shoot, a great approach is to experience some of the more intimate areas – like those tiny Venetian laneways and secret courtyards that most tourists never discover – and contrast them with shots at major landmarks. This gives the couple some really classic images to remember their trip.
I had been attending a Scott Robert Lim Workshop and had discovered the craziness of St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge (both of which were undergoing construction work, like many of Italy’s ancient landmarks often are). I was visiting in the height of tourist season, so romantic photos in a crowded public place would be tough.
The couple I had booked in specially requested Venice for their photo shoot. As you read their story you’ll get a sense of the sort of experience they were after; the overall idea was to achieve something a little more casual and off the beaten track, away from the hordes of tourists.
Will and Jordan are both originally from England, but Will was doing a lengthy placement at the university in Padua, Italy. Since Jordan was on leave, she had decided to come visit him and seek out a little of la dolce vita. When ‘A European Love Story’ opportunity presented itself, Will was the first to contact me to have their story told.
Since Padua is just a short train ride from Venice, one of the most romantic and memorable cities on the planet, it seemed only natural for us to do our photo shoot there. We were fortunate to have a gorgeous sunny Saturday booked in together, inspiring us to take a leisurely wander through the city, licking gelati and soaking up the rays.
The relaxed atmosphere was wonderful, and gave me a chance to spend some quality time getting to know Will and Jordan.
Will and Jordan’s Story
“Although we went to different schools we met at the age of 14 through a mutual friend. The internet allowed us to keep in touch and we spoke everyday, becoming very close friends. We ended up going on a typical cinema date and laughed for the whole time. Will ended up spilling popcorn all over the both of us before we even got into the film! Fast forward four years and we both moved away from home to follow dreams of University.”
The playfulness and natural conversation between these two was a clear indication of how suited for one another they really are, and I was feeling pretty lucky to be able to capture their love in such a special city.
We began our photographic journey by wandering the main tourist path from the train station towards the ponte di Rialto, one of the most iconic spots in all of Venice. It was like Grand Central Station! People were zig-zagging and abruptly stopping everywhere, and I’m pretty sure a few literally appeared out of thin air. It’s a beautiful, but slightly stressful, path to take. It was certainly not the romantic location for a photo shoot that we were looking for.
Rialto is the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal, and from the apex you get one of the best views of the bustling waterway. If you can squeeze past all the selfie-taking tourists, that is!
In search of our original target – the more secluded and quiet side of Venice – we meandered past the Rialto Bridge and headed north, towards the water’s edge in Cannaregio. This is the northernmost of the six ‘districts’ of Venice, and for the most part is relatively residential, full of morning markets, small canals, and cute little shops.
It was here that we finally uncovered the calmer and quietly romantic heart of Venice. We explored by employing a pretty simple rule: if faced with an option of paths to take, always take the smaller one! And if we found ourselves on what seemed to be a popular route, we quickly ducked into the first laneway that took our fancy, to quite literally try to uncover the heart of Venice away from the hordes of tourists.
The beauty of Venice lies within these insanely complicated corridors, but they will frustrate the pants off you if you insist on following a schedule or a map. My best advice is to leave that map in the hotel, cancel your dinner reservation, and just follow whichever path takes your fancy… you never know what you’ll find at the other end! When you conclude your journey, you only need to keep meandering until you find a sign that will direct you back to either St Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge. These signs are found all over Venice and are the best location-finding tip I was ever given. From either of these two major Venetian landmarks you should be able to find your way home, back to the comforts of your hotel or to the bustling train station.
We got progressively more lost in the winding narrow streets, laughing as we frequently dead-ended at sheer drops into small canals. The heat of the day was impressive, and when we found a cool stone step in a mysteriously windy courtyard, we stopped for a quick breather. This was definitely a cool getaway from the heat and some time for Will and Jordan to relax while I grabbed a few quick images.
Tell me about your first date.
Jordan: Our first date as a couple came after we had already been dating for a while, as we were friends first we didn’t think about dates, just hung out at each others houses. However when we eventually did, it was a lunch date. We sat eating and Will piped up with “So I guess this is our first actual date”. Very unromantic!
We began to spend more time together and the relationship moved swiftly as we already knew so much about each other. That was in 2012 so we have been together almost 4 years now.
Quietly a gondola approached and poor Will and Jordan became temporary celebrities to a group of Japanese tourists, who I can only gather thought they must be famous due to the photographer with a long lens taking their photos. Suddenly, there were flashes of light as these tourists attempt to get their own photos of these ‘unknown’ celebrities. Once the gondola had pasted I noticed a small crowd starting to gather on the bridge, apparently they too had come to the same conclusion and were snapping away their own celebrity pictures. Another gondola then approached and I realised that we had certainly not yet achieved our goal of escaping the tourist trail of Venice.
We spot a local gelato bar and head for one of Italy’s most loved snacks. I’m a firm believer that you can never have too many gelati in Italy! Nothing compares to Italian gelato and I often find myself longing to return just for the smooth, creamy, mouth-watering goodness.
Braving the heat once more, we keep moving along, following along a small canal for a little while. During our walk, Will inspects random boats, mysterious flotsam, and pops his head into a tiny local bar to order us some drinks and practice his Italian. His clear intelligence contrasts amusingly with his slightly goofball personality, and Jordan tells me that that’s one of the things she loves the most about him.
Jordan: “As we met as teenagers we have always kept fun at the centre of our relationship. Even through all of seriousness of university and work, Will always has a playful glint in his eye. We take trips to the zoo, walks in the park and even have game console competitions. We love to laugh together! All in all, we are best friends.”
We continue to escape the blistering heat, meandering among the cool ancient alleyways that seem to grow out of each other like branches of a tree, sometimes abruptly dead-ending in a residential courtyard (as seen below), and sometimes morphing into a bridge spanning a quiet canal.
At this hour the buildings of Venice seem to glow, in fact everything in Venice seems to glow. The whole place radiates a warm beauty regardless of age – from the grandest palace to the smallest of rickety pontoons; the kiss of the afternoon sun makes them seem alive.
Away from all but passing locals we had finally found a perfect backdrop for our couple! Some of my favourite images from this shoot were taken at this time. I even nearly tripped backwards into the canal while setting up a shot or two (this is a definite hazard for enthusiastic photographers in Venice). Note to self… Falling in love: awesome. Falling in Venetian canals: not so awesome.
“It didn’t take long for us to fall in love, we want similar things from life, have the best time together and would feel like we can take on the world with each other by our side.”
Abandoning our quest in the beautiful maze of alleyways, we opted for a wider world, taking a long stroll along the waters edge. Here we found a delightful long walkway, flanked by ancient buildings and awash with the rich afternoon sun. The stones radiated the heat of the day, baking us from underfoot as we ambled along.
Turning onto the fondamente nuove, we stopped to enjoy the views around the bridge that spans the Rio del Gesulti. Compared to the tiny bridges we’ve been hanging around for the last couple of hours, this one seemed gigantic!
Off to the right we see a massive expanse of water and an island that houses a giant Greek Orthodox cemetery. Further across stands the island of Murano, which is world famous for its glassmaking. The artisans of Murano are still in business to this day, producing delicate works using centuries-old techniques. As we admire the views and the sea breeze, I ask Will and Jordan a little more about their relationship.
What quality do you most admire about the other?
Jordan: His ambition. Will has always been so determined to get to where he wants to be. Ever since we’ve been together, getting a PhD was always the end goal. There have been a lot of exams and experiments that could have been obstacles but he did not let them stand in his way, even if that means moving half way across Europe to pursue his dream. This does mean plenty of fantastic holidays in Venice, and ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’, right?!
Will: It’s between her passion or her selflessness. She’s a girl who knows what she wants from life and where she wants to be, especially at work and from this she doesn’t give anything less than 100%. Yet, she will never hesitate to help someone else if they need it, from charity to her peers to me. She will always drop whatever she is doing to help someone out.
With the sun slowly sinking towards the horizon, we head further north, towards the Campo dei Gesuiti and it’s associated church. Here many of the locals were gently strolling through, enjoying a walk while watching a group of kids play ball in the far corner of the courtyard.
The day was starting to drift into the evening, so to top off our photo shoot, we headed back along the waterside, towards the northernmost tip of our little section of Venice.
We were seeking some more of the open water, and we wanted to check out the views toward the Church of Madonna dell’Orto.
We had a lot of fun taking our last few photos here, continuing our chats as we played by the waters edge.
So exactly when did you first fall in love with each other?
Jordan: It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Will. After spending more and more time together, realising our ambitions weren’t a million miles apart and laughing like nobody had ever made me laugh before I knew he was the guy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Will: I couldn’t pick a specific day, but every day I wake up she is the one I want to face the day ahead with.
We wrapped up the day and headed back through the still-bustling tourist trail towards the train station where Will and Jordan would catch their train back to Padua. After such a delightful photo session, saying bye felt more like farewelling old friends rather than new acquaintances.
Likewise, Venice itself has also forged its way into my heart. I’ve really grown to adore this eclectic and secretive city.
Lastly, I’d like to say a massive thanks to Will and Jordan, who very kindly shared their lives with us all. Theirs is a delightful story, and one that no doubt has many more exciting chapters yet to be written.
Story by Lauren Wright and Samantha Ohlsen