This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Transforming A Corte

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Today I give you a short transformation. This is where I show you how one of my photos goes from a snapshot to something more in line with a fine-art photograph.

I really like the lion medallions above each side of the entrance. And I also found the plaque, with what I will call a coat of arms, interesting.

Last week, I showed you the sestiere of San of the six districts (aka sestiere) of Venice. I have taken several photos within San Polo over the years, and as I was looking through those for last week's article, I came across the one which is the subject of today's transformation.

The site to be transformed is the Corte Petriana. A 'corte' is what we would call a 'courtyard' in English. I could find no translation for Petriana, so I would assume that's the name of the family to whom this courtyard belongs.

Here is the original snapshot of the entrance to the corte.

Ugh. I have to agree with you...not a very pretty site as it sits in the real world. But, as it is my job to transform the real into the Venetian world that I imagine, that's exactly what I did.

First, things are a bit wonky with the alignment of the entrance to the corte. Then, within the corte itself, there are some distractions, like a water pipe and an electrical conduit. 

[As an aside, let me write a few sentences about water and electrical conduits. You will see these throughout Venice. They are not something that one enjoys seeing, but they are necessary. Imagine a Venice of 1,000 years ago, or even 300 years ago -- you will not see water or electrical conduits because they didn't exist. Water was gathered at the local pozzo (which I wrote about here), and electricity had not made it on the scene. The houses in Venice do not have basements (obviously) and all of the walls are made of stone. This pretty much necessitates running both water and electrical conduits up the outside of walls, and then through them. But just for you, in my quest to present you a Venice of days past, I feel compelled to bring a Venice to you without these distractions. OK, now back to the photo transformation.]

Next, I felt the whole areas surrounding the entrance to the corte was not what I would want to personally discover as I was wandering my romantic, ancient Venice -- so I got rid of the walls on each side of the narrow calle (aka street). This required a good bit of demolition and masonry work on my part, but that's my job, and I love it. 

So here is the final photo of Corte Petriana. 

And here is a black and white version if you prefer.

I really like the lion medallions on each side and above the entrance. And I also found the plaque, with what I will call a coat of arms, interesting. Here is an enlargement of that feature.

Note the crescent with the tree on the shield...hmm.  Then there are the two dragon-like creatures at the bottom. A couple of angels are at the top corners. But then there is the curious main feature of person and child. One could assume that the adult is Mary, but it isn't too clear, and perhaps there is a crown on the head? The cross is the hand of the adult is the kicker for me...if the child is the Christ-child, the cross would be a concept that is about 30 years too early. If you have thoughts, please put them into the 'Comments' area, below.

Just so you know...and I figure that you are wondering...I had not Photoshopped the basketball backboard and hoop into the was there when I showed up...really. But, I decided to have a bit of fun with it, so I've titled the resulting photograph "The Court of the Venetian Baseketmaker". Your absolutely right, that was clever! 

But, I decided not to stop there. So, in the next more whimsical and non-official photo, I've added a basketball in its arc towards the basket, as well as a bit of shadow of the ball's shooter. 

So, there you have it. A transformation of an ugly snapshot into the more charming "Court of the Venetian Basketmaker".

Ciao for now,


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Under the Tuscan Fog

Last weeks article on Banfi was admittedly a bit long...but I hope you enjoyed it.


Just so you know, the fog did lift and we were able to negotiate the winding Tuscan roads to reach our appointment to tour the Banfi winery

So this week, primarily a few photos from a dreamy Tuscan morning. It was dreamy because of the layers of fog that blanketed the countryside as we headed toward Montalcino.

Our first hint of the morning atmospherics was at sunrise. We were staying at the beautiful Borgo San Felice (see my past article on staying at Borgo San Felice), and as we strolled the vineyard in the early morning, here is what we experienced.

[please click on an image for a larger view]

San Felice Sunrise

As we began our drive for a day in southern Tuscany, we were treated to villas peeking out through the low lying fog.

Just a hint of a Tuscan villa shrouded in fog

Many of the farms have chapels, like the one set off to the right, below.

A villa with its ubiquitous on-property chapel

Our road seemed to be mostly high-and-dry as we drove along the spine of the hills. So, rather than give us angst as we drove, the atmospherics actually lifted our spirits and made our journey more memorable.

It was the month of October, and the hillsides had been recently harvested.

The hillside farms had recently been shorn

After admiring this gorgeous farm estate, if you look closely at the photo below, you can see a hillside village in the distance, as it catches a few morning rays.

A beautiful farm with chapel

We felt fortunate that the fog was not thicker, as we had an important appointment at Castello Banfi winery, just south of Montalcino. On the other hand, the foggy conditions did cause us to drive just a bit more leisurely than we might have driven, giving us more time to admire the the cypress-lined drive leading to this magnificent estate.

Tuscan cypress line the drive to this charming farm compound

Sometimes we had a slight, sunny break in the fog as in the photo above, and then once again, we would travel into the enveloping, blue-cool fog as the sun was blotted out.

Vineyards move down the hillside of this grape producing estate

I feel that this last photo somehow captured moment we saw just a fog bank above a small valley...the next moment two villa-clad hilltops seemed to float up out of the clouds. Magic...His magic, no doubt.

This photo is titled, 'Islands in the Sky'

I am sure that days like this occur often in Tuscany; however, we felt that it was our special day, and that there never had been, nor ever would be, such a day again.

You can see and purchase most of these foggy-morning photos in the 'Print Store' part of my website by clicking right HERE, or by clicking that link in the menu-bar, below.

Just so you know, the fog did lift and we were able to negotiate the winding Tuscan roads to reach our appointment to tour the Banfi winery.  

Ciao for now,


Transforming a Blue Boat

Just a quick transformation today to remind you what I do with snapshots taken in Italy, to take them back into that more ancient time for which I strive.

Here is the original photo of a blue boat in the Cannaregio sestiero (district). 

Original snapshot of the blue boat

If you've read many of my transformation articles in the past, you will notice several issues that displease me here -- specifically the modern objects that I loathe in my Venice photos. And there are several modern objects in this photo. Like a boat motor and metal conduits that just did not exist in my timeless Venice. And I don't like that piece of window to the right. So, they have to go. Here is the photo without those distracting elements.

Distracting elements removed from the photo

There seems to be an imbalance in the photo just above. I don't like that large blank area to the top right. It needs something of interest. I'm thinking that another stone balcony would work well here. So, I duplicated the balcony to the left, flipped it horizontally so that the perspective would be correct, and placed it to an appropriate place to the right. Below is the new image. 

New balcony added to the top right of the photo

Now we're getting close. I need to add a bit of mood to the image, so I darken it some and add some texture, to get this image below. 

Mood added by darkening and texture...but a few distractions remain

At this point, I noticed a few more distractions and I just have to remove them. There is a boat registration number on the boat that I doubt would appear in times gone by. And there are a few more items, like a small piece of rope on the window to the right, and some items at the bottom of that same window. Oh, I also note that there is a light bulb above the door. And that bright wood behind the door's wrought iron is too bright. Here now is my final photo.

There you have it...but as usual, I also like to create a digital painting version of many of my here is that photo, also.

That's it for today...just a simple transformation of a Venetian scene with a blue boat.

Ciao for now,


Transforming the Punta della Dogana


Today’s transformation and short (maybe a wee bit long…OK, longish) history lesson concerns a point of land in Venice with the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Punta della Dogna. I hope you will stick with it, because this little point of land will give you a good sense of Venice – both its religious and economic side.

A point of land like this is what one friend calls, ‘a stick-out place’.  You can see why it’s called a ‘point’ in this photo.

There are two main attractions of historical interest on this point, the Dogana (the brown triangle building at the point) and the church of Santa Maria della Salute (just above). Both sit in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice. What’s a ‘sestiere’ you say? I’ll save that for another article…maybe next time.  


The Punta della Dogana 

This was the customs stop for all ships coming in to Venice. ‘Punta della Dogana’ is literally translated as ‘Customs Point’. The arriving cargo ships were inspected by customs officials and taxes were levied on their goods. I seem to remember that the very precious commodity of salt was stored in the warehouses of the Dogana.

The tower at the very tip was built in the latter part of the 1600s, and it includes a particularly charming embellishment on the very tippy top – see the little golden sphere in the photo?

Here is a better view of that sphere with folks who look like they're at their health club.

This tower is crowned by twin Atlases holding up a bronze globe…laborious and backbreaking work which they have endured for over four centuries. Standing atop the globe is another statue, this one of Fortuna, or "Fortune", which acts as a weathervane as she holds out either a ship’s rudder or a piece of her garments (you decide) to the wind.

Are you a fan of Henry James? Let’s let him describe her in his more lyrical way, from his Italian Hours essay on Venice:

The charming architectural promontory of the Dogana stretches out the most graceful of arms, balancing in its hand the gilded globe on which revolves the delightful satirical figure of a little weathercock of a woman. This Fortune, this Navigation, or whatever she is called—she surely needs no name—catches the wind in the bit of drapery of which she has divested her rotary bronze loveliness.

How about those poetic ‘little weathercock of a woman’ and ‘her rotary bronze loveliness’ phrases? If I were single, I’m sure those phrases would be part of my pickup-line repertoire.

Santa Maria della Salute

This beautiful church is the jewel of this stick-out place. This church is iconic of Venice. You just don’t go to Venice without seeing it, and once seen, it is indelibly etched into your mind.

Here is a view captured in one of my digital paintings.

Digital 'painting' of the church of Santa Maria della Salute

The church's name is usually just shortened to ‘The Salute’. The word ‘salute’ translates to ‘health’, and there is a special reason for their use of that name, which will be revealed shortly.

At the top of the dome stands a statue of the Virgin Mary, who presides over the church which was erected in her honor. The façade is decorated with figures of St George, St Theodore, the Evangelists, the Prophets, and for some reason which escapes me, Judith with the head of Holofernes. We know of course that in ancient fiction her decapitation skills saved Israel from the Assyrians, but I’m not sure how she wound up on The Salute.

And what a setting for The Salute! You can see in the photo below from Google, that the Punta della Dogana and The Salute sit at the center in the photo – see the shadow of The Salute extending into the Grand Canal? The Salute sits between the Grand Canal (which is the one curving around from about the 11 o’clock position) and the Giudecca Canal (the much wider one entering from the 8 o’clock position). These two canals flow into the body of water to the right which is the Bacino San Marco, or Saint Marks Basin. [All of the dotted lines and white wording indicate the various water bus routes]

If you’ve been to Venice, you will notice something very strange in this photo. Know what it is?

There is absolutely no bridge connecting the Punta della Dogana and the area of Piazza San Marco at the top (1 o’clock position). It just does not exist…except for one day each year. So, this photo must have been taken on November 21st. Why? Read on.

Beginning in the summer of 1630, a wave of the plague assaulted Venice that killed 46,000 in Venice proper, and about 94,000 throughout the lagoon. The city and church tried everything they could think of to be rid of the plague. They repeatedly displayed the sacrament, offered prayers, and held processions to a couple of churches that they thought would take care of the issue. But all efforts failed to stem the epidemic.

So, this was the plague epidemic of 1630, but there had been a previous epidemic in 1575. What seemed to turn the trick then was an architectural response. That response was to hire the famous architect Palladio to design a ‘Savior church’, or the Church of the Redentore that you can see to the right. Voila, no more plague. Since this seemed to work a half-century earlier, they built another for the current plague.

But this new church was not to be dedicated to a mere "plague" or patron saint, but to the Virgin Mary Herself. Did it work? They say that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and the proof here is that the plague was lifted.

In celebration of the successful ending of the plague, it was also decided that the Senate would visit the church each year on November 21st, the day of the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, known as the Festa della Madonna della Salute. So, even today the city's officials parade from San Marco to the Salute for a service in gratitude for deliverance from the plague. This involves crossing the Grand Canal on a specially constructed pontoon bridge. And they’ve been doing this for almost 400 years, folks! Now that’s dedication.

As a side note, the same sort of plague-ending-celebratory-pontoon-bridge procession is still held the 3rd Sunday in July. This procession is to the afore mentioned Redentore church and it requires a much longer bridge. You can see the Church of the Redentore at about the 6:30 o’clock position on the aerial photo – it’s the white church at the edge of the photo. Through the magic of camera lenses, here is a photo from Wikipedia of the procession, using an extremely wide-angle lens that puts the Redentore on the left and Dorsoduro on the right (in reality the bridge is straight). This procession has been held for about 450 years.


Photo Transformation

For all of you who hated history in school, but loved photography, here is the transformation one of my photos of the Punta della Dogana.

Here is my original, blah snapshot, taken from the area known as The Molo, just across the Grand Canal.

My original, unaltered and yucky snapshot

Yuck! The sun is close to setting to the right and this creates a strong back-lit situation. The color is abysmal. There’s a construction crane, a bunch of non-lovely boats, etc. This isn’t the Venice that I want you to remember and dream about. As always, my goal is to provide you with a fine-art memento of a Venice of yesterday.

My first inclination was to just pass this appalling thing by. However, I thought I saw some potential here.

My first mission was to remove the construction crane. Then there were other modern antennae and such poking up here and there that had to go. The boats, out of here.

Now what? As there is virtually no color interest in the photo, let’s convert it to black and white.

I’ve mentioned capturing images in RAW, rather than JPEG before. Here is a good example of that benefit. Notice how the Dogana and Salute are bathed in darkness? Also, notice how there is no apparent detail to be found in the photo – no doors, windows, columns, etc.? If I had saved the image in a JPEG format, this is all that I would have with which to work. However, as I save all my images in the RAW format, I am able to pull all sorts of detail out of those shadows. Want to know more about RAW vs JPEG, go back and read my JPEG vs RAW article from last November.

I settled on revealing just a hint of detail, as it is obviously a silhouetted situation.  I could have revealed a lot more, as you can see here in this enlargement.

Yes, that's the very same image file, and it is a good illustration of the power of capturing images in RAW.

Finally, let’s put a charming gondola crossing the Grand Canal! I found one in my many photos from Venice.

So, here is the final photo which shows the Punta della Dogana on the left, with its twin Atlases and Fortuna embellishment, as well as the church of Santa Maria della Salute.

Here is another photo of Punta della Dogana from the Venice Romance section of my website.


Famous Paintings of Punta della Dogana

Since this sight and site has been around for over 4 Centuries, many have been captivated by it. Here are a few views from famous artists. 

These are all famous artists, but of course I have to make my own painted version of this image. Here it is.


I hope you enjoyed learning just a bit about the wonderful city of Venice. Someday, by chance we may meet there; and we can stare at this lovely Punta della Dogana together.


Ciao for now,



The Results Are In! Part 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6

Have you ever been going through your email, with the intention of cleaning up old emails, and then way down the list, you find a whole batch of emails that you had overlooked and they were never opened?

I did that recently. What I found was more good news about the results of photographic competitions I had entered. I want to present those decisions to you in this blog…a bit belated, I know. Also, I have had some photos accepted for gallery exhibition recently and I’ll show you those, too.

‘...your work received a high percentage of votes overall. Certainly an achievement, well done!

On July 13th, I filled you in on the 7th Annual International Pollux Awards in a blog titled, “The Results Are In”, so I’ll continue in that same heading for this an any future horn-tooting blogs. So that previous email was Part 1 -- so now you get Parts 2 thru 6 of recent accolades.

Note: Even though this web site is generally about things Italian, please don't be disappointed as you will see many recognition photos below which are not related to Italy.

Part 2:  The Neutral Density (ND) Awards for 2014

This notification came from an email sent last November – I really need to try to keep up with emails, don’t I?

This is another one of those big contests, which they describe as follows: “The judges reviewed thousands of images submitted from 76 countries. The nominated photographers were selected by highly acclaimed industry professionals, including: gallery owners and curators (Greenaway Art Gallery, Valid Foto Gallery, Susan Spiritus Gallery, Emon Photo Gallery, Immagis, Gilman Contemporary, Tokyo Arts Gallery, Galeria Chroma, Strother Fine Art, McGaw Graphics, Editions Braun), publishers (Kehrer Verlag), editors (Digital Camera Magazine, PhotoBulletin, Soura Magazine, Asian Photography, Art World Magazine) and renowned photographers (Michael Levin, Hengki Koentjoro, Sudhir Shivaram, and Laura Zalenga).” As I look at the photos from the other competitors, I’m very pleased and humbled to be within their midst.

Though a good number of photos were nominated for further consideration by the judges, I received the following four ‘Honorable Mentions’:

[click photos for larger image]

Honorable Mention for Fine Art: Abstract

Just a Chance of Clouds

Honorable Mention for The Environment

Oil on Water

Honorable Mention  Nature: Landscape 5-Photo Series - 'Beached Bergs'

Honorable Mention for Architecture

Sunrise on the Grand Canal


Part 3: Black & White Magazine’s 2015 Single Image Contest Issue

I am fortunate to have been published in this high-quality photography magazine a number of times, both for single image and portfolio submissions – and even once for a couple of color images when they use to have an occasional companion color issue. Two photos were recognized in this year's single image contest issue as follows,


Block House


Puff Fluff


Part 4: 9th Annual Black & White Spider Awards

Another interesting contest name. No idea how ‘spider’ creeps into the name (and that in itself sounds creepy, doesn’t it).  But I did read on the internet recently that spiders have begun to take up photography – at least the black and white spiders are doing that. Everything on the internet is true, isn’t it?

This one was actually announced in October of last year and was in the same email batch as the Neutral Density Award email that I had missed – what was I doing last fall instead of reading my emails? I can’t remember, but I’m sure it was more fun than reading emails.

With 8,508 entries from 75 countries, this is another one of those huge contests. Their notification email said, ‘...your work received a high percentage of votes overall. Certainly an achievement, well done!’ Regarding the jury that judged the photos, they indicated that ‘the Jury represented the industry's biggest names and tastemakers’, including The Royal Photographic Society, FoMu Fotomuseum, Fratelli Alinari, Stockholm City Museum to Torch Gallery in Amsterdam and more. Nice to have tastemakers involved…I think maybe they were from the Food Network.

Three photographs either placed or got honorable mention and there were others that were nominated for judging. Here are the main three, and then I’ll just put the nominations in a gallery just in case you want to click them to see larger versions of those, which fell into the categories of Fine Art, Nature and Wildlife.

[Note: I just want to say about the first photo that I was particularly pleased about the recognition. This has been one of my all-time personal favorite photos (because of the texture and simple composition), and it’s really nice to see that someone else thought highly of it, also. You may not be able to tell because of the size of the photo, but the laundry on the line is kid’s clothing and bed linens, complete with bunnies on the sheets. You can see the color version of the photo, taken on the island of Burano in the Venetian lagoon, here.}

2nd Place - Merit of Excellence in Still Life

Laundry Day

Honorable Mention in Nature

Icy Byway

Honorable Mention in Architectural  [a repeat from above]

Block House

Nominated Photos from the categories of Fine Art, Nature and Wildlife


Part 5: Vermont PhotoPlace Gallery

Your trivia question: In what state is the Vermont PhotoPlace Gallery? OK, you got it – I’ll have to think of a harder question next time.  Earlier in the year I had a photo accepted for exhibition for their ‘Traces Left Behind’ show. Here is that photo, which I titled, ‘Education Might Help’ – I think you will get the irony. If not, then education might help.

Education Might Help

In September, another of my photos will be shown in their ‘Black & White’ show. This is one of the beached icebergs that I photographed in Iceland last summer. I had not thought to convert the original color photo to black and white, because the colors in the original version are so vivid. But, I think it worked out quite well because of the brilliance of the crystal-clear ice.  You be the judge.

Beached Berg


Part 6: Carter Gallery’s North Valley Art League 2015 Photography Show

OK, here’s another trivia question: In what city and state is this gallery showing held? OK, you got it again!!! How did you know it is Redding, California!? 

I think you will be intrigued (and if you aren’t intrigued, then amused) at what the judge said about this photo, which was a ‘Gold Award Winner’ and received a ‘Merit Award’ – I have the ribbon to prove it.  Here is his quote:

What we see, and how the camera records it, may be far off the mark, and it is up to the artist to render the medium to best effect. Forbidding and exquisite at the same time, Beached Berg #2 fully utilizes the range of colors available to photographers today. Careful framing and juxtaposition of near and far bring us in close contact with an aesthetic experience made from the elemental forces of air, water, earth and fire.
— JUROR – Thom Sempere

Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I had no idea I was doing that…but I’m glad it worked out that way.

Here is the forbidding and exquisite 'air, water, earth and fire' photo, which I’m happy to say sold during the show.

Beached Berg #2


The horn has been tooted and I’ll put it back in it’s case until some other form of recognition might fall my way. Until then…

Ciao for now,