Venice Carnival
Carnival: You either love it or hate it: As a photographer I love it. As a Venice lover, I hate it (does that make sense?) 

Carnival or Carnavale (literally, "the end of meat") marks the beginning of the 40 days of Lent when frugal living and abstinence are the watchwords. The last day of carnival always falls on Shrove Tuesday, but the actual date varies because of the complicated calculations associated with Easter, the point at which Lent comes to a close. Next year's Carnival will take place between 3 and 13 Feruary 2024. 
Carnival began its life in the 11th century but its popularity waned in the 1700's. The festival was revived in 1979 and is now a massive event. The carnival lasts for around 10 days but peaks on the last weekend. St Mark's Square plays host to a huge stage where a variety of entertainment takes place. On the final Tuesday, events start at around 10:00 am, ending about midnight and include a children's parade and a competition to select the best costume(s). The evening revelry is accompanied by some headline stars. Unfortunately, the huge firework display on the Grand Canal no longer seems to happen for reasons that are not overly clear (expense?). 
Carnival entertainment happens all across the city during the fortnight. These are generally themed around the five senses with each sestiere (neighbourhood) taking on a different aspect. Expect free live music, street entertainers and childrens' events throughout the days and the evenings. In addition it is possible to attend several formal balls for which you will be expected to dress in (formal) costume. Details from the tourist office. The Carnival organisers publish a detailed guide and timetable that can be found in various locations including the main tourist office and from booths around the City. There is also a slightly confusing website here
The last Sunday is usually the most manic day followed closely by the final Tuesday. The crowds in and around St Mark's are huge and if you have problems in that kind of environment, you might be best advised to stay away. It is also when the pickpockets and bag snatchers tend to ply their trade. The last night also features some fairly raucous behaviour and excessive drinking. Note also that the vaporetti get very crowded on these days from about lunchtime onwards, so you might want to plan any extra-Carnival activity carefully. 


 The highlight of these last few days is the appearance of the extravagant and flamboyant costumes that are the trademark of carnival. These range from the ludicrous to the beautiful. Many residents opt for the aristocratic look and promenade dandy-like around St Mark's Square. They also take refreshments in Cafe Florian and can be seen posing at their tables relishing the attention from the onlookers. 
The Flight of the Angel
Another spectacular event is "Il Vollo Dell'Angelo" - the Flight of the Angel. This features a young lady being attached to a zip wire and "flying" from the top of the Campanile acoss the Square to the main stage. In recent years the human angel was replaced by a Columbine puppet but the 16th century tradition has now been re-instated with appropriate health and safety checks. That said, from the look on the angels' faces, this looks like a "seemed like a good idea at the time" event! 
Photography Opportunities 
The good news is that while most of the models/figures tend to inhabit the St Mark's Square surrounded by dozens of photographers, a good many walk the quieter parts of the city such as Dorsoduro and the piazzas off of the main throughfares behind St Mark's and the Rialto. Here you can take more leisurely photographs. Don't worry about language (there are models here from all over the world) as the camera is your universal translator. A smile and an indication of the camera usually initiates a photographic session with some excellent modelling. As long as you are polite they will generally let you select backgrounds and poses although you'll generally find that they will know what is required. If you are not a professional, this is an excellent opportunity to work with an amateur model. 
Join In? 
It is not uncommon to see people going about their daily business wearing a tricorn hat or some other nod in the direction of Carnival. Want to join in the fun? Why not? Cheap hats and masks are available from various tourist shop and trinket stalls. If you're thinking of taking back a souvenir you might like to consider one of the dedicated mask shops for a quality item. My advice would be to look for evidence that they make the masks themselves. We've bought some quality masks and hats in Ca'Macana near Campo San Barnaba (See Things to Do). 
If you want to get away from the main throng you might want to consider the Accademia area, Dorsoduro and Castello where, from past experience, you will avoid most of the crowds but still see some interesting costumes. Some models choose to parade outside of Santa Maria della Salute on the morning of the final day. I don't know the reason, but they have not been so evident in the last couple of years. 
Some less crowded places to visit during the day: 
Campo Santo Stefano (stalls selling higher end Carnival garb - cloaks etc) 
Santa Maria dei Miracoli (the area around the "jewel box" church attracts models and entertainers) 
The walk between Salute and Accademia 
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (buskers and costumes)