Italian photographer Francesco Gola is no stranger to the sea. Having fallen in love with long exposure seascapes at an early age, he now spends his time immersed in his passion, teaching and practicing photography in some of the most iconic locations on the planet. This month, we caught up with Francesco to discuss his progression through his stellar career to date, his philosophy on business and the planning that goes into making a truly great photo.
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Hello Francesco! You have had a stellar career so far in photography. How did you get started and what did it take to get to where you are today?
Ciao Serena! Thanks for the invite! Well, I think I was fascinated by photography since I was really young because my father was in love with photography too, and so I remember a young Francesco looking at the Canon AT-1 of his father like an aspiring astronaut looking at the moon. Unfortunately, I started taking pictures only in my late twenties, and of course, in the beginning, I did just for fun: I was working far from home and I was just looking for some new hobbies and challenges.
Everything changed when my company moved me to a coastal city because there I fell in love with the main character of my pictures: the sea. From that day, I found in photography my dimension and I started to travel the world with the only desire to see with my eyes, and so with my camera, new beautiful locations.
Francesco Gola is in love with the sea. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
Who were your early influences?
Well, at the time I started with photography you couldn’t expect to find online a lot of useful material to learn things, so everything was still demanded to paper and books. For that reason and due to my interest in travel and landscape photography, at the really beginning my influences were mainly National Geographic photographers or the kind of photographers you can find in a bookstore. Later I started to be interested in social communities, and above all, I fell in love with Google+, that unfortunately was closed just a few months ago.
At that time G+ was something revolutionary for communities, and there I had the chance not only to see and follow the work of top-class photographers that before you could do just reading a book, but I had the chance to talk to them, asking advice or just sharing my stuff. That was a real golden age for online photography because thanks to this community and to the people I meet I could learn and grow. I’m still in contact with most of them, and with some, we became really good friends.
G+ was a golden age for online photography. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
What was your first big break?
I remember it like it like it was yesterday. I was seated waiting for my plane in Rome and while I was drinking a glass of white wine, I received a mail from Apple. “Hey, we love this image, can we buy a license?”. In the beginning, I thought it was just spam or a joke, but then I realised it was true. So I had the opportunity to be on stage at the Keynote as one of my images was used to present the iPhone 6. What a day!
Apple was Francesco's first real break. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
What kind of setbacks have you faced?
Well, I’m not the kind of photographer that needs to receive likes or followers, so I’m really not influenced by the photography trends.. also because seascape long exposure photography was never trendy!
My photography reflects so much my mood and my inner state, so the real problem is when I face a period in my life where I’m not serene. When this happens, I lose all the inspiration and even if I’m in front of the perfect sunset in an unbelievable location, I just stay seated unable to do nothing. That’s a nightmare, and it has already happened a couple of times. My best advice on what to do in the same situation is to look inside to fix what is not working with yourself, avoiding the trap of looking outside to other photographers thinking that everything is a competition and that a simple “Like” can fix your Soul.
Photography reflects mood and inner state. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
What fascinates you most about landscape photography and seascape photography in particular?
I found in landscape photography the perfect escape from the frenzy of modern life. When I’m deep in nature with the tripod on my shoulder and some music in my ears I’m able to think about nothing: troubles disappear and they leave the space for the joy of living.
Among those landscapes, I have a special feeling with the sea. I can’t say exactly why, also because I grew up in the dull of a plain. Nevertheless, every time I watch at the sea I get excited like a child. It is able to fascinate me, with its endless space, with its power during a storm, with its stillness during a summer sunset.
It is really hard to explain what I felt the first time I met the sea, even if it is exactly the same I'm feeling right now..but probably this is the reason I'm still with a tripod on my shoulder and with earphones in my ears wandering in Nature.
It is like living in a parallel universe, and in this universe, I learned to see the world with different eyes: the eyes of the mind. Henry David Thoreau said that "it is not what you look at that matters, it is what you see". I could not be more agree with.
Landscape photography is the perfect escape from the modern life. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
How much planning do you do for each shoot, and how much happens naturally?
I think planning is an essential part of landscape photography, and that’s why I also have classes only about that.
In the very beginning, everything was by chance: from the composition through the weather to the sunset position. Then I understood that most of the choices made at the very last minute on the field could have been done weeks or months before.
In a few words, I think that planning let you maximise the chances to be in the right place at the right moment.
Of course, you have to accept that Mother Nature is always in charge, so when on the field you have to adapt to the real situation. But if you already have a plan, it will be much easier to do because you already know that at least you’re in the right place and so all you have to do is to take the most of the situation.
Make the most of each situation. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
For how long have you been a PhotoPills Master and what do you do in this role?
PhotoPills for me is not just an awesome App, but a family. When it was released I was already using some other planning Apps, but even from the very beginning, I understood that it would have changed completely my planning workflow. For that reason, I tried immediately to contact the Team in order to share my feedback and ideas. It was great because they were eager to listen to my opinions and they let me feel part of the group. For that reason, I started not only to use PhotoPills for personal use, but I started to teach it in my classes.
Year after year, the PhotoPills team was able to create a real community, and now every year they set on Minorca island a PhotoPills Camp that I have no doubt has been the very best photographic experience of my life. I’m so proud to have the chance to share my experience and to teach there how to use the App, and if somebody out there doesn't yet use PhotoPills, I have just one advice: do it!
PhotoPills is a great app for planning your shots. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
Which other brands do you represent?
I’m so happy to cooperate with many brands I believe in, and actually, this is my philosophy: If I would not bring it on the field for personal use, I would never put my face on it. Whoever reads my reviews and articles on my blog knows perfectly that I would never suggest a brand or products that I would not personally bring it to the edge of the world.
Right now, I’m a brand Ambassador for NiSi, F-Stop and X-Rite, and I actively cooperate with Hahnemuhle, BenQ, PhaseOne, Nikon, The Heat Company, Patagonia, Rollei and some others.
Tell us a bit about the equipment that you use.
I love to travel pretty light, so in my backpack you’ll find really only what I think is essential.
I use a Nikon D850 camera and only two prime lenses: a Zeiss Distagon 18mm and a Zeiss Distagon 21mm (my telephoto lens).
As I love long exposures, filters are essentials: my choice is NiSi and I have a Terrascape bag with different ND and GND filters to cover almost every light situation. Accessories are pretty essential so I have a full range of spare batteries, remote cables and other amenities that could save your shooting session.
Also, the clothes are really important, that’s why I choose Patagonia and The Heat Company as a professional partner for my adventures as they are able to provide me with everything I need.
Clothing is really important in landscape photography. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
You’ve been quite prolific on the landscape photography circuit over the past 10 years. How is it different from back then and what it is now?
I think in ten years everything really changed in the way we share our works, and I’m sure everything will change again pretty soon. The thing never changed for me was the philosophy: quality over quantity.
Regarding the way I share my works, as I told you, I started with Google+, and I still remember the discussion we had on moving or not to the Facebook pages. Then we had the rise and fall of 500px and now we’re living on the top of the Instagram wave.
So many different ways to share our works in a few years, so I think it’s suicide to rely exclusively on one platform. I still think that is absolutely essential for every photographer to have a personal website, and think this is the only thing that was working fine 10 years ago and it will works, hopefully, in the close future even after the next big thing.
Nowadays almost everyone has access to devices with which it is possible to take pictures. What do you think is the difference between a professional photographer and any other hobby photographer?
I think it is not the device we use that defines a professional photographer or an amateur one, but their commitment to photography. I’m almost sure that in the future we’ll look to a Reflex or a Mirrorless camera as we look now to a turntable, so I’m not racist in this.
I just think that if you want to live with your images, you probably want to have the best tools you can afford to capture the image that you really want, and unfortunately, at the time of this interview, no mobile phones have the same technological capabilities of any reflex or Mirrorless cameras.
For me, it is so funny when I listen to somebody saying “well but my smartphone has more megapixel than your camera”. I think it’s this kind of talks that divide professional from amateurs photographers.
Apart from the gear, I think another interesting division is done by those who try to follow their path to create their personal vision and those who apply the same Instagram filter on all their images buying followers on Instagram to get collaboration and claiming himself “Influencer”.
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What does it take to succeed as a landscape photographer?
In one word: consistency.
I think that it’s absolutely important that you try to follow your vision instead of following trends and the path of somebody else. Yes, it definitely means that for years and years you’ll probably not be noticed, but if you are a landscape photographer just for the fame and not for enjoining the nature, probably you’re in the wrong place.
It takes consistency to become a great landscape photographer. Photo by: 'Francesco Gola'.
Can you share with us your philosophy on business and life?
I think there is a strong connection between my life philosophy and my photography, and so it’s definitely reflected on my business too. I think our life is meant to be lived and to experience things. Then, for me photography is a powerful tool to express my emotions and my inner state, so something that let me share the experiences I had. My images are not the representation of the reality, but how the reality is felt inside of me. I want to make visible the invisible, that’s my ambitious goal.
Even a monkey can take a picture, but not everybody is able to share an emotion with the camera. I try to do it for myself and I try to teach it in every single class I have.
What are you currently working towards in your free time?
Right now I’m planning a new adventure for this summer in a still untouched location in Europe. But I can’t tell you where right now or I should kill you :)
Apart from that, I’m preparing a new series of post-production classes that I really hope to share with everybody really soon!
If you could do only one assignment for the rest of your life, what would it be?
If the end of my journey arrives, I’m pretty sure the last one will be Antartica.
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