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Franco Banfi

About ten years ago I chose to work as a full-time freelance and vagabond photographer and I’m still happy about that decision.

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Featured Photographer

Franco Banfi

About

I was born in 1958 in Lugano and I started wildlife photography as a hobby. I always liked to be in the wild, be part of nature and subjected to the oddities of the weather. I hate to stay shut up in a room: 365 days per year the same temperature, the same recycled air, the same thoughts… this is not for me.

About ten years ago I chose to work as a full-time freelance and vagabond photographer and I’m still happy about that decision.

Submerged in the softened underwater world, into the ancestral liquid where everything had its birth and to be able to observe the hidden part of our blue planet through a viewfinder… this is absolutely astonishing.

To be able to capture the liquid life, underline the beauty and the uniqueness of these creatures: this is my mission.
Share my experiences and to show the underwater world to “land” humans so to enhance the knowledge and the respect of the “hidden world”: this is my daily promise.
I have made three books: Papua New Guinea coffee table book, Papua New Guinea dive guide, and Underwater Planet.
Lots of my pictures have been used to illustrate several books.

One of my pictures (showing a Sperm whale) was displayed at an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Website: www.banfi.ch

Interview

Why nature photography?
Being able to admire nature wonders, try to understand the golden rules of mother nature, why flora and fauna do what they do and how/why this changes in different environments, try to find something unusual – even in well known subjects – every day.

What's best about it?
1- Open my mind and be like a sponge: learn, learn and learn again. From everything and everyone, both estimated colleagues, researchers, modest fishermen or unskilled workers.
2- When possible: add artistic / uncommon vision in expected situations, try to see the “hidden side” of a well known standard shot, try to go over the rules of a “good photograph”.
3- Each surprising - even if extremely natural - aspect of wildlife.

What's worst about it?
Life itself has worst sides: i.e. at the moment, we are living in a world where social sides are heavily submitted at economical topics. Many people live in misery, both material and/or moral. I think many jobs have worse sides than mine.

One of the annoying side of being a wildlife photographer moving around the world - at the moment - are the controls at the airports and the restrictions in the weight of the luggage, but obviously this is really poor things compared with environmental disasters or world diseases or religious-versus-economical related wars, etc.

Favourite species and places in Europe?
Difficult to answer that question... My work is strictly related at the help of diving centres and at the patience of underwater operators. For sure, favourite places are little islets of Croatia and Italy, because of the good visibility through the water.
Some of my favourite species are colourful corals (both hard and soft) and sponges those compete for brawling the necessary substratum where fix their colonies and inhabit Mediterranean underwater walls. It’s always a challenge to be able to correctly light their beauty, as they are often located at a 50-metre depth or more and in the shade, where currents can run a bit fast.

What's in the bag?
Bad luck for my back, I’m not able to travel with light backpack. My preferred lens for underwater shots is the Canon 15mm 2.8 fisheye for wide-angle pictures, and Canon 100mm 2.8 macro with additional lens for macro pictures.

Your specialities / skills?
Attention in interpreting natural light and fill it lightly with strobes. Natural light is absorbed by water and, after few metres, underwater photographers must wisely dose the light of the strobes.

Respect the animals and try to be accepted by them in their environment. Try to go as near as the subject/animal allows.

What will you do in your next life?
I hope to have the possibility not to wait until I’m 40years old to be a full-time wildlife photographer.

3 tips for beginners
1) Have a deep knowledge of your equipment … but keep an open mind and don’t be surprised to learn something new each day. Sometimes, try to break the rules.

2) Study and respect your subjects. Try to stay in the wild as long as you can. Try to feel the instinct of the nature. In one word: love the subjects you are photographing.

3) Don’t be shy to submit your pictures to critics. Be updated and examine with honesty the images of other photographers.

Mission

Funny: my upcoming mission is to go to the famous Principality of Monaco to document … the speed of the fish living there, which species are often the first to cross the finishing line, if each team respects the rules and so on.
Seriously, the marine conservation vocation of Monaco has a long history going back more than 80 years with Prince Albert I, his well-known oceanographic cruises and foundations for oceanography. His heirs increased the efforts and took the necessary measures for the protection of the marine environment against landbased or maritime pollutions.
In Monaco there is the Larvotto Marine Reserve, which includes artificial reefs, the Red Coral Reserve and a huge field of Posidonia oceanica. These protected areas host lots of fish (I hope they will be co-operative!) of the typical Mediterranean species. My goal is to capture their behaviour, and for sure I’ll have more opportunities here than in free waters, and I hope to be able to find some uncommon species.

Best Picture

Best Picture
Calf Sperm Whale playing with plastic bag

What's cool about it?
I took this picture after numerous attempts to approach both the calf and the mum. I first succeeded in being accepted by a reluctant Mum Sperm whale, which - at the end - plunged into the depths, looking for food and leaving its baby alone with me. Then I started to play hide and seek through the ocean waves with the calf and I captured its curiosity and its social instinct.
The natural light was fantastic, visibility was clear and I became mad with joy because of this rare opportunity. Then the sperm whale noticed the plastic bag floating in the water and started to play with it, unaware of the danger. Above all, this picture shows the beauty of nature threatened by human behaviour, but also the challenge that all of us must accept to preserve our environment.

Could it be better?
Every image could be better: the blue could be a little more or less blue, clearness could be more, rays of sun could be stronger and could have made a better background, I could be in a better position compared with the scene. Considering the time at my disposal, the weather conditions, the behaviour of the animal, my feeling with him… I think this is a good picture.

Behind the Scene
When I had finished taking this picture, I caught the plastic bag and wound it around my arm to take it out of the water. The calf sperm whale got angry when I caught his “toy” and started to swim around me. After a while, the mum appeared and luckily put an end to this tricky situation. They swam fast together and the support boat recovered me.
Funny: I published this picture in a magazine, and a reader wrote to the editor saying I had added the plastic bag to the picture with Photoshop!

Date: 19 June 2007
Location: Pico Island, Azores.
Gear: Canon EOS 1DS MK II, 15mm 2.8, 200ASA, underwater housing, natural light.

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