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Gianluca Gianferrari: ‘I try to convey a concept of beauty mediated by my eyes and feelings’

Gianluca Gianferrari is an award-winning amateur photographer who began shooting on film before transitioning to digital more than a decade ago. His interests have ranged from motorsports and portraits to conceptual and abstract photography. But in recent years, his focus has shifted towards the subject of landscape and nature, in which he has amassed a number of prestigious awards.

We chatted with him about his journey so far, the evolution of his process and the direction he would like to take his photography in the future.

‘Resilient Tree’ came 2nd place in Nature Photographer of the Year 2022
When did you first pick up a camera or become interested in photography?

Actually, it dates back more than 40 years ago. My older brother was a photographer enthusiast and let me use his cameras. I remember I took photos at village festivals or the World Championship of motorbikes using panning techniques. I should still have some of them… Over the years, I’ve always had compact cameras and promised myself to follow this passion, then finally, about 10 years ago, I started practising it more seriously with digital.

How did you learn the technical side? Are you self-taught?

I attended courses in my city where I got my fundamentals and then I continued training on my own. I attended online courses and watched and read many tutorials, both technical and artistic. I still read many books on composition and photography history. I look at photos of professionals and, of course, the classics of the past. I try almost every day to study and read up on composition, shooting and development techniques. Software gives us enormous help and is constantly evolving. Affinity is a valid example, and now I’m starting to study the new features in Version 2. We must always keep up to date and never think we have “arrived”. To grow as a photographer requires continuous improvement.

“We must always keep up to date and never think we have “arrived”. To grow as a photographer requires continuous improvement.”

‘Veliki Prstavak’
How do you feel you’ve grown as a photographer over the last couple of years?

I’m a perfectionist—never satisfied and always striving for perfection. Looking back at my shots from the last few years, I realise that there is continuous improvement and the shots from the last few years are my favourite. I take care of the composition and post-production, but before that comes the planning and “The Project”. Now I don’t even go if I don’t have a plan or an idea. I have to study the situation as much as possible before leaving. I am now much more organised and aware. I am also very determined and if I have a shot in my mind, I will come back to the same location many times until I find the right conditions. The lesson I learned is to prepare everything in the best way I can and not to give up until I get the shot that I envisaged—because it is worth it!

‘Stairway to the Light’
What do you try to communicate with your photography and how do you achieve it?

Well, it depends… when I approached conceptual works, everything started from the message I wanted to communicate, often with a philosophical or social background. Now that I dedicate myself more to naturalistic landscape photography (and sometimes urban landscape etc.), I try to convey a concept of beauty or suggestiveness mediated by my eyes and my feelings. I have gotten very close to the natural world in recent years and I try to show its beauty. Unfortunately, I’m also noticing climate change and how it affects the landscape and this pushes me even more to capture the beauty of nature which is increasingly at risk. In my photos, I try to involve the “spectator” within the scene and to make him/her experience the emotions I felt at that moment.

After scheduling and planning, when I arrive at the location, I try not to be in too much of a hurry to shoot. I take my time to “feel” the scene and move around without a camera. Sometimes I also do scouting rounds beforehand. I often shoot with a tripod but before positioning it, I take the shot without it, then I evaluate whether to use filters, which times/apertures to use, etc., which depends a lot on the light and weather conditions.

Another thing I’ve had to learn in addition to reading maps is how to interpret data on various meteorological websites and how these variables can affect photography. My passion for photography has encouraged me to expand my knowledge in subsequent areas.

“I try to involve the “spectator” within the scene and to make him/her experience the emotions I felt at that moment.”

‘Misty Fanal’
What sort of post-processing do you undertake on your images?

While shooting, I already have an idea of the post-production I will do at home—this is very important. Then, as soon as I return, I begin with the initial process of skimming the images and I use a cataloguing software. I try to be very selective and keep only the most significant shots. If I have panoramic shots I assemble them etc. I never go to work on the original file—all the interventions, even the initial ones, I carry out on a separate copy or level.

Generally, I try not to be too aggressive in post-production, or in any case, I try to get a natural look. In the early stages of the process, I take care of any crop or alignment of the image, and then I proceed by adjusting the tonal values and curves. After which, I move on to the other adjustments. At the end of this process, I make the most minute corrections. This is in general and for “standard” photos, but in other cases, the process can be very different. For example, for night photos with the Milky Way, I use stacking: first, I proceed with a fast development of the single frames of the sky, then I merge them with software to align the stars and reduce the noise, and then I merge them into a panorama (if it’s that kind of multiple shot) with Affinity. I paste the sky and the ground (if needed, not always) and finally I proceed with the adjustment settings.

‘Golden Section Milky Way’
How did you discover Affinity Photo, and what inspired you to start using it?

I discovered Affinity in 2018 by reading comments from very enthusiastic and satisfied users on the main Italian photography forum (Juzaphoto). At the time, I had recently changed my photographic kit and I wanted to grow in post-production as well. In 2018, I abandoned Adobe and switched to another cataloguing software, etc., but I was looking for something that would allow me a deeper development of the photos, with more flexibility and possibilities for intervention. The basic interventions were no longer enough for me. I felt limited without certain tools and Affinity was the ideal solution: complete, fast and powerful.

What features/tools in Affinity Photo do you find most useful?

It would be a very long and non-exhaustive list but I will try to answer. Beyond the functions common to all similar software, I find the panorama merge, HDR management and blend ranges particularly well-performed, and the Inpainting Brush is fantastic. It is also excellent in focus stacking, so I no longer need other external software. I also use Assets quite a bit for particular jobs. I find the Persona Liquify very useful, and how could I not mention the live filter Illumination? It is truly a powerful tool to master. I don’t use the frequency separation options much, but they are super. As I said, the list would be endless and everything is coordinated in a rational and user-friendly package.

‘Dark Omens’ was a finalist in the URBAN Photo Awards
You’ve received many acknowledgements for your photography over the years. Which accolade have you felt most proud of?

I would say… the next one! Crossing fingers!

Let’s say that perhaps the ones that gave me the most satisfaction were winning a Category of the IGPOTY and entering the 101 Landscape Photographer of the Year. They were the first serious and important awards and they gave me confidence and an incentive to put myself to the test again in other competitions. Unfortunately, due to Covid that year, there were no IGPOTY live awards at Kew Gardens. Subsequently, the awarded photos were exhibited in the gardens of many UK castles, but I was unable to go and see them. In 2022, two of my photos placed in the top 50 of the Epson Pano Awards and recently I scored Runner Up (2nd) in the Landscape category of Nature Photographer of the Year 2022—one of the most important competitions for me. I would advise everyone to put themselves to the test; it helps us to grow as photographers and also to see what kind of photos are awarded by the juries etc…

‘Flooding’ is an International Garden Photographer of the Year and 101 Landscape Photographer of the Year winning image by Gianluca
‘Poppies & Cornflowers’ was commended in Natural Landscape Photographer of the Year 2021 and came 3rd place in International Garden Photographer of the Year
Who or what inspires you to keep creating and exploring?

There are many things and people that inspire my creativity, sometimes even unconsciously. The best definition was given by Ansel Adams, one of my favourite photographers of the past: “You don’t take a picture with just a camera. You put into photography all the images you’ve seen, the books you’ve read, the music you’ve listened to and the people you’ve loved.” I’m always moved by curiosity and desire to discover new things, places and techniques, as well as a certain taste for new challenges and continuous testing to prove to myself that I can do more and better. I also admit that I’m quite ambitious and love competition. Another element of inspiration is friends. I really appreciate sharing these adventures and travels with other photographers, who have become some of my best friends. Thanks to our common passion, even with our diversity we understand each other, we help each other and we also receive constructive and critical opinions.

“I’m always moved by curiosity and desire to discover new things, places and techniques, as well as a certain taste for new challenges and continuous testing to prove to myself that I can do more and better.”

Initially, you were drawn to conceptual and abstract photography but in recent years, your focus has shifted toward landscape, nature and architectural photography. What’s next for you? How would you like your photography to progress?

The future… what a difficult question! For now, I’m still very focused on nature landscape photography, but I think I’ll also start to deal with Mammals and birds in the environment. I’m not so much interested in close-ups of animals, as capturing them in their environment and creating images that tell a story. I’ve already started shooting something like this, this year. I haven’t done portraits or pictures of people for years, but who knows?! Maybe in the future… but now I’m currently more interested in nature.

Another kind of photography that I love to practice is night photography, Milky Way etc… I’m fascinated by astrophotography of constellations and nebulae and maybe one day I will try. I would also like to devote myself more to urban architecture but with a landscape and “dreamy” interpretation. I don’t think I have abandoned conceptual photography, I’ve just put it aside for a while and in the future, I might take it up again. I love photography and what it can communicate and transmit without using words, so I don’t set limits to my field of action. It’s a long, beautiful and endless journey…

“I love photography and what it can communicate and transmit without using words, so I don’t set limits to my field of action. It’s a long, beautiful and endless journey…”

‘Los Roques de Garcia’

You can see more of Gianluca’s stunning photography on Instagram.