Leonardo Gazzea17 min read

Hey Leo, could you introduce yourself and the niche are you active in?

Hi! My name’s Leonardo, I’m a 22 years old amateur photographer based in northern Italy, and I mainly do landscape and nature photography. I occasionally shot during the past few years, but I started to take it seriously in February 2020.

Since then, my most beautiful shot portrays a baby deer I found hidden in the tall grass. I was actually following a deer – which I now realize might have been its mother – when I saw this young deer lying down in the middle of the field. I only had a 50mm with me, so I had to get really close without scaring it. Even though I shot it with a Nikon d3000, the results came out stunning. 

Shot by Leonardo Gazzea

I’m currently using a Sony A7II and a Nikon d610, but I’m slowly switching to sony, which is why I’m using both right now. I’m already selling some of my prints and doing photoshoots, and I’m delighted with the positive feedback I’m receiving even though I can’t make it a job yet. 

The thing that makes my photos unique is the emotion hidden behind every shot: the lighting, the location, and my editing style. I also use to tell stories and describe the moments I experienced.

Tell us about your first introduction to photography; what’s your backstory?

My backstory is a little unusual; I studied to become a chef for four years in a school located far from home, so I basically had a lot of spare time and lived there with my classmates. 

I remember buying one of those macro lenses for mobile phones in 2016, and I started to photograph random things like flowers, chocolate chips stolen from the school’s bakery, or whatever I found around. This hunt for objects to photograph didn’t last more than a week.

Later I found my sister’s old Nikon d3000 and, I started shooting random objects again. I didn’t really care about learning how to do it properly; I just thought I was good enough to start an Instagram page; I shot them in JPEG-format, and did my post-production in IG with their filters. I even added a watermark on them just in case, you know, someone steals them. This wasn’t a hobby yet, it was rather something I occasionally did, and I stopped doing it in 2017 for the second time.

At the end of 2019, I’ve been through a hard time, and I started to put my frustrations and emotions into photography. Finally, In February 2020, I did my first planned photo! 

I woke up at 3 am and visited an abandoned amusement park, where I organized a photoshoot where a friend was wearing an anti-gas mask and lighted a photo album up in a fire. I still didn’t edit my photo’s in post-production.

Shortly after this shoot, quarantine started here in Italy, and I used my free time to watch tutorials about how to shoot the milky way. I finally started to study photography, and that’s when my real journey started. 

Later I decided to become a landscape and nature photographer; I used to see hundreds of beautiful places through my phone. I was becoming more and more jealous of the people who visited all these beautiful locations! Luckily I live in northern Italy, only a few hours from the Italian dolomites.

Since starting, how did you develop your style? 

I’ve never really been worried about my style because I immediately knew what style I wanted to reach. I’ve always liked that moody/cinematic feeling, so I started to edit my photos combining low light conditions with high contrast and desaturated colors.

However: I was really missing technique and experience, so I taught myself how to shoot by reading stuff online, and I think studying other people’s work played a big role in my development. I learned a lot by looking at their photos and discovering different ways of seeing from different photographers. 

It’s also important to connect with other photographers: I wrote to random photographers on social media asking for some tips, criticisms, or how they did a certain thing, and those opinions helped me to understand what I was doing wrong. 

I’ve actually tried many different techniques during the first weeks, such as light painting, for example. I remember using a glass chessboard and a laser flashlight to make light drawings between the pawns. 

I also tried to draw on my photos with a graphic tablet to create the “grime” effect, and even though I can’t really draw, the result was pretty cool. 

I think that everyone needs to experiment with as many things as possible, especially at the beginning. It helped me find my style and figure out what works best and discover what I like or dislike.

I’m also using an app called photo pills that shows me interesting facts that are helpful for photography, such as the sun’s exact position, the moon, and even the milky way based on time and location. I used it to shoot the milky way too, and it’s vital most of the time for me.

Since starting, what has worked to attract fans and followers?

I started photography quite recently, so I don’t have a big audience yet. Still, the first thing I would recommend to a beginner is to start shooting for your friends; they’d obviously give you credits on the pictures they post, giving you visibility and letting all of the people that follow them know who you are.

Another thing I use to do is to shoot for random people I meet around. I was shooting the milky way at the Tre Cime di Lavaredo when I met a group of people in the exact place I wanted to take my pictures, so I asked them if they wanted a photo together with the milky way behind them.

You can build an audience with random people by doing this, especially if they post your photo on their profile. I do this whenever I can because I think it’s a good way to start as a total beginner.

Furthermore, a good way to start is asking any place where many people pass by if you can hang one of your photos there, pubs or restaurants, for example. I hung 5 pictures on the wall of a pizzeria located in my hometown; by doing that, I got some extra visibility for free.

Social media is essential to get visibility, but I think the management of a social profile is not as simple as it may seem. The algorithms are constantly updated and modified; what is working nowadays could not work in the future, but there are still some things you can try to pump up your visibility. 

I usually post when most of my followers are online because newer posts have a better chance to appear at the top of other people’s feeds. 

Another handy thing is to use the latest features that the platform implements (such as reels for Instagram). The algorithms should reward more who uses them to make that feature more popular. 

Many people also misuse hashtags; I often see pages with many tags that have nothing to do with them. By doing that, you start to appear unimportant to users and won’t interact with your content, which is the most important thing to get featured in other people’s feeds.

Those are some of the things that worked well for me, but other than that, I think there’s not a magic formula that could be considered the best for everyone.

Through starting as a photographer, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Photography taught me a lot actually, first of all, to appreciate everything around me. It may seem corny, but I didn’t really care about all of the “normal” things we see every year before getting into photography. I’ve always taken the autumn colors, the glittering stars in a clear night sky, or a classic golden hour for granted. Now I really see a drastic difference; I see everything from another perspective. 

However: It’s not all sunshine and roses; photography taught me the hard way not to forget. I lost many opportunities during the past few years because I didn’t really care about taking a simple picture of a precious moment. 

When my dog died, I realized that I didn’t have many photos or videos of it, and now all of those moments are gone forever.

Other than that, everyone fails sometimes, and that’s an unavoidable fact. I had my ups and downs, moments where luck was with me, and moments where everything went wrong. I consider this the biggest lesson I’ve learned, there’s a time and a place for everything, there’s no shortcut, and it’s ok to fail if you really want to learn. Fortunately, I’ve always been a bit perfectionist, so this helped me to minimize mistakes.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

Tough question. 

Honestly, I’ve never really been interested in money or popularity; on the contrary. I’ve always been looking for something worth it, something that I enjoy doing. 

Over the past few years, I’ve worked at a variety of jobs in different areas, such as basketball instructor, party chef/baker, for a short time as a financial consultant, but I’ve always been hooked on music too. I’ve always got bored after a while even though I was quite succeeding. My photography is different; every day starts in a new way, and the opportunities it offers are unlimited. 

My career has barely started, but I’ve started selling some of my prints and doing photoshoots. The thing that is most fulfilling for me is the fact that the results are starting to show.

How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?

First of all, I want to talk about COVID and the impact it had on me. I started to study photography in February 2020, which was basically at the beginning of the first quarantine here in Italy. This played an important role in my approach; I started to watch many tutorials on youtube instead of shooting them without any plan. 

I learned everything I could about the settings, lenses, focal length, and everything else; thanks to that, I took the very first step as a beginner.

Sure, Covid made me lose so many opportunities, but it also made me start with photography, and I think this helped me a lot in the process.

I want to take up photography as a profession at the moment. I want to travel the world and see different countries meet different people, but first, I need to learn a lot more.

What’s in your camera bag these days? 

I originally started photography using my sister’s gear, and I’ve been using switching to my own Sony gear for the last few months. 

Sony A7II: I chose this body for many reasons; its portability, its 24 megapixels sensor, it’s equipped with an in-body stabilizer, and has a good dynamic range, making it ideal for landscape photography. 

Nikon D610: My sister’s old camera – A full-frame DSLR with 24.3 megapixels and a high overall quality.

Sony SEL-50mm f/1.8: This is the lens I use the most; it’s perfect for portraits and especially for details at f/1.8. It also has good compression and creates a good depth of field.

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di: I use it on my Nikon, and even though it’s f/4-5.6, the bokeh it creates is still valid. Perfect for mountain peaks or wildlife.

Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS: It has a nice wide shot and a nice zoom, pretty sharp at f/8-11, and quite portable. 

Ipad pro: I use it for many things like editing, drawing on my photos, or Netflix.

Manfrotto 290 tripod: It’s essential for low light landscapes shots and self-portraits.

GoPro Hero 5 Black: I use it mostly for motocross and travel videos. It’s so tiny yet so powerful.

EasyAcc Power Bank: I use it for charging up on-the-go.

Extra batteries and memory cards: a must-have for long trips.

Lens cloth: a dirty lens could ruin my photos; I always make sure to have one of these with me.

AmazonBasics camera bag: I had it already when I started, and I got along well with it—a perfect fit for hiking.

Folding knife: I use it for anything, from opening an envelope to slicing a piece of fruit. It saved me so many times when I was in the middle of nowhere.

Shot by Leonardo Gazzea
Shot by Leonardo Gazzea

What software and platforms do you use for your photography?

I mainly use Adobe Lightroom to edit colors or shadows and Photoshop whenever I need to be more precise with the post-production. I also use Lightroom and Snapseed if I need to edit on my mobile or iPad.

I spend a lot of time editing; it relaxes me, and I want to be sure with my final result. The camera calibration panel on Lightroom is a must-have feature; it helps the colors match better with each other, keeping that homogeneity in my frame. I like to edit my photos with high contrast, low light conditions, faded shadows, and crushed blacks, giving them a moody style.

When editing, I mostly use the text tool, the patch tool, and the brush tool.

After I finished the post-production, I export my photos based on what I’m going to do with them. If I’m going to upload on Instagram, I crop them into 4×5 portrait format; I’m uploading everything in this format because I want to use as much space on the screen as possible, considering almost everyone will see it via mobile phone. 

I usually send files to people I shot for through google drive; it keeps a good quality without compressing them.

What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?

There’s so much satisfaction about being a photographer; you can travel with your friends, go on adventures, meet new people and explore new places. But in the end, I think my favorite part is when I get to shoot a landscape surrounded by nature. It helps me free my mind from thoughts and focus on what I have in front of me; it helps me admire my surroundings, respect them, love them, and enhance them.

What is your favorite location to shoot? 

I live in northern Italy, 3 hours away from the Italian dolomites. You surely know how stunning those places are; you can find amazing scenarios, a great diversity between the various landscapes, stunning lakes, and wonderful forests. Here’s just an example of one of the most famous places, and it’s also my favorite one so far.

Shot by Leonardo Gazzea
Shot by Leonardo Gazzea

What is your best memory as a photographer? 

My best memory dates back to summer 2020. I headed to the Italian dolomites to take my first photo ever of the milky way:

I was waiting for 10 pm to start shooting; I was stuck there, unable to move because the chairlift obviously doesn’t work at night, so I was supposed to sleep in my tent. 

The humidity was incredibly high, and I was soaking wet. All my gear was wet too, and all of a sudden, a thick layer of fog surrounded me, keeping me from seeing anything other than the tent. 

I waited about 30 minutes, and fortunately, that layer went down, creating a “sea of clouds” under the milky way in the clearest starry sky, filled with shooting stars. Honestly, I’m not sure if I will see such an amazing scenario again; I was speechless.

What makes the difference between a good image and an iconic image?

I see photography as a way to deliver a feeling. I want people to feel something seeing the story within my frame, which could be sadness, happiness, anger, or whatever I want to transmit. This is both the hardest and most important part of photography. I see all the elements like composition, camera settings, location, colors, or ambient lighting as many puzzle pieces you have to put together to make that emotion stand out.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I was recently given a book as a gift entitled “Capturing Light,” written by Micheal Freeman. This book is about making the best of natural light, so it’s a perfect guide for a landscape photographer. There are many topics covered in it; candlelight, city lights, the golden hour, blue hour, and many other kinds of lights. 

Advice for other photographers who want to get started or are just starting?

I feel like a lot of beginners tend to force creativity to come out. 

Don’t get me wrong; it’s so important to experiment in the first phase and not get carried away with it trying to search for sources of inspiration constantly. 

There’s a fine line between creativity and shooting something random, so the first and most important advice I would give to someone who’s starting is to chase emotions, not subjects. If you don’t feel anything by looking at your photos, then you might have done something wrong. That’s a harsh lesson, but it’s the key to improve your work.

Also, less is more. I’ve seen countless people starting with photography over-sharpening their photos, increasing the saturation too much, or bringing the HDR filter to the max level, especially with landscape photography. It just doesn’t look good, and by doing so, you’re ruining the shadows and destroying the depth in your picture. 

I’ve seen many people shooting in jpeg without editing their photos, and I used to do that too back when I started. I really suggest you start shooting in RAW format as soon as possible, post-production is so important to bring the best out of your photos, and it’s so helpful if you’re still learning how to expose correctly. In case you over-exposed or under-exposed your shot, you would still be able to recover a lot of details that you wouldn’t be able to save by shooting it in Jpeg. Here’s the perfect example:

The original photo was completely over-exposed. I basically saw a white screen, but fortunately, I was shooting in RAW, and thanks to that, I’ve been able to save my shot.

Also, don’t be afraid to crop your images. Sometimes you’ll need to crop your shot slightly to remove distracting or misleading elements, especially when you’re still learning to compose your photos. By doing that, you’ll make sure that your subject gets as much focus as possible. Let’s take a look at this photo.

Shot by Leonardo Gazzea
Shot by Leonardo Gazzea

When I took this shot, I didn’t realize that the group of people on edge was slightly off-center, so I cropped it just a little to make sure they were in the middle of the frame.

Where can we go to learn more?

Instagram: @leonardoogazzea/

Email: leonardo.gazzea@hotmail.it

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