Regular readers of Club Marine will likely be familiar with the name Andrea Francolini. And even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s highly likely that his striking images have left lasting impressions.
Andrea has been spending most of his waking hours on the water taking pictures of sailing craft since the mid-’90s. Beginning in his native Italy, Andrea has been captivated by the sport of sailing as seen through a camera lens. His first picture was published in an Italian sailing magazine and since moving to Australia in 2000, he has had over 100 cover shots published in local magazines.
A full-time professional photographer, Andrea’s passion for the sport of sailing comes through in the spectacular imagery he captures, much of it taken from unique angles. I can well remember being surprised to see him clinging perilously to a course marker during Hamilton Island Race Week a few years ago. Initially thinking he’d fallen from the press boat, it soon became evident that he was bobbing in the waves waiting for that special close-up shot of a passing boat. And as I recall, some of them were passing pretty close to the intrepid photographer as they attempted to shave the turn as tightly as possible. At the time I remember thinking that this guy was going to extraordinary lengths to pursue his craft.
But Andrea’s fascination with photography extends beyond sail to encompass pretty much anything that involves water. As can be seen from the images displayed on the surrounding pages, Andrea has a knack for capturing the many moods and colours so evocative of the marine environment. From the canals of Venice to the beaches of Sydney, Andrea has that rare talent for seeing something in a scene that others can’t and then capturing it via his lens.
“I have always been attracted to the water,” he explained. “I love the constant change in it, the colours, the shape and the way the wind affects it.”
Andrea says sail regattas provide their own photographic challenges.
“The difference between a mediocre shot and a great shot could be just a fraction of a second or a couple of millimetres. Very often you are on a press boat with other photographers and some may even be using the same equipment. But it is when the shutter release is pressed that makes all the difference. A second too early or too late and a wave might be smaller or the boat in a different location or angle. Or you can move the camera to the left or right and the composition is different – or even wrong.
“The joy of seeing everything fall into place – when the image is just right – is great. You can organise everything down to the smallest detail, but when the unexpected happens – like a wave hitting the boat or a whale breaching out of nowhere – it’s even better.”
As far as his tools of the trade go, Andrea prefers to use Canon digital cameras and lenses for sailing regattas, but has a liking for more traditional film cameras, including Leica, Xpan, Mamiya, Toyo and even Polaroid instant print cameras, depending on the subject and location.
“But when I’m travelling to sail events, the airlines just love me and my excess luggage bills,” he laughs.
Surprisingly, while the digital revolution has well and truly conquered commercial photography in recent years, Andrea says he still likes to work with the more traditional film.
“All my personal work is done on film. In fact, just the other day I ordered 200 rolls of film for a project I am starting this summer.
“Digital is for work – and it’s great – but I prefer film for my personal images. It allows me to take more time before shooting. I may come home with one or two rolls of film (at 10 images per roll) after a day of shooting. It may not seem like much, but I’ve had to put more thought into each image. I might use digital to initially see what the image looks like through the lens, but when I think I have figured out how I want to shoot it, I will use the film camera for the final shot.”
While on the subject of digital photography, Andrea says he’s a traditionalist when it comes to altering or enhancing his images.
“If the composition is good, there should be no need to retouch an image. I am a bit old school when it comes to retouching. Photoshop is a great tool, but I believe that retouching in Photoshop should be limited to only what could be done in a traditional darkroom – if anyone still remembers what that means!
“Basically, it comes down to correcting the cropping (placement) of the image, although the traditionalist in me still says it should be done through the lens. And you can also alter the contrast and light values.
“While I am a bit old school in some ways, I have still embraced digital photography, which has saved me many times when I’ve been working in difficult circumstances, such as in poor light or at night. The quality nowadays is excellent and digital photography has really come so far in recent times.
“Nevertheless, these days I think you see too much manipulation, especially with the colours. If a picture is good, it should speak for itself and you shouldn’t have to change anything.”
Andrea says one of the toughest parts of his job is keeping all his equipment dry.
“Today’s cameras and lenses are very good and weather-proof, but maintenance is still a must, especially when dealing with saltwater. The corrosion is terrible.”
While Andrea regards photography as his work, he still says he’s fortunate to make a living from something he obviously enjoys.
“I started by shooting weekend races for fun. Now it’s my full-time job, but I’m still having fun!”
Most recently, Andrea has embarked on a new project photographing traditional sports around the world. This has so far taken him to Japan, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Pakistan, where he was inspired to embark on a humanitarian project.
In 2008, he travelled to the mountains of northern Pakistan to shoot traditional polo and soon became enchanted with the friendly people and stunning landscapes.
He returned a year later for an assignment photographing women working in Islamic society and visited the villages of Chalt and Gilgit, where girls were being given the opportunity for a basic education, minus most of the tools we in the west take for granted.
Struck by the dedication of the local villagers and teachers to provide an education for their children, Andrea returned to Australia and established My First School (www.my-first-school.org), which aims to raise funds to provide basic classroom items such as notebooks, pencils and erasers.
“I’d like to get as many people as possible to support my initiative to help a cause we take for granted in western society,” he explained.
In May this year, he is planning a trip back to Pakistan and with the money raised aims to buy whatever basic items the schools need most.
“It’s a starting point. The school may need books, tables, chairs, bags of cement to make a bigger classroom, windows … anything. I want to take part in the improvement personally, rather than just giving money. The goal is to facilitate education for girls in the villages.
“People don’t have to donate much, but we need as many people as possible to do something – every dollar adds up. Even a notebook is indispensable for these children.”
In the meantime, if you’d like to explore more of Andrea’s marine-flavoured work, go to: www.afrancolini.com.