black and white group shot

Faces of the Nation: Capturing Italy with the α7R III

Maki Galimberti

“The most important shot in a magazine is the cover,” says Maki Galimberti, “and magazine covers are almost always about faces. Faces connect with the viewer like nothing else, and that’s what led me to specialise in portraits.” Maki built a glittering career in portrait photography, working for the most important Italian magazines, but then something changed.

maki galimberti sony alpha 7RIII black and white portrait of a lady in a baseball cap © Maki Galimberti | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/160s @ f/6.3, ISO 100

“The trouble is,” he says, “in recent years, publishers have had less money to spend on photographers, and so that led me to work more directly with private and commercial clients; those who want to promote their image or their business. But as a professional, for me it’s essential to have a purpose and a passion for what I’m shooting. So even though the work for companies has become more important than that for magazines, I still want to produce that high-end, cover-star look.”

maki galimberti sony alpha 7RIII girl poses for a portrait and cheekily sticks her tongue out © Maki Galimberti | Sony α7R II + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/125s @ f/4.0, ISO 400

That’s how ‘Casting Italy’ was born: a project to bring together a collection of common people from Maki’s country but give them the celebrity treatment.

Turning real people into cover stars, has its benefits, says Maki, in that “photographing a group of researchers for a hospital advertisement can be a lot more interesting than shooting an actor or pop singer, and finding beauty and pride portraying normal people is a professional experience that I am very much enjoying.”

maki galimberti sony alpha 7RIII black and white portrait of a young man wearing a trilby hat © Maki Galimberti | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/160s @ f/4.5, ISO 100

At the heart of the portrait process is being good with people, drawing out their character and their best side, and that’s something that’s written through Maki’s history as a photographer. “It’s true,” he tells us, “I put my passion for people into my work.”

maki galimberti sony alpha 7RIII girl sitting in a curved chair smiles sideways at the camera © Maki Galimberti | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/125s @ f/4.5, ISO 50

Connecting with people is also something his Sony α7R III helps with, especially when it comes to its Eye AF system.

The detail and quality of the pictures from the two α7R IIIs I use is amazingly important,” he says, “but for a working portrait photographer there’s a huge benefit to not hiding behind the viewfinder. I believe that when I do that, I lose the attention of the subjects, and nothing is more important than that relationship. So instead I trust the α7R III’s Eye AF system, and work using the rear screen. Then I can dedicate myself to the relationship with who I am photographing.

The relationship-building aspects of using the α7R III in this way are aided by features like the camera’s Silent Shooting mode – a feature that’s well known to help camera-shy subjects behave more naturally in front of the lens. And Maki ensures superb quality and depth of field control using two of portrait photographers’ favourite lenses: the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM. One fitted to each camera, the lenses give him the versatility to cover everything from close ups to group shots.

maki galimberti sony alpha 7RIII three chefs pose for an informal portrait © Maki Galimberti | Sony α7R III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/160s @ f/16, ISO 100

Maki also brings out the cover-star look in his everyday subjects by working with a stylist, just as he would on a magazine shoot. This attention to detail helps concentrate the viewer’s attention and remove distractions that the photographer might miss. “The first time I worked with a stylist,” he explains, “I felt like I was in a photographer’s paradise, the care of the clothes and the details automatically made my photos more beautiful, so it’s something I try to do all the time.” Using the α7R III’s large 3 inch screen also helps here, as its 100% view gives a far more accurate view of the frame than a traditional optical viewfinder can provide.

And finally, as with any photographer, lighting is key. When it comes to cover-style lighting, Maki’s favourite recipe is to use a large soft box on the subject, balancing the natural light of an outdoor location. For Maki, preparation is key. “The study of the location is often as important as attention to the subject,” he says, “because the background is vital in telling the story of the person I’m shooting. After all, over and above making them look great, that’s the most important thing we’re trying to do, and something my kit is invaluable in helping me achieve.”

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