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Learn From Experience: Emiliano Zingale

Hi everyone, I’m Emiliano,  I’m a Management Engineering student and my dream is to become a professional photographer and illustrator.
I live in Catania, Sicily, but I’m from Piazza Armerina, a small town in the belly of the island.
I’m a film photographer with a deep love for Catania and that’s why I love shooting street photography in this joyful warm city, where I grew up as a photography enthusiast.

What are the rules of your photographic work?

As a general rule, I always try to work with prime lenses and avoid zoom lenses, or better, long focal lengths. I don’t like being too much away from my subject because I feel I’m missing something. I always need to be close to the action, as watching a scene happen from a long distance will always result in a cold image that will have a very low chance to convey anything to the photographer and those who will later come across the photo.

On a second note, I always try to portray one person at a time. I don’t like crowded scenes because I don’t see anything interesting in that, unless something really unusual, maybe unrepeatable is happening between two or more people.

Last, but not least, my most important rule: always bring your camera with you, you never know when something will hit your photographic eye, so better be ready, always!

 Ilford HP5+ ASA400

How did you start with photography? 

Actually, it all begun buying an old Ricoh Singlex TLS as a birthday gift for someone else and while I was at the camera store I couldn’t resist, so I bought a shiny Minolta X-300 for me too, even if that would have meant being broke for a little while…but I just couldn’t help it, so it happened! I bought my first ever camera almost 4 years ago and I shot my first Kodak Colorplus 200 on a summer vacation in a special place, Portopalo di Capopassero, Sicily.
First rolls are always trouble but so emotional at the same time because they’re actually your gateway to discovering a wonderful way of expression which is photography. I believe that the first rolls you shoot say a lot about your talent and sensibility as a photographer.
Or, at least, that’s what happened to me

Tell us about an experience that definitely changed the way you work and made you grow.

I study and live in Catania, and every year, between the 3rd and the 5th of February, the city hosts one of the hugest religious celebrations in the world, known as “La Festa di Sant’Agata” (The Festival of Sant’Agatha), commemorating the city’s patron Saint.
I have never been too curious about this catholic Festival and I never fully comprehended the importance that people in Catania give to this commemoration.
The celebration goes on night and day for three days straight through the city streets with thousands of “Devoti” (people deeply devoted to Agata) following the long route of the Saint’s Carriage.
There is a moment in these days of celebration in which Via Caronda at night is lit up with hundreds of big candles weighing from 10 to 50 kilograms each. Each Devoto carries a candle, the bigger the candle the bigger the “favor” being asked to the Saint.

So basically, I was walking along Via Caronda when something happened. A group of 5 big, strong, muscular Devoti stopped right beside me, in front of a small altar on the sidewalk, laying on the ground the candles they were carrying and placing them in the shape of a cross.

They sat on these candles and started to shout some loud prayers out to Saint Agatha, prayers for loved ones who are ill, friends who are gone forever or people who are struggling in their life for whatever reason.
I was suddenly surrounded by a number of Devoti gathered around this cross-shaped formation while holding their candles up and joining the others in their prayers. All the fire around me brought me to a mystical dimension in which I started feeling and behaving as a Devoto, and also following alongside with their prayers.

I took my Minolta X-700 out and started shooting in a situation that was completely new to me, I was IN the scene, I was part of it and this led me to push myself beyond all I knew about photography, beyond every boundary that I didn’t know I had. This was a turning point in my yet short career as a photographer, as I learned that emotion in the scene is what I’ve been always been aiming for from that day on.

If you were to create an open call, a contest, what kind of theme would you give? What would you like to look at and why?

I guess I would go with “Get in people’s faces”: I think it would be really cool to push photographers to come out of their comfort zone and literally shoot street portraits of unknown people that constantly walk us by without even noticing the great diversity that surrounds us. I believe that most of the time we feel alone or detached from reality, bored with routine, we just feel safe walking along paths that make us feel confident with ourselves, so photography can be a way to jump out of this static. I believe that every picture you take must tell a story, and every story needs to connect people, and this, in the case of street portraits, only happens when you as a photographer, are able to hook the subject and let the subject do the same with you, forcing yourself to overcome your fears and anxieties, becoming a better photographer.

Tell us about your equipment, what kind of cameras do you shoot with what tools do you use and prefer?

I mainly shoot analog.

My set up is made of two Minolta cameras, the Minolta XG-M and the Minolta X-700, two great, solid, reliable cameras, which I find extremely comfortable to use and carry around with me.
I usually load one camera with color film, which I prefer for portraits and landscapes, and load the other with black and white film, my street photography kind of film.
Usually, I go for Kodak Portra (ASA 160,400 or 800, depending on the light situation) for color films and stick to Ilford FP4 (ASA 125) or Ilford HP5 plus (ASA 400, which I usually shoot at 800 or even push it to 1600 to get better results in low light situation) as my favorite black and white stocks.

As for the lenses I always carry around three prime lenses, so no zooms as I mentioned earlier: a 28mm f 2.8 Minolta Lens for street photography and landscapes, a 35mm f 2.8 Minolta Lens, my favorite for street photography (I use this lens in most of the cases) and a 50mm f 1.4 Minolta Lens for close portraits.Portra 400

Sometimes I also shoot digital when the situation requires it. In those cases, I use a Fujifilm XT-20 mirrorless camera.

What do you think could be the role of photography in today’s society?

I believe that art should be a means to take the best out of people leading them to wonder about what they’re seeing without necessarily having an answer to everything they’re asking themselves.

Photography, as art, must do the same.

I wish people can be touched by my photos, in a way that they get to see the beauty and the emotions that I saw and was able to freeze inside a frame. There’s no need to tell everything about an image, all you need to connect with people is emotion and the feeling that a certain photo could have been shot anywhere in space and time and, therefore, it can belong to everyone.


Photography must teach us that our world has never been more stuffed with contrasts and diversity and that they are a part of us as we are a part of the whole. Whether we like it or not, reality exists and we, as photographers, must be keen observers of our own reality.

Are there any books you would recommend?

I must be honest, I’m not much of a reader. I mostly read comics as I’m also an illustrator and I’m constantly thinking in shapes and colors, rather than words (I’m not much of a talker too unless we’re talking about art and photography).
Actually, I read some cool manuals right at the start of my journey into photography, but one was a real eye-opener to me: it’s Michael Freeman’s “The photographer’s eye”, a book that will walk you into a vast number of techniques and exercises you might find useful in order to overcome rules and inertia.

Tell us about your creative process and if there are any particular techniques you use during your work. (If you have any photos of this, please send them as an attachment).

As a film photographer, you will always struggle with the fact that shots are limited, and so it’ll come a point in which every one of the 36 frames you shoot matters. Unless you don’t use AF film cameras (cameras with autofocus function), you must master the hyperfocal technique and nail the choice of aperture and often guess the right focus distance when it comes to shooting in quickly changing environments like crowded street markets.

In these circumstances, you must be very good at visualizing a shot before it happens, so I often compose my image knowing that a subject or the action I expect to see will eventually show up where I am pointing, practically building the image before it shows up.

This actually happens a lot when I’m out shooting for Saint Agatha or at the Catania’s fish market
“ ‘A Piscaria ”.

What do you do with the discarded photos? 

I simply keep them in my hard disk. Sometimes I pick an old discarded photo that reveals to be prettier than I remembered and post it on Instagram, but the discarded photos are essentially a collection of memories.

(Donate your discarded photos for our preservation archive and future paper projects).

What does mean photography in your daily life?

Photography is to me what a mirror is for a reflex camera: it lets the light in.

Do you follow a particular photographer or magazine?

No, actually I really enjoy scrolling Instagram and recognize a photographer’s work without even reading the name. Guess what, this has a 100% chance of happening if I open Instagram and see a Steve McCurry’s Photo, absolutely unmistakable, his photos have like a trademark on them, there’s absolutely no way you can’t recognize his work, and this is what I love about this incredible artist.

My links:
IG: @theminoltakid @emiliano.zingale