Interview: Chiara Zonca
An interview with travel and landscape photographer Chiara Zonca; better known by her social media name 'Shadow on the Run'.
Can you tell us more about your background and how you got into photography?
I'm a motion graphics designer from London, UK and I just recently decided to become a full-time travel photographer. I actually studied photography at university but then got into video editing and motion design, which became my primary occupation. I re-discovered my passion for taking photos after an epic road trip to the US. I came back with a serious case of wanderlust and combining my love for travel with my interest in photography has become my obsession ever since.
What professional work have you completed?
Last year a photo from my Norway series got published in a book called Share: Scandinavia by Swedish publishers New heroes & Pioneers. I also got to work with Land Rover on an Instagram campaign celebrating winter exploration. I also shot some content for Livid Jeans; a super-cool Norwegian fashion brand, this was mainly for their social media and online channels. And on my latest trip to Iceland I got the chance to work with a local outdoors clothing brand called Cintamani and shot a few of their products in the wintry Icelandic conditions which was so much fun.
What is your favourite travel destination?
I go through various phases. I love stormy weather, and most of the times I am in the mood for somewhere really barren and remote. So Norway, especially the fjords and arctic region has been a must-go throughout last year. I couldn't literally get enough of those little red huts with green grass roofs. Or, if I am in the mood for desert, the American West is still a location that is truly magical to me. Utah and Arizona especially. In general I look for places with an element of nostalgia, somewhere iconic and cinematic with an otherworldly feel.
What is your favourite location to shoot?
I would say wherever there are mountains. If I am somewhere flat I am not too happy. Iceland is probably my favourite at the moment. It's just gorgeous and so diverse. You can have beautiful black beaches, lush moss, glaciers, volcanoes and cute little horses. You cannot leave your camera alone when in Iceland, which as a photographer, is a dream come true.
What is your favourite style of photography?
To be completely honest, I see my style as constantly evolving. I am naturally drawn to unfiltered, raw, "honest" photography. Photos that tell a story rather than the "wow look at that landscape" shot. I think a good photo needs to have "soul" above everything. I also pay a lot of attention to colour grading, colour is still a big element that draws my eye. I can literally fall in love with a shot just because it has the right tones. See, I'm still a graphic designer at heart.
Which images would you say have been the most significant for you in your career so far?
Definitely the one that got published in the Scandinavian book! It's a little white Norwegian house surrounded by trees, very simple really. But represents the Norwegian way of living really well. Also the shots from my latest series from Iceland have a very special place in my heart. It was really demanding as this time I was there during winter and I only had 3 hours of (dim) light a day, which was definitely a challenge.
How would you say social media contributes to your work?
Well Instagram is what kick started it all I guess. Seeing what others were doing, the lifestyle they had, travelling constantly and documenting their lives really inspired me to do the same, to be more brave and adventurous and got me the travel bug I have now. This constant need to explore is what pushes me, I really want to document what it means to see these places and also create a community for like-minded travellers.
What locations do you plan to travel to in the future?
Oh gosh, the list is long. Greenland is my first choice as I have always been fascinated by ice and cold weather. Then Patagonia is a close second. In Europe I would love to see the Faroe Islands and Svalbard. You probably won't see me on a tropical beach anytime soon, but never say never. My ultimate bucket list destination is Antarctica; I need to see that place at some point.
What kind of gear do you use?
I have a Canon 5D Mark III which I adore, then my most professional lens is a Canon Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L. And for film I have a super-old medium format Hasselblad that I take everywhere with me, even if it's really heavy and even more cranky.
Which is your favourite lens?
I would have to say for landscapes my trusted Canon EF 24mm and for portraits the Carl Zeiss 80mm lens for my Hasselblad; that is probably the crispest lens I own.
What is your favourite gadget or must have adventure accessory?
Can I say a Land Rover Defender? Does it count as a gadget? Well, to keep it simple I would say a nice cooking stove that doesn't take much space and you can bring everywhere with you. Packing light is an essential skill that I am still trying to master.
What kind of tools do you use for post-processing?
I use VSCO filters on Adobe Lightroom. But once I pick my favourite filter I always customise it because I don't really like using presets. It makes me feel like I am missing out on something.
How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
Mainly by being curious. I like to keep looking for inspiration, on instagram, books, art galleries, movies, and take note of anything that I like and why. Also travelling is of course the best way to train my eye because photography is still an instinct, but you kind of learn from past mistakes, a lot comes from trial and error. This is how you build up your experience. Also being able to make constructive criticism retrospectively on your work is massively important.
Whose work has influenced you most?
In terms of iconic photographers I would say William Eggleston for colour tones and how the whole image is designed around it. Alex Webb for compositions, he always seems to find the magic moment in a crowded scene when everything falls into place. That's a terrific skill for a photographer. On Instagram, the photographers whose work I really admire and probably have contributed in shaping my style are Alex Strohl (@alexstrohl) for those gorgeous landscapes and for finding new places to shoot. He always seems to be one step ahead in terms of travel destinations. Dan Tom (@dantom) for colour tones, would love to see him doing a tutorial of his editing techniques, and Theo Gosselin (@theogosselin) for that rock'n'roll edge very few photographers have nowadays. Sometimes instagram tends to be a little too perfect and it's nice and refreshing to see something edgier.
What advice would you give to another travel photographer?
The same one I keep giving to myself. Start small, don't stress too much if you can't travel to Antarctica yet. Shoot something you feel excited about, and fight the need to be perfect, to get likes, to get approval of some sorts through social media. Do your own thing and be fearless and inspired. Only good things can come from that, right?