Before meeting Paolo Sartori in person, I already had the chance to admire his photographic work. From his images, I immediately understood Paolo is a very committed person, with a strong passion for nature, and extremely good skills not just as a photographer, but also as a climber and a skier. But only when I met him face to face, I got to know more about him as a person: Paolo is an unique character, where modesty and awareness of his qualities stir together; the simple spirit of a mountain boy tightened to the experience of a well traveled man.

Enjoy the interview: reading Paolo words and admiring his images, you’ll appreciate him both as a person and a photographer.

– Let’s introduce yourself: who are you, where do you live?
Hey up! Paolo Sartori, born and growth in Ossola Valley, in the hearth of the Alps… Still living there a few months a year.

– How long have you been into photography? When did it all start?
Hard to find a single moment where I realized “Ok, this is going to be my life”. It was more a natural evolution: as a kid in the mountains I spent all the time out with friends skiing and climbing, and we started taking photos each other to document what we were doing. Just snapshots.
From there I started learning about photography… And I’m still learning!

– Now that photography is a job, can you still find the time to shoot just for the pleasure of it?
It’s getting harder to find some free time, but I always try to go on trips or shootings that are just for myself. I think that shooting personal projects, things you are passionate about, trying new techniques, are all mandatory not only to take a step back from the job and enjoying having a camera in your hands, but also to keep evolving your vision and skills as a photographer. Paid jobs are what put food on the table, but you are executing someone else’s vision. Shooting something personal gives you opportunity to experiment and to be creative.

– It might sound like a common question, but we want to know: what does a photo mean to you?
It’s really different for every shot. Photos by themselves means nothing, it’s all about the moment you captured and the emotion you feel by looking at that image. So it’s never the same.

There is always a risk factor. What we can do is to apply our knowledge to keep this factor as low as possible. It comes down to what risk is acceptable and what’s not.

Paolo Sartori

– Mountains play an important role in your images. Tell us more about this.
Well, I was born in the mountains and they still are my main playground. I have been skiing and climbing since I was a child, so it’s been natural to shoot mountain photos when I turned into a photographer. But what really inspires me is the relationship between humans and wild nature. I have a lot of upcoming projects about different scenarios: deserts, grasslands, oceans. But of course I will always come back to the mountains.

– Mountains being your favorite backdrop, what is your preferred subject?
Ice climbing. It’s really tricky and often dangerous to get a good ice climbing shot; you need a great knowledge on rope works, safety, and you must be able to ice climb yourself. You are in a really cold environment, with big wet gloves, and it’s hard to handle the camera. Batteries drains faster because of the cold. Ice and water are falling from above. It’s dangerous for the athletes too so you usually have just one go and you can’t miss the shot. But when you finally get the shot, all this efforts are so worth it.

– Do you practice mountain activities yourself?
I will take a step back: from a photographer perspective, there are two kind of activities you can shoot: the ones where you must be an active participant, and the ones where you can just show up and shoot it.
Let’s explain it better: if you want to shoot BMX or surfing photos, you don’t have to be a good athlete. Of course you have to know the nuances of these sports, but you can show up at the beach with a 600mm lens and shoot the best surfer in the world without even get your feet wet.
This doesn’t work for mountain sports: you cannot shoot a skier without being on skis yourself and skiing on the same terrain the athletes are skiing. If you want to shoot the best athletes, you must be able to ski the most challenging lines. The same for climbing, no way to be hanging 600 meters from the ground without being a climber yourself. I’ve been climbing and skiing since I was a child and this gave me the knowledge and the ability to follow some of the best athletes and shoot photos with them. Being fit and ready for any kind of activity is one of the main parts of my job.

– Did you ever put your life at danger to get the shot?
In certain environments there is always a risk factor. If someone says that there is no risk in the mountains, he is wrong. What we can do is to apply our knowledge to keep this factor as low as possible. It comes down to what risk is acceptable and what’s not.

– You live in a beautiful place, surrounded by some of the best mountains in the world… Still, you are an extensive traveler, having visited far and secluded places as Faroe Islands, Norway or Wyoming. What does push you to leave?
I’m still trying to find this answer for myself. I just know that the more I travel, the more I want to travel. There are so many places that I want to visit… There’s no time to waste. But every time I come back in the Alps I appreciate them more and more.

– Did it ever happen to you to miss a shot? Which is the photo you really regret not to have taken?
Hard to say, there are too many!

– And which is the shot you are mostly attached?
Another difficult question… I usually have one or two for every trip. If I have to name one, would be a night photo shot at Glacier Point, Yosemite, with Half Dome in background. I went there with a friend to get that shot, and when I asked him to stand 30 seconds on that rock, he refused. It was completely dark and the only thing we could see was the light of Curry Village, 700 meters below our feet. The rock was humid and slippery and I couldn’t force him to stand there. But I wanted the shot. I ended up setting my camera on a tripod with a timer, 30 seconds exposure, and then putting myself on the rock pointing my headlamp at the sky. Technically, it’s a selfie.

– Let’s talk equipment: what do you pack in your bag when you leave for a trip? And what for a daily report on local mountains?
It depends on the nature of the trip, but my go-to kit is my Nikon D810, Nikon D500 17-35mm f2.8, 70-200mm f2.8, 24mm f1.4, 35mm 1f.4 and 50mm f1.4; I would also bring a Profoto B1 with a few light shaping tools.
For a fast and light mission in the mountains, just one camera body and a couple lenses, usually 17-35 and 70-200.

– So which is the lens you can’t travel without?
For sure the 24mm f1.4. It’s wide enough to tell a story, it’s razor sharp, it’s fast so I can shoot at night and has a beautiful flare if I shoot into the sun.

– What are your plans for the close future?
I will have a few commercial works in the next weeks, than I will travel to Namibia for a personal project, crossing the Namib Desert with a 4×4. After that, I will probably spend a few weeks in Fuerteventura, waiting for the beginning of ski season in the Alps…

 

You can have a deeper  look at Paolo Sartori work on his website.
Don’t forget to follow his adventures on Instagram and to like his facebook page.