Roberto De Micheli – Safari Editorialist

Roberto’s photographic interests range from big felines in Africa to high-fashion models in the Big Apple. Check his story out below. 

Say ciao to Roberto:

Showing off – note the BIG lens and the tiny lion. 🙂 Timbavati Reserve, South Africa.

Where are you from?  Where have you been?

I was born and raised in Northern Italy. I’ve studied and had my first jobs in Milan. Then, more or less 14 years ago, I moved to the UK (Manchester first, London soon after) with my work. Then again, we (now with a wife and a little daughter in tow) moved to NY in the end of 2015. In terms of traveling, I’ve been to North and South America, Africa, and Asia multiple times, and of course, I’ve traveled fairly extensively in Western and Eastern Europe.

What’s your favorite place in the world?

I love wildlife photography, especially of big cats. Therefore, I love Africa. Just an amazing place with incredible nature and endless photographic opportunities.

African Leopard in Samburu, Kenya.

Cheetah in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Not only felines – Young African Elephant Bull Charging in Timbavati Reserve, South Africa.

What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?

Anything that involves editorial photography with models I have no access to, styling I have no access to, and locations I have no access to…for now!

How would you describe your visual style?

I guess “geometric” would be one way of describing it. I like strong shapes. I like architectural elements. I also love movement and drama. Well, the most important part is, I think, that I have a style! I do hope that people looking at my photos can detect a style. But to come absolutely clean, I do not make conscious style decisions. I like to “go with the flow” and react to the circumstances.

2 Sisters. Canary Wharf, London. Models: Emilia and Matilda (sisters in real life).

Parallel Lines. Brooklyn. Model: Brittany.

Taylor Takes Flight. Riverside Park, Manhattan.

Pop of Red. Riverside Park, Manhattan. Model: Olivia.

Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?

No, not really. I think I do not shoot that much to risk a block. 🙂 I usually have plenty of ideas to try out…my issue is that they are frequently too expensive to realize! In any case, the type of photography I do is a team effort, so in the worst case, I can feed off other members of the team.

Tell us about your career.  How did you get into it?

First of all, it is not a career per se. Meaning that I have a 9-to-5 job that pays for the bills and the toys.

Having said so, I put all my passion into fashion photography and I behave as professionally as I can in every photography-related endeavor.

I started randomly many years ago by taking travel snapshots with a compact digital camera. A mix of positive feedback and love for gear turned this activity into a passion, that in a short time, took over all my interest and energies, and took no prisoners where my other hobbies are (were) concerned.

I did many types of photography and then specialized in macro and wildlife. Fell in love with big cats till a fateful day when a friend invited me for a random shoot with models. My photos turned out quite well (at the time, based on my tastes then) and my friend never invited me again. 🙂 But regardless, from then onward, I’ve focused on fashion editorial almost completely.

What types of photography do you do?  What’s your favorite?

Easy one. Fashion editorial is the type of photography I do. I also like beauty as long as it is interesting and quirky.

Outside fashion, I still love taking photos of my furry, feline friends – the bigger, the better. I still like travel photography when I can, and of course, I take a lot of photos of my little one.

What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?

Difficult to say. But I do remember distinctly the moment when I decided to take control of my photography. I wanted less random and more deliberate results. As a consequence, I bought my first DSLR and weaned myself off automatic modes. From then onward, I did not care anymore for a tiny computer to take photographic decisions in my place.

What is the strangest situation you’ve ever faced as a photographer?

Recently, I shot a model who was willing to climb over bridge structures. The thing is, she did it in very high heels! Much respect to the model who was willing to try everything. We got great photos and I’m still surprised no one stopped us!

Unedited image as-is out of the camera. Lena on the Bridge in Harlem, NY.

What has been your biggest setback as a photographer?

So far, not having enough time to do all the shooting and networking required to progress as fast as I would like.

What are your three favorite photos you’ve taken?

Cinderella. Huguenot House, London. Model: Tatiana.

This was shot during my best photoshoot ever in the Huguenot House in London. Natural light. I just love the feeling, the color balance, and the story that this photo tells. It may look as if it was planned meticulously, but it is a very opportunistic frame. Tatiana killed it. Very last one from that day…which explains why it is always very difficult for me to close a photoshoot: you never know what great opportunity may surface next.

…And Her Naughty Stepmom. Huguenot House, London. Model: Juste.

This is from the same set of the previous photo. We were roaming the place for locations and after going up and down these stairs three or four times, I just realized how good they looked. So I had Juste drape her long and beautiful self on the steps and got a great series of images from there. Shot very wide (24mm) since the place is tiny. Again, pure natural light – no modifiers of any kind.

Maria in the Elevator. Brooklyn.

This was my very first photoshoot after leaving London for NY. After months of (forced) inactivity, I was nervous: did I still have it or not? Well, I still don’t know, but I love this image – the contrast of the grittiness of the place with the dramatic train of the dress. Maria strikes a perfect pose for me. Lighted with a ProFoto B1 Air 500 strobe with white pass-through umbrella.

Photography is competitive.  How do you stand out?

I don’t know if I do stand out. And honestly, I don’t do this for a living so the competitive aspect is not an issue for me. But I do this to the absolute best of my abilities. Because taking a great photo will grant me access to better talent and make me able to take even greater photos. Without the potential for this virtuous cycle, I wouldn’t be able to maintain interest in photography.

What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?

For photography in general: don’t be afraid to experiment and to try new things. Make it so it is always a refreshing experience for you.

For fashion photography, specifically: understand that it is a team effort and that the weakest link in the team will determine the quality of the end results. Toys are important, but the better idea, model, style, and location trump the better camera. Always.

What is the best thing a model can do to make the most of a photoshoot?

Have a great attitude and be ready to take risks.

Fashion editorial shoots are a team effort and those team members are human as well; therefore, the model’s positive or negative energy will reflect on everyone else as well. Secondly, great shots often come from improvising and trying things that make no sense at the moment…many models are too self-conscious to try different poses and expressions, and ultimately, the images do not work because you can see the discomfort on their faces.

What was your most memorable photoshoot?

So far, a shoot in the Huguenot House in London has been the most memorable. All natural light – it was just magic. It was the set in which I got the highest number of great images (imho) ever. Very, very difficult to weed them down to a manageable number. The combination of great location, great models and styling, and an hour of unbelievably good natural light conspired to make it special.

Huguenot House, London. Model: Juste. All light reflections are natural.

A shoot I’ve done recently in Central Park might take the crown, but I won’t say until I see the images back from the retoucher. I do have high hopes. 🙂

Upper West Central Park, NY. Ashley looks ethereal, just as I wanted her to be.

If you could photograph anything in the world, what would it be?

As far as people, Cara Delevingne. I just adore her quirkiness and talent. There are models that have better bodies or more beautiful faces out there, but I’d still take Cara over anyone else right now. She has the charisma and the versatility I like. I wish. 🙂

As far as location, I have a weak spot for rundown, abandoned industrial places. I would love to shoot in the Battersea Power Station in London. North Brother Island in NY. Abandoned factories and power plants, you name it. My other wish would be to do a fashion shoot in the Namibia desert or another African nature reserve. But there are wonderful locations aplenty in NY and its surrounding areas, so that will keep me busy without having to go so far.

And of course, high-end fashion editorials. Access to high-end pieces is a challenge, so that would definitely make me happy!

Who was the most unforgettable model you’ve ever met?

I haven’t had the pleasure to shoot any “celebrity” models so far, therefore the names I am going to drop will not be recognizable to most.

I have liked many of the models I’ve worked with in the past years. I had a couple of favourites from my time in London, but recently the crown has been stolen by Morgan Allen (Major NYC), a model I took photos of on the High Line and surrounding areas in NY some weeks ago. She totally blew me away with her skills and great attitude and looks. I would shoot her again any time I could!

From my past shoots, I have very fond memories of working with Emilia Samuelsson, Juste Juozapaityte, Ashley Haas, Lena Wro, Petra Horwath, Julie Dumont, Rosa Hamersma and Jasmine Chloe Whichello. All wonderful models in their own different ways, whom I would not hesitate one second to work again with.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?

Understand that tools and techniques are means to an end. The end is to translate a vision into images. Do not compromise in chasing your vision. And keep making your vision grow bigger and bigger so it keeps challenging you.

What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?

That’s simple – since I don’t do this for money, I need to be interested in the idea, and I need to believe that the team (myself included), has what it takes to translate the idea into images. If I don’t like the idea and/or our chances, I will move on to the next project – wasting my time is something I cannot afford.

How do you bring out your model’s personality in a shoot?

I don’t necessarily want the model to bring out his/her personality. The model needs to bring out the character he/she needs to portray in the shoot, with the right poses and the right expressions. Sometimes, that fits their personality and that’s a big bonus. Sometimes, it doesn’t, so more work may be required. I had a model that could not stop smiling to save her own life. That did not match the mood of the shoot and it was not good. A disaster more like it.

Some models are really good at this. For the ones that are less so, I try to create little stories so that they understand what I expect from them. Of course, regardless of the model’s skills, I always try to be nice and create a bit of a rapport.

What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?

Time. I do not have enough time. I could shoot bigger, better things if I had more time, but between work and family commitments, I have precious little time left.

How do you express yourself through your photography?

It is my creative outlet. I have the luxury of doing it for fun, so I can be fussy and take on only the projects that stimulate me. When I shoot, I take charge of lighting, photography and directing the models. Although, I often have limited say over styling, I can still see my hand in all my photos.

Having Fun with Balloons. Riverside Park, Manhattan. Model: Molly

What’s the most inspiring photo you’ve ever seen?

There are so many! Tim Walker’s work never ceases to amaze me. He is a genius.

What photography advice do you wish you had when you were first starting out?

Do not compromise. That works both for buying equipment and for planning shoots. Stop-gap measures are a waste of time and money that always left me wanting for better. So now, I prefer to wait or skip until what I really want comes along or is affordable.

What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?

Decide if you want to make a living out of photography or not. If yes, understand that you will need to be – a business man/woman first.

Try a bit of everything, but then focus on specific genre(s).

Get your photographic technique right, but remember, that it is a means to an end.

Invest – this does not necessarily mean to buy expensive equipment, but more like invest into shooting good models with good styling in good locations to build your own portfolio.

What are 3 tips you have for aspiring models?

Have confidence in yourself.

Do not be afraid to try things that may sound weird to you.

Bring your best attitude to a shoot.

What kind of gear do you have?  What’s your favorite?

I have a Canon DSLR (1D X) and a set of fast Canon prime lenses. I have some Canon flashes and a recently acquired ProFoto B1 battery-powered strobe. Triggers, a meter, and other miscellaneous stuff.

What I really want is a Medium Format digital back. But that will take time….

No favorites. There are tools that help me in creating my vision and tools that get in the way. The latter tend not to remain in my arsenal for long.

What’s one lighting tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) works. Generally speaking, unless you have an unlimited budget and can literally fake daylight at night or some such, be flexible and prepared to react and adapt. An assistant that understands lighting can be an invaluable asset.

What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?

Use professional retouchers!

Do you have any projects you’d like to show off?

Yes, I do, but the photos are not ready yet!

What is your most life-changing event?

The birth of my daughter, hands down.

What has photography done for you as a person?  How has it changed you?

It has given me a creative outlet. I think it is good for everyone to have a passion, and I am very happy that I’ve found mine. I am also happy that it has nothing to do with my day-to-day job.

Photography has pushed me in ways other activities weren’t able to. I wouldn’t have done the Inka Trail without the dream of taking great photos by doing it. Not sure I managed that, I leave this to others. But I did it, and I am very happy I did.

Machu Picchu, Peru – I had to wake up so early to get up there in time!

What’s something no one knows about you that you’d like to share?

I am quite open. When you are on set with me, you’ll know everything that matters to me pretty quickly, and you’ll probably end up wishing I wasn’t talking so much. 🙂

Who’s your biggest hero in your life?

Photographically speaking, Tim Walker.

What’s one of your biggest fears?

Not being taken seriously as a fashion photographer. But of course, the biggest one is that something bad happens to my little daughter.

What will you be doing five years from now?

Hopefully, I will be tackling bigger photography projects and a bit more frequently than I do now.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Not so crazy…but once, I got to the studio and the stylist told me: “as you know, we will be shooting with colour gels.” No one warned me about that and I had never tried that before. So I put on a brave face, but I was cringing inside. Luckily, it went well and no one suspected I was totally unprepared.

Brooklyn, NY. Models: Alina and Oheni. Totally improvised, but I still like the results!

For anyone who wants to get in touch with Roberto, here’s some contact information:

FStop: Profile


MM: Profile

Instagram: @rdmfashionphoto

Roberto, thanks so much for taking the time to interview with us! We hope you get to shoot Cara soon! 🙂

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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