Renowned documentary and street photographer Fulvio Bugani shares his thoughts on making great photos.
A PICTURE tells a thousand words, but a picture which can convey emotion makes it greater. You remember it forever.
According to award-winning photographer Fulvio Bugani, the essence of a good photo is its ability to create emotion and bring life to the scene.
However, getting such photos requires a lot of hard work and perseverance. The 43-year-old photographer who comes from a small town in Bologna, Italy, has been involved in photography practically his whole life, right from his schools years. He is considered one of the best documentary and street photographers.
His works are recognised in many world-class photo competitions, such as the World Press Photo 2015 — “Contemporary issues”, single photo; Monochrome Awards 2016, People; Leica Oskar Barnack Public Award 2016; and many more.
His photos have been published in international magazines and websites like Time LightBox, LFI — Leica Fotografie International and Cubadebate.
His famous works of art are The Golden Curls which is an image of a Cuban lady sitting on a chair; the Waria community in Kotagede, Yogyakarta, and his street and reportage shots in countries like Cuba, Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and Georgia.
Bugani has produced a huge archive of documentary and street life images which are rich in colour and complexity.
He has been chosen by Leica as its International Ambassador for the new Leica M10, and has worked for international brand and artists like Juventus, Zucchero Sugar Fornaciari, Universal Music.
Bugani was in Kuala Lumpur recently to give a talk at a photography workshop organised by Leica Camera Malaysia.
Bugani fell in love with photography after looking at the many pictures of his mother and grandparents. “What I saw in those pictures were emotions. I was attracted to them as I could feel the emotions in the face of the subjects,” he said.
At 16, he went to Argentina on a student exchange programme with a simple compact camera, and took many photos.
“I tried to create emotions in those photos,” says Bugani, who by then already had set his mind on becoming a photographer.
When he was 17, one of his pictures was used as a cover for a magazine. “It was a great feeling. I clearly remember the subject of my photo — there were a few elderly people harvesting grapes on the Apennine Mountains near Bologna,” he says.
Bugani is self-taught, but much of his work is influenced by Magnum street photographer Alex Webb, who is known to use strong colours, light and emotions to capture beautifully complex images.
“I enrolled in Alex Webb courses, which I find inspiring, and combined some of his style with my idea of life,” he says.
Bugani started working as a photographer in 1995 after a close collaboration with major photo studios in Bologna. In 1999, he founded his own studio, Foto Image.
For over 20 years, he has worked with associations and non-government organisations and collaborations with Medecins Sans Frontier and Amnesty International in projects on human rights, illegal immigration and the right to housing.
To Bugani, photography is a means to bring people’s attention to the emerging topics.
“When I do a reportage photography, it is strictly related with human rights or crucial social issues. I feel that my work is important and indirectly, could change a situation by giving voice to the victims,” he says.
Commercial work aside, Bugani prefers his photos to be natural, not staged. What he does to get his photos may not be many photographers’ cup of tea.
In his opinion, if one wants to get the best possible natural photos, one needs to blend in well with the society he or she is documenting. For example, the many works he did in Cuba did not come from a single visit but from 20, since 2009, and he began to regard the country as his second home.
“Cuba is very different and much more complex than how it is often described. A distracted and superficial eye may notice only poverty and backwardness when there are beautiful landscapes and other irresistible attractions.
My work there is a personal investigation about the social-political situation in the country,” he says. “If you want to produce good work, you need time to settle in and be comfortable in a place.”
When he arrives at a new place, he will not go straight to an assignment. He’d rather mingle with the locals.
“I try to find out as much as possible about the culture as this would enable me to tell stories in my photos better,” he says.
For his work in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, he practically lived with the Waria community for a month until he became “invisible” to them and ceased to be seen as a photographer. “When you’re ‘invisible’, that’s the best time to capture the moments,” he says.
Besides blending in with people, Bugani looks for a nice spot for his photos.
“If I have a frame and photo concept in mind, I will shoot from that spot, from sunrise till sunset,” he says. The lighting, tone, shadows at different times of the day, give varying impacts to the photos.
“Another important factor that will make a good photo is patience,” says Bugani. “When you’ve found your spot, you need to wait for your subject, even if it takes several hours for the right moment,” he says.
“I don’t like staged pictures. I will figure out the image that I want in advance. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it does not.”
Normally, Bugani will be out from early morning until dusk to look for photo opportunities.
“Take as many photos as you can,” he says, adding that he normally takes around 500 photos a day. “Of that, I will probably keep two to three,” he says.
PLAYING WITH COLOURS
While many street photographers prefer the black and white output, Bugani is the opposite. “For me, colours are wonderful and I will try to play around with them when composing my photos,” he says. He also likes to play with shadows, lights and geometrical shapes.
TOOLS OF TRADE
According to Bugani, the cameras used in taking photos of people in their natural environment need to be non-obtrusive and non-intimidating. “If you carry a big dSLR, people will always look at you as a photographer and may not be its natural self ,” he says.
Bugani has been shooting with Leica cameras like the Leica Q and other brands but now shoots with the Leica M10 and the Leica Summilux-M 28mm f1.4 lens.
“The camera is black, small, silent and non-obtrusive, making it easy to capture the moments without the subjects realising it,” he says. “With the 28mm lens, which is slightly wider, I can include a lot more subjects in the frame, which can give a better story to the photo,” he adds.
If one wants good photos, take as many as possible in one location. “Don’t be satisfied with just a few shots,” says Bugani.
He says it is always good to read up about the place where you are going to shoot your subjects. “At least you’ll have some idea of what to expect ...the place, people, food, etc,” he says. “I’ll go to a certain place over and over again just to know the culture better,” he adds.
During his stint in Kuala Lumpur, Bugani took workshop participants for a street photo outing to Petaling Street.