Profile

Paolo Verzone

"This image was taken in Svalbard as a part of my ongoing project on the Arctic," says Canon Ambassador Paolo Verzone. "After a long snowmobile trip I took the portrait of Pastor Leif Magne Helgesen looking out at the Sassenfjorden/Tempelfjorden fjord." Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/320 sec, f/13 and ISO160. © Paolo Verzone

Italian photojournalist Paolo Verzone is known for his long-term, award-winning documentary photo projects, which have been featured in many publications around the world.

The documentary photographer has been capturing the world around him since the age of 17, when he would spend hours in his mother's home darkroom. A professional photographer herself, Paolo's mother often included him in her editing process, and soon he graduated from taking photos of his friends to more serious work and his first published photograph. In the years since, Paolo's images have appeared in a wide range of respected publications, including National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Le Monde and Vanity Fair.

Canon Ambassador Paolo Verzone stands outside with his Canon camera.


Location: Paris, Barcelona, Turin, Paris
Specialist areas: Portrait, documentary
Favourite Kit:
Canon EOS 5DS R
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Paolo's documentary projects give full meaning to the label 'long-term', spanning decades of his career. His work has run the gamut from portraits of Europeans at the beach, The Seeuropeans (1994 to 2002), to his project photographing cadets at European military academies, which he started in 2009 and which aims to answer the question 'what is European identity?'

"Being a photographer is hard… but it's better than working," Paolo has quipped, and it's the freedom the job affords that keeps him excited. Inspired by the likes of Josef Koudelka, Nadar, Avedon and Robert Frank, Paolo believes in taking risks with each image and his pictures are fuelled by an almost zen-like mindfulness of everything around him.

Tracks in the snow behind a man, photographed on a Canon EOS 5DS R by Paolo Verzone.
"This image was taken at the Ny-Ålesund arctic base in Svalbard, Norway, and shows a glaciologist of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Jean Charles Gallet, taking some snow samples to determine the amount of black carbon in the snowpack," explains Paolo. "I took this image during a snowstorm with visibility of less than five metres." Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/640 sec, f/13 and ISO320. © Paolo Verzone

Working such long projects requires extensive planning, Paolo says, from conducting local research to curating the gear he'll need to accomplish the job. It's a large investment of time, effort and money, so Paolo chooses his projects carefully. A potential story usually begins with something that piques his interest while on assignment, or after reading about it in the news. Paolo will then devote some time to deeper research into that story and place. If he still sees potential to tell a story after these efforts, he'll make the commitment to pursue it as a long-term project.

The biggest challenges Paolo faces in his work, he says, are telling a story while not being influenced by outside factors, and getting himself through the phase in any long-term body of work where he begins to doubt what he's doing. In these situations Paolo seeks to remind himself of the reasons why he started the project. Likewise, he has to recognise the signals and understand when a project should end.

Paolo has received many awards over his career. Among them are World Press Photo Awards in 2001, 2009 and 2015. His Peshawar project received the 2001 Canon Best Portfolio award. His photographs are also part of collections at London's V&A Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome.

Born in Turin, Italy, Paolo is now based in Paris and Barcelona and is a member of Agence VU.

Young woman in uniform, stood in front of a nautical painting, photographed by Paolo Verzone.
"This image of a young cadet was taken in Valparaiso, Chile, in the Escuela Naval (Naval Academy) as a part of my residence for the Festival Internacional de Fotografía en Valparaíso (FIFV)," says Paolo. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/10 sec, f/5 and ISO160. © Paolo Verzone

Working on longer projects, how do you organise a kitbag to cover you for every situation?
"I customise my camera bag according to the project I'm working on. Usually, a project I'm working on will have some very specific needs that I can accommodate by bringing flashguns, a tripod or a wide range of optics. I will then customise this kit on location each day according to what I'm going to be shooting."

What do you pack for shorter assignments?
"For a short assignment I like to keep it minimalist. I'll typically use a limited range of equipment because the less gear you have to carry, the more you can concentrate on the essentials of telling a story."

What advice would you give a photographer who wants to begin a documentary project?
"Take your time, a lot of time, while making it and ensure you're telling a good story. Don't be in such a hurry to end it. Think about the value of each image and how they can help make your project meaningful rather than 'beautiful'."

Facebook: @pverzone
Instagram: @paolo.verzone
Twitter: @paoloverzone
www.paoloverzone.com

A man in an underground storage cellar, photographed on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
"On assignment for National Geographic I was in Jerusalem working on the history of the Bible," says Paolo. "This picture shows Khader Baidun, licensed by the Israeli government to sell antiquities, visiting a storage room below one of his family's shops in Jerusalem's Old City." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/8 sec, f/6.3 and ISO400. © Paolo Verzone

One thing I know
Paolo Verzone

"I typically set myself into a 'listening' mode when I begin a project so that I can come to better understand the personality of the person I am with. A portrait session for me is an extraordinary way to meet and understand people on a deeper level, and learn more about their life. This is the starting point of every project for me. I would never ask someone to 'relax' in front of the camera. I prefer to let them act and be themselves in whatever mood suits them – otherwise I am asking them to put on an act."

Paolo Verzone's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

The contents of Paolo Verzone's photography kitbag are laid out, showing Canon cameras and lenses.

Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Trusted by the pros, tough and yet relatively light, the 5D Mark IV is ideal for stills or video – making it great for reportage. "The most versatile body ever, I’ve used it in really extreme conditions in the Arctic (a snowstorm with 80km/h winds) and It has always been reliable," says Paolo.

Canon EOS 5DS R

Designed to deliver the ultimate in DSLR image quality, with 50.6-megapixel resolution and a low-pass cancellation filter that maximises the sharpness of the camera’s sensor. Paolo says: "I use this body for portraits and landscapes mainly; the quality in the portraits is incredible."

Canon EOS R

A pioneering full-frame mirrorless camera that sets new standards. Paolo says: "Even in low light you know the camera can see what's there. It's perfect for portraits."

Lenses

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

A true modern classic: a standard wide-angle lens beloved by reportage photographers for its natural perspective, low-light capability and extraordinary optical performance. "The best 35mm lens I've ever had," says Paolo. "Together with the 50mm, it's the lens I use the most."

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM

A small, light, inexpensive lens that nonetheless delivers exceptional clarity of image in a wide variety of situations. "I love this lens, for the versatility and also the 'invisibility'," says Paolo.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Chosen by many professionals for portrait work, this lens is valued for its fine control over focus and depth of field. Paolo says: "The lens I use the most for environmental portraits and portraits at large, the quality is simply incredible."

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM

A compact L-series zoom lens with a f/4 aperture and Image Stabilizer great for travel and general use. It's "versatile and reliable for situations where you have to change quickly to different kind of pictures, from portrait to reportage," says Paolo.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This versatile lens gives great results in portrait work and handheld movie-making, thanks to its ability to achieve a shallow depth of field with beautiful bokeh. Paolo says he finds it "perfect for portraits and close-ups."

Accessories

Tripod

"I prefer to use natural light, so I always take a tripod with me, wherever I go. This is one of the ultimate secret tools in my kitbag," says Paolo.

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