Diving in Italy: Interview with Pietro Formis

Interview with a fantastic Italian underwater photographer about dive spots, techniques, favorite shots and gear

Pietro Formis is an Italian underwater photographer with an amazing portfolio of images. We caught up with him to talk about diving in Italy and get some of the story behind some of his best shots. We really enjoy everything he shared and hope you do too! - UWPG Editors


UWPG: What inspired you to start diving and taking photos underwater?

Pietro: I started diving thanks to my father. He invited me to take an open water diving course with him, and from that day my life truly changed. I started taking pictures underwater almost immediately with a small compact camera, and then things came along naturally from there. 


UWPG: Are you a full-time professional photographer, hobbyist, or both?

Pietro: I’m a free-lance photographer. Last year I quit my old job and now I’m focusing mainly on photography, especially underwater photography, leading photographic trips and workshops in Italy, the Philippines, the Red Sea, and Indonesia. 


UWPG: Where is your favorite place to dive in the world?

Pietro: This is difficult to answer… probably the Italian village of Noli, in Liguria, in the Mediterranean Sea. It isn’t known as the best spot in the world, but it is where I took some of my best photos. I dive there anytime I can, almost weekly during the year.

UWPG: What about the diving in Italy makes it special?

Pietro: Italy is a very diverse country; we have thousands of kilometers of coasts, snowy mountains, wetlands, dry lands, forests, lowlands, rivers, caves, volcanoes, history, culture, modernity and tradition.  

Even under the surface of the sea we have this kind of variety: from North to South we can find murky waters suitable for "muck dives", as in the Adriatic Sea; crystal waters and spectacular caves in Sardinia; colored walls of gorgonians stretching from the Ligurian Sea to Sicily; and historical wrecks and submerged ruins such as the city of Baia, near Naples, just to name few. The marine ecosystems are influenced by the Mediterranean temperate climate, with a strong seasonality and variability from cold winters to hot summers.


UWPG: What is your favorite freshwater location in Italy to dive? What is there to see there? 

Pietro: Usually I dive in different fresh water spots to search for a specific subject, such as newts in small ponds,freshwater crab and snakes in rivers and streams, or some special and elusive species such as the Sea Lamprey. These picture are usually taken in a few inches of water.



Alternatively, a very special place to dive with scuba gear, for the evocative scenery, is the Orrido di S. Anna (Piedmont), a submerged canyon characterized by green waters and beautiful lighting. 

UWPG: What sets you apart from other underwater photographers?

Pietro: I cannot tell you exactly what distinguishes me. What I can tell you is that I always try to take images that make the observer dream and that stimulate his or her imagination, curiosity and knowledge about the subjects portrayed. 


UWPG: What is your favorite photographic style and/or technique?

Pietro: I love macro, wide angle, split shots, natural light… I love all photographic techniques but the one I enjoy most is definitely the close focus wide angle (CFWA).


UWPG: Do you have tips for taking close-focus-wide-angle underwater photos? 

Pietro: First of all: get close! (it seems obvious, but every inch makes the difference). 

Then, pay attention to lighting. Positioning strobes is the biggest challenge, as avoiding backscatter isn’t the only goal. 

Try to enhance the subject by emphasizing its characteristics, accentuating or softening the shadows, think in a three-dimensional way in order not to illuminate unwanted areas (for example in photographs on sandy bottoms) and change the position of the strobes accordingly.


UWPG: What is your favorite way to light macro photos?

Pietro: I usually use 2 strobes, but I like strong contrasts and I often set one of the two strobes to have much more power than the other.

For the same reason I like using a snoot, as it emphasizes the shadows and gives a sense of drama to the pictures. It is a must in situations with a white sandy bottom. I like to use it to isolate subjects from the background, but I love less the "white ring" effect which tends to produce very repetitive images.


UWPG: What is your favorite image and the story behind it?

Pietro: I think it is one of my latest pictures, “Mediterranean Monster,” showing a large monkfish (longer than a meter) with an open mouth, its sharp teeth in sight. It is an image of a marvelous creature, albeit monstrous; it is truly fascinating, an incredible predator, unfortunately seen more often at the fish market than in its natural habitat. 

These fish reach sexual maturity after several years and reach a considerable size (up to 2 meters), that is if they are not caught before! It is a fish that is usually found in the depths, but during spring (thanks to the colder water temperatures) it can also be found in shallow waters.

I love to photograph these types of subjects – fantastic creatures, monstrous yet fascinating, inspiring fear and, for once, appreciation for what they are: an evolutionary miracle and not just a fish recipe. 


UWPG: What has been your favorite underwater experience?

Pietro: I think photographing Humpback Whales in the waters of Reunion Island. It was amazing to see these gentle giants appearing from the deep. It is something I would definitely do again.

UWPG: What is your chosen underwater photography equipment?

Pietro: I use a Canon 5DMKIII in a Nauticam Housing. I use Nauticam housings because of their solidity. I often dive in difficult conditions: muddy waters and sand. I'm sure that in every scenario I can trust my housing. I also love the port locking system and housing locking system, as they are easy, fast and reliable. 

Of course I love the ergonomics as well: you have all the controls at your fingertips, and you can change settings while you're looking through the viewfinder. 

I use Inon and Sea & Sea strobes and a FIX Neo 2200 video light (for continuous lighting). 

*Editors note: While the Canon 5DKIII remains an excellent DSLR camera, be sure to check out our underwater review for the next in the lineup, the Canon 5D Mark IV



UWPG: Do you have any tips for our readers?

Pietro: Enjoy underwater photography, share experiences with other photographers, and participate in competitions…but give competitions their right value (it’s only a game). Don’t think too much, shoot as much as you can, and don’t look back, as the best shot will be the next one. 

Don’t change your gear too often - the best shots will come when you have a good feel for your camera, housing and strobes.



Gear Links:

Additional Reading




Pietro Formis has won many awards in national and international competitions like GDT – European photographer of the year, Asferico, Ocean art Competition, Our World Underwater, Ocean Geographic Competition, NCUPS and many others.

His work has been published in european magazines (Scuba Zone, Sub, Unterwasser, La rivista della Natura, Naturphoto, RollingStone Italia).

Next Diving Trips and Workshops:

In 2019 the 4th edition of Macromania is confirmed for early May (workshop and photo competition in Puerto Galera - Philippines) http://www.macromania.com.ph   

Then in the summer 2 weeks of liveabord in the Red Sea in the second half of July - Photography and marine biology workshops in collaboration with Istituto per gli studi sul Mare Milano, WWF Travel and Compagnia del Mar Rosso. 

More events are going to be scheduled during the season, please follow me on : www.pietroformis.com     www.facebook.com/pietroformis 


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