“The way I see it,” professional photographer Massimo Siragusa explains, “the spaces that surround us are a kind of stage. We interact with them and relationships form. These are one-to-one connections and we each see building and place individually. But it’s a two-way bond because as much as these spaces affect our lives, we, in turn, determine and modify them ourselves. In my photography, I try to identify and understand that relationship.”
For this project, Massimo captured the campus of the Bocconi University in Milan with his trusty Sony Alpha 7R IV. “This assignment from the Rizzoli International publishing house,” he tells us, “was to create a book detailing the identity of the Campus and its relationship with Milan. I spent more than two weeks photographing between June and September and having this amount of time was important as it helped me build my own relationship with the location.”
Founded in 1902 and featuring an amazing blend of architectural styles, photographing the Campus gave Massimo the time “to empathise with its ‘genius loci’; its prevailing atmosphere,” he says. “Sometimes, one can do that with a place immediately but with this, each time I visited, I discovered different aspects. Of course, places change, but our perspective changes too and we see them differently, whether that be in different lights, moods, or even different times in our lives.”
In terms of light, an example of that is Massimo’s shot taken outside one of the Campus’s lecture halls, close to sunset. “It was important that I highlighted the work of art in the outdoor space,” he explains, “but at the same time, I wanted to illustrate the structure of the building. I chose to photograph near dusk so I could contrast the building’s lamps with the receding natural light of the day. I always like to work like this, using what’s in the scene alone, keeping it natural and not adding flash or LED lights.”
Making that a possibility, says Massimo, is the tremendous dynamic range of his Sony Alpha camera’s sensor. “I use a Sony Alpha 7R IV,” he explains, “and whether I’m shooting an exterior, looking in, or an interior looking out, one of the main tasks is to balance deep shadows and bright highlights. One zone can’t dominate the other, or it won’t look like you see it in real life, and the feeling of the place is lost. But the wide dynamic range of Sony's images makes it easy, even when the contrast is so high.”
When shooting in aperture priority mode and using the widest multi zone metering, “I find the results very balanced, even in tricky light,” he continues, “and I always work with my aperture stopped down at f/16 or f/22 to include the maximum depth-of-field. Of course, this means working from a tripod to keep the detail as sharp as possible, but because the Sony Alpha 7R IV is so light, I can use a tripod that’s smaller and lighter too.”
Massimo also uses the Alpha 7R IV’s pixel shift multi shooting system which gives him “unmatched definition, perfect for highlighting the texture of some buildings. It’s a truly exceptional camera,” he explains.
Moving onto composition, there are plenty of factors to consider here too. “One of the biggest things is to keep the camera parallel to the ground,” Massimo explains. This level position means that architectural lines aren’t distorted and are kept vertical. It can be difficult, and in some cases, I climb a building in front of my subject to keep the lines straight.”
When deciding on the content of the scene, “only sometimes human figures are important,” he continues. “Images of open spaces can benefit from elements of humanity as they give much needed scale. But for me, a person should always be in the background, with respect to the place or buildings themselves, never the centre. People in these kinds of images just play a role in establishing that relationship with a place.”
When it comes to lenses, Massimo favours a mix of primes and zooms for his architectural work. “I often use the FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS ,” he says, “which allows me framing options combined with incredible sharpness. I also recently included the Sony G 24mm, 40mm and 50mm lenses in my kit. The sharpness of these lenses is exceptional, especially when you consider how portable they are. Now, if Sony did a ‘shift’ lens I would buy that immediately, too!”
Combining all these aspects takes patience. You must be prepared to visit again and again, learning, developing your technique and visual language, planning, or waiting for the best light conditions to interpret each subject. It’s only then that you can truly grasp the ‘soul’ of a place. And of course, you need the right equipment to translate all that into a finished image, but unlike the effort I put in, my Sony camera takes care of that without breaking a sweat.”
"Photography is, for me, first and foremost a means of expression"