Chiara Zonca has an undeniable talent for finding the most intriguing crevices on Earth and capturing their beauty through her camera. Find out which cameras, lenses, film types and filters Chiara uses to shoot her painterly, filmic photos when she’s out on the road.
Words and Photography by Chiara Zonca
I have different packing lists depending on the type and purpose of travel. Generally I try to be really light and fit everything into a small backpack when on assignments or travelling by plane. When, on the other hand, I am creating personal work and getting around by car over a long period of time, I am much less conservative about the gear I will be packing.
Right now and probably until 2021, my kit of choice is the more expansive one for long road trips. This is the one I’ll be sharing here.
Digital Camera Kit
HASSELBLAD X1D II
Camera-wise, I am a Hasselblad girl through and through. I am currently using the amazing X1D II as my main digital camera. I don’t own it sadly, it is borrowed, however after using it the past few months I am seriously considering purchasing it. What I really love about it is the fact it’s really lightweight and easy to handle as well as capable of delivering stunning medium format images. Another big plus for me is the sensor seems to capture colours really well, I find that when shooting with this camera I barely have to touch my images in post production.
HASSELBLAD XCD 45P & XCD 65
My favourite lens for this camera is the incredibly small and lightweight XCD 45P lens. The angle is slightly wider than what I was accustomed to but I found it very versatile and the best lens to capture the lush forests of British Columbia where I am currently residing, making it the perfect “desert island” lens. I also always carry the XCD 65 lens with me, its focal length is particularly great for details and portraiture.
Analogue Camera Kit
No kit of mine would be complete without the iconic Hasselblad 500c. This baby and I go way back as it was a present my dad gave me on my 18th birthday when I was a photography student. It’s the camera I use for all my medium format film shoots. Yes, it’s heavy, not particularly ergonomic and doesn’t exactly scream “spontaneous” shooting. It demands a slow approach and a meticulous study of composition. I love using it because it forces me to slow down and consider everything before clicking the shutter. I also just love seeing the world through this camera’s viewfinder. Everything looks a bit more special when viewed through this camera.
ZEISS PLANAR T 80MM F/2.8
This is my only lens of choice for my hassy, it is so incredibly crisp and I adore its focal length. I like my lenses to resemble the human natural point of view as much as possible and this lens is exactly it!
“I like my lenses to resemble the human natural point of view as much as possible.”
CANON EOS 300
I also really like shooting 35mm as a way for more spontaneous photography. Sometimes, mostly when travelling, there just isn’t enough time to set up your camera on a tripod and prepare the shoot. That’s why I always pack the uber cheap Canon Eos 300 with the standard zoom kit lens. I mostly shoot prime lenses as for me quality is paramount, however I do enjoy this zoom lens occasionally when being on the move because it’s really versatile. The lens is basically like plastic and so incredibly light. I can hike with it, take it anywhere as it’s not very likely to get stolen. Quality of those shots have been surprisingly good for such an inexpensive camera and the batteries last forever. It’s a fun one to travel with for sure!
My film of choice is split between Kodak Portra 160 and 400. 160 is my desert film, I love its muted tones and small grain, it makes the pastel colours of the desert rocks truly shine. 400 is perfect when shooting the colour green or more complex scenes where there is a combination of water, mountains, trees etc. It’s my favourite film as it’s very versatile and its colours always surprise me. I sometimes use the 400 as a replacement for the now discontinued Portra 800 when I find myself needing a bit more light, by pushing it one stop. I have also been using the Cinestill 800T for more experimental shots that I can’t wait to share with you very soon.
“As an artist working primarily with landscapes, CPL filters are really essential.”
Lens filters are so important! I always add a UV filter to all my lenses for protection.
And as an artist working primarily with landscapes, CPL filters are really essential. They allow me to control exactly how much glare I want to let in and enhance the colour richness of a scene. They are also fundamental when capturing water to get rid of any unwanted reflections.
I also started to play with ND filters last year in Namibia when dealing with the brightest light conditions one could ever imagine and I was really surprised by the results. An ND filter allows you to use a super wide aperture even in the brightest conditions, giving you more flexibility in the creative process. The added bonus for me is that ND filters also create this creamy, sunset look even when shooting in harsh light. I cannot say I have mastered the technique of using them just yet but I am looking forward to experimenting more with harsh light and ND filters in the future.
TRIPOD: MANFROTTO 055 CARBON FIBER
I always carry a tripod in my car. I need it for those dreamy night time or blue hour landscape shoots. I also found it super helpful for self portraiture. My tripod is a sturdy Manfrotto with Xpro 3 way head. Nothing bad to say about it, it does the job. Wouldn’t take it on a flight but for my long term road-trip it’s just perfect.
I always carry a light reflector with me. I am so driven by natural light in my work and how it moves throughout the day. Sometimes the light can be gorgeous but not in the right spot or direction you want it to be. With this trick, I can reflect the light into precisely the spot I am looking to illuminate. It won’t work for wide open landscapes of course but I found it an invaluable tool in creating cinematic portraits and interesting details. My reflector has three sides, one white and matted, one shiny either gold or silver. I find myself using the shiny gold one a lot as it allows me to channel natural sunlight into a specific spot giving my shot a golden hue throughout.
Think of it as a light multiplier. A no-brainer basically.
“Notice the little inexpensive things in your gear you can’t live without.”
There are things in my gear I often overlooked as they are quite cheap, readily available and therefore didn’t quite grab my attention as really important.
For instance: shutter release cables. I really need at least one in my kit as I love to shoot at blue hour or just before sunrise. When that happens, my camera is often on the tripod on a slow shutter and every little shake -such as clicking to shoot, counts towards a not-so-crisp image. I therefore prefer to plug one of these babies into the Hassy so I am 100% sure the shot won’t get some unwanted blurriness in there. Trouble is these cables are very easy to break, to clog, to not plug properly. I learned the hard way to always have an extra spare cable just in case one breaks.
My tip when packing for a photography trip would be to notice the little inexpensive things in your gear you can’t live without, such as batteries, SD cards, cables etc and bring spares! You don’t want to be in a position where they malfunction while on a shoot in the middle of nowhere. And make sure you pick a camera bag that doesn’t scream “there’s thousands worth in gear inside” The uglier and battered, the better.
Chiara Zonca is an artist currently living in Western Canada. Her mystical aesthetic evokes dreamy landscapes that seem to exist beyond time and place. Otherworldly colours and brilliant framing in Chiara’s work implores you to slow down and meditate on the beauty of our natural world. Chiara shoots with Urth lens filters.