There’s something about Simone Castrovillari’s pictures that not only keeps you riveted to the moment, but also wonder about the story behind his photos. From form to face, his captures of athletes truly embody the energy and excitement of sports.

Simone Castrovillari taking a break at the stands

Whether it’s the Olympic Games or other sporting events, he snaps the heart of the action with uncanny precision. We had the valuable chance to speak with him for a few moments, on his journey, process, and a little bit about our own local legend and Canon brand ambassador, Joseph Schooling.

Good day Simone! Could you tell us a bit about how you got into photography?

Hello! For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a camera in my hand. I think I started taking photos when I was four or five, with my father’s film camera. I always thought the photography process was something magical. I received my first camera, a Canon Prima Junior, as a gift when I turned 11. I’ve never stopped taking photos since then. Then, when I bought my EOS 350D, I really went crazy over digital photos!

EOS 7D Mark II | 1/2000s | f/4 | ISO 2000

You were shooting at the Rio Olympics when Singapore’s first Olympic champ Joseph Schooling won a gold medal – what was the atmosphere there like and how did you set out to capture that historic moment on camera?

The Olympic Games is amazing, no other sporting event can compare. And Rio de Janeiro is a city bustling with passion and enthusiasm. Picture the final night of the games – the aquatic stadium is packed to the brim and everyone is excited about one of the greatest swimming finals. Everyone was waiting for Michael Phelps to clinch the last gold medal of his career…but we all know how that went!

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/2000s | f4 | ISO 4000

I was really concentrating on the activities until the end of the race… then I started to celebrate the win by Joseph Schooling! It was funny because people around me were asking, “Why are you celebrating? You are Italian, not Singaporean!”

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/1600s | f4 | ISO 4000

Could you tell us a bit about what Joseph Schooling is like behind-the-scenes?

When I see Joseph out of the pool, his professionalism is impressive. His ability to stay focused despite all the attention from cameras and people around him never ceases to impress me. It’s clear that he is mature beyond his years.

I think his strong character traits can also be attributed to great upbringing by his parents, May and Colin. This to me is one of the most difficult yet important things to achieve in this world.

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/2500s | f2.8 | ISO 4000

Another thing that I really appreciate about Joseph is the way he loves his team. I saw him celebrating the 4x100m freestyle relay bronze win with his teammates at the recent Asian Games 2018, and his immense joy shone through. This was great to witness and capture in photos.

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/1600s | f4 | ISO 5000

How did you end up doing sports photography professionally? Were you always interested in sports?

I started taking photos of swimming at the World Championship Rome ‘09. I had just graduated with a degree in Audiovisual Communication from the Universities of Rome, Lisbon and Miami. Right before that, I was already working with photos, realising digital artworks and having many art exhibitions. In 2010, I started specialising in fashion photography.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/400s | f5 | ISO 1600

I’ve always loved sports, but I prefer taking photos of certain sports, particularly aquatic sports.  I enjoy conveying the moments of emotions and celebrations through sports photography and I appreciate the human form in every sport, but I think my natural love of water, beaches, and lakes makes me especially interested in aquatic sports. I love it when human expression and natural elements come together in a perfect shot.

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/2000s | f4 | ISO 4000

What is one misconception people have about sports photography?

A lot of people think it’s just the equipment that creates a good photo. They couldn’t be more wrong. Photos are created through our eyes, and by our brains. It’s very important to know the best way to take a sport – all of the movement, timing, gestures and rules. Just look at some of the older film sport photography – they were amazing without the equipment that most of the new-generation photographers now possess.

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/2700s | f4 | ISO 4000

Could you share with us a little about the major differences between fashion photography and sports photography?

Fashion photography allows a lot more of my artistic nature to shine through as opposed to sports. It allows me to express my creativity more freely, and express my unique voice through my shots.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/400s | f9 | ISO 100

You did some shots at the Special Olympics Italia, was it any different from shooting for the Olympics and if so, how?

I’ve been the official photographer of the Special Olympics Team Italy since 2016. The Special Olympics is a sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. I started taking photos of them during the Winter World Championship in Austria, after Olympics Rio 2016, because I wanted to capture this meaningful sport which really changes people’s lives and makes them better.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/2700s | f5.6 | ISO 500

It was absolutely the best photo experience in my life. Every athlete has a wonderful personality and through sports; their unique personalities come through in incredible ways. I was so proud to take photos of the Special Olympics athletes. It isn’t very different from taking photos of other sports – I just had to capture their best athletic moments despite their physical disabilities. The big difference was when they started to celebrate and show their personalities at the end of the event. This event is when I captured the most wonderful photos. Sometimes, many Olympians don’t celebrate their wins because they are so focused on the Olympics. But Special Olympics athletes celebrate every moment of the games, because it is testament to their strength.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/500s | f5 | ISO 4000

What sports do you enjoy taking the most?

That’s a hard question. I would have to say synchronised swimming because it’s a perfect mix of art, body harmony, technique, and power – a wonderful expression bringing out the art of dancing complemented by amazing movements, surrounded by the magic of water. The art of photography is a perfect medium to show all these in a single image.

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/2700s | f4 | ISO 5000

What do you think makes for a great shot in sports or action photography?

All photos are great when you are communicating something with your photo. In sports photography, you could tell a story with your photo through the athlete’s gesture, their celebration, giving a different point of view. I think there are a thousand ways to capture a great shot – it’s just necessary to trust your own feeling and cultivate good taste!

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/3500s | f4 | ISO 3200

What are some of the biggest challenges of doing sports photography?

To be different and unique. It’s easier in many other kinds of photography, but at sports events you don’t always have the freedom to choose.

Does documenting a shot supersede your expression of it?

I usually already know what I want to show and how, but because I’m taking photos of human subjects, I’m always ready for the moment. I usually take photos with one eye, while having the other one open to see if something interesting is happening out of my lens’ range.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/3200s | f4.5 | ISO 500

How do you prepare yourself before shooting for an event?

I always study my subjects before the shoot. If it’s sports, I want to know everything about that sport. If it’s a music event, I want to know how the artists will move on stage. If it’s a fashion shoot, I want to see the models, the make-up and the sets before taking the photos.

I avoid seeing other photographers’ works about the same subject before the event. Although it could give me inspiration to compose my shots, it also makes it harder to have unique and different shots.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/80s | f4 | ISO 6400

How do you decide what camera equipment to use before an event?

I consider the subject I’m going to shoot, the distance from it, the lighting conditions, and the background. From there, I decide if I need a fast camera, a long lens, or something handier.

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/2000s | f4 | ISO 4000

What are some of the camera gear that you love to use for your work?

I love to use all sorts of different equipment when I can. At sports events, I appreciate the EOS-1D X Mark II with the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM and EF 1.4x III Extender because it’s so easy to use and quick to attach and remove. For other kinds of photography, I prefer something smaller and lighter like the Canon mirrorless system. For lenses, I really love the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM. I love taking portraits with it – it’s absolutely my favourite lens.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/200s | f6.3 | ISO 1000

When choosing equipment, what do you think are the most important factors?

All my equipment should be as handy as possible. I travel a lot so I tend to bring lighter gear. For me, one of the most important features that a body needs to have is good tropicalisation. I’ve shot photos in bad weather conditions, such as in rain, snow, and even at 40 or -15 degree Celsius.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/1800s | f4 | ISO 640

Have you ever wanted to delve into another genre of photography?

One of my dreams is to be a nature photographer! I love nature, animals and landscapes.

Who are some of your greatest inspirations growing up?

Helmut Newton. He specialises in black and white photography and through his photos, you’re able to feel the beauty of the subject. Also, Peter Lindbergh for fashion photography.

I also love to experiment and draw inspiration from classic art and Greek mythology, but to me, the most outstanding photos are the ones that stand out from the rest and conveys your own unique voice.

EOS 5D Mark II | 1/1600s | f10 | ISO 1000

Which photo are you most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of the photo below. It wasn’t easy for me to arrive in Rio de Janeiro to be part of the Games, and to be able to capture this momentous shot means the world to me.

From the moment Joseph swam in his heats, I was sure he could win the Olympic gold medal, but what I didn’t imagine, is this incredible and historical moment of Michael Phelps, Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh all finishing in second place behind Joseph. To me, this is a historical photo – what are the odds of three world champions tied for the silver medal?

Canon 5D Mark II | 1/1500s | f4 | ISO 1600

What sort of advice would you have for someone who wants to get into sports photography professionally?

Be humble! Always take photos and never think that it’s ever good enough because we never stop learning.

The best photos are when you stake out and wait for that perfect shot. You also need to have passion, properly research your subject, lighting and angles to nail the shot.

EOS-1D X Mark II | 1/2500s | f4 | ISO 3200

For more of Simone’s works, do visit his websites at www.simonecastrovillari.com and www.castrovillariphoto.com or his Instagram.

First published: Canon EOS World

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