The World According to Franco Banfi

Swiss wildlife photographer and expedition leader Franco Banfi frames his view of the world

6 mins

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Ocean and mountain: I’m happy with the silence and the naturalness of both these environments. As a professional wildlife photographer – who specialises in underwater photography – I’m comfortable in areas with plenty of water, even in alpine iced lakes.

First travel experience?

As a kid, I travelled with my relatives, mostly in winter to go skiing in the mountains close to home. In that period I think I started to appreciate the charm of the silence in the mountains covered with snow.

The first journey that stands up in my mind is a car journey from Switzerland, where I still live, to Greece. I still remember well the bright colours of the south Europe and the huge stretches of nature untouched by man.

Favourite journey?

A journey to Peninsula Valdez, where I had a close underwater encounter with a female Right whale sleeping on the bottom of the Golfo Nuevo; and to a remote islet off Patagonia, lacking in every comfort, but where I camped and watched the sun rising over a huge colony of Rockhopper penguins and Magellan penguins.

Top five places worldwide?

East Pacific Ocean close to Central American’s coasts (California do Sur, Malpelo Island, Coco’s Island, Revillaggigedo archipelago), Pico Island (Azores), Pantanal (Brazil), Bismarck Sea (Papua New Guinea), little islets of Italy.

Special place to stay?

A road-stead, sheltered from the strong winds, with a sailing boat where to share tales and good food with inspiring people.

Three items you always pack?

My entire photo equipment, notebook, mask and fins.

Passport stamp you're proudest of?

I could say Russia, when I first visited the iced White Sea. But honestly, I would prefer a world without boundaries.

Passport stamp you'd most like to have?

I love remote places; the stamp on the passport is only an annoying bureaucracy I have to face when I enter a country.

Guilty travel pleasure?

Finding a good Italian coffee.

Window or aisle?

Window on short flights – aisle on international long flights.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

Someone who accepts unexpected events with a smile, able to face them and who doesn’t care too much at comfort.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

Best: South American steaks.

Worst: soup (even at my home).

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Surprising: White Sea camping.

Disappointing: roads in urbanised cities at rush-hour traffic.

Where do you NOT want to go?

Generally, I don’t want to go to standard tourist destinations during the high season or to frenetic cities. The “all inclusive packages” are too much “standard” for my tastes.

Apart from this, I can’t think of a place I’ve not been to that I don’t want to see.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

Not sure. I go where I think to find wild animals/environments/nature and natural cultures to see, to perceive and to photograph.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song takes you back to a particular time or place?

Any solo singing of a saxophone takes me back to one journey to Papua New Guinea, where I first met a famous underwater cameraman who was sitting on the top-deck of the boat and was playing a touching music with his sax. It was one of those nights: plenty of stars in the dark sky, you are pervaded by the sense of life and match all the elements of the universe around you… Simply magic.

What do you read?

Before I go to a country, usually I try to read as much as possible about the animals/environments/culture I want to photograph. When I’m there I usually don’t have any time to read. Taking photographs requires a huge amount of time in saving and screening.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

Faith in humanity is often restored by the local people I meet, who often have less in material goods but more in humanity and joie de vivre.

Faith in humanity is occasionally lost when people care only in economy, don’t care at all in environment and has lost courtesy.

What's the most impressive/useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

Being able to say “thanks” in the local language.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

I trust too much in the punctuality and precision of transports (airplanes, taxis, etc).

Snowbound in a tent in Antarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

With some anecdotes about my previous experiences, maybe about when I was in Mexico, in a truly hot and moist summer, when I was not able to take pictures because of the condensation on the glass of my camera’s lenses.

But a good storyteller has always to realise when his audience starts do be tired and he has to keep silent.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

Whenever and wherever I find a good interaction with wildlife and people around me. It happened in Pico Island with sperm whales, in the White Sea with Beluga whales, in Rurutu island with humpback whales, in Socorro island with manta-rays, and in closer destinations such as Mediterranean tiny villages where I often found interesting culture and a general good life-style.

What smell most says 'travel' to you?

The smell of the ocean.

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

This one because of technologies, but with less hurry.

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?

When I can, I always try to avoid metropolises.

Franco Banfi is an award-winning photographer and has become known around the world for his expertise and accuracy in underwater imaging. Regaldive is offering photography courses with Franco Banfi onboard the MV Mariana in the Maldives from 6th November until 4th December 2011. For more information, visit

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