ROCCO ANCORA NEVER SET OUT TO BE A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER. NOW HE STANDS IN JUDGEMENT OF SOME OF THE WORLD’S FINEST.
At 11 years of age Rocco Ancora underwent one of the biggest challenges a pre-teen can endure when his parents moved the young uomo and his family from his beloved Turin and migrated to Australia.
But rather than fretting for his old life, the would-be scholar threw himself into his studies, determined to make the most of all his adopted country had to offer.
Neither left nor right brain dominant, Rocco says he enjoyed tackling subjects with a scientific or analytical focus but proved equally at home with those with an artistic or creative bent.
A career in architecture beckoned but it was only after purchasing a basic film camera to photograph different structures that he discovered what had until that point been a largely unacknowledged passion.
“What used to intrigue me the most was how light affected the shape mood and feel of a [building], the love of photography began from that point on. What started off as just a very serious hobby grew to be much more. Looking at the images I was intrigued by what I had captured and how I could convey emotion through a captured image. From buildings, the passion grew into photographing people and soon I was being roped into photographing all family events.”
Fortunate to secure a job as a trainee lab technician with a large wedding and portrait studio, much of Rocco’s early training was done on the job. Charged with developing and printing the work of the studio photographers, he found himself assisting the weekend wedding photographers with his big break arriving when he was asked by the studio to shoot a wedding solo.
His first serious camera was a NIKON FM2 film camera with a 50mm manual focus lens, purchased in 1989 with money borrowed from his parents at the time. These days his favourite lens of choice is the NIKKOR AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED.
Rocco says while most of his learning was done on the job, he took a number of short courses in the evenings and weekends where he was taught the basics of camera craft, aperture, shutter and depth of field. Developing film at the time was expensive, he says, so he soon taught himself how to process in a makeshift darkroom he created at the back of his garage.
Upon reflection, he says the move from film to digital in 2000 was one of the biggest challenges he has faced largely because the early digital capture and associated technologies were so rudimentary.
“The beauty in the subtleties of the dynamic range of film certainly didn’t exist in the digital files produced back then. I knew I had to embrace the beast and I knew it would eventually get better and it did. It was the way of the future of our industry. I went back to school and spent a lot of time learning colour management and digital post-production and printing. It was challenging but at the same time rewarding converting in my own head analogue darkroom practices to digital alternatives.”
A Nikon ambassador since 2007, Rocco now divides his time between his photographic and judging responsibilities, his global dynamic workshops and seminars, and his boutique printing service, Capture to Print, based out of Melbourne.
He sees his core responsibility as a wedding photographer to not only tell the story of the couple on their wedding day but also to create “beautiful timeless images that the family will cherish for generations to come”.
“I never set out to be a wedding photographer. I was inspired by the photojournalistic street photography of Cartier Bresson and Eugene Smith to name a few, but also loved the beautiful fashion work of Irvin Penn, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon and the like. Wedding photography gave me the opportunity to be a photojournalist and a fashion photographer,” he says.
A former recipient of the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International (WPPI) prestigious ‘Wedding Grand Award’, today Rocco’s distinctive style and ability to capture the “human connection” has meant his work has been celebrated both locally and internationally. Named as one of the Top Ten Photographers in the world by iconic photography magazine American Photo, Rocco has been named The Australian Institute of Professional Photography’s Wedding Photographer of the Year four times in a six-year span.
Rocco has now been involved in judging awards for the Australian Institute of Professional Photography for almost 20 years and holds similar roles with the Wedding Portrait Photographers International in the USA and PWS in Europe. He credits his own experiences in teaching him the importance of empathy and respect when critiquing in a public forum.
“There is a certain level of professional etiquette towards the print, the photographer and of course fellow judges. When critiquing an image there are a few things that I look for; beginning with impact and then followed by technical excellence overall, in particular lighting and composition. Other elements to consider are storytelling strength of the image, creativity and finally print quality.”
While his success on the world stage has helped expose him to a larger audience, Rocco sees awards as a by-product of his work for his clients. The awards help with professional credibility and notoriety to some extent but Rocco insists he never sets out to shoot any assignment with the notion “today I’m going to photograph an award-winning image”.
“I love what I do and I have a genuine passion to capture that ultimate image for the client. I believe my clients come to me because they love my work, not because of my awards.”
His work as a wedding specialist has taken him all around the globe with a “no holds barred” wedding in the Maldives and a “low budget but lots of fun” shoot in a caravan park behind a service station in the outback particular highlights. The salt flats in Bolivia remain a bucket list item.
“I’d [like] to do a creative portrait shoot there. The minimalist sparse landscape would make an incredible setting.”
What’s in Rocco’s Bag:
- Nikon D850 and two Nikon D5
- Beyond my camera bodies, my lenses are very important as well as my lighting. I shoot a lot with prime lenses for 24mm to 105mm. I currently have: NIKKOR AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED, NIKKOR AF-S 58mm f/1.4G, NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.4G, NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G, NIKKOR AF-S 24mm f/1.4G, NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
- Nikon SB-5000 AF Speedlight x3
- WR-A10 & WR-R10 Wireless Remote Adapter & Controller
- My favourite lens for photographing people is the new NIKKOR 105mm f1.4.
- The next most important thing is my speedlights. I love to not only work with available light whenever possible but also create beautiful light when there is none. For me, light is the key to emotion.
[Words by Tracey Porter]