Gustavo Tonelli11 1440x900 Photographer Feature | Gustavo Tonelli
Shanna June

Shanna June

Community Manager

Photographer Feature | Gustavo Tonelli

Back in June we ran our 6 Pages 6 Winners Competition in collaboration with Fashion Faces Magazine. We had so many amazing entries but only 6 photographers were lucky enough to be featured, and guess what..?! Gustavo Tonelli was one of them! It’s a pleasure to have him back on board the Preset Shop and we hope you enjoy getting to know Gustavo as much as we have. Just so you know the talented Mr. Tonelli is kind of a jack of all creative trades, a very clever man, a total perfectionist and an endlessly interesting guy to boot! Oh yeah and his favorite photo shoot location was at his grandma’s house.. SO COOL!

Good vibes and endless inspiration,
Preset Shop Team


Who is Gustavo Tonelli?

I’ve been trying to define him for the last 40 odd years, but he’s so elusive… And just when you think I would have him pinned down, he reinvents himself completely. The one thing I can tell you – and the one thing that has remained constant – is that he enjoys creation, whether it is setting up a photograph, writing a song or making up a new drink, he is happiest – and would I dare say at his best; when he’s conceptualizing something out of nothing. And as a norm, he never speaks of himself in the third person.

What is your current state of mind?

I have just finalized the first season of a television show based largely on a photography concept – which is a daring but because anyone in the television world would tell you that there are two things you don’t do on TV; animals and photography. But we did it and I find myself in the unusual state of being both relaxed – for having finished 6 months of production – and exhilarated – for the opportunities that lay ahead. So I am chill and upbeat at the same time, if you don’t find the sheer idea of these opposing states co-existing, mind-boggling.

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What do you love the most about your job?

I’m such a perfectionist that I genuinely endure through the sessions – although it does not show, my internal stress levels are all cranking at eleven… But after the shoot, when I’m at the studio or at home browsing through the photographs, relaxed and satisfied, I am so grateful for my job – and it is then, when everyone has gone home and I’m looking at each photograph, that I’m finally at ease and I fall in love with all of my models.

What is the best advice you have received so far about photography?

I don’t think there are universal words of wisdom, because we are not all alike. The best advice I ever received – and this is because of me being who I am – was: “Don’t overthink. Just shoot.”

How would you describe your style?

Someone once said that I portray women as inaccessible beings, as beautiful as they are untouchable. The person who said this was my psychologist and I always fought with this idea… But it is true.

What does fashion mean to you?

What does it not? We live in an era where everything about us – from the laptop we choose to the cell phone we carry, from the neighborhood we move into, to the bar we frequent and very particularly the clothes we wear – is a fashion statement meant to communicate to the world how we see ourselves.




What misconceptions do you think outsiders have about the fashion world?

I think the biggest misconception runs both ways: it is much tougher than most people outside of the business think that it is, and it is way less tough than people inside the industry will want you to believe that it is.

As you look through the viewfinder, what is the most critical moment in the capture of your image?

It varies – as I do some travel and fine arts photography, where you pursue a different result. But in fashion I would say that there’s always magic on that moment when your subject realizes they’re enjoyment with the session, with the photographer.

What photographers from the past or present have influenced you the most?

I suppose I’ll stick to the usual suspects and go with the obvious – Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon. Closer in time I grew up professionally admiring Mario Testino and Nick Knight, and I couldn’t possibly omit the work of Tim Walker, which has the power to infuse my veins with the urge to shoot – while at the same time it makes me want to pawn my cameras and get another job. He’s brilliant.

What has been your favorite photo location or session?

My grandma’s house. We were shooting an album booklet for a new singer in Argentina and we needed a location – the art direction was very loose (to put it very mildly) and the budget tight. I suggested my grandma’s house, which had been abandoned since her passing years ago. I hadn’t myself seen the place in years. When we got there we found the patio walls covered with overgrown foliage and decay, everything weighed down by the pass of time… It was beautiful, in an eerie and evocative kind of way. Oh and free, too!

What type of cameras do you shoot with?

By and large all of my work is done with the Canon 5D Mark II, of which I own a pair. I love to shoot with my Mamiya RZ 67 Pro II – which is a heavy, medium format camera – but it is normally too expensive for most jobs, so I keep it for personal projects. It always bewildered me what a different shooter I am depending on the camera I’m using – which is of course an unconscious and perhaps unavoidable reaction. I am reminded of a story by JL Borges which depicts two duelists as the instruments of the knives they were wielding… I wonder to what extent we become the instrument of the camera we are shooting with.




What is your favorite photography accessory, other than your camera?

Is my frequent flyer card a photography accessory? Because it certainly makes my traveling for shoots much easier! Other than that I’m pretty diverse – the only thing I always take are the lens cleaners. Everything else depends on the shoot and my mood.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why?

The Canon EF 85mm 1.2; not because it is so peculiar or unique, but because it is my comfort zone lens. If something it’s not working, I know I can go there and get a nice shot.

What is your favorite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer?!

I use Lightroom together with the Adobe Suite – but I usually reserve the term ‘favorite’ for those things that I really like. In this case I use Lightroom more by chance than by choice, and I don’t particularly enjoy the hours upon hours of editing. In that sense +PS Suite has been a true saver.



Cos we just have to ask…!! 😉 What is your favorite +PS tool?? And how has it improved workflow time?

I find that Fashion Editorial lends itself the easiest to my lighting style. Of course it depends on the mood that the photograph demands, but when I have creative control of the shoot – I find that this preset works 90% of the time. And about the time saved, the suite proved invaluable on the project I just finished: Contrary to norm, we needed to make 3 sessions look like half a dozen or more – it would’ve been a gargantuan job to craft these from scratch on 40 different portfolios. +PS made the job so incredibly faster – particularly because it gave the TV editors a quick look of what the options were.

Do you maintain a studio or do you rent one when needed?

I gave up my studio when I left New York – I found myself using it less and less. Who knows? There is a certain comfort about having your own place to let your creativity run wild… But for now I’m more of a nomad.

Do you play music whilst shooting? If so, what are you digging right now? 

Only all the time. When you have a team working in silence the space becomes awkward (that is in fact why they put music on elevators). As far as the ‘what’, I love Sebastien Tellier because his music is sexy and unobtrusive (and also because he looks like someone who’s crazy, although this is just personal preference), but lately I’ve been relying on Spotify playlists put together by someone else – which is embarrassing to admit for someone who started precisely on the music scene.

Three photography pet hates and why?

I’ll be hard pressed to come up with three… I think the one thing that bothers me the most is that idea installed on most people that there is a secret button in all cameras that photographers press and pictures just come up better. I can’t count the times that I’ve been handed a camera by someone saying ‘hey, you take the picture, you’re a photographer’ – but then when you try to organize the group or move them to a different background, they all scoff… Well – that is what taking a photograph really is. If you just want someone to press the shutter while you stand there, anyone can do the trick.

Where would you wish to wake up tomorrow?

South East Asia. I had the opportunity to travel around Asia a great deal on the last two years and I have become convinced that if I were younger – or more ballsy – I would be relocating to Shanghai without further thought. Of course this is speaking on a broader scale – more specifically, there is never a day that I wouldn’t be happy to wake up in the VIIIe arrondissement with the entire day ahead to wander. I am the quintessential ‘flaneur’.

What five words would your friends use to describe you?

Adventurous. Loyal. Creative. Dependable. Resourceful. Not that they would say any of this to my face, mind you, but if you were to ask them – I think that’s what they would come up with.

What lies ahead for you? 

Who hasn’t dreamed of a book of his or her work? I’m only now starting to reach that level where you have enough material to justify it – and as soon as the TV show is finished, that will undoubtedly occupy the best of my next years.


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