Guia Besana

A model poses amongst tropical flowers and plants with the shadow of a palm frond falling on her face.

Canon Ambassador Guia Besana specialises in portrait photography. This is her favourite image from A Rummage of Flowers, a project which explored themes of indecision, power and fragility. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Guia Besana

Canon Ambassador Guia Besana is an Italian-born, Paris and Barcelona-based portrait photographer whose work often focuses on women's issues and the theme of identity.

Guia Besana is a self-taught photographer whose images are regularly seen in galleries and publications around the world. With a specialist interest in women's issues, her photography projects often look at the theme of identity and are as thought-provoking as they are engaging. She lists Julia Margaret Cameron and Cindy Sherman among the photographers whose work interests her the most, but she draws inspiration from her own life experiences.

Guia studied media and communication in her native Italy, before becoming a photographer and moving to Paris. She has worked for the Anzenberger Agency and in 2016 joined London's nineteensixtyeight photography platform.

Her images have been published by CNN, Huffington Post, Newsweek, Marie Claire, the international edition of The New York Times and Le Monde. However, her personal projects and series have also attracted widespread acclaim, with the Baby Blues collection, which looks at the emotional side of motherhood through a series of staged and symbolic portraits, picking up the 2012 Amilcare Ponchielli Grin award.

Canon Ambassador Guia Besana stands with a Canon DSLR.

Location: Paris and Barcelona

Specialist areas: Portrait, commercial

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS 5DS R

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Another of her notable projects is Poison, which explores over-consumption and habitat destruction. Guia admits that distilling the vast and diverse range of environmental issues into a tightly composed collection of images was not an easy undertaking. The hook for her was the feeling of helplessness, although she made sure that the images provided room for the viewer to make their own interpretation rather than being prescriptive in tone.

Underpinning Poison was the continuation of the feminine motif established in Guia's earlier work. This wasn't a decision based solely on her ability to identify with the female characters in the images, but also the conceptual contrast created between women as 'life-givers' and the scenes of destruction that she was depicting.

A woman wearing a bra made with seashells lies in a bathtub filled with blue water.

Andreina Villalobos, or Andreina mermaid, pictured here, arrived from Venezuela and established the first school for mermaids in Barcelona. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/4.0 and ISO160. © Guia Besana

A pair of legs clad in pink tights emerges from the rear window of an abandoned lime-green car.

This image is part of LEG IT, a series of self-portraits illustrating Guia's urge to escape physical confinement during the pandemic. "I need to walk to think, evolve and create," she explains. "The Covid-19 lockdown froze my legs." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/320 sec, f/6.3 and ISO160. © Guia Besana

Guia's Traces project was another huge undertaking, this time focusing on the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland. The quiet and dignified compositions cut to the heart of the story without resorting to hammer-blow shock tactics.

In addition to her professional work, Guia has run creative workshops designed to help photographers experiment with the principles of photographic 'mise en scène', something which is such a crucial element in her personal work. She has also explored crowdfunding as a financial model for Under Pressure, a project exploring the role of women in contemporary society.

Guia has exhibited across the globe, including in the US, Argentina and Malaysia, and her work has attracted a host of international prizes, including the Los Angeles DCA Award and the Marie Claire International Award. She has also been a finalist in the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers.

A pair of legs clad in pink tights emerges from a shadowy carpet of ferns.

Guai had no one to use as model, so she composed the images for LEG IT using her own legs. "I used props I found on the Greek island I was staying on," she says. "It was, for me, a further declaration of how most of us perceive freedom and immunity as a granted prerogative of life." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/80 sec, f/5.6 and ISO160. © Guia Besana

A model is lit with a red light and wrapped with vines.

"It sounds quite contradictory, but for me sometimes fiction can be more real than reality itself," Guia says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/5 and ISO640. © Guia Besana

How much direction do you give your subjects when it comes to their poses?

"I direct only if I have an idea in mind before the shoot. Otherwise I leave the decisions to the moment. It depends a lot on the subject and our first minute together."

Your work appears meticulously planned. Where do the ideas for the themes and compositions come from?

"Generally I have two or three themes that stay with me for different reasons. After a while only one seems to stick, so I start working on that one. I have an idea of an image in mind and start researching for props I want to include or locations I want to use. The themes are somehow always personal or deal with my own feelings and experiences. Ideas can start from a small thing such as a skirt or a real scene I witness, then I try to re-enact what I have in mind. "

Many of your portraits do not feature direct eye contact. What is it about an image of someone looking out of the frame that you're drawn to?

"I've always been drawn to environmental or conceptual portraits, where the surrounding elements have an emphasising role. For me, an object can be as important as the subject and having someone looking out of the frame creates a dialogue between the subject and what surrounds them."

What is your preferred lighting setup to use when you're shooting on location?

"I'm in love with continuous lighting but it's heavy and not easy to carry around, so I usually only use it for my personal work. For editorial assignments, where I need to be flexible and light, I usually carry at least a Speedlite and an umbrella."

What has been the most important lesson you have learned about photography during your career?

"Perseverance pays off."

One thing I know

Guia Besana

"My personal work is composed of series of images that are staged. Shooting a staged image is the last step of the process. When I start thinking of an image and an idea, so much has to go between that moment and the actual shooting. Ideas can stay with me for months before I actually start collecting props and finding a location. This long process can easily include my editorial work, giving a good balance to everything. I think that interrupting personal work 'flow' with assignments in this way provides a good opportunity to go back to it with fresh eyes and rethink things."

Facebook: @Guia Sara Besana

Instagram: @guiasarabesana

Twitter: @twittandsing


Guia Besana's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Guia Besana's kitbag, containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

A professional full-frame mirrorless flagship camera offering photographers and filmmakers high-resolution stills and 8K video. Guia favours this "very versatile" camera as it has an "incredible autofocus experience".

Canon EOS R

A pioneering full-frame mirrorless camera. "The EVF simulation of the exposure means there's no waiting and testing exposures," says Guia. "It's very sharp and easy to customise."


Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

A super-fast and bright 28-70mm f/2 L-series lens that gives stunning results even in low light. "It redefines zoom quality with an exceptional f/2 aperture," says Guia.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

A standard wide-angle beloved for its natural perspective, low-light capability. "If I need to travel light with just one lens, this is the one I carry," says Guia. "Everything can be done with this 35mm."

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

With a true macro magnification ratio of 1:1, this lens ensures that whatever you're photographing in real life appears the same size as on your camera sensor. "A new discovery for me," says Guia. "I love it and you can use it on the EOS R System with the mount adapter."


Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

The standard Mount Adapter EF-EOS R allows EF-S and EF lenses to be used on EOS R cameras seamlessly. "The lenses you love can be mounted on EOS R System cameras, enhancing their quality," says Guia.

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