Carlo Borlenghi’s nautical photographs stop people in their tracks, even if those people are masters of the genre themselves.

 The Venice Hospitality Challenge seen from the Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy.

 The Venice Hospitality Challenge seen from the Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy.

“Of course, he is the best,” says renowned nautical photographer Onne van der Wal, who has worked alongside Borlenghi for over 20 years. “There is no doubt in my mind. In the worldwide rankings, Carlo is at the top. He is number one.”

Borlenghi has been photographing sailboats for decades. Since 1983, when he covered his first America’s Cup, he’s been the official photographer for nine America’s Cup campaigns. He’s also photographed Whitbread Round the World and Volvo Ocean Race campaigns and has been the official photographer for the Audi Melges Sailing Series, the Monaco Yacht Club and the China Cup International Regatta in Shenzen, China. Swiss watchmaker Rolex hires Borlenghi to photograph international regattas, including the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

Rolex Ilhabela Sailing Week, Ilhabela, Brazil 

Rolex Ilhabela Sailing Week, Ilhabela, Brazil 

Over 40 years, Borlenghi has collected piles of national and international awards. He’s won the Best Italian Sport Photographer award, had his work exhibited all over Europe, and in 2007 was honored by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano for his contributions to the sailing world.

Ironically, perhaps, Borlenghi says he has no real affinity for the sea. Instead, he says, “I am afraid of the force of the sea. I have a kind of respect for the sea.”

Soundings caught up with Borlenghi after he returned from a weeklong photo shoot in Cagliari, Sardinia.

Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Porto Cervo, Italy

Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Porto Cervo, Italy

Why did you pursue nautical photography? I was born in Bellano, a small village on Lake Como. All my friends were sailors, so I started shooting the regattas and giving the pictures to my friends. I was lucky because I was young when I started my collaboration with the magazine Uomo Mare Vogue. They gave me the opportunity to travel, and that’s how I got to know the nautical world.

You’ve photographed just about all the famous regattas and great sailing events of the world. What were some of your favorites? The long-distance races are my favorite because you never know what’s going to happen with the weather. You often find strong wind and marine life. It’s all very interesting.

What event still makes you want to go back for more? One favorite is the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. I’m lucky because for many years I have been the official Rolex photographer, and this gives me the opportunity to follow this fantastic race.

You’ve expressed an interest in making a movie about ocean pollution. Is that coming? I am starting to work with video as a movie and photography director. I just did a video about Lake Como, and in the future, I would like to make a movie of my own.

Some of the 2,500 sailboats at the Barcolana Regatta, Trieste, Italy 

Some of the 2,500 sailboats at the Barcolana Regatta, Trieste, Italy 

What makes for a great sailing photograph? When you shoot a regatta or a boat for a company, everything is always moving. My goal during this continuous metamorphosis is to stop the moment.

A fair amount of your photos are aerials. How have drones affected your work? The drones have completely changed the photography, and I also use them, but for the long-distance races it’s still necessary to use a helicopter. Though, it is changing. For example, during the past Volvo Ocean Race, the onboard cameramen made amazing footage with the drones.

Carlo Borlenghi

Carlo Borlenghi

What kind of boat do you have on Lake Como? My office is based in Milan, but on the lake, I reload myself. I have a wooden rowboat. I like to go out alone early in the morning, or I go around the lake with my wife.

By your own admission, you are not a sailor. How does that affect your photography? For me, it has been an advantage because I just look at the boat aesthetically and not from a technical point of view. I think that one of my strengths is the capacity to quickly see the moment. I have the ability to make a fast storyboard in my mind.

What other stories do you hope to tell? My dream is to photograph the red crab migration to the sea at Australia’s Christmas Island. 

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue.