Donatella Nicolini

A black and white portrait of a woman in a black off-the-shoulder dress gazing lovingly at the naked baby she is holding, taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens by Donatella Nicolini.

"When I decided to become a professional photographer, I explored various photography genres, including corporate events, weddings, food photography and still life," recalls Canon Ambassador Donatella Nicolini. "However, nothing brought me the same level of happiness and satisfaction as studio portrait photography. It wasn't until I stumbled upon maternity portrait photography that I found my true passion." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 64mm, 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO 100. © Donatella Nicolini

Masterfully entwining elegance and confidence, Donatella Nicolini's photography captures the essence of an expectant mother with a quiet simplicity that speaks volumes. "My ultimate mission is to empower women through my work," states the Italian photographer, who was born and raised in Milan. "I take great care to make every woman I photograph feel like a professional model. Attention to detail, combined with my unique style, allows me to offer a liberating and transformative experience through photography."

Not only has Donatella's striking yet sensitive style garnered praise from the hundreds of women she has immortalised, but also from the highest echelons of the publishing world, with magazines including Vanity Fair, Elle, Marie Claire and Rolling Stone showcasing her talent on an international scale. However, her crowning achievement came when Forbes Italia named her as one of its 100 successful women of 2023, an extraordinary accolade that punctuates a meteoric rise to global acclaim just five years after transitioning from amateur status to pro.

"I dedicated three years of my life to the singular pursuit of enhancing my photography and business skills," says Donatella, who today runs her own studio in Milan. "During that first year I took on multiple jobs, any job, just to raise funds for my education and photography equipment. After a year and a half of experimenting with different genres, including weddings, food and still life, I made the decision to narrow my focus and specialise in maternity photography. I noticed that I was brimming with ideas for maternity portraits, and after my first maternity photoshoot, all the inspiration I received revolved around a pregnant woman as the central figure."

A black and white portrait of Canon Ambassador Donatella Nicolini holding a Canon camera.
Location: Milan, Italy

Specialist areas: Maternity, portraiture

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R5
Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM
A portrait of a pregnant woman in a long, yellow off-the-shoulder dress that matches the colour of the background, taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens by Donatella Nicolini.

"The central theme of my work is the empowerment of women, celebrating their strength, beauty and unique journey through various stages of life," says the Italian photographer, whose mission is to make every client feel like a professional model. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 54mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 100. © Donatella Nicolini

A portrait of a pregnant woman in a long, yellow off-the-shoulder dress that matches the colour of the background, taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens by Donatella Nicolini.

"Once the lighting is set and perfect, I then focus on posing and connection," Donatella reveals. "When all these elements come together, when the whole body is beautifully posed and I have a strong, yet relaxed and confident look on my client's face, then I know I have the shot." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 68mm, 1/160 sec, f/4 and ISO 1600. © Donatella Nicolini

Obsessed with arts and crafts as a child, Donatella moved into photography as a teenager, experimenting with her father's camera, a Canon AE-1. "For me, photography was a natural evolution." she explains. "I felt like I had found a way to create images that were less messy and even more interesting than painting."

It wasn't until she was in her mid-twenties, though, that she saw the potential to turn her passion into profit, with the idea surfacing during a stint living and working at a Wild West theme park in Sweden with a troupe of creative performers. "It sounds crazy, but it's true!" she laughs. "One day, a colleague asked if I could take a few pictures of her performing during the show. I eagerly agreed and over the next two weeks I carried a camera everywhere, capturing portraits of all my friends and colleagues after work and posting the photos on Facebook. They loved the pictures and asked me to photograph their portfolios. It was not only incredibly enjoyable, but also a way for me to make new friends in a foreign place. I used to be quite shy and introverted, making it challenging to connect with people. However, I realised that through my lens, I could connect with people on a deeper level, and I felt much more at ease around them."

A portrait of a woman, wearing a long white dress and white floral headdress and holding a baby on her hip, taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens by Donatella Nicolini.

"Taking portraits always brings me genuine happiness and excitement," Donatella replies, when asked why she's a photographer. "It was, and is, a means of connecting with people, bringing them joy and confidence, making them feel beautiful. This celebration of women's unique journeys remains at the heart of my work, regardless of the specific life stage captured in each photograph." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 42mm, 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO 100. © Donatella Nicolini

A portrait of a pregnant woman, wearing a long, flowing brown dress with a billowing train, taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens by Donatella Nicolini.

Before Donatella even picks up her camera, she sets to work gathering essential information from her clients, encouraging them to create a mood board featuring their favourite images. "This serves as a valuable source of inspiration and provides a deeper understanding, as well as a visual reference for the shoot," she reveals. "I build upon it by infusing my own interpretation and artistic vision to craft and finalise the photoshoot." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 38mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 100. © Donatella Nicolini

It wasn't just souvenirs and lifelong friends Donatella returned home to Italy with; she'd found her raison d'etre. "After that, it was the only job I could imagine doing for the rest of my life. Nothing else brought me as much joy and fulfilment as photographing people and witnessing their reactions. From that point on, I dedicated my life to photography."

Much of your work is high contrast black and white, what is the reason behind this?

"I suppose I'm drawn to black and white photography because I find it to be more timeless and impactful. In the absence of colour, we can direct our attention more towards the elegant lines and shapes of the pregnant body, which is a central focus of my work."

Can you tell us about your preference for studio lighting and how it influences your creative process?

"Approximately 90% of my work is captured using studio lighting, as I consider it to be an exciting element to experiment with. I'm constantly exploring the art of using studio lighting to create minimalist compositions, which I hope convey a sense of strength and grace. I try to allocate a portion of my photoshoots to playing around with up to four lights and different colours. This experimentation allows me to create unexpected and unique images that add an element of surprise and delight for my clients."

Pregnancy, by its very nature, can be a difficult time for women, but your subjects look so content and comfortable. How do you achieve this?

"I find that by valuing the subject's input, providing clear direction, and allowing them to be an active part of the creative journey, they'll not only feel relaxed but also empowered. This approach helps bring out their beauty and confidence, resulting in images that reflect their unique and authentic self. The pre-shooting consultation, where we discuss their personality, preferences, and expectations, is the first step. It allows us to connect on a personal level and ensures that they have a voice in the creative process. During the photoshoot, I maintain a professional yet warm and empathetic demeanour. I believe in creating a safe and non-judgmental space where they can be themselves."

One thing I know

Donatella Nicolini

"When you're starting out, becoming relevant to your audience can be an uphill battle, so I made a point of sharing my work across various platforms, whether through photography contests, Facebook groups or other social media. However, I didn't underestimate the significance of offline connections. I recognised that showing up in person and building meaningful relationships is often overlooked, but crucial. So, I actively attended photography events, networked with other industry professionals and created those valuable connections. This real-world presence became a pivotal aspect of my journey to overcome the challenge of starting out without any industry connections."

Instagram: @donatellanicolinistudio

Website: donatellanicolini.it

Donatella Nicolini's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Donatella Nicolini's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20fps with Advanced AF programmed using deep-learned AI. "This is particularly important when capturing moments with babies and toddlers," explains Donatella. "Their constant movement requires the ability to seize every precious instant."

Canon EOS R3

With next-generation Eye Control AF technology, the EOS R3 focuses wherever you are tracking. Donatella says: "I can't help but express my fascination with the innovative Eye Control AF – it feels almost magical! I also really like the integrated grip design, and the extended battery life is perfect for long photo shoots."

Canon PowerShot V10

Designed for vlogging, the PowerShot V10 includes a tilt-screen, large stereo microphones and even a stand, meaning you're ready to roll in seconds. Donatella says it's "a very useful camera for vlogging or streaming, and it has a great microphone too."


Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

Super-fast and bright, this L-series lens gives stunning results even in low light. "It's an ideal choice because it combines the remarkable image quality of a prime lens with the versatility of a zoom, providing me with a wide range of creative possibilities," says Donatella.

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS

The RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS delivers uncompromising sharpness along with the ultimate smooth bokeh for exceptional portraits. Donatella says, "It offers stunning creamy bokeh and excels in low-light settings, making it an invaluable tool for achieving the desired artistic effects in my photography."

Related articles

Canon Ambassador Jaime de Diego

Canon Europe Ambassador Programme

Find out how the ambassador programme works, and meet the phenomenal photographers chosen to represent Canon.

Canon Professional Services

Members get access to CPS Priority Support, both locally and at major events; a priority Fast Track repair service; and — depending on your level of membership — free back-up equipment loans plus return shipping and discounts on maintenance. They can also enjoy exclusive members’ offers.