Ferdinando Scianna enrolled in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Palermo, where he will attend various courses without completing his studies. In 1963 Leonardo Sciascia almost by chance visited his first photographic exhibition, which had popular festivals as its theme, at the cultural club of Bagheria. When they meet in person, a friendship is immediately born that will be fundamental for Scianna's career. He moved to Milan in 1967 and within a year he began collaborating as a photojournalist and special correspondent with the European Championship, later becoming its correspondent from Paris.In 1977 he published Les Siciliens (Denoel) in France, with texts by Domenique Fernandez and Leonardo Sciascia, and in Italy The villa of the monsters (introduction by Leonardo Sciascia). In Paris he wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique and La Quinzaine littéraire and above all he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose works had influenced him from his youth. The great photographer introduced him in 1982 as the first Italian in the prestigious Magnum agency, of which he became a full partner in 1989. In 1984 he collaborated with Bresson and André Pieyre de Mandiargues for Henri Cartier-Bresson: portraits (Collins). In the meantime he befriends and collaborates with various successful writers, including Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (who a few years later wrote the introduction of Le forme del chaos, 1989). In the eighties he also worked in high fashion  and advertising, establishing himself as one of the most requested photographers. It makes an essential contribution to the success of Dolce and Gabbana's campaigns in the second half of the 1980s.
In 1995 he returned to address religious themes, publishing Journey to Lourdes, and in 1999 the portraits of the famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges were published. 2003 saw the release of the book Quelli di Bagheria (part of a larger project that includes a documentary and various exhibitions), a reconstruction of the setting and atmospheres of his youth through research into individual and collective memory. In December 2006 the 2007 calendar of the Nebrodi Park was presented, with twelve shots by the Messina actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta. With fellow citizen Giuseppe Tornatore, on the occasion of his new film Baarìa, in 2009 he published the photographic book Baaria Bagheri.