My big break
Marco Colombo shares the wildlife shot that kick-started his career
Marco Colombo was just 22 when he chanced upon this grass snake by a stream in the Sesia valley in Piedmont, northwest Italy. It was his first visit to this stretch of water, a trip prompted by a friend who said she always saw snakes while canoeing in the stream. “I explored the shore of the main stream and I didn’t see any snakes, but then I found this little tributary nearby.” He spied a grass snake on a rock, and fortunately it remained still while he set up his tripod and attached a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom to his D700.
When photographing wildlife, Marco prefers to include lots of background. “I like to show animals in dramatic light and set in a great landscape, not just the face of the animal,” he says. Stopping down to f/18 in the low light of the riverbank to maximise depth of field, he had to set an exposure time of 1.6 seconds. Although the snake was still, he detected slight movement in its body as it breathed. “Grass snakes only have one lung and it’s very big, so they move when they breathe,” he says. “I took maybe three or four frames. There was one where the tongue was moving, and another with the head moving, but I chose one where the head is still.”
Having photographed the snake on his first visit to the stream, Marco decided to enter the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition for the first time too, and entered this image in the 2011 contest. A couple of months later he received an email saying he was a finalist. “It was beginner’s luck,” Marco says modestly. “After a month or two I received another email saying, ‘Congratulations, you’re the winner of the Animal Portraits category,’ but I thought it was a mistake! I waited two or three days before answering, because I thought there would be another email saying, ‘Sorry, it’s not for you!’”
Instead, Marco was thrust into the limelight as a category winner of the world’s biggest wildlife photography competition on his first attempt. “It is my breakthrough shot because it allowed me to showcase my work in many magazines.” Now 28, he is one of Europe’s leading nature photographers, and regularly appears on Italian television. He continues to enjoy competition success: in May he won first prize in the Other Animals category of the Asferico International Nature Photography competition.
Marco Colombo is one of Italy’s best-known nature photographers. He has a degree in natural sciences and is also a qualified scuba diving instructor, and often combines these skills to capture underwater views of his subjects. To see more of his work visit www.calosoma.it