My big break

Marco Colombo shares the wildlife shot that kick-started his ca­reer

NPhoto - - Contents - Keith Wil­son

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.”

The break­through

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.calo­

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