(The dialog was translated from the original Italian language. Some translating errors may occur)
Hello Roberto, let's start with a rather practical question: nature photography, of which you are a talented interpreter, requires the use of bulky and heavy equipment such as lenses, tripod, without counting the camera, camouflage and accessories. But... how heavy is your camera bag? For a beginner nature photographer what would you recommend to bring early to avoid unnecessary weight?
It's true, nature photography requires bulky and heavy equipment, especially if they dedicate themselves to all fields of it that are macro, landscape and animals both from tent blind and photographic hunting. Let's say that there is not perfect camera equipment, because every photographer has his own personal needs, which depend not only on budget, but also by many other factors such as quality, flexibility, weight, size, etc. and everyone looks for his ideal compromise. A beginner has to find this compromise step by step, understanding what is needs are. Basically I suggest to start with a APS-C kit, less expensive both in camera body and lenses compared to full frame kit and it "helps" to photograph the distant animals with the crop factor. A tele lens is still necessary and my suggestion is a tele zoom around 100-400mm or 300/4 with a 1.4x multiplier if it needs. Then, a macro zoom that starts from around 18mm up to short telephoto is just you need at first to cover all kinds of nature photography. If you want to photograph seriously enough then you need a good stable tripod with an equally stable head.
Wildlife photography is now more affordable than once? In other words, the technological progress (bursts of shooting, high iso capability) makes this kind of photography explored by non-specialists, with more than decent results. How important are today equipment performances of on the final result? Why Nikon gear? And in particular which camera and lenses do you use more regularly?
Two factors let us get some images that until about fifteen-twenty years ago only professionals could boast. The first is the advent of digital photography, which extremely reduced costs and let anyone easily edit a photograph in post production. The second factor is the camera technological progress. I mean, in particular, the possibility of exposing to high iso with a low noise, but also the more dynamic range of the sensors and the progress of the autofocus. An extremely fast shutter burst can be useful only in some situations and in any case is less important than sport photography. How important is the equipment in the final result? My point of view, shared by many good photographers, is that matters very little. A modern camera is enough, even an amateur camera, a tele lens not necessarily with a fast wide aperture lens and an allround lens. Important factors are the technique, the experience, to know the subject you want to photograph and a lot of passion and volition, to leave at night and taking pictures at dawn, to stand still with warm or cold wet, to explore new areas, dirtying and struggling with extra pounds on our shoulders. But there is also another very important factor, which I'll discuss later.
Lately I've revolutionized my gear, from APS-C to full frame with a Nikon D810. I currently have a 14mm/2.8 as extreme wide-angle, useful for night photography, having a maximum aperture 2.8, a 16-35mm for landscape photography, a 24-70mm as an allround lens. I use a tele zoom 150-600mm for wildlife photography, a 105mm/2,8 for macro and a 70-200mm for landscape details. With this equipment I can cover well enough the opportunities that are presented to me. Using Nikon cameras because currently fitted with a sensor with a greater dynamic range than the competitors, but I'm speaking of details still detectable perhaps only in reviews by laboratory tests.
In nature photography ethics is very important and it would be the first thing on which I shall focus talking to a beginner (and unfortunately not only). Wildlife photography means to approach wild animals and it is crucial to disturb them as little as possible, especially in the delicate period of nesting. It looks like a very simple concept, but unfortunately ignorance or irresponsibility lead to very serious situations, such as the permanent abandonment of the nest. Nature photography should be, first of all, loving nature in all its aspects. Unfortunately, the adolescent desire of someone to show particular shooting leads to situations which, unfortunately, too often I see the consequences. I can't count the times that I lost the shot not to disturb the animal, but I'm happy, certainly not regretted. The problem, however, is at the source: school-age children should have taught to naturalistic culture a lot more. They should not leave the parents such an important teaching, in most cases quite ignorant about the subject.
Looking at your website at first sight, one is struck by the strong technical ability that you show in your photographs. It is often said that the technique is only a means to an end but in the nature photography seems this border thin, becoming not only the means but also the end, that is you can not ignore the technique, otherwise we would lose the end of the representation of nature. Do you agree?
I am an unconditional lover of nature, in all its aspects and its mysteries. Photography is my personal dedication to its beauty, live and wild, and the technique is the means to express it in all its glory.
In addition to a good theoretical and practical, also a lot of patience is used. Tell us about your own shooting session? How long on average? How do you hide? Do you use any camouflage techniques?
Generally when I'm going to photograph a landscape before I use to read up about the area, I verify on Google Earth sun and shadows evolution, I wait for the best weather photo conditions, I leave at night and arrive on site at dawn to photograph during the golden hour that are those tens of minutes of sunrise and sunset where the light takes on a golden color, but I also love the blue hour, when the sky takes on a blue color in the frame. If I travel, I check anyway aspects mentioned above and try to arrive on the scene in the most favorable conditions.
As for wildlife, I have to distinguish if I use a blind or I am in mobility. In the first case coming mostly at dawn and wait for hours with patience the evolution of events, otherwise I move with a camouflaged clothing and with a camouflage net and/or with a blind tent. This requires the effort of taking along several kilograms of gear through trails that are also often muddy or hard to reach, so rubber boots are often necessary. In winter, the cold and the humidity will test the willingness to wait the animals, but even in summer heat and insects make the wait unbearable at times, especially inside a small blind tent that quickly creates a greenhouse effect.
The moment is more important than ever, how can keep your attention high in long sessions? Do you keep your the eye attached to the viewfinder, or can you "anticipate" the time and know when something is going to happen through the experience and knowledge of the subject being shot?
The wait is often frustrating becouse the conditions written above. Often they are waiting for hours while nothing moves in the territory, but they can not relax, they must always continue to observe because, suddenly, it may appear an interesting subject flying, so they always have ready their camera with right settings. There are situations, however, where the concentration is actually put to the test: for example, it happens that a bird stops on a sprig and after taking pictures statically, you also want to shoot it at takeoff. Sometimes it goes away after a few moments, other times it can take off even after several tens of minutes. Waiting for it to fly away with the eye attached to the viewfinder for several minutes is not easy and it can happen to lose focus losing the fledging.
I have a great respect for those who take pictures like yours because you must apply, not only in the study of photography but also in-depth study of nature. Fatigue is double and matter exterminated. You feel more a scholar of nature or of the photographic discipline?
It 's true. It's important to know the subject that you photograph. To not miss the interesting shots you must know their habits, their movements, their usual feeding areas. Here you need a lot of experience and study of the different species. You can get a lucky shot, but if you want to take home usually interesting photographs, this knowledge is necessary. It allows not only to take better pictures, but also to understand what a certain subject is doing and why. You can for example recognize the pre coupling, the moments before a fledging or prey capture. For the recognition I use an excellent guide book of birds of Europe, North Africa and the Near East written by Lars Svensson.
A provocative question: your images have a strong visual impact, highlight details, saturated colors, good composition, the action taken at the right moment. Thanks to what? Skill, equipment, Photoshop? Out of joke: how important is the photographic process before and during shooting (correct exposure, framing, specific settings of the camera) and how much by the process of editing and "adjustment"?
Here there is the other important factor: the post production. Today all the cameras make good photos and anyone with a little of technique and experience and in favorable conditions can take a pretty picture. But then they stop there, inevitably. The next step, particularly in landscape photography, is the post-production, which allows to get results impossible even with the best cameras. All professional landscape photographers use post-production. And that makes the difference between a good photo and a great one. What few people know is that the post production always existe, since the dawn of photography. Expert photographers and professionals used it in the darkroom - Ansel Adams was a teacher, to name a well-known author. Today we speak about the lightroom, that is the PC. At the time photography was only for experts and professionals, and little was known about techniques of production and post production. Today everyone takes pictures, even with the smartphone, and the term to photoshop become commonplace. But the concept is always the same: the real photography is production and post-production and post-producing capacity is one of the factors that makes the difference between the casual photographer and the expert or professional.
More interesting would be to understand what the post production and what is the line between a simple raw file processing and photomontage or photo manipulation, just to use a very common depecrative term. Forums and photographic circles are full of discussions on this issue. For me the answer is simple: all that can be done in post-production for a serious photo contests is the simple processing of the file, the rest is a smooth transition to photomontage. In photo contests, in fact, in the case of awards also raw files have to be sent to control that some parts of the picture have not been added, removed or changed. Only the controls of saturation, contrast, brightness, sharpness, and a few others, are allowed, those are the main processing parameters of the camera jpg. Double exposures, HDR, luminosity masks, blending, etc. are not allowed, not to mention cloning, filling by content, etc. This is applied in serious photo contests, but this, however, does not preclude that the use of more and more sophisticated techniques is not photography. Excluding documentary photography and sharing Ansel Adams and the greatest master photographers, photography is art, and everything is allowed to get a beautiful and pleasant picture. Ten painters "photographing" the same landscape in ten different ways, according to their style, ability and technique. The same is true in photography. The end is the final image, production and post-production are only the means.
In wildlife photography post-production is less important, but not absent. The important thing is that the subject may not be "manipulated", but removing a blade of grass, a sprig or blur a little the background are common techniques to make the picture more interesting. I know (few) good photographers who do not use post-production, but I know few bad photographers that make a good post production. So, returning briefly to the tips for beginners, I say do not spend as much in camera gear, but study, study and study again the technique both in production and in post production. And here, unfortunately, it takes as much passion and desire.
Are there some rules to get a good picture? Which shooting parameters do you suggest us to use to get sharp photos, with the right depth of field?
Not everyone knows that the sharpness curve of depending from the lens aperture is a curve comparable to a parabola and at the top there are the intermediate apertures, from around f/5.6 to around f/11, with a few exceptions. These are the aperture that should always been used. If I want a good depth of field I will use some apertures approximately f/11, on the contrary I will open the aperture around f/5.6, unless you use super tele lens, where you can get excellent sharpness even at the widest apertures.
In your photography there is also a hint of macro photography, a genre in many ways different from your typical photography. What are the major differences in terms of photographic approach? What "world" you like most and why?
My photography is typically landscape and wildlife, especially birds, and only secondly I shoot macro, or better, close-up photography. It's hard that I go out with the intention of doing close up photography; it happens sometimes, but it is easier that walking outdoors I may see an interesting small subject and then I decide to shoot. To make real macro photography requires a special equipment, such as geared tripod head, extremely precise but also heavy. It is a further specialization of nature photography, certainly very appealing, but that requires special photo sessions, and this is the reason why I have not detailed it. However this does not exclude that in the future I can also turn to the real macro.
From a dynamic photography like wildlife, it seems you relax in your landscapes. Landscapes placid, saturated, where you seem to bask in front of the beauty of the world. I would define those landscapes passive (not in the negative sense but in the contemplative sense of the term) in which you must enter with the right "slow". It's a kind of retaliation at the speed that "mobile" nature requires?
I'll give you my most sincere congratulations, you have perfectly caught the essence of my photography! The photography of birds is in some sense stressful, switching from long sessions of waiting to moments of action even extreme, such as grasping a passerine small and fast as the kingfisher in flight. In a few moments you have to change the settings of the camera "by heart", without taking your eye away from the viewfinder, and be more than ready to shoot, knowing that perhaps the next view is after another interminable waiting period. Here I photographe the nature life, alive, wild and unfortunately also cruel. Landscape photography is perhaps the exact opposite. Here I try to photograph the beauty of nature, through a sort of my personal contemplation. In both cases, however, when I photograph I feel an intense emotion, both admiring a bird on a branch or a majestic colorful sunset. I often spell and come almost kidnapped and my intent is to record my emotions and, at least in part, make them live to others through my images. However I could never have the same passion if I had such admiration and wonder for nature.
You've photographed New York and its jungle of concrete, glass and steel. Which parallels do you find between the urban landscape than natural one? Composition rules and mechanisms that decreed the success of a photo are the same?
New York is extremely photogenic, especially at night, when the colored lights illuminate the city. The urban photography is not my photographic genre, but in some moments I felt some good feelings. The warm lights of the sunset that fall and wrap around the metropolis, maybe shoot from a new perspective for me, as may be the top of a skyscraper, has allowed me to relive those moments of awe and wonder that generally I feel only with nature. From a photographic point of view an extremely man-made landscape, which is a metropolis, it does not differ much from a bucolic landscape. The rules are the same, both as regards the exposure, as for technical and composition. There are always the usual marked differences in exposure between sky and land that should be carefully dosed.
How important is the image asset management? What are the precautions you put in place? Do you often backup? Do you have multiple storage media? Do you divide your photos into categories? Places? Years?
The image asset management has its own importance and personally I think it is the most boring part of the photography. I manage my files in folders named by the year, month and location shooting, apart from a few sites where I go more often and for whom I have the individual folders named without year and month. In this way I always find quickly my photos. As for security, I have two internal hard drives 3TB each mirrored only for the photos, the second makes the backup copy of the first one by a particular software.
Thank you for your kindness and availability.
Thanks to you.