Stefano is featured in a long interview and portfolio in Chinese Photography magazine.
Photojournalism has retained a very strong tradition in Europe but wildlife photography has not. So why did you choose wildlife photography? Is there any relation between your major (zoology) in university and your photography career?
I started with wildlife photography when I was 17 years old, before starting the University. I had always been fascinated by nature and wildlife. During my studies, I continuously took photographs, especially in the Italian Alps, where I was born. I never thought of really becoming a professional wildlife photographer. It’s a really difficult job, but when I completed my Ph.D. in zoology 5 year ago, I made my decision and started my career. Even if wildlife photography is not very popular in Europe (at least it is less popular than in the US), there are now a quite large number of professional nature or wildlife photographers in Europe, and a lot of amateurs. Moreover, there are not many specialised magazines. You have to work hard to make a living photographing wildlife!
I skimmed your website and found you have shot more than 10 kinds of wildlife, in many different countries. Where are the most important places you have been for shooting? Why do you like those places?
Anywhere can be exciting. But of course, I have some favourite places; for example, I enjoy working in the rainforest: it’s such a difficult environment. A sort of nightmare for a photographer, but you can get unusual images and find amazing wildlife. I photographed in Borneo for a month: a great experience! I also really like working in the Alps. I live in the Gran Paradiso National Park, the oldest protected area in Italy; I constantly work here and always find interesting new subjects. Sometimes it is not necessary to fly all over the world to get good shots!
There is such a variety of wildlife in the world, so how do you decide what wildlife to shoot? How do you make your shooting plan (e.g. according to personal interests or assignments from clients)? What’s your work plan for 2005 – 2006?
I’m not the kind of photographer who works just to get beautiful photos. I don’t make my list of shots with the aim of having a good portfolio. I always try to work on a story. My subjects are always chosen by the priority of finding a strong new idea. I usually work according to my personal interests, but I also work on assignment. I photograph to “build” a complete feature (always supplemented by texts: that is why my educational background is so important!) and I try to demonstrate animal behaviour, record ecology, as well as the threat facing the species I’m working on. I’m very interested in wildlife conservation and endangered species. I hope to help wildlife through my work. In March 2005 I went to Vietnam, where I’ll work on a report about endangered primates (some of the most rare primate species in the world live in this country). Then I have to go to Brazil on assignment.
Please tell us something about the equipment you often use in field shooting: what are the most important things for a wildlife photographer?
I started working on digital this summer. I use Nikon equipment: two D2X bodies and lenses from 20 to 500 mm. I really like the latest Nikon zoom: I often use the 17-35 f/2.8, the 80-200 f/2.8 and the fabulous VR 200-400 f/4. In the field this high quality zoom is really very useful. Probably the most important thing for a wildlife photographer is a good tripod. I always try to shoot using a tripod: I have a carbon fibre Gitzo with an Arca-Swiss head ball.
Many of your photos feature an amazing beauty of composition, timing and colour tone. Is there any particular photographer (or artist) who has influenced your shooting?
Of course I’ve been inspired by certain great wildlife photographers. The Japanese photographer Mikio Hoshino is one of them. His work on the Northern regions of the planet are full of poetry and interest. He was one of those photographers that loved nature before turning to photography, and his photos show it. An author I have admired since childhood is Jim Brandenburg. Among those photographers still working, I like Michael Nichols and Matthias Klum from Sweden. Both offer an original style which goes beyond the classical rules set down by the first great wildlife photographers, which characterize (and perhaps as a result make them a bit more predictable) modern wildlife photography.
The story about Fred (the red fox) is very cute. Where did you choose this subject and shoot this story? How long did it take you to finish?
I worked on the story of Fred the Fox in the Italian Alps. Foxes have always interested and fascinated me, but photographing them is anything but easy. They are in fact very shy and distrustful. In 2002 I did, however, find a den inhabited by five cubs. Among these was one that showed no fear when in my presence. It was easy for me to recognize him because his red fur was tawny, and he was bigger than the others. I began to call him Fred. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I spent two years with Fred: I followed him as he patrolled his territory; I observed him as he hunted mice, chased ground-hogs, or slept peacefully in the shade of a rock. My work ended in the publication of the book “Fred – The Story of a Mountain Fox”. In order to choose the approximately 100 photographs that appear in the book, I took more than 15,000 shots.
The story about the mountain goat (a chamois) is very beautiful and I believe you suffered much during that biting winter. Where did you shoot this story and how long did it take to finish? Tell us something in particular you remember regarding the shooting of this story.
I studied the chamois for more than three years for my Ph.D. During my university years, however, I had little time to photograph them. Once I finished my research and decided to work as a wildlife photographer, I began to put together a book about this incredible Alpine mammal. And it wasn’t easy. The chamois lives at high altitudes all year round. During the mating season (November) I had to go to 2500 m above sea-level in order to find them. In the summertime they move to even higher elevations; it wasn’t unusual to find them above 3000 m! I worked about two years to complete this project. It was difficult and tiring. During the winter I often found myself under the snow taking photos, with temperatures well below zero. I did, however, experience some truly exciting moments while preparing this service. Above all, I recall the images I captured during mating season. Observing the wild racing about of these mammals along steep cliffs is truly exceptional.
Wildlife photography is an expensive profession, as well as time-consuming and exhausting. Who are your main clients? Do your photos sell well?
The life of a wildlife photographer is not an easy one, but it isn’t impossible, either! I work exclusively for wildlife magazines, attempting to collaborate above all with the best of them, such as the British BBC wildlife or the French Terre Sauvage. In Italy, I have begun to work for the Italian edition of National Geographic. Sometimes I work on assignment (I will, in fact, be leaving in a few months to work on a new subject for National Geographic). Sometimes I do independent work and then offer it to magazines. I have been lucky insofar as my work sells well. I believe it is above all because I construct real stories and always attempt to find a new and original idea or approach.
A man living in modern Italian society, as well as being a wildlife photographer, do you think your photographing experience has any influence on your ideas regarding the relationship between man and nature, between man and wildlife? What is your advice regarding the attitude of modern man towards endangered wildlife?
My profession makes me question the relationship between man and nature every day. I have the good luck to travel often and visit marvellous places. However, I often find during my travels the damage that man is capable of inflicting upon our natural environment. I have visited wild, untouched areas and upon my return to the same place just a few months later, I find them completely destroyed: I was witness to this in some tropical forests of Southeast Asia. Above all, I work in an attempt to express the importance of wildlife conservation; my hope is that my images may help call attention to the safeguarding of wild animals. I would almost define myself as a “conservation photographer”. My work is, in fact, concentrated upon threatened species or environments. At other times I focus on animals that have been persecuted by man, such as in the case of foxes. My hope is that in the future man will be able to find a balance between economic needs and respect for the environment.
I found some of your portraits were shot by your girlfriend (please send her my regards). What does she think of your work?
Stephanie is my number one backer. She, too, has studied nature and wildlife and is completely in love with wild animals. She often accompanies me on assignment, and shows an amazing spirit of adaptation! She is also a great help to me in the field and I am often able to forget the hardships of the profession thanks to her.