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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On A Photo Hunt

Italian wildlife photographer Stefano Ronchi creates high-impact wildlife photographs through careful study of behavior and a mastery of technique

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Wildlife photographers frequently struggle with the problem of making the subject stand out from the background. Clutter and extraneous detail become tremendous distractions, drawing the viewer's eye away from the heart of the photograph. Stefano Ronchi is an Italian nature photographer who uses careful positioning and wide-open apertures to create clean backgrounds and graphic, high-impact animal portraits.

Stefano Ronchi was born in Caravaggio, Italy, in 1965. At 15, he bought his first camera. Though surrounded by beautiful ancient towns and dramatic landscapes, in his late teens he put down his camera and picked up a pencil and a calculator to make a living as an accountant. But after a decade of crunching numbers, Ronchi started once again sharpening his photographic eye rather than his pencil with stunning results.

OP: What attracts you to bird and wildlife photography?

Stefano Ronchi: I am fascinated by the camera's ability to stop the exact moment in which the dignity and elegance of an animal's natural movements are combined. Birds, in particular, have always intrigued me because of their ability to combine majesty with delicacy, elegance, grace, speed and endurance. In one of my first photographic outings, I was lucky enough to be able to admire the simultaneous flight of a dozen swans. I remain as fascinated with them today as I did when I witnessed their magic for the first time. The grace of their flight, the sense of freedom instilled by taking to the air and the sound produced by the flapping of wings similar to that of the blades of a helicopter convinced me to get interested in nature photography.

OP: Many of your photographs show extremely shallow depth of field. Is this to gain a fast shutter speed, or is it more of an aesthetic choice?

Ronchi: The proper use of the aperture is a very important part of my photographic technique because it allows me to translate into images what I want to represent. For photographing birds in flight, I always find it more pleasant and less distracting to shoot with a shallow depth of field. At the same time, a fast shutter speed is vital. For fast-moving subjects, I use at least a 1⁄500 or 1⁄1000, or even higher. My ISO is often at 400 in order to get a fast enough shutter speed. Photographing wildlife does not allow you errors. You have a few seconds and a few clicks, so you have to be technically ready to shoot, otherwise, you risk losing perhaps unrepeatable moments.

OP: Wildlife photography can be very challenging. Did you find the genre frustrating? How were the results of your early efforts?

Ronchi: Unfortunately, not very satisfactory. It was not until a friend gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice to achieve good results in this field—gain knowledge of the animal. It is not enough to admire their beauty. One must study their movements, habits, understand what and how it feeds, and observe their behavior both when it is alone and when it is in a group. I started to study the behavior of the swans—the way they relate to each other, the run they do before flying, the postures they take before attacking and defending.

This study allows the nature photographer to be in advance of the movement of the animal so that they can capture the optimal image. For example, understanding that some types of hummingbirds prefer to feed on certain flowers lets you get set up in advance so when they arrive in their typical way— which is to stall in flight—you're ready to capture the bird in flight.

I consider myself a self-taught photographer, even though I've spent a lot of time admiring and learning the secrets of those who have made the history of photography, especially Ronnie Gaubert.

OP: How has Gaubert influenced you?

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