Famous photographers share their thoughts and inspiration

From their best advice to reflections on their craft, read some of the best quotes from famous Canon-shooting photographers working in different genres.
A woman with scars on her upper back sits facing away from the camera, photographed by Brent Stirton.

"I always shoot essays because I'm interested in a larger perspective," says acclaimed multi-award-winning photographer Brent Stirton. "I'm a believer that photography has great power to clarify the elements that make up an issue and show us what the consequences of our actions can truly mean." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 42mm, 1/250 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 1600. © Brent Stirton

"Famous" is a subjective term, and perhaps never more so than when discussing photographers and their works. However, whether working in documentary, portraiture, wildlife, architecture or beyond, there's no shortage of Canon-shooting famous photographers who have gained recognition in their fields.

Earning this level of career success isn't easy, and many of those who boast prestigious accolades and commissions have learnt their craft and their business acumen the hard way. As such, they have a wealth of advice, inspiration and reflections on their passions that are well worth reading.

Read quotes from:

Brent Stirton

Brent's images speak powerfully about the world around us. The South African documentary photographer and Canon Ambassador has won multiple World Press Photo of the Year awards and Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his emotive work.

As one of the best-known and most highly respected photographers in the world right now, Brent's thoughts on the importance of photography are poignant. "Photography is the best medium to transcend language and cultural barriers, and it's probably the most democratic means of communication in the world," he says. "It's traditionally something that most of us around the planet can immediately grasp and understand through our common humanity. That said, we are in the age of artificial intelligence and that means that photojournalism needs to be more protected and recognisable as truth-telling than ever before. Good photojournalism has too much power for good for us not to safeguard it."

A young girl wearing a scarf over her head and a long grey coat sits on a carousel horse, photographed by Daniel Etter.

"I don't think a single image can change anything for the better, but it can be a small part of a larger process," says German Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Etter. "Imagine a world without images. We might read about things happening beyond our little worlds, but to feel empathy towards other people, other living beings, images work on a much faster, much more visceral level. And thus they contribute to our understanding of the world, which can be a starting point for change for the better." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 57mm, 1/1000 sec, f/4 and ISO 1600. © Daniel Etter

Daniel Etter

Photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Daniel's hard-hitting photographs are regularly published by prestigious global publications and NGOs. He also writes and makes films, and has mentored numerous student photographers on Canon's Student Development Programme at Visa pour l'Image.

"If you want to photograph journalistic stories, start close to home," advises Daniel to aspiring professionals. "Look around and try to figure out what you have access to. Are you part of a subculture? Great, take me there! What is the biggest social conflict in your hometown? Photograph behind the scenes, all the things other people normally don't see. Show it in a way that is surprising."

Diana Markosian

Armenian-American documentarian Diana creates multimedia projects that explore deeply personal stories. She regularly contributes to top publications, has won a World Press Photo Award and Magnum Photos nomination, and been named in MoMA's Favorite 10 Photo Books and TIME's Best Photo Books. She told us her best career advice came from 1995 indie film Smoke by Wayne Wang and Paul Auster, where one character tells a photographer, "You'll never get it if you don't slow down, my friend."

"It honestly felt life-changing," she recalls. "As a photographer, I think I was so used to being in a state of responding and reacting to everything. This passage in Smoke shifted my perspective of what photography meant to me. It wasn't about responding any more, it was really about being present and being able to stand still in that present."

Sir Don McCullin

British war photography veteran Sir Don is one of the world's greatest living photojournalists, having chronicled conflicts and social issues for more than 50 years. He has been the subject of retrospective exhibitions and films, with many of his images claiming the right to be labelled 'iconic'.

On his approach to photographing subjects, he says, "When you're roaming the streets, taking photographs of people, you're actually stealing their image without their consent. On the other hand, I don't do it with any malice or cunning. I do it because I'm trying to create a record of human existence.

"I think you have to have an emotional commitment to serious photojournalism, when people are suffering and their lives are at stake. You have to be 100% emotionally aware. I try to work on my own so I can exercise my own guidelines – you're walking on a very thin tightrope when you're wandering among death and destruction. Whatever I've done in my life, I've always been very careful about that, even slightly evangelistic about it."

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A woman cries as she holds the hand of a soldier who is sitting in a train, photographed by Ilvy Njiokiktjien.

"Coming up with new ideas is the most important part of this job. Think of stories that are interesting to a bigger audience," advises Dutch photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/500 sec, f/3.2 and ISO 2000. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Shot by photographer Fernando Guerra with the camera half-submerged in the water, brightly coloured tropical fish swim in a pool alongside an office building.

"The purpose of my photography is to tell a story that no one knew they needed to receive, showing beauty in the process if possible," says Portuguese photographer Fernando Guerra. This remarkable image was made with his camera half-submerged in the water and using a polarising filter, for a Brazilian architecture studio and interior design office. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lens at 1/50 sec, f/16 and ISO 400. © Fernando Guerra

Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Multimedia journalist and Canon Ambassador Ilvy is a VII photo agency member who works all over the world on assignments for major global publishers and NGOs. She has also hosted a multimedia exhibition of her work and has won numerous awards including a World Press Photo award and the Canon Female Photojournalist Award at Visa pour l'Image.

"I always have the feeling that people think that 'being a good photographer' means being technically good," she says. "Of course it is good to know some of the basics, but I feel a better quality to have is being interested in others, being kind, being curious, not being pushy towards others, but at the same time pushing yourself forwards. Keep going when you get a 'no'. Being able to balance these skills with knowledge of your camera is, I think, the best way to become successful."

Fernando Guerra

With a background in architecture, Canon Ambassador Fernando brings a trained eye to the structures he captures, earning him renown and commissions with fantastic practices the world over. He has hosted solo exhibitions of his work and been named Architectural Photographer of the Year.

"Architectural photography is a job of patience; of rigour, too, because I have a well-defined mission to achieve. My job is to help communicate an idea, usually the project of a person who designed it," reflects Fernando. "To endure hours on planes, days in hotels, or to wait a day or two in a house or building for the right light, it's essential to have patience. And yes, I know that, still, it seems much more glamorous than it is. But it's important to never forget that to have patience, you must have an unconditional love for the pursuit of the image."

A person holds a hot steel rod, the end of which is glowing red. Only the silhouette of the person is visible as light creeps in through the many slits on the left side of the room. This photograph was captured by James Nachtwey in Czechoslovakia in 1990.

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 Silhouetted blurred trees stand against an orange sky at sunset, shot on a Canon EOS R5 by Laura El-Tantawy for her series Carrying Life: Motherhood and Water in Malawi.

"I genuinely believe the eyes of a human on our world will become more necessary as AI becomes more present in our lives," says photojournalist Laura El-Tantawy. "There will be a premium on the sort of authenticity that is currently under-appreciated – a veracity and validation about the human condition that mechanisation can never offer because the human gaze is irreplaceable. I see the years ahead as crucial for our medium and I feel positive about what's ahead because I believe the work we do will become even more relevant in the future." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 105mm, 1/20 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 400. © Laura El-Tantawy

Laura El-Tantawy

British-Egyptian photographer and Canon Ambassador Laura explores ideas around belonging and identity, often in impressionistic and abstract ways. Her work has been displayed in both group and solo exhibitions worldwide and has been published in some of the most famous newspapers and magazines, as well as in self-published monographs.

"Every generation of photographers – past, present and future – have and will continue to face adversity; it comes with the territory," she says. "This is partly because the medium moves in tandem with technology. Any time a new technology is introduced, the work of photographers and the continued existence of photographers is compromised. We are currently navigating the clear and present challenge of AI and its breach of the medium.

"When I was studying journalism and photography, my professors would tell us that the medium is dead. Imagine hearing that as a young dreamer with aspirations to take on the world! Yet here we are today – still creating, growing and discovering."

Martin Parr

British documentary photographer Martin has an instantly recognisable style, which has earned him fame the world over for his unique perspectives on the peoples and places he captures. His Martin Parr Foundation aims to encourage other British documentary photography work.

"In order for me to sell a 50x76cm print for a sum like £4,000 (over €4,500), you need to have a good print," he says of his craft. "Therefore, my prime motivation is to get the technique sorted so that the print looks beautiful when you see it on the wall – it's sharp, the colours are right, the palette is good, it's balanced. Everything about it works. And it looks beautiful enough for someone to want to buy it. So yes, you have to have the technique to back up what you're saying and that's why I take having a good file and a good quality resolution very seriously. It's like a language: the more verbs and nouns you understand, the better your chance of articulating exactly what you want to say."

A baby tamandua, or lesser anteater, sits on the back of an adult tamandua as it stands in a grassland, photographed by Robert Marc Lehmann

"A great photograph can be many things: a whole story told in one image, a beautiful wildlife image of an outstanding situation in focus and frame, or an image which brings tears to the eyes of the viewer. It's all about emotions," says German photographer and filmmaker Robert Marc Lehmann. © Robert Marc Lehmann

Robert Marc Lehmann

Passionate conservationist and Canon Ambassador Robert has been featured in famous publications and won awards including National Geographic Photographer of the Year.

"I have seen a lot of our planet – more than 120 countries," he shares. "Wonderful places, horrible places, places that most people would never or can never go to. People need to know what's left to be protected and they also need to know what impact they have on our planet – the impact 15,000km away from the food in the supermarket. So I had no other choice than to become a good photographer and filmmaker, because everything not photographed or filmed never happened! A silly saying, but there is some truth to it. This is also true for the animals and ecosystems I love so much: everything not saved, will be lost."

Sebastião Salgado

Brazilian documentary heavyweight Sebastião is famous for his black and white imagery documenting key historical events, often told through a long-term, nuanced perspective. The former Magnum Photos member has worked in photography for more than 50 years, and across more than 120 countries.

"The time spent photographing in the field is only one percent of the time [working on my projects]," he says. "The time I take to consider – to prepare, to design, to have the concept – is a full lifetime. That's the point of photography."

"I think photography is interesting when it extends our experience, when it allows you to see something you couldn't see with your eyes alone," he says. "It's always much more challenging to have a layered type of work. On one level, you might find out more about a species. On another, a particular animal might remind you of a science fiction character. As you move through this process of connection and association, you start questioning how people have traditionally represented nature. It's very important to bring the otherness to us, to touch hearts and feelings as we bring it into our world."

• Read our full interview with Tim Flach

Whatever their field of specialism or level of experience, photographers can always learn from each other, perhaps by exchanging similar views or feelings, or by challenging one another's preconceptions. Photography, like other creative fields, is an area where one never finishes learning.

The Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland erupting with lava flowing out of it. This image was captured by Paolo Pellegrin on a Canon EOS R5.

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