An Indian model under palm leaves holding calla lilies. Photograph by Guia Besana
Canon Ambassador Guia Besana's favourite image from her shoot A Rummage of Flowers, which explores themes of indecision, power and fragility. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Guia Besana

When the Canon Europe Ambassador Programme was launched in 2008, it was a pioneering initiative that brought together some of the world’s best photographers and videographers from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to collaborate with Canon and share its passion for visual storytelling.

In 2017, after 10 years, Canon decided to overhaul the programme to better represent and support current and future generations of photographers and filmmakers.

As Siobhan Gaffan, Head of the Canon Europe Ambassador Programme, says, “Our aims have always been to forge connections between Canon and the professional community and to address the issues that it faces. In 2008, one of the main needs of photographers was the move from analogue to digital; today, however, it is dealing with matters such as moving from stills to video, or finding their place in our multi-platform world.”

Challenges and opportunities

Francis Hodgson is Professor in the Culture of Photography at the University of Brighton and helped set up the new Canon Europe Ambassador Programme, serving as a panellist on the board that selected the initial crop of members. He sees many challenges for today’s professional photographer: “An experienced stills photographer is now expected to supply video and often more. That's turning people who used to be specialists into generalists, and puts a lot of strain on their habits and practices, pulling them away from what were their core activities.”

Photography editor and curator Monica Allende was another panellist for the Canon Europe Ambassador Programme, and she concurs: “We have documentarians taking photographs, video and creating soundscapes. They’re investigating every aspect of a scene and looking at their subject from multiple perspectives, and these different narratives are then presented as multi-sensorial, documentary experiences.”

An experienced stills photographer is now expected to supply video and often more.

But no matter what content they’re producing, being able to tell a story that resonates is of critical importance. “I’m passionate about stories,” says Monica. “In the way that I have always worked and how I work now when I’m curating, I look for stories. For me, the medium is all part of the language you use to enhance your story. But I expect the stories to be profound and well thought out.”

Francis also identifies legislative structures as a challenge for today’s photographers. “In the United Kingdom, if you take a picture in the street you are presumed to be photographing the buildings because they're there. In France, it’s beginning to become clear that architects and landowners have intellectual property rights over the facades of buildings and you cannot photograph whatever is going on in the street without getting permission to include the facade of that building. In the developed West, what used to be public territory is now considered to be private and the laws regarding privacy, libel and intellectual property are all making it harder to express anything one likes to express.”

It is this mixture of challenge and opportunity, caused by the rapid evolution of technology and society, that the Canon Europe Ambassador Programme seeks to address.

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South African Brent Stirton documents a wide range of humanitarian issues with compelling images. © Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for National Geographic Magazine

Who are the Ambassadors?

Since the programme was started, it has always comprised the world’s leading photographers and filmmakers, as well as respected industry experts, and that isn’t changing. They share their passion and technical know-how with fellow professionals, as well as the ranks of enthusiastic amateurs who want to develop their skills. You’ll find these luminaries at various Canon workshops, seminars and industry events throughout the year, across EMEA. The Ambassadors also advise Canon on product development, pre-testing new cameras and lenses so that the equipment meets the needs of all Canon’s customers.

"Canon isn't just about making better products, it's also heavily invested in making better photographers," says David Warner, Chief Creative Officer of creative agency The Formery, who's spent 25 years assisting brands such as Canon to tell their stories through photography. David also served as a Canon Europe Ambassador Programme panellist: "The programme's creation demonstrates that Canon is listening. Canon is trusted as a creative enabler, and in that position, if you advance the craft and learning of those who wish to become better, you're building and nurturing your community."

Canon isn't just about making better products, it's also heavily invested in making better photographers.

Choosing the Ambassadors

Prospective photographers and filmmakers proposed by local Canon offices are reviewed by an independent adjudicating panel made up of representatives from Canon who judge all the categories, and two or three external industry experts for each genre. In cases where a candidate's work spans multiple specialities, they are reviewed multiple times to ensure that they are considered for all the areas they represent.

Panel members split into groups to review the candidates for their genre(s), evaluating both the quality of their work and standing in the industry. Each genre is then discussed in turn, and candidates who score highly are put forward to the entire panel, who listen to the arguments put forward by the proposers while viewing each candidate's work. A collective decision is then taken on who is admitted to the Ambassador Programme.

How can you become a Canon Ambassador?

Canon gets a lot of enquiries about becoming an Ambassador, so we approached Siobhan Gaffan for some advice on how to become a member. “Ambassadors are recommended by local Canon offices. So the best advice I can give is to prepare a standout portfolio of work and get in touch with your local Canon office to introduce yourself. Once you’ve made contact, start to build a relationship with them so that when opportunities to join the Programme arise, they are more likely to put you forward as a potential candidate.”

But becoming a Canon Ambassador isn’t just about reaching out; you have to have hit a certain standard. We asked some of the Programme’s adjudicators what they look for in photographers.

For Francis Hodgson, it’s about the photographer’s voice: “Photographs are cheap, everywhere and essentially unavoidable. You see hundreds and hundreds of them without engaging in any kind of cultural interaction. To interact with a photograph, you've got to be able to relate to things the photographer has to say – a voice is not just a stylistic gimmick, it’s an intellectual approach.”

David Warner agrees you need more than just skills to cut through: "We weren't looking for photographers who just possessed high-level technical skills or were good at translating product features and functionality to output… They also had to demonstrate they were contributing artistically."

"The Ambassador Programme is something that we are incredibly proud of and are constantly reviewing to ensure we best support the needs of current and future generations of visual storytellers," says Susie Donaldson, Marketing Director, Canon Europe, Middle East and Africa.

"Not only does it create an important and powerful connection between Canon and the professional community, but it also provides us with direct access to and invaluable feedback from leading photographers and filmmakers, ensuring our products and services continue to meet our customers' needs.

"We will continue to seek out and partner with strong, dynamic and diverse creatives from across EMEA, and harness their expertise, experience and vision to provide inspiration, education and advice to the up-and-coming visual storytellers who will continue their important work in years to come."

Adjudicating panel:

Reportage & Documentary

  • Ayperi Karabuda: Documentary photography editor and strategist, Ayperi spent 10 years as Vice-President Pictures at Thomson Reuters
  • Monica Allende: Former Photography Editor at The Sunday Times Magazine, curator, writer, educator, mentor

Fashion & Portrait

  • Francis Hodgson: Professor in the Culture of Photography at the University of Brighton
  • Monica Allende

Fine Art & Architecture

  • Ayperi Karabuda
  • Francis Hodgson

Nature & Wildlife / Travel & Landscape

  • Barbara Stauss-Liebmann: Photo Editor, Mare
  • Magdalena Herrera: Director of Photography at GEO France

Sports

  • Gisle Oddstad: Head of Photography at Verdens Gang
  • Pim Ras: Multi-award-winning sports photographer

Wedding

  • Dario Righetto: Marketing Director at Graphistudio
  • Hannah Lamacraft: Picture Editor, Condé Nast International

Advertising & Commercial / Video & Cinema

  • David Warner: Chief Creative Officer at The Formery
  • Pim Ras: Photographer for Algemeen Dagblad and winner of the the 1998 Canon Sports Photo prize
  • Gisle Oddstad

Representing Canon
Richard Shepherd, Professional Imaging Marketing Manager, Canon Europe
Susie Donaldson, Marketing Director, Canon UK
Sara Marshall, PR Specialist, Canon Europe

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