Mathieu Courdesses

A female orangutan and her baby hang from low-lying branches in the Sumatran jungle, taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Mathieu Courdesses.

A female orangutan and her baby in the jungle of Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra. This photo was taken by Mathieu Courdesses with a 50mm. In other words: no zoom. What the French wildlife photographer saw through the lens was how it was in reality – these orangutans were not afraid of anything. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/1.4 and ISO 2500. © Mathieu Courdesses

Mathieu Courdesses knew he was going to be a wildlife photographer from a very young age. "I was eight years old when I first travelled to Africa," he says. "My family went on safari in Namibia to see elephants in the wild. The trip had such an impact on me that I promised myself I'd come back to the continent when I was older and find a way to work with nature."

Today, Mathieu's career achievements include being the back-to-back winner of The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation's Environmental Photography Award, and publishing his successful book Green & Wild which is the culmination of 10 years' work in the field. He intends to keep devoting his life to connecting the world to endangered species through photography.

Mathieu first picked up a camera when he was 13. "My father let me borrow his Canon camera during a trip to Kenya, and I fell in love with photography almost immediately," he remembers. "I really enjoyed learning how to compose a picture – how to frame a scene and wait patiently for the lions we were watching to walk into it."

After the trip, his father told him he could buy a camera of his own if he learnt how to use one first. "After school each day, I'd read photography theory books and research techniques on the internet," he says. "I learnt about telephoto compression, and how shutter speed, ISO and aperture all work together." A few months later, Mathieu spent the pocket money he'd been saving on a secondhand Canon EOS 450D and a Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM).

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Mathieu Courdesses.

Location: Paris, France
Specialist areas: Wildlife, Nature
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS R5
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM
Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R
Two scarlet macaws in flight on a misty day in Yasuní National Park, Ecuador, taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Mathieu Courdesses.

Two scarlet macaws in Yasuní National Park, Ecuador. This fly-by is observed very early in the morning. During the rainy season in Ecuador, heavy clouds caress the roof of the canopy, offering breathtaking images. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM lens (now succeed by the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM) at 1/1000 sec, f/8 and ISO 3200. © Mathieu Courdesses

Aged 17, Mathieu told his parents that he was going to become a professional wildlife photographer. They weren't convinced he could make a career out of photography, so encouraged him to enrol at a business school in Paris instead. "My goal never changed," he says. "I had to choose a work placement in my second year, so I chose to go back to Namibia to work in marketing for a tour operator."

While in Namibia, Mathieu used his evenings to study books on native flora and fauna. "I wanted to become a guide," he says.

A lioness stoops to drink from a pool in this black and white image taken at night on a Canon EOS R5 by Mathieu Courdesses.

In Mikumi National Park in Tanzania, in the middle of the night, a lioness stops mid-hunt to take a drink. "The lack of light made this shoot difficult," recalls Mathieu. "I held my breath, stayed very still and silent, and took my shot." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens at 1/160, f/2.8 and ISO 2500. © Mathieu Courdesses

Taken from the neck up, a giraffe munches on tree leaves, its head framed by the leaves of another tree in the distance. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by Mathieu Courdesses.

In Ruaha National Park, Tanzania, Mathieu lined the giraffe's neck up to cover the trunk of the palm tree in the distance, resulting in a halo of leaves that crowns the animal. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens at 1/4000, f/4 and ISO 640. © Mathieu Courdesses

After a year in the continent, Mathieu became one of the youngest guides in southern Africa. "That gave me the opportunity to get close to nature every day, and I carried my camera with me on every trip," he recalls.

Mathieu's work is characterised by an intimate connection with the natural world. Experience as a guide in southern Africa equipped him with the knowledge to get closer to endangered animals than many other photographers, and he attributes his success to the respect he has for nature. With over 300,000 followers on TikTok, Mathieu understands that building an audience is essential to spreading the message about wildlife conservation, and uses his platforms to create empathy within his global audience.

What do you hope to achieve with your work, and what are your ambitions for the future?

"A personal goal of mine is to capture photographs of all the animals I'm yet to encounter, especially pandas in China and jaguars in Brazil. The goal of my work is to connect humans with animals – to amaze them with their beauty and, in turn, educate them about the threats they face. Social media is a great way for me to spread my message, so developing my channels and growing my follower base is very important to me. My audience inspires me to improve my content, and I enjoy interacting with my followers online. I know I'm doing my job properly when somebody comments, 'Through your content I travel with my mind'."

What are the biggest challenges when shooting in remote locations, or endangered species?

"Jungle conditions don't appeal to everyone – the weather can be very uncomfortable and trekking through dense bush is challenging. Then there are the snakes, spiders and biting insects, which can't be avoided. Aside from the environment, finding endangered animals is very difficult. I know how to track animals and use local knowledge to increase my chances of finding them, but I'm not always successful. I recently travelled to Ecuador to photograph native jaguars and returned without seeing one. When I am lucky enough to find the animals I'm searching for, it's not always possible to get into the right position to take the shots I want to take. I need to prepare for every eventuality, which is why I always bring my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM for animals that are further away, and my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM and Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lenses for when I'm able to get a bit closer."

How long does it take to establish a bond with animals?

"Once I make contact, I only give myself an hour to photograph because I don't want to disturb them too much. They're wild animals and need to stay that way. There are certain techniques I've learned for bonding quickly with primates in particular. For example, lowland gorillas in Cameroon have such little contact with humans that they often assume we pose a threat. When I made contact with them, I ate leaves as I approached quietly to show that I was a vegetarian, and not there to hunt them. I also made a deep grumble sound to say hello. I didn't approach fully until I heard a grumble back and therefore knew it was safe for me to stay. Gorillas tend to look away from humans when they're making noise, so after the initial greeting I stayed as quiet as possible to encourage the eye contact that you can see in my photos."

What work are you most proud of, and why?

"In 2021, I put on a very special exhibition called Wild in the City. I printed 30 of my favourite images of primates – including mountain gorillas and chimpanzees in Uganda and Rwanda, lowland gorillas in Cameroon, and orangutans in Sumatra – and displayed them in a tropical greenhouse in Paris. I wanted to share the feelings I had when encountering these animals with the people of Paris who most likely won't be able to get the same opportunity in the wild. By bringing the people close to these incredible animals, I hoped to create a bond and encourage empathy. These apes are very close to us but will soon disappear if we don't act to prevent poaching, deforestation and climate change."

One thing I know

Mathieu Courdesses

"The more respect I have for the animals I want to photograph, the more respect I'll get back. I research my subjects very thoroughly, and always remember that I'm a guest in the animal's home. For me, respect also continues in the post-production process – I want to share the scene as accurately as I can, and I feel that too much editing can break nature's spirit. If I stick to these rules, I know I'll get the best pictures I possibly can."

Instagram: @mathieucourdesses

TikTok: mathieu.courdesses

Website: www.mathieucourdesses.com

Mathieu Courdesses' kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Mathieu Courdesses' kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

Whether you shoot photos, video or a mixture of both, the EOS R5's uncompromising performance will revolutionise your creativity. "Mirrorless shooting and particularly shooting with the EOS R5 means I can shoot in very low light, like under the dense canopy of a rainforest, and not worry about a higher ISO affecting the quality of my shots," says Mathieu.


Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, the super fast EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a consummate low-light performer. "It's rare that I'm able to use this lens because I can't always get close enough, but when I do, I love being able to show my audience the same field of view that I can see with my eyes," says Mathieu. "Being able to share an authentic experience is very important when it comes to increasing empathy towards endangered species."

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

The EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is a high-performance medium telephoto lens for professional photographers. Its large f/2 aperture ensures optimum results indoors and in low-light situations. "I use my 200mm lens when I'm able to get closer to my subjects. I always use prime lenses because bokeh is very important for me," says Mathieu.

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

The EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super-telephoto lens delivers exemplary optical performance and fast autofocus from a portable, lightweight design – perfect for wildlife photographers. "When I was a guide, this was the lens that was always fixed to my camera," says Mathieu. "It's light enough to carry all day, and great for picking out animals from a safe distance."


Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

Designed for use with the Canon EOS R system, this adapter allows EF and EF-S lenses to be used on EOS R cameras seamlessly.

BG-R10 Battery Grip

"It's very important for me to have a battery grip – not only to increase battery life when I'm on long expeditions, but also to give me a better hold on my camera for extra stability," says Mathieu.

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