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Ambassadors Programme

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Ambassadeurs Canon


Ambassadeurs Canon


Canon Explorers


Canon Explorers

. .

Canon Masters


Canon Masters

Master: Michael Nichols

Master: Michael Nichols

© Michael Nichols/National Geographic


Michael Nichols

Born in Alabama in 1952 Michael 'Nick' Nichols began his career as a US Army photographer. After leaving service he got his first assignment working for Geo magazine in 1979 and in 1982 joined the famous Magnum agency. In 1996 he joined National Geographic as a staff photographer and is now an editor-at-large of the world famous publication.

Now well known for his environmental outlook he is the author of seven books including Brutal Kinship, with anthropologist Jane Goodall, which looks at man’s relationship with the chimpanzee. Nick spent two years documenting the ‘Megatransect’ expedition, crossing 2,000 miles of Congo forest on foot. His photographs were used to convince the president of Gabon to set aside 11% of his country to create 13 national parks.

He has won first prize for nature and environment stories in the World Press Photo competition four times and his other numerous awards include Wildlife Photographer of the Year. In April 2012 Nick presented the Sem Presser Lecture during the World Press Photo Awards Days in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and he is currently about to start shooting a long-term project in Yellowstone National Park, USA.


Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols is passionate about the planet. His role as an editor-at-large at National Geographic, one of the world’s most influential and successful natural history periodicals, affords him the perfect platform from which to campaign for change to how we live in our environment. Using his images as visual catalysts, he feels he has never been in a better position to influence viewpoints.

“I’m at the time of my life now where I’m in a position to help and encourage, and being asked to become a Canon Master allows me to do that. It’s a real honour and it encourages me incredibly to know that Canon gets behind photographers and helps them to make a difference,” Nick Nichols explains.

“The single most important thing I care about is what’s inside that rectangle when I look through the camera. I believe in the power of photography, and the magazine I work with allows me that outreach. With a deeper understanding we can stop things from happening.”

Being an editor-at-large of National Geographic is a seriously challenging role for any photographer and it’s one that Nick took on in early 2008. But the path to such a prestigious position wash not always clear. The man dubbed ‘The Indiana Jones of Photography’ by Paris Match spent a lot of time looking at photographs when he was young, but for a long time he didn’t know exactly why!

Nick was born in 1952 in the US state of Alabama but recalls: “I was from a very poor family. I couldn't even buy a camera.” So poor that when he could, he took his chances to flick through photographs in magazines and books in the school library. “I would go to the school library and get a book and take it to the bathroom to have more time with it. I’d read The Decisive Moment until my legs went to sleep.”

So how did photography become the driving force in Nick’s life? “When I studied I always wanted to express myself and I had a very inspirational high school teacher who encouraged me to be creative and to be an individual. She saw something in me and pushed it,” he says.

He recalls: “Photography wasn’t really in my mind, but this immediate medium was what I was looking for. I had been looking at pictures my whole life - the pictures in National Geographic each month. I’ve always loved to look at pictures. When I first did I looked at the work of Cartier-Bresson and Edward Weston, and when I started thinking about photography I began looking at photo magazines.”

In the 1970s when he received the draft from the US Army Nick, a self-confessed “full blown hippy” and conscientious objector, bought himself some time by offering to serve an extra year on top of the mandatory two years of national service. The reasoning was that this willingness to serve for longer would delay his entry into the army and allow him to be a photographer. As it happened, this delay meant the Vietnam War had ended by the time he joined the forces.

He remembers: “If you get that (draft) letter you do two years in the infantry and you’re probably gonna end up killing someone, which was against my beliefs. I would have died and burned before ever going to Vietnam.”

In fact Nick served out his time in the army in Kentucky in the photographic department. He admits: “I gave a third year of my life to the army so they let me be a photographer.”

“I mostly hid in the darkroom but they gave me a 4x5 Speed Graphic and used to ask how many sheets did you want - two, four or six? I also had some funky Konica cameras and I bought a Canon F-1 and shot with that.”

Whilst in the US Army Nick started to take pictures in caves with a Nikonos camera and the Speed Graphic. He remembers: “I started photographing caves because of the challenge, because there was no light. So I started knowing how to work with light very early on. We used to have storehouses full of the flash powder and had to use it. In hindsight it was the best thing that ever happened to me and let me learn my craft. Around 1975 I started mixing flash with ambient light and I later got inspiration from the work of Jeff Jacobson and the like.”

After completing his national service Nick went back to school and began a course called Photo 101 in the fine art department at the University of North Alabama and it was there that he learnt to print black and white photographs. He also met one of his mentors, former Life magazine photographer Charles Moore. Nick explains: “A very defining moment for me was meeting Charles Moore - who had taken all those famous shots of the civil rights movement in the ‘60s - he took me under his wing.”

Clearly his time in the army had prepared him well for his future career. “The army allowed me to do the ‘f/8 and be there thing’.” What it also prepared him for was his first assignment with Geo magazine. Nick had been building up is portfolio by shooting nudes of his wife, Reba, and his lighting work in caves so, given his background, it was little surprise that his first major assignment for Geo was shooting in caves.

He recalls: “My first assignment was in Geo and it became a huge hit in 1979. All the early years were with Geo US and Germany. Three years later I was with Magnum. When Geo was folding they made applications for me at National Geographic and Life.” Nick suffered a rejection from National Geographic. “Bob Gilka was the director of photography at the time, when there was a whole different culture at National Geographic, and he suggested I became an attorney.”

Nick’s stint with the famous Magnum co-operative (founded in 1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David ‘Chim’ Seymour) ran from 1982 to 1995. He reveals: "Philip Griffiths Jones took me under his wing and, without being aware of it, he brought me to the environment. I photographed gorillas in Rwanda in 1981 and that was when I realised what I could do with this camera. It was the gorillas that started this stuff (environmentalism).”

His conservation work probably also has its roots in an early appreciation for the rights of others when growing up in the deep south of the USA and witnessing the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Nick recalls: “I was really influenced as I was surrounded by social documentary.” Now he was documenting the struggles of nature and wildlife, not people.

Talking of his relationship with his cameras Nick explains: “I might have had a brief moment with the A series but after that I was using the T90. It was such a fabulous design and once my fingers had changed shape to that design that was it. As I think back Canon has always been the camera choice for me - I just like the ruggedness and the design. Eventually when the T90 didn’t have any black left on the body I gave it to my kids.”

Nick explains: “Clearly I had made a lot of noise for going in to the wildest places on earth so I did the project with Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees - Goodall searched me out. It was always my ability to have adventure so I got a lot of attention in that world. I became more and more obsessed.”

So what is the key to Nick’s continuing photographic obsession? “When I first started looking at Ernst Haas, Cartier-Bresson and Edward Weston I didn’t know what their work meant. I was just fascinated by the image, but I didn’t see the power of the image. I was just fascinated by Ernst Haas’ colours and Edward Weston’s floating nude, but now I think of the process. Now it’s become ‘Wow, what can I do with this?’ The fact is it’s instantaneous and freezes a moment, and I’m addicted to that moment. I’m just driven like a maniac.”

Another person who sought Nick out was the conservationist Mike Fay who was set to embark on his ‘Megatransect’ expedition walking 2,000 miles (3,219 km) on foot from Congo’s deepest rain forest to the Atlantic Coast of Gabon, studying Africa’s last great wilderness.

Nick joined him on the epic trail in 1999 and 2000 and his photographic work from this epic journey was showcased in the 2001 National Geographic articles ‘Megatransect: Across 1,200 Miles of Untamed Africa on Foot’, ‘Green Abyss: Megatransect, Part II’, and ‘End of the Line: Megatransect, Part III’. Nick reveals: “Mike searched me out to help them to get the message out.” This message clearly went straight to the President of Gabon as one of the major outcomes from Megatransect is the fact that the leader agreed to set aside 11% of the land mass of his country to create 13 National Parks. In 2002 the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell approved a $53 million (US) grant to help to preserve the Congo Basin.

In 2005 National Geographic Books published ‘The Last Place on Earth’, which featured Nick’s colour photographs and Fay’s journals from the ‘Megatransect’ expedition, whilst his black and white images from the expedition featured in the book ‘Megatransect Journal’. Other books Nick has authored include ‘Keepers of the Kingdom’, a photographic essay reflecting on changes in U.S. zoos and ‘The Year of the Tiger’, which focused on the world’s remaining tigers.

Of his conservation work Nick says: “I believe we have set a standard for conservation with the establishment of the National Parks in Gabon. I don’t think we do this for ourselves. I don’t care if the public knows that it’s Nick Nichols who has taken the pictures, just that they feel differently about nature. National Geographic is the vehicle but the mission is much bigger than photography. If you get a few great frames in your life you’ve done well.”

Despite previously being rejected by National Geographic on two separate occasions by 1996 Nick had finally joined the publication as a staff photographer. “I had been searching for the path of National Geographic - not that I thought it was the end all, but it has 30 million readers and they give you the time and freedom to go on assignment. To be honest I only left Magnum because of the money although I was worried there weren’t more women photographers involved. I believe in co-operatives, I don’t believe in elitism. I believe in VII - I love any co-operative and the only way you can ‘see’ anything is together.”

A management change sealed Nick’s career move to National Geographic with Bob Gilka making way for Tom Kennedy as director of photography of the publication, and what Gilka chose not to grab Kennedy did. “I wanted that audience. When I came along Geo was forcing changes in National Geographic, but I believe in the substance of National Geographic - reporting the facts,” says Nick.

With the 1981 experience of photographing the gorillas of Rwanda having set Nick on a path of conservation and environmentalism soon his work was being noticed began to be sought out by several luminaries from that world.

He worked on the book project ‘Brutal Kinship’, which looks at man’s contradictory relationship with his closest relative the chimpanzee, with the famed anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Nick explains: “Clearly I had made a lot of noise for going in to the wildest places on earth so I did the project with Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees - Goodall searched me out. It was always my ability to have adventure so I got a lot of attention in that world. I became more and more obsessed.”

Having come from an age where Speed Graphics were still acceptable as standard use, at least in the US Army, how is the digital age for Nick? “I started out using manual so when autofocus arrived I didn’t turn it on for about three years. I don’t like change but when it becomes undeniable you change. For me there’s never been a different choice, as I know that Canon will answer my requirements. Canon has always made something to suit me. In the early days you had one camera but now you have to change a lot as I don’t want to be out with a 10-megapixel when I should have a 21-megapixel camera with me.”

“I have most of the lenses from the 600mm telephoto down to the wideangles and I have the EOS 5D Mark III, EOS-1D X and a whole bunch of older bodies.”

“I love cameras now. I wish all this amazing technology was around when I first started out – the sky really is the limit. And even though we can even create the most amazing movies with DSLRs these days, there is nothing to beat the power of a single image. Sure you can dress it up with audio and movie clips, but the power to stop someone in the street, and take notice, is the power only a still can truly master.”

Although now a much decorated, award-winning photographer - Nick has four times been awarded first prize for nature and environment stories by World Press Photo and his other awards include Wildlife Photographer of the Year - he refuses to ever stand still.

As well as his ‘day job’ Nick is also heavily involved in fostering community among photographers. In 2007, he founded and co-directed the inaugural ‘Look 3: Festival of the Photograph’ in Charlottesville, Virginia and he is involved with the newly-formed International League of Conservation Photographers.

‘Look 3’ is three-day celebration of peace, love and photography and the event is always a sold out success including interviews and slide shows from established photographers, plus an interactive gallery exhibit that encouraged all festival attendees to share their work.

He has now photographed over two dozen stories for National Geographic with one of the most recently published being The Serengeti Lion (August 2013), which showcased some incredibly impressive technical achievements and was a real tour-de-force in terms of the depth and breadth of the project. He notes: “Now it’s becoming the body of work that’s important, and by going multimedia – as we did with Lions – it’s adding a new dimension to the experience.”

So what’s next? He laughs: “Hey, I’m pretty beat up, I’ve had malaria 20 times but I’ve always got something going on. Now it’s Yellowstone National Park which is getting me all fired up.”

“I’ve got a mission to document the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. It’s one of the wildest parts of the United States and I want to see how we are starting to learn to live with predators again. Wolves and bison are gradually coming back and it’s fascinating to see how the natural pecking order is being re-established. So that’s going to keep me busy for the next couple of years!”


  • EOS-1D X
  • EOS 5D Mark III
  • 2x EOS-1D Mark IV
  • 2x EOS-1Ds Mark III
  • 5x EOS-1Ds Mark II
  • 3x EOS 5D Mark II
  • 9x EOS 550D
  • PowerShot G1 X
  • 7x EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
  • EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
  • 7x EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
  • 2x EF-S18-55mm
  • EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
  • 2x EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
  • EF35mm f/1.4L USM
  • EF50mm f/1.2L USM
  • 2x EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
  • EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
  • EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM
  • EF300mm f/4L IS USM
  • EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
  • EF500mm f/4L IS USM
  • EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM
  • 2x EF1.4x III extenders
  • 2x EF2x III extenders
  • Speedlite 580EX II
  • Speedlite 480EX II
  • Gels for strobes
  • Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2
  • Minolta Autometer V
  • Minolta Flash Meter V
  • 4x Canon TC-80N3 cable remote controls
  • 2x Canon WFT-E4 II A Wireless Transmitters
  • Hoodman H-RAV right angle viewer
  • SanDisk 16GB Extreme CF cards
  • SanDisk 8GB Ducati CF cards
  • SanDisk 16GB Extreme CF cards
  • Various Canon battery packs
  • PocketWizard AC3 ZoneController wireless flash trigger
  • PocketWizard FlexTT5 wireless flash transceiver
  • FLEX-RC1 remote trigger
  • BGAN INMARSAT hand set & receiver
  • Various external hard drives
  • Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx
  • Manfrotto 444 tripod
  • Really Right Stuff ball heads
  • 2x Gitzo GT5540LS tripods
  • Gitzo G1258 tripod
  • Gitzo G1375M tripod head
  • 6x Gorilla pods
  • Monopod
  • Trail Master transmitters, receivers & cords
  • MacBook Pro computer
  • Custom built Mikrokopter Hexa XL and spare parts
  • 2x remote camera platforms
  • JR radios and transmitters
  • Infrared goggles
  • Thermal binoculars
  • Sennheiser, Rhode & Audi Technica mics
  • Headphones, video monitors, video goggles and feedback circuit
  • T10CAG remote control car & Futaba control unit
  • Assorted wireless triggers, IR lights, AAA batteries, camera traps, cables, brushes, screws, flashlights, headlamps, plastic boxes and plastic sleeves