PROFILE

Chris Fallows

A black and white image of a huge great white shark breaching the water.

Canon Ambassador and wildlife photographer Chris Fallows took his world-famous 'Air Jaws' image on a Canon EOS-1V. "I still have that camera in a safe at home. Every time I open the safe, I think of that moment when the camera and I worked so well together," he says. The image won STARTnet's 2020 Global Eye Award, a contemporary art prize that Chris believes is an important step forward in terms of getting wildlife photography recognised as an art form. Taken on a Canon EOS-1V (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens at 160mm, 1/1250 and f/5.6. © Chris Fallows

When Canon Ambassador and renowned wildlife photographer Chris Fallows fired the shutter on his camera over two decades ago, he had no idea the image he had just shot would go on to become world famous.

His iconic picture of a great white shark breaching at South Africa's Seal Island was featured on the front pages of some of the biggest publications across the globe, catapulting Chris into the spotlight.

"I'd never seen anything like that before," he explains. "We knew we'd stumbled on something incredible. When the photo got out, it was a media sensation all around the world."
Born and raised in South Africa, where he still lives today, Chris went on his first safari when he was just two years old. "The first thing in life that I remember is a big herd of elephants in Botswana," he says. "My passion for wildlife goes as far back as I can remember. My father was also a very keen amateur photographer, so from my earliest of days I used to watch him taking photos of wildlife."

Chris began taking underwater images of great whites when he was a teenager, and went on to work on a tag and release programme with local fishermen. It was while volunteering with a group working with great whites in 1996 that he took his career-defining 'Air Jaws' image. "I was privileged to discover the flying great white, along with another colleague, and that was the beginning of an incredible journey."

Chris went on to learn from some of the biggest names in the industry. "I was very lucky; my passion for wildlife taught me a huge amount about my subjects, so that gave me a big advantage," he says. "I was blessed to have exposure to some of the best marine and wildlife photographers in the world, who became not only mentors but friends."

Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Specialist areas: Wildlife
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM
A black and white image of a hunting great white shark leaping 10ft out of the water.

In this black and white image – chosen by the BBC as one of its most striking shots of 2020 – a hunting great white shark leaps 10ft out of the water near Seal Island in South Africa. "This photo became a piece of art and that's where we're at now with our photography. I pay a huge amount of attention to capturing subjects which transcend photography and become art," says Chris. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at 22mm, 1/1000, f/8 and ISO320. © Chris Fallows

Today, Chris and his camera travel to some of the remotest corners of the earth capturing mesmerising images of animals on land and at sea. He has also featured in several documentaries, including the Discovery Channel's Air Jaws series and BBC Planet Earth's Shallow Seas episode.

It was while filming Air Jaws in the summer at Seal Island in South Africa that Chris captured another magnificent shark image, which captivated the world once again. "I created a sled for my camera, and I used a remote to control it," he explains. "I got this unbelievable shot of a truly spectacular great white breach around 10ft clear of the water and you feel like you can walk under the flying shark. I couldn't believe the reaction. The image was on 10-storey buildings in Times Square, New York! The most fantastic thing is it wasn't an image that had a sensational impact; this was a really beautiful image which celebrated the athletic ability of the shark."
A black and white image of three lionesses sitting in the long grass in a remote part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.

Captured in a remote part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, this is a special image for Chris. "We were wild camping and that pride of lions was lying in the road," he says. "That central lioness is clearly the main huntress in the pride. She got up, stalked around to where I was – I quickly got back into our vehicle – came to where I'd been lying, smelt the grass and the car, and walked off. It was just her way of telling me that it was her turf – you can photograph me, but be respectful of who I am." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM) at 1/500, f/5.6 and ISO400. © Chris Fallows

One of Chris' main focuses is fine art photography, and he donates proceeds from his sales to non-governmental organisations working to protect wildlife. He and his wife also buy land in Africa for wildlife and habitat restoration. "I'd like to believe I'll leave a legacy of people appreciating wildlife through my photography," he says. "When I've left the planet, I'd like there to be large tracts of habitat where animals will hopefully be safe forever."

Chris has carved out a captivating career since that iconic shot more than two decades ago. "It gave a lot of young people insight into the fact that if you follow your passion, you can become successful doing what you love," he says. "It also gave me a podium on which to convey the need to protect sharks and wildlife, and really look after what makes Africa so special.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I realise how the world would be transfixed by it. At the end of the day, I press the button, but it's all about the animals I photograph and how amazing they are."
What's your most memorable wildlife experience?
"In 2000, a whale died in False Bay, South Africa and 28 great white sharks fed on it for over 18 hours, eating two thirds of the whale. Nobody before or since has seen so many adult great whites together. It was just the most unbelievable experience to be within arm's length of these incredible animals. To see the complete breakdown of social structures and behaviour atypical of the species was just spectacular."

What's the proudest moment of your career to date?
"That I have never done anything to jeopardise an animal. Most of the time I'm on my own or with my wife, so I could do whatever I wanted, and nobody would be any the wiser. I think the fact that I can look in the mirror and know I've always done what is best for the animal while trying to capture a great image is, for me, my proudest achievement to date – and I hope it's a quality I never lose."

What's the toughest shoot you've ever done?
"In terms of wildlife interaction, it was probably photographing while walking along the ocean floor in New Zealand – in the dark, 65ft down, running out of air. I had multiple great whites around me, and I had no idea where they were. They'd swim through the occasional beam of light that my strobes were illuminating. That was a very tense hour or so!"

What would you say are the biggest challenges with wildlife photography?
"I don't work with captive animals, so they're all wild and free to come and go as they please. The most difficult thing is that wildlife is disappearing so quickly; it's becoming more and more difficult to find the subjects that I'm used to photographing. A lot of the areas that were wild are no longer wild, so it's a race against time."

How important is understanding animal behaviour when it comes to wildlife photography?
"That's the most important thing; while I might not be of the same technical standard as some of my peers, my greatest strength is my knowledge of my subjects. I've spent a huge amount of time around predators, and I have a thorough knowledge of what my subject may do, so I can prepare myself for what might happen. They say luck is where anticipation meets preparation, and I think that holds true."

One thing I know

Chris Fallows

"No photograph of mine is any better than anyone else's. Everyone is on their own photographic or artistic journey and you should never forget you started at the beginning. I always try and pull people up rather than knock them down, offer encouragement where I can and remember how kind people were to me when I started out. Also, just spend as much time out there in the field as you possibly can. The more chances you give yourself on the roulette wheel, the more likely it is to pay off."

Facebook: @ChrisFallowsPhotography

Instagram: @chrisfallowsphotography

Twitter: @ApexSharks

Website: www.chrisfallows.com

Chris Fallows' kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Chris Fallows' kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.

Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "I like the versatility. This camera gives you a fantastic file size for fine art prints, and it is also good enough to be used as an action camera. The autofocus is great and the camera is lightweight. Underwater, it fits into the same aquatic housing as its predecessor, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. A new housing is more expensive than the camera, so that was a big bonus," says Chris.

Canon EOS R5

Whatever you shoot, however you shoot it, the EOS R5 will let you be creative in ways you simply couldn't before. Chris says: "This is a recent addition to my kitbag and it's incredible. The thing I love the most is the fact that you can move the focus point wherever you like, which is a big thing for a wildlife photographer, as it allows more creative composition. I love the quiet shutter; when you're very close to your subjects, this is far safer and far less invasive."

Lenses

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

This high-performance f/2.8 telephoto zoom offers exceptional image quality in a compact body. "This has been my staple lens, it's my favourite of all time. I like to get close to my subjects, to create a sense of intimacy, and this is perfect for that. You can't use big lenses on a boat, so this has always been my go-to lens on the ocean. I've used it for 90% of the decent photographs I've taken," says Chris.

EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM

A compact, high-performance 100-400mm zoom lens that's ideal for shooting sports, action and wildlife. "Of the long lenses, I use this the most because of its versatility," says Chris. "I'm often photographing predators on the ground coming towards me and this allows me to capture the transition as they come closer. The range of the lens is amazing."

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM

The successor to the lens Chris favours is a super lightweight 600mm f/4 lens, perfect for professional wildlife, sports and news photographers. Chris says: "When I was younger, I used to love putting this big lens out the car window, but nowadays everyone has a big lens! What I love is the bokeh effect – it's just beautiful. It isolates my subject from the background and creates that lovely blur."

Canon RF 15-35mm F.28L IS USM

Capture more, even in low light, with this fast f/2.8 ultra-wide-angle 15-35mm zoom with 5-stops of image stabilisation – ideal for when innovative angles can make all the difference. Chris says: "I love the image sharpness, at the wide end and the tight end."

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

Capture stunning landscapes and architectural images using this compact and lightweight, high-performance ultra-wide-angle zoom lens with Image Stabilizer. Chris says: "The quality is amazing. I'm most likely to use this in my sled, and in my elephant dung housing."

Related articles

Canon Camera

Canon Europe Ambassador Programme

Find out how the ambassador programme works, and meet the phenomenal photographers chosen to represent Canon.

Canon Professional Services

Members get access to CPS Priority Support, both locally and at major events; a priority Fast Track repair service; and — depending on your level of membership — free back-up equipment loans plus return shipping and discounts on maintenance. They can also enjoy exclusive members’ offers.

Canon Camera