PROFILE

Maxime Aliaga

A baby orangutan and its mother stare at the camera from behind a large, leafy branch.

During his time working with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, Canon Ambassador Maxime Aliaga has produced a large portfolio of work. The best of these photographs were published in his book Pongo in 2020, including this image of a rescued mother – now living in the wild – and her young baby. Since the organisation's rehabilitation program began, more than 200 orangutans have been released. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 400mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.6 and ISO1000. © Maxime Aliaga

Canon Ambassador Maxime Aliaga's photography celebrates the extraordinary beauty and diversity of the natural world, but it also highlights the importance of conservation work. "Photography, for me, is a way to talk about the fragility of nature and the need to take action to preserve it," he says. "That's my purpose."

Maxime took up photography at the age of 24, finding his first subjects in the abundant wildlife of the Mediterranean forests around his hometown of Montpellier, southern France. "The forests were my playground, a great place to start," he recalls.

In the years since, Maxime has worked in countries such as Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea and the Seychelles, photographing a wide range of species, from insects to primates. He has always used Canon kit, starting with a Canon EOS 350D and later moving on to other bodies (such as the Canon EOS 7D Mark II), while increasing his range of lenses. In 2019, his work was recognised with an associate fellowship from the International League of Conservation Photographers.
After completing a bachelor's degree in Biodiversity Management, Maxime worked for several years as a field technician, gradually building an impressive portfolio of photography. He's now a full-time nature photographer, documenting the work of non-governmental organisations specialising in conservation.

Since 2015, Maxime has worked regularly in Indonesia with the Sumatra Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP). He has photographed this fascinating but highly endangered species both in the SOCP's rehabilitation and reintroduction centres and in the pristine rainforests of Sumatra.
A female hawksbill turtle kicks up sand on a beach as she attempts to cover her eggs. The sky behind her is bright blue and filled with fluffy white clouds.

In this image taken in the Seychelles in October 2013, a hawksbill turtle hides her nest after laying eggs in the sand. "Like other sea turtles, hawksbills are threatened by the loss of nesting and feeding habitats, excessive egg collection, fishery-related mortality, pollution and coastal development. However, they are most threatened by wildlife trade," says Maxime. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) at 23mm, 1/250 sec, f/8 and ISO200. © Maxime Aliaga pour Naturagency

Orangutans have become Maxime's favourite animal to photograph. "It really changed my life when I first met these arboreal ancestors of ours – it created a very powerful emotion," he says. "Since then, I have done such a lot of work with them, and I really want to raise awareness about their conservation."

Maxime says the highlight of his career so far was having the results of this work exhibited at the 2019 International Wildlife and Nature Festival at Montier-en-Der in France. "It was a huge exhibition, and I was so glad to be able to present this work to the public and show orangutan conservation in action," he says. "It was also a significant recognition of my commitment to conservation photography."

In 2020, following the exhibition, Maxime published Pongo, a book designed not just to display his orangutan images, but also to educate readers about the species and the work that goes into protecting it.
A hummingbird frozen in motion as it feeds from brightly coloured flowers.

To freeze the movement of this feeding rufous-tailed hummingbird, Maxime used a fast shutter speed and shot with his lens wide open. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM) at 1/2500 sec, f/3.2 and ISO1000. © Maxime Aliaga pour Naturagency

At a time when nature has never been more under threat, Maxime aims to encourage optimism about what wildlife conservation can achieve. "We see many bad things happening, but I also want to show the good things – the species that have been saved and the conservation programmes that have been successful. I want my work to inspire people to have some hope for the future and to want to be part of a change."
You've worked in many countries – what is your favourite place to photograph wildlife?
"It's not a specific country but an ecosystem: my passion is the rainforest. I love it because there is so much diversity. I particularly love the jungles of Central and South America and also the Indonesian rainforests."

How has your work developed over the years?
"I have learned to always try to do things differently, to find another angle and to be original in my choice of subject. It's also important to tell a story. At first, I started out by trying to take beautiful pictures, but there was no link between them. Now I always look for a story before I start work on a project."

Which other nature photographers have inspired you?
"There are many photographers who inspire me, including Tim Laman, who specialises in photographing birds of paradise. I admire him because I know how challenging it is to take pictures of very rare birds. Another photographer I take inspiration from is Paul Hilton. I like this kind of warrior photographer – he is very involved in what he does, and the conservation aspect of his work is so strong."

What has been the most challenging subject to photograph?
"A new species of orangutan was discovered in 2017, the Tapanuli orangutan, and I was sent to a remote forest in Sumatra to take pictures of it. It was very difficult, because there are so few of them. Sometimes I could spend a whole week finding just one individual to photograph. But it was also very important, because my pictures were used to present this new species to the world."

One thing I know

Maxime Aliaga

"To be a professional wildlife photographer, I believe you need to be a naturalist first and a photographer second. You cannot take pictures of animals if you don't know a lot about them. Photography is all about observation and anticipation. Those are the most important things. Taking the photograph is just a click of your camera. All the work you do before that click is what makes the difference."

Facebook: @MaximeAliaga

Instagram: @maxime_aliaga_photography

Website: www.maxime-aliaga.com

Maxime Aliaga's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Maxime Aliaga's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.

Camera

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. "I really like this mirrorless camera because weight is important to me and this body is light. The subject tracking is just 'wow', and the low-light performance means I can take pictures now that I couldn't have taken three years ago," says Maxime.

Lenses

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

A compact, high-performance 100-400mm zoom lens that's ideal for shooting sports, action and wildlife photography, "When you walk in the forest for hours, you need a lens that's very light and has a good focal length for distant subjects," says Maxime.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

The combination of the exceptional Hybrid IS, f/2.8 aperture and fast USM autofocusing system makes this a truly unique lens that performs exceptionally well, both for those who occasionally do macro and those who want to specialise in it. Maxime says: "I always have this lens in my kitbag in case I find a very beautiful butterfly, for example."

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

The latest version of the lens Maxime favours is a high-performance L-series super-telephoto lens, with 4-stop Image Stabilizer and three modes ideal for all types of action photography. "I like this lens for the sharpness and high quality of the images, and I love the bokeh it produces," says Maxime.

Accessories

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The successor to the 600EX that Maxime uses is engineered for fast frame rate shooting, and performs in the most demanding situations. Maxime says: "When I'm in the rainforest, I carry the Speedlite 600EX because it can really make a difference when shooting macro subjects in low light."

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