Jonas Classon

A pied kingfisher spreads its wings in front of an orange sun.

Canon Ambassador and bird photographer Jonas Classon developed a passion for nature when he was hospitalised as a child. "What I'm doing now is like paying back the birds. I really want to spread light on them, like they did for me," he says. In this stunning image, a pied kingfisher spreads its wings in front of an orange sun in Bharatpur, India. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender +1.4x lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 780mm, 1/1250 sec, f/8 and ISO320. © Jonas Classon

Canon Ambassador Jonas Classon is among Europe's most celebrated young bird photographers. With one of the most spectacular wildlife shots of 2020 to his name, he has established an enviable reputation in a competitive field.

His drive to capture the character and personality of an animal when he fires the shutter has earned him worldwide recognition. "Photographing birds has always been my main goal, and it's been a long and slow process to get where I am today," Jonas explains. "I'm living my dream now."

Born and raised in Sweden, where he is still based today, Jonas took his first pictures aged six when he borrowed his sister's camera during a fishing trip. But his passion for nature photography was truly ignited following a long period in hospital as a teenager.

"When I was 13, I became seriously ill and was in hospital for a couple of years," Jonas explains. "I got to know the hospital teacher and he took me out into nature when I was a little better. He taught me about birds and shared his passion with me. That's when I really found out it was bird photography that I wanted to do."

After setting up his own photography business aged 15, Jonas – who is entirely self-taught – went on to work for a local newspaper. "I covered everything – commercial, news, weddings," he explains. "That was great, because now I can use all those techniques and apply them to bird photography. I learnt so much about storytelling and photojournalism. Now, I always try to see the birds as humans, to tell a story in the same way."

Canon Ambassador and bird photographer Jonas Classon.
Location: Sweden

Specialist area: Birds

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x
A great grey owl with its talons fully extended prepares to land on top of a tree.

A great grey owl with its talons fully extended prepares to land on top of a tree. "I learnt everything the hard way, often through trying and failing. I surrounded myself with other photographers from early on, so I could learn from and be inspired by them," says Jonas. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO II USM lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 560mm, 1/1600 sec, f/6.3 and ISO1000. © Jonas Classon

A great grey owl sits on a branch at twilight, ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey.

Night Hunter, Jonas's spectacular image of a great grey owl set against a moonlit sky, has won several awards. "When I was shooting Night Hunter, I saw great grey owls hunt lizards and frogs, which is unusual for the species, so that was really interesting. When you spend so much time with birds, you get to know much more about them," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender +1.4x lens at 300mm, 1/160 sec, f/4 and ISO3200. © Jonas Classon

Jonas has focused on bird photography since 2016. In spring 2019, he captured what he describes as his best photo yet: the spectacular Night Hunter (above right). This striking image of a great grey owl won the Animals in their Environment category at the Siena International Photo Awards 2020.

"I actually kept that picture a secret for a year and a half because I knew it was special," Jonas says. "I knew it was my best picture ever. The owl is truly showing its character. It almost looks like an illustration, and that mix of artificial light and moonlight really makes it unique.

"I tracked that bird for 40 days – we were like buddies by the end. Great grey owls are so charismatic and mysterious. There's not a single moment I have spent with one that I can't remember."

A red-throated loon skims the surface of a body of misty water.

In this image taken in Örebro, Sweden, a red-throated loon takes flight. "For me, the picture and the story behind it are the most important things, rather than the species I am photographing," says Jonas. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender +1.4x lens and a Canon Extender EF 1.4x III at 784mm, 1/1000 sec, f/9 and ISO1250. © Jonas Classon

With the release of his book, Svart Album, and work on display in a Swedish exhibition centre, Jonas's dream to share his love of nature with the world is now a reality. "When I was ill, the birds were my way out of hospital. It was like a small chink of light in a dark time," he says.

"It opened up a new world for me, and since then I have wanted to inspire others to get out into nature because there's so much to experience and discover."

What are the key elements of successful wildlife photography?

"To be a part of nature and really get to know the subject you're photographing. You need to try to get close, not just physically, but also by learning the animal's behaviour. Spend time trying to tell their story. For me, it's about the individual bird I'm photographing, not the species, because they can all be so different."

What's the biggest challenge when photographing birds?

"You need enough time to become a part of that bird's world. If you can spend time with your subject, you can get the shot. Sometimes it happens suddenly, but most of my pictures take so much time and preparation, and those are the ones that I remember."

Where did you draw inspiration from for your Night Hunter shot?

"One of my first wildlife encounters was with a great grey owl. I was so passionate about that bird as it's captivating to watch and has amazing hunting skills. I spent every morning and night trying to learn its behaviour and hunting routines. That can change from one owl to another, so you just need to watch them closely. By the end, I could set an alarm on my phone and know what the owl was going to be doing."

What's next for you? Which ambitions remain unfulfilled?

"I have so many ambitions! The great grey owl picture was part of a wider project, which I'm still working on. In one way, it's a lifelong project because I won't ever stop photographing birds – they're so cool! Some photographers have pictures of hundreds of different species, but that's not what drives me. I like to find a strong character that inspires me to tell its story. That could be king penguins in the Falklands or another species of owl – it's all about finding birds that have stories to tell."

One thing I know

Jonas Classon

"Learn to say no. If you say yes to everything, you can end up anywhere. Because I did so many different kinds of photography at the start of my career, I was getting asked to do various projects. But I knew what I really wanted to do and was forced to say no. That can be really hard sometimes, but you need to consider what's right for you and what will take you in the best direction. My tipping point, when everything started heading in the right direction, was actually when I started saying no."

Facebook: @jonasclassonphotography

Instagram: @jonasclassonphotography


Tess Watkins

Jonas Classon's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Jonas Classon's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The EOS-1D X Mark III is the ultimate creative toolkit, with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "I take a lot of action shots and this camera is so responsive. Its quick autofocus is the key to success," says Jonas.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

At the heart of the EOS-1D X Mark II is a Canon-developed CMOS sensor that marks the next generation of professional image quality in the EOS lineup. Jonas says: "This is an amazing camera that I use as my backup. When you're in the Falkland Islands or somewhere similarly rural, it's important to have a backup – anything can happen!"


Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

A professional-grade 200-400mm f/4 lens with a built-in 1.4x extender that boosts focal lengths to 280-560mm. "I took the Night Hunter image a day after I bought this lens and it was key to getting that shot. The ability to zoom was essential. It was meant to be!" says Jonas.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The successor to the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM that Jonas favours is now even better in bright light, and engineered to perform in the most challenging conditions. Jonas says: "I use this lens a lot. It's a great all-rounder. When you want to show a little more of a bird's surroundings or their world, it's a fantastic choice."

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM

Favoured by those wanting to carry a single lens on location, the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM delivers stunning image quality with advanced image stabilisation. "I use this lens for videos on expeditions because it has a really wide focal range. It's extremely useful when you can't carry everything in your kitbag," says Jonas.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This versatile lens gives great results in portrait work and handheld movie-making, thanks to its ability to achieve a shallow depth of field with beautiful bokeh, along with built-in Hybrid Image Stabilization and lightweight design. Jonas says: "This lens is just perfect for those close-up, detailed shots."

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

The perfect package, this fast L-series telephoto with advanced optical engineering is perfect for creative portrait photography. "Sometimes you need to use a wider aperture in low light, and this one makes for an interesting image. Every lens has its own style of expression," says Jonas.

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. Jonas says: "This lens is usually used for portrait photography, but I find it can be very useful in my line of work; for example, shooting penguins in the Falkland Islands under the stars."


Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The successor to the Canon Speedlite 580EX II that Jonas uses is is engineered for fast frame rate shooting, and performs in the most demanding situations. "You have to be incredibly careful using flash with birds," says Jonas. "Sometimes it can be extremely useful, however, so this accessory is handy to have in my bag when it's possible to carry it. Mixing artificial and natural light can take photos to the next level."

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