Pavel Volkov

An older man in a woollen hat stands in front of the wreckage of a destroyed house.

A portrait of a man standing in front of the ruins of his neighbour's house in the city of Stepanakert, the self-proclaimed capital of the Republic of Artsakh. Canon Ambassador and photojournalist Pavel Volkov was in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Azerbaijan, documenting the region's troubles. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM) at 24mm, 1/640 sec, f/11 and ISO2000. © Pavel Volkov

Russian photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Pavel Volkov has made a career confronting his country's social issues and subcultures head on, capturing the country at its best and its worst.

Not one to shy from difficult situations, Pavel has documented football hooliganism, fight clubs, and controversial modern religious groups such as the Orthodox Youth movement and its polar opposite, the Russian Pagans. He has captured what daily life is like for disabled people and for the military, in particular young cadets and new recruits.

Pavel has also focused his attention on tensions between Crimea and South-East Ukraine. "I believe that photography can change the world," he says. "It's that belief that drives me. I'm honest in life and work. I believe in humanism and I hope my pictures convey that."

After growing tired of the slow pace of the small town in the Ural Mountains where he grew up, Pavel moved to the city of Ekaterinburg where he first experimented with photography, taking pictures of his friends with a camera he borrowed from his parents. Pavel fell into wedding photography, followed by portraiture, taking on a job for a studio, but it soon became obvious that his interest lay elsewhere. "Most of all I liked taking pictures of everyday life in the city, so I used to go off walking the streets with my camera on breaks between shoots. I liked how it was never staged and that everything was real."

Canon Ambassador Pavel Volkov.
Location: Moscow, Russia

Specialist areas: Documentary, portrait, reportage

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM
Shirtless Russian football fans stand with their arms raised surrounded by smoke from flares.

"I took this shot of football fans during a match. They had lit some flares, which is strictly forbidden in Russian stadiums," says Pavel. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark II N (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/4 and ISO250. © Pavel Volkov

After studying photojournalism at the Galperin Faculty of Photojournalism in Saint Petersburg, Pavel started working as a freelance photographer for a variety of publications. Then in 2014, aged 27, he moved to Moscow to take on the post of staff photographer at the Evening Moscow newspaper. Since 2015, Pavel has shot for a variety of photo agencies and his images have been used by a wide range of international organisations including The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Stern, Harper's Magazine, Rolling Stone, the BBC, Greenpeace, VICE and The Institute. "I think the turning point for me was when one of my photo stories was published in The New York Times, both online and in print. It was a remarkable opportunity for me and the first time that I felt I was really getting somewhere in this industry," says Pavel.

As well as seeing his work exhibited in Russia, it has also appeared internationally, including at Visa pour l'Image International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan, France. "That was another key moment for me," he says. "My story about football hooligans was included in the programme at the festival and shown on the big screen in front of a large audience of photographers and editors from around the world. I was unbelievably happy, but the most important thing was that I began to believe in my own talent. I realised that I had chosen the right path and I shouldn't give up."

A shirtless man standing between two poles adorned with animal skulls. An effigy is burning on the bonfire in front of him.

Russian pagans celebrating Kupalo, the Slavic god of the summer solstice, with the burning of an effigy. "Kupalo is one of the main pagan holidays," explains Pavel. "It symbolises the death and rebirth of the sun." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens at 70mm, 1/800 sec, f/3.2 and ISO200. © Pavel Volkov

Recognition of his talent has come in the form of a variety of awards, such as Russia's Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest and selection for the New York Times Portfolio Review. "Photojournalism has always interested me the most out of the photography genres," says Pavel, reflecting on his career so far. "I try to work with different communities and subcultures, but I also like working on projects that look at the life of just one person. I spend a lot of time researching issues, and then I get the chance to live part of someone's story with them, to capture it. It might just be a small part of their life but it's filled with emotion and drama. It's such an important responsibility. I may not work on issues that earn me a lot of money, but I know that documenting real life is more important."

Has your technique evolved?
"Definitely. When I started out I was afraid and embarrassed to take pictures of people, I found it so hard going up to a stranger with a camera. Over the years, I've worked on my communication skills, be it a group situation or with the main subject one-on-one. Group work is easier for me, but I still struggle when the story is just about one 'hero'. Recently I've pushed myself to work with such stories; sometimes I still have some failures, but we are all human."

What's your process? How do you decide what part of a scene to capture?
"I don't like random pictures. It sometimes happens that luck gives you a good photo, but you must understand that this is only luck and not your work. I try to plan everything as much as possible. When I look back through my images, I initially look for storylines that seem important, with images that highlight the points that will bring the story together."

What might professional photographers sometimes overlook?
"We can overlook the things that we are not ready for. We should analyse the situation as fully as possible, understand all the ways it can develop, and keep in mind the story that we are searching for. If we do not search for anything, we will not find anything. Sometimes our luck helps us but it is not always enough. Experience and planning are always important."

What's been the most valuable lesson you've learnt during your career so far?
"The realisation that in a world full of diversity, it's important to have your own opinion. And to make a story and pictures in the way you want, and not in the way the industry demands or that someone else likes. You do not need to be influenced; it's too easy to lose your personality."

One thing I know

Pavel Volkov

"The most important thing is always to understand that you are a photographer and you stand here to make a picture. Sometimes the drama is so devastating that it may swallow you like a huge wave in the ocean. When that happens, you do not understand who you are: a photographer or a participant. Do not forget, you are a photographer and your job is to document; you are a witness and your picture will witness too."

Instagram: @pavelvolkovphoto


Pavel Volkov's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

 Pavel Volkov's kitbag containing Canon cameras and lenses.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR is a durable workhorse able to produce beautiful, high quality images at any time, anywhere. "This is my favourite camera, as it perfectly suits every aspect of what I need to shoot for all areas of my work," says Pavel.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The successor to the EOS-1D X Mark II that Pavel uses is the ultimate creative toolkit, with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. "The Mark II has a super-fast focus and is really good for shooting movies," says Pavel.


Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A high-quality standard zoom with fast f/2.8 aperture that is a popular choice for professional photographers. "I use this lens for the reportage work I shoot, when I need to do some quick general shots or close-ups and I don't have time to change lenses," says Pavel.

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

A professionally quality, fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens popular with wildlife and sports photographers, as well as those shooting weddings and portraiture. "I use this lens when I'm shooting from a distance, both for stills and movies," says Pavel.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Professional L-series f/1.2 aperture USM lens for low light and extreme depth of field control. "I use this lens, and my 24mm and 40mm primes, while working on portraits and shooting reportage," Pavel says. "They are great for conveying action when you're in amongst it all."

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM

A compact pancake lens with a fast aperture that is great for travel and general photography. "This lens is so light and sharp," says Pavel. "I prefer fixed focal length lenses to zooms, as you don't have to waste time choosing the right focal length."

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