Michel d'Oultremont

A large musk ox shakes off the snow he is covered with, against a bright blue sky.

Canon Ambassador Michel d'Oultremont specialises in capturing the majesty of the natural world, such as the moment this wild musk ox rose to its feet after a heavy snowstorm. "He shook himself and created an explosion of snow which gave the image a sense of power and strength," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM) at 1/4000 sec, f/4 and ISO320. © Michel d'Oultremont

Photography, insists Canon Ambassador Michel d'Oultremont, is secondary to wildlife – his first passion. And yet his images have a mastery of light that somehow elevates them. They are works of art, not just records of animal encounters.

Deploying a variety of creative techniques – low contrast, a limited colour palette, shallow depth of field, minimalist composition – Michel's distinctive, fairytale-like shots seem to show creatures materialising from the mist, strange and majestic. His aim is "to make people love nature, to question themselves about nature and to look at it differently, perhaps with more respect".

Michel was 13 years old in 2005 when he started photographing birds around the rural centre of Belgium, where he's lived all his life. He initially used a Canon PowerShot A570 before moving on to a Canon EOS 400D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 850D), paired with a secondhand Canon EF 300mm f/4 USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM ), at 15. He now shoots on a Canon EOS R5.

"Thanks to the precision of Canon cameras and lenses and their ease of use, I can concentrate 100% on my image and let the camera take care of the technique," Michel explains.

Recognition of his talent has come quickly. While still a student at the INRACI photography school in Belgium, he was awarded the Fritz Pölking Junior Prize in 2014, followed by the Rising Star Portfolio award at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition that same year, which he won again in 2018. He's already self-published three books: Encounters, Yellowstone and Hokkaido. "I designed everything, from the text to the layout, including the choice of paper and images inside," Michel says. "I'm proud of these books. They contain daring images that break the rules of photography."

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Michel d'Oultremont
Location: Brye, Belgium

Specialist areas: Wildlife

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS R5

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM)
A close-up of one eye and ear of a sleepy fox, its fur mostly white with hints of red and brown.

Michel captured this sleepy fox on the shores of Hokkaido island, Japan. "He looked at me from time to time, but he was not afraid of my presence," he explains. "He let me approach him from a few metres – pure happiness." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM) and a Canon Extender EF 2x III at 1/2000 sec, f/10 and ISO2500. © Michel d'Oultremont

Working independently, Michel doesn't take on assignments for clients but instead carries out self-initiated projects and leads workshops. It's an approach that suits his temperament. "I decide everything by myself," he says. "I go where I want and I photograph what I want, when I want. I sell my images to art galleries, collectors or in stores. Thanks to this I'm completely free, and that's great."

For his book Yellowstone, Michel spent a month documenting the bison, wolves and other fauna of North America's Yellowstone National Park in ice-cold temperatures of -40°C. Hokkaido saw him travel to northern Japan in winter to photograph birds including the elusive Japanese crane and Steller's sea eagle.

Two large musk oxen charge at each other, against a stark white background.

"Alone in the middle of the tundra, I approached a large group of male musk oxen," explains Michel. "A lone male approached at the same time and caused panic in the group. The dominant bull starts to fight – a merciless battle that will last almost 30 minutes." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IIIwith a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens at 1/4000 sec, f/4 and ISO200. © Michel d'Oultremont

Whether photographing miles from home or witnessing the changing seasons in the Belgian countryside, it's the promise of meeting a new animal that spurs Michel on. "To create an image that is successful takes a lot of time; sometimes weeks spent in the field scouting, finding the right place with the right light, and then waiting for the magic moment to arrive," he says. "But I'm so happy when that happens, I forget all those hours of waiting. That little moment when I find the animal I'm hoping for is thrilling. I feel good in nature, in my rightful place."

Do you look to art forms beyond photography for inspiration?

"Yes, I do. I would even say that I look at very few photographic images. Painting inspires me far more – J.M.W. Turner or Vincent van Gogh, for example. I also love watercolours for their softness, or sculpture and bronzes for the fabulous work of the material. I have tried to draw but I am very bad, so it's thanks to photography that I manage to transcribe what I have in mind."

How important is patience in getting the perfect shot?

"Knowledge of the animal is very important so that you don't disturb it. It is essential not to frighten the animals and I'm very careful about that. Patience is also important. You don't know the time or the place of your encounter with wildlife. In order not to miss it, you have to wait all day."

What do you need from your Canon kit in the environments where you work?

"I am often in difficult conditions when I create my images – snowstorms, sandstorms, lying in mud or frost – so it's important that the kit stands up to my demands. The robustness of the Canon EOS R5 and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is a real asset."

You've had great success already, but what dreams would you like to fulfil in future?

"To keep meeting wildlife. I tried to see the Siberian tiger in 2019 but I only saw its footprints. I'm fascinated by the Andean cat too, and the puma. They are rare animals, which are not often photographed and that live in wonderful biotopes – an ideal recipe for experiencing exceptional emotions and making beautiful images."

One thing I know

Michel d'Oultremont

"The most important thing is to have respect for the wildlife that you're photographing. It's essential. Living in contact with wild animals is fantastic, but you have to respect it. You have to take as many precautions as possible so that you don't disturb the animal. To me, this is more than a philosophy, it is a part of life. I am a guest and I respect my host."

Facebook: michel.doultremont.wildlifephotographer

Instagram: @micheldoultremont


Michel d'Oultremont's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs


Canon EOS R5

A professional full frame mirrorless flagship camera offering photographers and filmmakers high resolution stills and 8K video. "I like the sharpness in the images and its speed," says Michel.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

Michel also uses the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, which offers superb low-light performance and deep learning AF. He says he loves this camera, which captures action at up to 20fps, for "its robustness and speed".


Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM

The successor to the lens that Michel uses is a light telephoto lens for ultra high-quality sport, wildlife and action images. It's superb for professional wildlife photographers and has "wonderful rendering at f/2.8," says Michel.

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM

The latest version of the lens Michel uses is super lightweight and perfect for professional wildlife, sports and news photographers. "It allows me not to disturb the animals," Michel explains.

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

The latest version of the lens that Michel uses is favoured by those wanting to carry a single lens on location, delivering stunning image quality with advanced image stabilisation. "This lens helps me to immortalise beautiful landscapes," says Michel.


Canon Extender EF 1.4x III

The successor to the EF 1.4x II that Michel uses is a professional grade extender that increases focal length of L-series lenses by 1.4x. Michel says: "This extender allows me to get closer to animals without disturbing them."

Canon Extender EF 2x III

Ideal for press, sports and nature photography, this increases the focal length of Canon L-series telephoto or telephoto zoom lenses by a factor of 2x, with higher AF accuracy and improved communication between camera and lens. "I regularly use the 2x III extender with my EF 600mm f/4L IS USM II lens to get as close to the wildlife as possible," says Michel.

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