Valentin Bianchi

People in orange rubber rafts paddle through floodwaters after the Meuse River broke its banks during flooding in Liège, Belgium, in July 2021. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by Canon Ambassador Valentin Bianchi.

People use rubber rafts to navigate floodwaters after the Meuse River burst its banks in Liège, Belgium, in July 2021. Before the pandemic, photojournalist Valentin Bianchi primarily worked overseas, but in the years since he's also covered breaking news closer to home. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 155mm, 1/125 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 4000. © Valentin Bianchi

When Valentin Bianchi picked out his first camera with his mother when he was 11, he insisted on choosing a professional model. But it would be many more years before he seriously turned his attention to photography. Today, Valentin works as a photojournalist and storyteller based in Belgium, covering long-form reportage and news, with a particular interest in minority communities and the forgotten.

Valentin's photography has taken him across the globe, from documenting autism in China to covering everyday life in Gaza. He has also worked closer to home, covering healthcare in his hometown of Liège, a city near the border of both Germany and the Netherlands. Valentin's work has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Le Monde and The Washington Post, he has worked for wire agencies such as Associated Press, and he is also a member of Studio Hans Lucas.

"When someone asks, 'Are you a photographer or an artist?' I say that I consider myself to be a storyteller, because I'm telling the stories of people I meet," says Valentin. It is not fame that drives him, but a deep desire to share other people's voices. "I don't want to become famous, I want my stories to be known because they are interesting," he adds. "And I want the people in my stories to become important."

Valentin's childhood dreams of following in Jacques Cousteau's footsteps and becoming a marine biologist led him to study biology at the University of Liège. But he soon realised this field of work would likely see him confined to a laboratory, rather than taking him around the world. He thought back to his love of photography, which began when he started using a Canon EOS 5 – a 35mm SLR film camera – as a child, before he moved onto photographing cars and motorbikes racing around tracks in his teenage years.

A black and white portrait of Canon Ambassador Valentin Bianchi.
Location: Liège, Belgium

Specialist areas: Reportage, photojournalism

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R3
Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM
Cars and pedestrians on a street in Gaza City, with bombed out buildings in the background. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II by Canon Ambassador Valentin Bianchi.

Residents of Gaza City attempt to get on with their lives after Israeli bombing in 2012. Despite a desire to rebuild as quickly as possible, the devastation is clearly visible more than two months later. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) and a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM) at 1/5000 sec, f/2 and ISO 100. © Valentin Bianchi

At the Stars and Rain NGO centre in Beijing, China, an autistic child listens to a woman during a class. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II by Canon Ambassador Valentin Bianchi.

Valentin's story about an autistic woman in Belgium was "the beginning of something bigger". In 2012, he went to China to see how its approach to autism differed to that of Western Europe. Children at the Stars and Rain NGO centre in Beijing attend a range of classes, including sessions that encourage them to increase their social contacts. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/2.2 and ISO 800. © Valentin Bianchi

Encouraged by his father's side of the family to keep images as a hobby and follow the family tradition, Valentin studied architecture rather than photography. "I worked in different offices in Belgium, but I was still buying magazines such as National Geographic," he says. "One day I woke up and thought, 'I can't go back to the office'. After completing the photographic studies he'd long dreamed about, Valentin then enrolled on workshops and masterclasses with a focus on photojournalism to build his confidence, before starting work as a freelance photographer in 2009.

The hidden stories of people with autism – first in Belgium and later in China – resulted in a project called Stars and Rain, which was nominated for UNICEF Photo of the Year 2012 and was a finalist for the ANI-PixPalace grant at Visa pour l'Image. Valentin travelled to Palestine – not to take conflict photos, but to document the everyday life of Gazans. He also met migrants in France who were staking their lives on a better future abroad, documented the Arab Spring uprisings, and covered the devastating flooding in Italy and Belgium in 2021.

"I learned everything after school," he says. "You learn a lot when you face new things, especially in the field." Having used the Canon EOS 5D series for years, Valentin has now moved to mirrorless, shooting on the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R3.

A medical team treats a man suffering from third-degree burns as he lies on a stretcher, trees visible in the background. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II by Canon Ambassador Valentin Bianchi.

The team from the Bra-sur-Lienne Heliport Medical Centre responds to a garage mechanic suffering from third-degree burns over large parts of his body – a result of welding near petrol cans. This image, taken in 2011, forms part of Valentin's long-term project following the helicopter crew who cover Belgium's medical red zones. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II 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 24mm, 1/500 sec, f/8 and ISO 500. © Valentin Bianchi

 Emergency workers comb through the rubble of a destroyed building in Amatrice, Italy, after a 6.2-magnitude earthquake in August 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Canon Ambassador Valentin Bianchi.

When a 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit central Italy in August 2016, many villages close to Amatrice were reduced to rubble. Valentin's reportage covered the 48 hours that followed the earthquake – from the emergency workers combing the wreckage, to the hundreds of displaced people. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 168mm, 1/1000 sec, f/5 and ISO 200. © Valentin Bianchi

After covering the ageing crisis in Japan, Covid-19 brought Valentin's storytelling closer to home. "I have the feeling that I had two periods: before the pandemic and after," he says. Primarily working abroad before, often on longer-lead stories and personal topics rather than news, the pandemic forced Valentin to find a way to work in Belgium. His colleagues were photographing the crises in hospitals, but he looked for another angle. "I started to work with funeral homes, and I made long stories with them," he says. "It was interesting to find another point of view."

His location in a quieter corner of Belgium also started to gain attention from foreign editors. Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat assigned him to cover Belgian hospitals, when restrictions in Finland prevented journalists from entering. Later, The New York Times asked him to cover a story about Jewish families of American soldiers in Belgium, Luxembourg and France, leaning on the cross-border nature of his location.

Continuing to mix domestic reporting with international personal projects, Valentin is interested in covering more wars and crises – having long been inspired by photojournalists James Nachtwey and Larry Burrows – as well as exploring Africa, a continent that meant a lot to his father. He has no regrets about turning his full attention to photography. "I'm so much happier in my life now," he says. "Because I do what I want."

What motivates you?

"Telling stories. A story can be around the corner, or quite far from Belgium, but everywhere you go, you meet interesting people. I'm always interested in discovering new things, because you learn a lot from the people you meet. Sometimes you meet incredible people, living in bad conditions, but they give so much to you. People are my motivation, especially when they are living through something quite unknown, or not really known in the media."

What have you learnt from your long-term project covering medical teams in Belgium?

"Belgium is a really small country, but we have medical red zones – areas where access for a doctor takes more than 10 minutes. Helicopters really help medical teams access these zones. Over 10 years, I followed that team. It helped me a lot to know the right distance when you are covering something difficult. Sometimes, we were entering a home where someone was dying on the sofa – you have to learn how far you can go to take a picture."

How is your shooting style reflected in the glass you choose to use?

"I prefer to work with fixed lenses such as the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM, because you need to move. When you are trying to document intimate moments, it's really difficult to arrive with big camera gear. I prefer to move and get on my knees, or jump on a wall to find a good angle. As a professional photojournalist, you need zoom lenses in your kit, because when you are on an assignment, you don't know what you will find, and it is often essential to meet all your shooting expectations – but I prefer fixed lenses."

What are some of the key attributes needed for a career in photojournalism?

"You need to trust in the story you are working on. You need to have empathy, because you are making contact with people you don't know, and if you arrive with a bad approach, it won't work. So the best advice is to be humble. And you need to be honest. If you are not honest in the way you are telling the story, or with the idea you have in your mind, and if you lie to people, they will know one day. Sometimes access is the most difficult part of our job. I tell students that if the door is closed, enter through the window."

One thing I know

Valentin Bianchi

"If you want to become a photojournalist just to be famous, you are not being honest with people. If you want to do that work to become famous, stop it directly. I appreciate when people say to me, 'I don't know you'. But if they know one picture I took, it's more interesting, because it means that my work is seen. It's the best compliment they can give me."

Instagram: @valentinbianchi



Valentin Bianchi's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Valentin Bianchi's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R3

Freeze action at 1/64,000 sec, shoot continuously at 30fps and track subjects as you shoot with Eye Control AF. "It's really impressive," says Valentin. "The autofocus follows your eye and the camera is really efficient in low light."

Canon EOS R5

A professional full-frame mirrorless flagship camera offering high resolution stills and 8K video. "The RF mount is so much more efficient," says Valentin. "Even for young photographers, this camera is easy to learn photography with."

Canon EOS R6 Mark II

Capture fleeting moments at up to 40fps with sensational image quality, even in near-darkness. AI-based AF locks on to fast-moving subjects wherever they are in the frame.


Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

Fast and sharp, this is the ideal standard mirrorless zoom for professionals. "When you're on assignment and you don't know what conditions you'll be working in, this zoom enables you to capture quality images with ease," says Valentin.

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The ultimate 50mm lens, bringing a new kind of optical performance to full-frame photography. "It's an incredible lens," says Valentin. "I need it to make portraits with context, and to change my point of view."

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

This high-performance f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens offers exceptional image quality in a compact body. "The constant aperture is an undeniable plus in difficult light," says Valentin. "The sharpness is incredible, and so is the stabilisation."


Related articles

Canon Ambassador Jaime de Diego

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.