Cem Talu

A seated ballet dancer with their legs spread wide and their head to the floor surrounded by swirling smoke. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III by Cem Talu.

This image of a ballet dancer is part of a series titled 'Smoke'. Cem Talu photographed more than 50 models over a two-year period for this series, each with a background of smoke that he shot separately before combining the images in post-processing. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 120mm, 1/125 sec, f/9 and ISO 200. © Cem Talu

Today, Cem Talu is one of Turkey's most successful portrait, fashion and commercial photographers and collaborates with major publications and brands. However, this wasn't the career he initially envisioned. "Until I was 24, if you had told me I would be a photographer, I would have laughed at you," he admits.

Cem was born in Ankara, Turkey, and his family expected him to follow his father into academia. He studied engineering at university, followed by a master's degree in business administration, and ultimately a PhD in strategic management. However, during his time as a student, he discovered his passion for photography, appreciating both its technical and creative aspects.

Soon he began photographing models he had met. Then, in 2002, he made the decision to become a professional photographer. His friends and family thought he was crazy to give up his promising academic career, but, within three months, he had shot the cover of FHM magazine in Turkey and launched a new career.

"Suddenly, I was a photographer," he says. "After that, for many years I shot glamour for magazines in Greece, Bulgaria and other European countries. Later, as men's magazines started to decline, I applied my skills to shooting celebrities and worked for publications such as Marie Claire, Vogue and Cosmopolitan."

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Cem Talu.
Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Specialist areas: Portraits, commercial

Favourite kit: Canon EOS R5
Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM
A portrait of actor John Malkovich pulling a face and with his tongue out. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III by Cem Talu.

American actor John Malkovich was photographed by Cem for Vogue magazine. "I was talking with him during the session and he said this was the pose he used to cheer up his daughter when she was a child," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens at 170mm, 1/125 sec, f/11 and ISO 100. © Cem Talu

A portrait of Turkish comedian Seyfi Dursunoğlu, depicted as both King and Queen on a playing card. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III by Cem Talu.

Cem captured Turkish comedian Seyfi Dursunoğlu, a famous talk show host who dressed both as a drag queen and a man, for a Turkish magazine. The image combines two versions of Seyfi, presenting him as both the King and Queen on a playing card. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 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 46mm, 1/125 sec, f/11 and ISO 100. © Cem Talu

Cem says his most memorable celebrity shoot to date was his experience with American actor John Malkovich. "A newspaper contacted me, asking if I would like to shoot him during his visit to Turkey, but mentioned that I would only have half an hour," he says. "When I met his manager, we hit it off, and that half-hour shoot extended to three days. It just goes to show that you never know what will happen, but you must always be prepared, like a hunter."

In addition to fashion, portraiture and advertising, Cem's portfolio includes commercial shoots, video clips and documentaries. "I consider myself more of a photographer than a videographer," he says. "However, with the progression of social media, I find myself shooting more reels. This allows me to act like a photographer and shoot solo while creating video visuals."

A black and white portrait of Turkish actor Cansel Elçin surrounded by playing cards apparently flying through the air. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D by Cem Talu.

Turkish actor Cansel Elçin was photographed on location for Marie Claire magazine. The image depicts him as a gambler surrounded by flying playing cards, symbolising his risk-taking career path. "He threw the cards 10 times, and I combined multiple images to create this appearance," says Cem. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 80mm, 1/80 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 200. © Cem Talu

A poster – from an ongoing series of imaginary films – of actress Deniz Işın with smudged eye make-up, wet hair and water running down her face. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 by Cem Talu.

This image of Turkish actress Deniz Işın is part of an ongoing series of imaginary film posters created by Cem and animation director Özgür Atamer. "We are doing them as an experiment and I enjoy it – we'll see what comes out of it," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 70mm, 1/250 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 400. © Cem Talu

Cem also enjoys exploring new techniques for creating images and videos. He has experimented with technologies such as 360° video and infrared timelapse video. "I'm always looking for new ways to stay excited," he explains. "I don't like limiting myself to just one area of expertise – I have to try new things and learn as much as I can.

"Photography is great in that sense, because it involves a lot of technology. If someone asks me to try a 360° camera, for example, I respond with, 'OK, give it to me!' I'm also drawn to unique technologies. If everyone was shooting 360° videos, I wouldn't be as excited about it. But when I get the opportunity to try out cutting-edge technology, I embrace it."

What makes a strong image?

"A photographer who shot famous pictures of Marilyn Monroe was asked to shoot the actress Lindsay Lohan in exactly the same way, but he couldn't do it. Similarly, during my career, I realised good work should be almost impossible to copy, even when the same subject is being shot by the same photographer. So, for me, a strong image is one that cannot be replicated."

Do you plan to shoot more video in the future?

"Yes, I do. With advancing technology, shooting video has become easier and more enjoyable. In the past, when I directed commercials, I had limited creative opportunities due to the large crews involved. However, now, even on big projects, I can act as a solo filmmaker. Having more freedom to explore my creativity during shoots is a big advantage."

What do you aim to achieve in your work?

"I believe that uniqueness is what gives value to an image. When I shoot, I strive to communicate with the people I photograph and capture something different from what others have done. The photo must reflect the personality of the subject but also excite me. It has to be something unique that makes people stop and look at it."

One thing I know

Cem Talu

"To succeed as a photographer, you need patience and persistence. Once you establish yourself in the industry, you become an expert in your field, and that's where the fun begins. Along the way, you may get distracted by other things, but you must stay determined and find your own path. Nowadays, being a photographer isn't just about photography – you also need to be knowledgeable about video."

Instagram: @cemtalu

YouTube: @talucem

Cem Talu's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Cem Talu's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

Whether you shoot photos, video or a mixture of both, the EOS R5's uncompromising performance will revolutionise your creativity. Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20fps or flick a switch for cinematic 12-bit 8K RAW video. "This is my favourite camera for all the work I do – it's very capable in both photography and videography," says Cem.

Canon EOS R3

A camera that lets you photograph sport, wildlife and news like never before. Identify subjects just by looking at them and stay ahead of the competition with 30fps continuous shooting and advanced connectivity that lets you smash your deadline. "The EOS R3 has a tough, professional body and it's a very flexible camera," says Cem. "It's great in low light and has very good battery life."


Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets a new standard in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and remarkable low-light performance. "My favourite focal length for a shoot is 50mm and this lens is very sharp," says Cem. "For me, it's the perfect lens."

Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS

A lens that offers exceptional performance and reliability plus a special optical coating to elevate bokeh to a whole new dimension. "I love this lens, especially for headshots, as it really separates the subject from the background, while enabling you to get close enough to them to connect and communicate well," explains Cem. "This DS version of the lens gives a smooth background blur which is very pleasing."

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Canon's fastest ultra-wide-angle zoom and part of a trinity of essential pro lenses, boasting a Nano USM motor, 5-stops of image stabilisation plus three Aspherical and two UD elements for stunning sharpness. "This is a really flexible lens, great for shooting landscapes, and the sharpest lens of that focal length I've ever used," says Cem.

Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

This advanced L-series zoom features a very fast f/2 aperture and delivers exceptional image quality. "This is a zoom lens that behaves like a prime lens in terms of sharpness, bokeh, depth of field and low light performance," says Cem. "I use it for 90% of my work."

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

A super compact f/2.8 telephoto zoom that incorporates a 5-stop Image Stabilizer to ensure great handheld results. "This is a very small and light 70-200mm lens," says Cem. "It's a lifesaver if I want to shoot a model from a distance on the street without bothering other people."


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