Santi Palacios

A young man sitting on top of a pole is silhouetted against a cloud-streaked sky. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Canon Ambassador Santi Palacios.

Photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Santi Palacios has been developing On the Edge, a long-term project focusing on the migrant crisis, since 2013. A young man from sub-Saharan Africa sits on top of a pole set in a barbed-wire fence that divides Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 200mm, 1/800 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 200. © Santi Palacios

"Never become a photojournalist," says Santi Palacios, with a rueful laugh. "It's not a good idea, because it's a non-stop thing. Everything happens at the same time, and you can't be everywhere at once."

He's joking, of course. With a hugely varied body of photojournalistic work in his portfolio, Santi is clearly a great believer in the power of imagery to convey stories of global importance. Born in Madrid in 1985, his work since becoming a freelance photographer in 2004 has seen him focus on issues relating to conflict, migration and the environment. He has covered, to name a few, refugees crossing the Aegean Sea, the ongoing water crisis in Jakarta and, more recently, the invasion of Ukraine.

Santi is currently working on a project covering forest fires, specifically 'megafires' that burn many thousands of hectares, and this is one of the reasons he laments his inability to be everywhere at once. "You never know when fires are going to start," he says. "You can be waiting forever. So, you do other things – and then suddenly the fire happens."

This project isn't just about the flames, though, "It's about understanding the causes and consequences, which are complex," says Santi. "That means we are developing in-depth, long-term stories."

Location: Barcelona, Spain

Specialist areas: Photojournalism, photo essays, climate

Favourite kit:Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM)
A young man sitting on a metal pipe above the muddy waters of the Ciliwung River in Jakarta, Indonesia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV by Canon Ambassador Santi Palacios.

A young man sitting above the Ciliwung River which passes through the centre of Jakarta, Indonesia. Soil erosion and rising sea levels mean Jakarta is the fastest-sinking capital city in the world. Insufficient access to clean water, chronic flooding and the land subsidence results in extreme water pollution. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 35mm, 1/100 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 250. © Santi Palacios

This focus on taking the long view of the story is reflective of Santi's route into photojournalism, via sociology. "I'm really interested in trying to learn as much as I can about a topic," he says. "I think you only start really knowing about something when you are aware of what you don't know, and for that, you need to work on long-term projects. You must go deep."

Since the age of 10, Santi recalls, he had always loved taking pictures. "Back then, if you took pictures, it meant that you had a camera, that you knew how to use it and that you were interested in it," he says. "And I really, really liked it." However, it wasn't until Santi started studying sociology at the Complutense University of Madrid that he realised photography might be something he could do professionally. His sociological studies required him to take pictures while gathering data, and it quickly became the aspect of his studies he found most captivating.

Refugees and migrants wrapped in colourful blankets look out to sea from the back of a rescue boat. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Canon Ambassador Santi Palacios.

Refugees and migrants from Africa and Bangladesh rest aboard a ship heading to the Italian island of Lampedusa, after being rescued off the coast of Libya. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/8 sec, f/22 and ISO 200. © Santi Palacios

"I tried to improve what I was shooting, and the way I was shooting," he says. "I tried to learn how to work professionally. And then I realised that my work could have a bigger impact through photography and photojournalism and documentary, rather than just doing investigations that would usually remain in libraries and very few people would read."

Santi's commitment to taking the long view shines clearly in one of the projects of which he's most proud – On the Edge, an ongoing work focusing on international borders and migration that he has been undertaking for more than a decade.

In 2022, you photographed the massacre in Bucha, a city north-west of Kyiv, Ukraine. Can you tell us about that experience?

"The soldiers had only just left when I got in. More than 500 people had been killed during the occupation. We found corpses on the streets, inside cars, in gardens, houses. It was difficult, and it was a challenge to cover."

That must be hard for someone with a sociology background – to want to be able to digest things, in a situation where events are moving extremely rapidly and there just isn't time?

"Yes, there's a contradiction. People care most about things when they've just happened – breaking news is what gets attention. You need time to know and understand the details, and by then that attention is partially lost."

You are also Editor-in-Chief at Sonda Internacional, a non-profit media organisation focusing on climate. Is part of your mission to keep the climate crisis in the global conversation?

"That's one of the goals – but the main aim is to produce visual journalism on the climate crisis. We decided to create Sonda because we considered that in visual terms, we aren't seeing the consequences of the crisis. We read the investigations by scientists, we get a lot of information every day, but it's difficult to see the consequences because it's a gradual problem. That's our challenge – to create powerful visuals of the climate crisis."

So much of what you photograph is extremely hard-hitting, it must take a toll. How do you look after yourself mentally?

"It helps to believe that what you're doing is worth it. That the story you're working on is worth something. I would suffer a lot more if I were just a passive viewer, watching the situation and unable to do anything about it. It helps to feel that what I'm doing is worth the process."

One thing I know

Santi Palacios

"If you're working internationally, you need to speak languages. I speak English and Spanish, and I can deal with Catalan and French. I've felt stupid at times working in a place where I don't understand the language. If you're in a situation where you need your fixer [the person journalists hire when working in unfamiliar places] for everything, your work is nothing compared to what you can achieve in a place where you can deal with things by yourself. So, learn languages – as many as you can."



Santi Palacio's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Santi Palacio's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Santi previously shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, but these days he uses its successor. "I have two Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera bodies," he says. "I work with them because I really like the prime lenses – the 24mm, 35mm and 50mm."


Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM

The widest of Santi's trifecta of primes, the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM has a large f/1.4 maximum aperture that enables Santi to continue shooting handheld when the light gets low, which is critical as he usually doesn't have time to set up a tripod. "I need to be very light," he says. "I need a small and accessible camera and lens setup so I can easily move around."

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is a popular reportage lens, providing a more naturalistic perspective. Santi describes these primes as "luminous" for their ability to simply drink in light when required.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

When light levels get low, the extra stop of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM can come in very handy. Santi appreciates this lens at his favourite times to shoot – the very beginning and end of the day. "I really like working in the first and last minutes of light," he says. "Obviously I have to shoot all day if something's going on, but if I can, I always choose to work in extreme light."

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

The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM standard zoom is perfect for Santi when he needs to be flexible. "The EF 24-70mm is an amazing lens," Santi says. "It's very versatile. I often work during rescue operations, when I can't choose where to stand and things are happening all over the place. In those situations, if it's not nighttime, I'm using the 24-70mm."

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

This telephoto zoom has a constant maximum aperture and maintains exceptional image quality even when pushed to the limit of its telephoto reach, making it useful in situations where Santi can't get too close to a subject.

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