Gabriele Galimberti

A bearded man in a full-length wetsuit holding a surfboard under his arm. He is standing next to an expanse of freezing water.

This image of 33-year-old Michael from Homer, Alaska, is from Canon Ambassador Gabriele Galimberti's CouchSurfing series. The photographer travelled to five continents over the course of two years, meeting and staying with locals. "There are two things you have to know," says Gabriele. "First, there are waves in Alaska. Second, there are men – extraordinary men – who surf those waves. Michael is one of them." Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X 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 35mm, 1/60 sec, f/10 and ISO160. © Gabriele Galimberti

Italian photographer and Canon Ambassador Gabriele Galimberti is fascinated by people and the way they live. His distinctive documentary images, shot in dozens of countries worldwide, reveal not only the many variations between people of different cultures, but also how much we have in common.

"Around 90% of my photos are portraits, done from a documentary point of view," says Gabriele. "Basically, I like to meet people, spend time with them and photograph normal, everyday life. I go into people's houses and see what they do, find out about their habits and what they collect. That's what I enjoy the most."

Born and raised in Val di Chiana, a rural region in central Italy, Gabriele began taking photographs at the age of 14, when his father gave him his old Canon AE-1. Initially, he used the camera to photograph fellow members of the rock band he played in, but soon began using the images to create comic-like stories with speech bubbles.

After school he trained to be a surveyor, but realised he really wanted to be a photographer. He studied photography at the Fondazione Studio Marangoni in Florence, and then worked as a fashion and commercial photographer in Milan. "Doing that work was cool because I learned a lot about lighting," says Gabriele, "but my real ambition was to become a documentary photographer."

Canon Ambassador and documentary photographer Gabriele Galimberti.

Location: Milan, Italy
Specialist areas: Documentary
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS R5
Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM

In 2005, love took him to live in Texas in the United States, where he started shooting documentary stories and selling them to Italian magazines. Then he began a period of travelling through China, India and Brazil, which led to his first big project, CouchSurfing, in which he travelled to 58 countries and photographed his numerous hosts going about their daily lives.

"It was really challenging," says Gabriele. "It was my first big project and involved two years of travel by myself, going everywhere from Alaska to Panama, Egypt to Botswana, and dealing with different languages and cultures. But in the end, it was an amazing experience. Thanks to that project, I got a lot of exposure and it ultimately led to me working for international magazines." Since 2015, Gabriele has been shooting his stories for National Geographic.

A smiling four-year-old boy sits in a large brown armchair surrounded by miniature toy cars.

Gabriele started his Toy Stories series three years ago and during that time he has visited more than 50 countries. He aims to record "the spontaneous and natural joy that unites kids, despite their diverse backgrounds". In this image, Ralf, 4, from Riga, Latvia, shows off his miniature car collection. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 24mm, 1/160 sec, f/11 and ISO320. © Gabriele Galimberti

A smiling three-year-old girl proudly shows off her favourite toys including two large teddy bears.

Three-year-old Cun Zi Yi from Chongqing, China, stands beaming behind her eclectic mix of toys. "Whether the child owns a veritable fleet of miniature cars or a single stuffed monkey, the pride that they have is moving, funny and thought-provoking," says Gabriele. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 34mm, 1/80 sec, f/9 and ISO100. © Gabriele Galimberti

Since CouchSurfing, many more long-term projects have followed, on subjects including children and their toys, people and their pharmaceuticals, fatherhood, tax havens and Covid-19. Some were shot using his Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, which he used for six years, while others were shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and recently a Canon EOS R5, which he loves for its light weight, EVF and fast autofocus. So far, he has published four books of his work.

"Apart from the tax haven project, which is a bit different from my usual work, all the rest are stories of normal life," says Gabriele. "I like to photograph things we all do, but always try to find something special."

On the left, a smiling woman stands in a kitchen with ingredients for a pasta meal laid out on the table in front of her; on the right, the finished dish.

Gabriele's grandmother, Marisa, 82, prepares a family favourite: Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli with meat sauce. When Gabriele left Italy to photography his CouchSurfing Series, his grandmother's only concern was who would feed him. So Gabriele invited grandmothers from around the world to cook him their favourite dish, which he then photographed for his In Her Kitchen series. "I came back with a cookery book of recipes that mix love, photography and travel among the many other exotic ingredients," says Gabriele. Taken on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 25mm, 1/50 sec, f/10 and ISO200. © Gabriele Galimberti

Gabriele's ideas for stories are often found close to home. "Most have been suggested by my friends, my family, or things that happen around me," he continues. "After that, I have to go to the other side of the world to take the photos, but everything starts from my house and surroundings. So the lesson is, don't always look at the other side of the planet for story ideas; good stories are everywhere."

After honing his ideas through years of experience, Gabriele has found his own unique way of shooting documentary stories. In his meticulously arranged, revealing and sometimes humorous images, he gives a fascinating and perceptive insight into human nature and the way we live today.

All of your images seem to be very carefully arranged, why is that?
"Yes, I love details and sometimes I need five or six hours to take one photo. In one project I worked on, there were a few photos that took a whole day to shoot. Everything you see is real, but the picture is really pushed to the limit of reality sometimes. I don't do a lot of post-production but I do a lot of pre-production."

How do you find the ideal subjects for your photographs?
"For my first big project, CouchSurfing, I found all the people through the website. I then found subjects for two other projects via the couchsurfers I met. For all my other projects, I have usually found people after doing a lot of research on the internet, using Instagram, Facebook and other social platforms. Sometimes I write a post on my social channels asking for help. It's a sort of virtual casting."

What's your process for getting to know your subjects before a shoot?
"I like to sit down with them to drink a beer, talk and make some jokes, because I need to know something about a person before I'm able to take their portrait. I need to have some elements or clues about them, so I can put those things in the picture. After a while, when we feel comfortable together, I start taking photos."

How do you light your subjects?
"Most of the time, I combine natural light with flash light. I almost never shoot with completely natural light; I carry six or seven Speedlites in my backpack and 90% of the time I use at least one of them. I sometimes supplement the flash light with small LEDs."

One thing I know

Gabriele Galimberti

"To become a documentary photographer, you need a lot of patience and curiosity, and the energy to keep going on a project over a long period. It's a job you can learn through experience. Of course, you have to be passionate about it and have something inside you that pushes you on, but step by step, you can learn to recognise what's needed to create a good story and how to build them. The advice I'd give young documentary photographers just starting out is to trust in what you want to do, never give up, be curious and look around you."

Instagram: @gabrielegalimbertiphoto


Gabriele Galimberti's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Gabriele Galimberti's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

The EOS R5's uncompromising performance will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking. "It's super-light, which is great because I don't want a heavy backpack," says Gabriele. "The EVF is really beautiful; the image you see through the viewfinder is not like a screen, it looks real. And the autofocus is amazingly fast."

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. Gabriele says: "I have used the 5D Mark IV during the past few years because it is very reliable, fast and versatile. It's very well built and resistant to all the demands of my travels."


Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM

A versatile, high-quality 35mm lens that's ideal for street, travel and close-up photography. "This is my favourite lens for the work I do because I really like the focal length, the perspective that length gives to images and the fineness of the details," says Gabriele. "If I'm shooting with my camera on a tripod, I like to use a fixed lens to limit my framing so I don't get distracted by the approach and the distance, which I often do when I have a zoom."

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness and extra creative control. Gabriele says: "I enjoy using the RF 50mm because it has an amazing sharpness and fineness of detail. I mainly use it for close-up portraits."

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

The RF 24-70mm boasts a fast aperture and image stabilisation plus a Nano USM motor for silent focusing. "I use a zoom lens if I'm taking photos of something that's moving, so it gives me the flexibility to frame as I want. The RF 24-70mm is a great lens because it has an amazing quality and a compact design," says Gabriele.


Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The Speedlite 600EX II-RT is engineered for fast frame rate shooting, and performs in the most demanding situations. Gabriele says: "I especially like using this flashgun because it's powerful but small. It's also really fast and has a good battery life."

Diffusers and lighting kit

"My kitbag also includes diffusers and other lighting modifiers to control flash brightness, plus some small LED lights for situations when I need them," says Gabriele.

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