Phill Magakoe

An overjoyed Zimbabwean man celebrates surrounded by a flag-waving crowd.

Taken by Canon Ambassador Phill Magakoe in November 2017, this jubilant image captures Zimbabwean nationals living in Pretoria, South Africa, celebrating the resignation of President Robert Mugabe in 2017, effectively ending his 37-year rule. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X (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 24mm, 1/100 sec, f/4 and ISO4000. © Phill Magakoe

South African township-born photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Phill Magakoe has a talent for getting to the heart of a story with compelling images. His work, which has featured in publications such as Le Monde, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail and The Washington Post, has helped catapult Africa's events onto the world stage.

Phill says his passion for photography began at university, when he witnessed the transformation that comes with processing film. "As a first year Economic Analysis student, I started to spend more time in the Arts faculty with a friend who was studying photography," he remembers. "One of the lecturers noticed my constant presence there and lent me his old film camera to use at home for the weekend. Afterwards, when processing that film and witnessing a picture developing on photographic paper, I was captivated by the process. I never put the camera down again."

Phill saw his career begin to take shape when he decided to volunteer as a junior photojournalist at Pretoria News, a major regional publication in one of South Africa's three capital cities. His efforts were recognised and he was given a full-time job in the photography department.

After more than a decade working permanently for a newspaper group, Phill now contributes to local and international news agencies. These have included South African photo agency Gallo Images, as well as Reuters and AP Photo. Nowadays, he carries out the bulk of his work for French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Location: Pretoria, South Africa
Specialist area: Photojournalism
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS-1D X (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III)
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM)
Men carrying bags of rice from a helicopter that has landed in a grassy field.

Residents of Nyamatande Village in Mozambique collect bags of rice delivered by a South African Air Force helicopter following the devastating Cyclone Idai in 2019. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens at 24mm, 1/1250 sec, f/5.6 and ISO250. © Phill Magakoe

"My career has evolved to a point where I work with news agencies, which has broadened the reach of my photos as they get published across the world," Phill says. "This has always been an ambition for me as I like to tell our local stories to a wider audience."

Phill's ability to be on the frontline of the action has made him a valuable asset. He has covered a range of stories, including the aftermath of natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, the famine in Somalia, the Libyan civil war, the funeral of Nelson Mandela, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, national elections and major sporting events.

Paramedics push an ambulance trolley carrying a patient in a clear isolation tube, followed by a woman in a mask.

Paramedics from the City of Tshwane's Special Infection Unit are followed by a family member as they transport a man in an isolation chamber from his home, north of Pretoria, South Africa, in January 2021. The patient was showing symptoms of Covid-19. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 2-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/800 sec, f/5.6 and ISO160. © Phill Magakoe

While covering the unfolding repercussions of Covid-19 in South Africa, Phill saw a unique side of photojournalism that has made him learn more about himself. "Covering the pandemic had major health risks and I have learnt that I am braver than I thought. I have photographed events at health facilities, funerals and public places where one could easily contract the virus," he says.

However, photographing significant moments and seeing how those pictures instigate positive change can be one of the best facets of the job, Phill explains. "The most rewarding part is when my work makes an impact in struggling communities, when help arrives due to the stories and photographs that I've worked on," he says. "For example, the government and private sector often intervene in various situations faced by rural communities in South Africa after they have seen the coverage in the media."

What's one of the toughest things about being a photojournalist in South Africa?
"The increasingly negative attitude towards the media in some communities that experience service delivery challenges from their local governments. Covering the protests and strikes in those areas has become increasingly unsafe as those communities mistrust the press."

And the most rewarding thing?
"The main reward is that my work at times makes a difference to people's lives, especially in poor and neglected communities. Governments and organisations sometimes react after seeing media coverage of issues affecting communities."

What's the most valuable advice anyone has ever given you?
"Accomplished photojournalist Themba Hadebe of the Associated Press told me that 'no picture is worth your life'. This is the advice that I also give younger aspiring photojournalists."

What items are most essential to you when in the field?
"My kitbag, laptop, vehicle, teargas mask and water."

How do you make sure you're in the right place at the right time?
"Pre-visualising, punctuality, prior research and knowledge of the subject, or areas where I will be on assignment, are key for me."

One thing I know

Phill Magakoe

"Being humble and respectful towards your subjects allows them to open up and reveal their innermost feelings and emotions. This allows me to tell their story as authentically as possible, regardless of which part of the world the story is in."

Instagram: @phillmagakoe

Phill Magakoe's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

A beautifully engineered and thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "This camera offers great low-light shooting, durability and affordability," says Phill.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The latest model in the EOS-1D X series is the ultimate creative toolkit, with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K RAW video. Phill says: "An inexpensive older generation model, the EOS-1D X allows me the flexibility to cover both action sports and hard news events. It's built to last forever."


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

The successor to the 24-70mm f/2.8L that Phill favours has a reputation among professional photographers as being the go-to zoom lens. "A fast lens that doesn't limit my shooting as it allows me to explore other forms of photography such as portraiture and sometimes weddings," says Phill.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

The successor to the lens that Phill uses is a portable telephoto zoom that delivers professional performance, with 5-stop IS and fast USM focusing. "Durable and affordable, this is a lightweight lens that allows me to focus on a specific area in my pictures," explains Phill.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

Favoured by many, this new version of the classic wide zoom offers stunning sharpness throughout the zoom range. "Because the 16-35mm is ultra wide, it works well for me when I find myself in tight corners and photographing large groups of people," says Phill.


Canon WFT-E9B Wireless File Transmitter

The successor to the WFT-E6B that Phill uses is a high-speed wireless file transmitter for EOS-1D X Mark III and EOS C500 Mark II cameras. "One of my favourite pieces of equipment," explains Phill. "It allows me to immediately transfer images to my picture editor and that is key when photographing sporting events and breaking news."

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