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Learning on the job: Emirkan Cörüt on combining work and studies

The young Canon Ambassador has achieved a great deal in a short time – here he explains how he's built a career as a photojournalist while still at university, and why pursuing what he loves has been the key to his success.
A top-down shot showing several rows of white helmeted police officers blocking the path of a group of protesters carrying purple and pink banners.

Turkish photojournalist Emirkan Cörüt specialises in shooting stories about Istanbul, his home city. In this top-down shot taken in 2019, police clash with feminist activists during a night march through the city's streets for International Women's Day. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/500 sec, f/2.8 and ISO8000. © Emirkan Cörüt

He may be only 20 years old, but photojournalist Emirkan Cörüt is already making swift headway in his photographic career. The Turkish born Canon Ambassador received his first commission from Beyond Istanbul magazine aged just 18 and is the youngest member of the Middle East Images (MEI) photo agency. His shot of a rally held by would-be Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu prior to the mayoral election in 2019 also won him an Ara Güler Encouragement Award from the Turkey Photojournalists Association.

Despite his considerable achievements as a working photographer, Emirkan has continued his photography studies at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul and counts his degree as an integral step in his professional journey. "Studying photography at university is one of the most serious decisions I have made – and focusing on photography is an important step in dedicating my life to it," he says. "It enables me to work from different perspectives and approaches, and to constantly question."

His raw talent, combined with that ability to ask those difficult questions, has led to Emirkan covering a variety of stories about Istanbul for MEI, from natural disasters and political protests to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here, he explains how he has managed to achieve so much at such a young age, and offers advice for aspiring photojournalists on how they might emulate his success.
Four medical professionals wearing masks, plastic hats and blue plastic overalls stand outside a hospital.

A minute's silence is observed in front of the Istanbul Faculty of Medicine (ÇAPA) in Turkey, during a commemoration on 2 April 2020 for Professor Cemil Taşcıoğlu, the country's first medical professional to die from Covid-19. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/320 sec, f/8 and ISO250. © Emirkan Cörüt

How did you secure your first commission and become a member of MEI so early on in your career?

"I started working for MEI during the Covid-19 pandemic, documenting daily life during the global emergency and the disinfection of Istanbul. Before that, I was working as a freelance photojournalist. I followed the socio-political agenda of my country, photographing events and then sharing my photos on social media. After a while, my social media account became a display of my professional ability. From this came my first dialogue with Hossein Fatemi, MEI's current manager. Soon I was the youngest member of MEI.
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"My advice is to follow the topical events in the region you live in and take pictures. Share the photos you take, which can be through your own social media account, and do not hesitate to talk to other photojournalists in the region where you work. Thanks to MEI I have learned many things, including how to prepare captions, how the photographs are edited and presented, and how a professional photo agency works."
Amid a large, flag-waving crowd, a woman wearing a headscarf and a bright purple top shouts and holds her arms aloft.

A women's rights activist shouts slogans during protests in the Bayrampaşa district of Istanbul on International Workers' Day in May 2019. The group was just one of many protesting that day. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/4000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO100. © Emirkan Cörüt

How did you become a Canon Ambassador?

"I won a competition on social media. Our dialogue continued and, unexpectedly, I got a call to be nominated. I couldn't believe it – it was a great honour to take part in the same programme as many photographers whose work I follow. I am grateful for the trust and support Canon has placed in me at this young age."

Why do you think you have had such a successful start to your career?

"I pursued what I loved and wanted to do, and I moved forward using my ambition as my motivation. I had faith in my own photography from the very beginning. I believe that what brings success is being passionate and working with a strong focus. I am at the beginning of my career, and I believe that more is possible as long as I keep asking questions, work hard, and maintain a sincere approach to photography, staying true to my style and ethics."
Two young men can be seen in the distance repairing the roof of a dilapidated building. In the foreground is another equally broken-down building.

Two immigrants in Istanbul's Süleymaniye area repair the roof of a dilapidated building that is now their home. The structure was damaged by heavy rainfall in February 2018. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/500 sec, f/10 and ISO1200. © Emirkan Cörüt

What have you learnt at university that has helped you at work? How do you balance the practical and the theoretical?

"While university was improving my technique, I've realised that technique isn't everything. The first two years of school are dominated by theory, whereas the final two are dominated by practice, but it is important to remember that – in reality – the two are never disconnected. A photographer creates the narrative of a story using technique, but using the wrong technique can obscure the story, so the two do not exist in isolation from one another.

"University prepares us for the scenarios we will encounter in different branches of photography, while the assignments allow us to make a wide portfolio. Our portfolios and our communication skills enable us to get a paid job."
What did you do as a student to advance your career and find your own style?

"When I first started, I was very impatient to form a style of my own. I aimed to try as many things as I could and analysed every aspect of my photos. Now, I see that my style is related to my own character. My approach to photography and my character determines the photos I take, and this has naturally created my style over time.

"­I think you have to have a sincere approach to photography – staying true to your own ethics. That provides me with space and freedom because I can always produce work that reflects who I am, even when I'm experimenting."
A selection of student portfolio images laid out on a table.

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The legs of a young woman lying on concrete. She is wearing green trousers and white trainers and her right foot is resting on a black flag.

The legs of a woman detained in July 2020 for a gathering in the cosmopolitan Kadıköy district of Istanbul to commemorate the Suruç massacre – a bomb blast in July 2015, thought to be perpetrated by the Islamic State Group, which killed at least 30 young Turkish activists. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/400 sec, f/8 and ISO2500. © Emirkan Cörüt

What kit do you use and how are you building your kitbag?

"I recently switched to the mirrorless Canon EOS R5, which has impressive clarity and can handle various scenarios. Its sharpness settings enable me to work much more safely and comfortably in tasks where events occur instantly and rapidly such as protests and celebrations. It's also impossible to miss a thing with the fast 20fps.

"I also use the Canon EOS 6D Mark II and having a full-frame sensor coupled with a vari-angle screen allows me to effortlessly capture different perspectives. Thanks to the full-frame sensor of the EOS 6D Mark II and its performance at high ISO values, it has never disappointed me – both in my school projects and in my professional work. I usually work in light conditions that I cannot control, and the ISO sensitivity of the camera has an important place for me when trying to keep a wide depth of field. In times of long working hours such as natural disasters, the lightweight body also allows me to use my energy more efficiently.

"My kitbag varies according to the distance I travel and the time that I will spend there. It also includes the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM, Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM and Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lenses.

"I usually go with the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM in areas where it is difficult to predict what will happen, such as demonstrations. In more predictable situations, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM is permanently attached to my camera. I work with a fixed manual focus in every area where I can predict the flow and work comfortably. Compared to a zoom lens, always knowing the distance from the subject makes it easier for me to work."
A black-and-white image of a man wearing a mask walking past a brightly lit but empty takeaway restaurant.

A man wearing a mask walks past an open but empty takeaway restaurant. The residential neighbourhood of Kadıköy is usually one of Istanbul's most crowded areas but the streets were virtually deserted when this photograph was taken in March 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/640 sec, f/7.1 and ISO5000. © Emirkan Cörüt

How do you balance work and studies?

"This balance becomes easier over time. In the first year of university, I gave priority to my education but, over time, a balance was formed with work, and they began to progress together. At times, my work has even turned into my homework and there may be times when it overlaps. I try to plan the path that will ensure the least compromises from both sides and act accordingly."

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other aspiring photojournalists?

"There is no need to wait for an assignment – practise in the field as much as you can so that you can improve. Knowing how to understand an event and learning how to question will strengthen your relationship with whatever situation you're in, and increase the quality of your work."

Shkruar nga Lorna Dockerill


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