After 31 years of travelling the globe capturing its landscapes and cultures, British photographer Jimmy Nelson has picked up a lifetime of wisdom on the discipline. Acclaimed for his iconic National Geographic cover image ‘Afghan Girl’ and his landmark work Before They Pass Away, Nelson teamed up with COOPH to share his lessons learned from photography – which we’ve summarised below.


  • Humour – Laughter is an international language. Whether you’re laughing with your subjects or being laughed at, let the humour of the situation break down any barriers.
  • Knowledge – Do your research. By knowing where you are and what you’re looking for, it’ll be that much easier to capture the decisive moment.
  • Vulnerability – Don’t be afraid to let down your guard. Connecting with your subject in unexpected ways can make for incredible moments and connections you might not otherwise experience.
  • Respect – Be humble. A subject that knows you appreciate and respect them will be much more willing to work with you, in even the toughest of situations.
  • Judgment – Judgment is a powerful thing, but “the truth is different from what the eye beholds.” If you never look deeper than surface level, you obscure the true narrative of your subject..
  • Reflection – Reflect on your work. Reflect on your experience. By better understanding who you are as a photographer and what it is you want to do with your images, the better the final result will be.

Photo by Jimmy Nelson