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Inspired By: Jimmy Nelson

11 February, 2021

Jimmy Nelson is one of the most celebrated photojournalists this country has ever produced, and today we’re going to take a look at his career so that you can learn the value of taking on a big photography project.  

Born in Kent but raised in South America, Asia and Africa, Jimmy’s formative years were spent surrounded by indigenous cultures, and it was this that fuelled his lifelong interest in preserving these tribes. As a photojournalist, Jimmy soon realised that he had a chance to make a difference to the future of these people, which led to his famed projects.

The Nelson projects

Before They Pass Away was the 2009 project that went into print in 2013 and made Jimmy Nelson famous – a project that led him to cross the whole world with a 50 year old camera and a desire to photograph 35 indigenous tribes for posterity.

His portraits were not without opposition, but his overriding intent was to highlight the tragic loss of traditional tribal life and show these proud people with dignity.

Jimmy’s methods

Jimmy’s decision to use an ancient 4x5 plate camera for this project adds a certain timeless quality to the posed portraits we find in his book, but that’s only part of it. Working closely with translators, he manages to capture the strength and vulnerability of these indigenous cultures and tell incredible stories with his work.  

It was his desire to create iconic and romantic images that evoke a sense of both wonder and respect in the viewer, and to remind us that there are many different ways to live harmoniously with the planet.  

What you can learn from Jimmy

As with any project, it’s important to have a clear goal, but be willing to adapt as you go along because a good project often happens relatively organically.  

If you look through Jimmy’s work it’s clear that his style is consistent through each project, so consider this before starting to shoot. Work on either a method that you can use anywhere (off-camera flash or natural light), or bring your subjects to you so that you can shoot in a controlled environment. 

Jimmy Nelson is a fantastic source of inspiration to us, and we think that studying his work will improve your photography and ensure that your projects take on a whole new lease of life.

11 February, 2021


frame next to a house plant
framed photo by the bedside
framed landscape painting on the wall
framed picture next to a quill
holding a framed painting