Ilvy Njiokiktjien

A young boy posing with a mask in an IDP camp in South Sudan.

A young boy poses with a mask in the IDP camp in Wau, Western Bahr-el-Gazal, South Sudan for Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien. 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 II USM lens at 1/4000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO400. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

A much-lauded Dutch documentary photographer, Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien has worked all over the world, taking photographs for major global publishers and NGOs.

After leaving school in the Netherlands, Ilvy spent a year studying in the United States, before returning home to study journalism and photography. She bought her first camera in 2002, and just four years later won her first photographic award. The prize was a Canon EOS-1D, and from that point her course was set.

In 2011, Ilvy received the Canon Female Photojournalist Award at Visa pour l'Image in Perpignan – and that prize came with a grant to complete her project Afrikaner Blood, which depicted right-wing youth camps organised during school holidays by the Kommandokorps in South Africa, teaching combat skills and apartheid-era attitudes to white Afrikaner teenagers. This series was part of her long-term project Born Free, about youth growing up around the end of apartheid.

Afrikaner Blood won Ilvy a World Press Photo Contest award in 2012, in the Contemporary Issues category, as well as receiving both a Zilveren Camera award and an Award of Excellence in the Feature category of the Pictures of the Year International award 2012 (POYi). The multimedia presentation on the same subject, made with videographer Elles van Gelder, won a POYi first place in the Issue Reporting Multimedia section and first place at the 2012 World Press Photo Multimedia Contest.

Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien with her Canon camera.

Location: The Netherlands

Specialist areas: Photojournalism, portraiture, news

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
South African police hold back a crowd of shouting people.

Police officers hold back people hoping to see former South African President Nelson Mandela lying in state at Pretoria's Union State Building. Some attendees waited for more than 15 hours for the opportunity to view the body. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/320 sec, f/4 and ISO500. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

A total of 287 multimedia productions from 48 countries were entered in the World Press Photo Multimedia Contest, with chair of the jury, Vincent Laforet, commenting that "the jury appreciated the restraint that the authors demonstrated in the telling of this story. All of the multimedia elements and careful attention to detail served to push the narrative forward, as opposed to distracting from it."

Ilvy's work has since appeared in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and The Guardian. She also works with NGOs, including UNICEF, and her images have been displayed in a number of museums, as well as at Visa pour l'Image festival of photojournalism in 2012. In 2013, Ilvy was named Photographer of the Nation in the Netherlands and, in 2017, became a member of the prestigious VII photo agency.

A young black woman is helped into boxing gloves by her coach, while a group of young men watch on.

Homeless 16-year-old Gelvin Samanta is helped into boxing gloves in Kinshasa, the capital and largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "The boxing school in the centre of Kinshasa teaches homeless women how to defend themselves on the streets," says Ilvy. "The school only owns two pair of gloves. This pair consists of two right-hand gloves." Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) at 1/64 sec, f/4.5 and ISO400. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Despite the accolades and recognition from her peers, one of the achievements Ilvy is most proud of is earning the trust of the people who allow her into their communities to record their lives in detail. It's this passion for people and the opportunity to tell interesting stories that led her to photograph the extreme right Kommandokorps organisation in South Africa. Not sharing their beliefs but determined to portray the people involved in a fair way, she still considers this the hardest story she's told.

Ilvy regularly delivers lectures and workshops on documentary photography, and when she's not travelling the world she works out of a converted cell in a former prison in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

WARNING: this gallery includes images that some readers may find disturbing.

How do you gain the acceptance of people whose situations you are documenting?

"For most images I take the time to sit down with people and talk. It's important to get to know someone, to understand the challenges they're dealing with. Even if someone has opposing views to me, I try to be tolerant. I think people realise this quickly and trust that I'll be objective."

How do you deal with someone objecting to their picture being taken?

"This happens quite a lot, especially now people are aware of the impact of social media. Very occasionally people react aggressively; usually I try to diffuse the situation by explaining to them what I'm doing. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. I always stay calm, as I don't want things to get out of hand."

Do you take certain gear with you for specific stories, or are you ready for anything?

"I always take everything with me. I never travel with only a selection of my gear, because I never know if I'll be travelling from one assignment to the other."

What are people most surprised by when you tell them what you do for a living?

"I think many people think I spend most of my time taking pictures, but unfortunately a lot of time goes into organising things. I spend quite a lot of time behind my computer, not only organising new projects but also spending quite some time on admin, grant applications and so on."

What has been the greatest obstacle that you've faced in your career?

"The biggest challenge was the bad start I had in journalism school. The teacher was sick the full year and I never had a proper education. This gave me a lack of self confidence when I got out into the real photojournalism world. It took me several internships and many more years to gain trust in myself and realise that I could actually 'make it' as a photographer."

One thing I know

Ilvy Njiokiktjien

"Incorporating video and photography into a multimedia presentation at the same time requires a different mindset. There's definitely a requirement for more planning when you need to shoot both because [if you're working with someone else] you don't want to be in each other's way too much when you're shooting on the day."

Facebook: @ilvynjio

Instagram: @ilvynjio

Twitter: @ilvynjio


Ilvy Njiokiktjien's's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20fps, or cinematic 12-bit 8K RAW video using the entire width of the camera's sensor. "This camera has literally changed my day-to-day job as a photographer," says Ilvy. "I have truly become a better storyteller now that I am working with the EOS R5. I am quicker, and because it focuses so crazy fast, I have more time to spend connecting with people rather than being busy adjusting settings. It is an amazing extension of all the great lenses and other gear I am already working with."

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR captures incredible detail, even in extreme contrast. Continuous 7fps shooting helps when chasing the perfect moment. "The pictures with the EOS 5D Mark IV are so crisp – it's just really my camera," says Ilvy.


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

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. Ilvy says: "The quality of that lens is so good, it's been mounted on my camera ever since I got it. This zoom has it all: it's sharp, quick and light!"

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

A professional grade wide-angle lens with a natural perspective, an f/1.4 aperture and low light capabilities. "I first bought this lens while on assignment in South Africa. It is super sharp and I just love the frame of the 35mm," says Ilvy.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Professional L-series, f/1.2 aperture USM lens for low light and extreme depth of field control. Thanks to its Image Stabilizer, this lens delivers superb natural results in low light conditions and is fast and accurate.


Speedlite 600EX II-RT

The latest version of the Canon Speedlite 580EX that Ilvy favours enables you to take complete control in even the most demanding situations. "I hardly ever use flash," explains Ilvy, "I like to use natural light. But on rare occasions I can't get away with it, and then I use this flash unit."

Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

A range of adapters that enable EF-S and EF lenses to be used on EOS R cameras seamlessly; one adds a lens control ring that makes it easy to get even more from your existing lenses.


"For captions and names I like to write things down in my phone, but sometimes I don't feel safe enough to take out my phone; in those cases I write things down," says Ilvy. "I also like making to-do lists while on assignment."

SD cards

"Even though I now use 128GB cards, I still carry around my old 8GB and 16GB cards just in case I ever need them, or if a card fails," explains Ilvy.


Ilvy says: "I bought this about eight years ago – it has been amazing. For just a few lenses, a phone, a notebook and so on, the belt is the best for me. You have your gear close to you."

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