UPDATE: I've thoroughly enjoyed answering all your questions. I still can't believe how quickly time has just flown by... Now I fully understand how easy it is to unintentionally sit in front of Reddit for over 14 hours in one go. My eyes are square right now.

If you have stumbled across this thread in the distant future and you would like to ask me something, just click on my Facebook page HERE: http://www.facebook.com/timothy.allen ...and ask away. Lots of people ask questions that way and I normally get back to everyone in the end.

Good luck with all your photography projects.


Hello everyone. I am Timothy Allen and I am a travel photographer. By that, I mean that I am a photographer who travels for a living. I started my career at The Independent newspaper in London. My last project involved spending 2 years traveling with BBC film crews during the production of 'Human Planet'. I have spent a fair bit of the last 20 years on the road, visiting over 50 countries. Whenever I have the choice, I travel as a backpacker. I am 40 years old.

Here's proof of my identity: http://www.facebook.com/timothy.allen/posts/191957054208780

or: http://timothyallen.blogs.bbcearth.com/2010/11/01/the-end-is-nigh/comment-page-2/#comment-7074

Here's my personal website: http://humanplanet.com

Here is a BBC slideshow with a voiceover about 'Human Planet' : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12618167

Here's my BBC website: http://timothyallen.blogs.bbcearth.com/

Thank you.

Comments: 1094 • Responses: 69  • Date: 

CrispyLiberal363 karma

I have about 500 BBC documentaries. People can say what they want about the Brits, but while you guys are making this amazing work, the dumb shits over here in the US are more concerned with the next season of jersey shore.

Thank you for your work.

timothyphoto86 karma

You've never heard of "The Only Way is Essex"? That won a BAFTA in the UK.

kitspark248 karma

What's been your biggest "I can't believe I just missed getting a picture of that!" moment?

timothyphoto300 karma

During my time as a photographer at the Independent, I was driving along Tavistock Square in London 10 minutes before the 7/7 bomb attacks.. on my way to shoot a rather boring and non-descript portrait job. I heard the blast but just carried on going. It didn't register in my mind as a bomb blast for some reason. By the time I got the call from the office, the police had put a huge cordon around the area and I ended up shooting nothing. When you're a jobbing news photographer, you dream of encountering moments like that. I have very different sentiments now.

Karanime58 karma

Damn, dude. I'm sorry.

This is why I don't ever want to be a photographer. Just missing so many perfect moments would drive me insane.

timothyphoto4 karma

No need to be sorry, I don't regret missing it and I don't think I would be proud of the pictures now. I'm a different person.

cgsawtell139 karma

Do you use photoshop much?

timothyphoto252 karma

Yes. I shoot my images with photoshop in mind. Digital cameras tend create a 'flat' image IME, and I shoot images with a view to making them much more 'punchy' in photoshop. Being proficient at Photoshop is a very important aspect of digital photography IMO.

mattimeo_78 karma

Firstly, I was at your talk at BBC Media Centre a few months ago and it was brilliant - thanks again!

Secondly, with regard to what you said above, I am very much an advocate of using post-processing as little as possible, mainly to 'rescue' otherwise ruined photos rather than to enhance my work generally. Two questions.

1) In a very idealistic sense, do you think PP detracts from the 'essence' of photography, making the art less about taking photos and more about sitting in front of a computer?

2) For someone who has no idea whatsoever of who to use Photoshop but who'd like to learn, where and how would you suggest starting/learning?

timothyphoto138 karma

1 - No, I don't. When I shot with film we did a lot of post processing in the dark room and that is essentially what I get to do now, just with much more exactness. I never use Photoshop to 'rescue' an image as you say (from being under or over exposed). IMO You can't rescue an image at a certain level. If it needs rescuing then it's not going to be in my edit... I didn't nail it... It's a badly exposed picture. Maybe when I was a news photographer and it was a really important moment, but not in the kind of work I do now.

If you over process an image then I think it becomes something else, but everyone can spot an over-processed image and we normally don't like them... they just look wrong. I just judged a photo contest and we were told not to differentiate between composite images and raw images. I think that's wrong. Each one involves different skills. I don't think you can judge the end product on the same grounds.

2 - Trial and error IMO. Shoot a hell of a lot of pics.... I learnt from experience.

jeremiahwarren58 karma

Thank you for being a photographer that admits that you really have to post process to get an image to pop (in most cases). I get irritated with people that are all "herp derp I don't use Photoshop it isn't real photography".

EDIT: This is the first picture I did work on that made me realize how much better an image looks after some adjustment. It was a flat boring gray before I did selective curves adjustment.

timothyphoto91 karma

That's over-shopped IMO.

jeremiahwarren17 karma

Ah, ok. :-P

What would you consider an OK shop?

timothyphoto32 karma

It's the halo between the sky and ground that spoils it for me. It just doesn't look realistic. If you adjusted it in PS with a bit more precision I think you could lose that artefact and improve the pic no end.

Karanime15 karma

But only to make the photos higher quality, right? Like you'll do composite shots and stuff and put them together in Photoshop, instead of using it to add/subtract pieces of the image?

timothyphoto44 karma

Composite shots are something different. I don't consider that as photoshopping in the traditional sense. That's creating something new as part of an ongoing creative process. We're talking about dodging/burning etc.

NSI122 karma

What was the most frightening experience you've had as a photographer? Why did it scare you so much?

Also, This is one of the most interesting IAmA posts I have seen thus far! Way more exciting than Bear Grylls (if you ask me).

Kudos and upvote!

timothyphoto271 karma

When I was covering the civil war in Eastern Indonesia in the 90s I accidentally walked right into the 'enemy' with two other guys. We had to run for our lives whilst being shot at by a group of men from quite close range. I was so scared, (excuse my language) that I pissed myself and didn't even realise it until we has stopped running about 10 minutes later!

[deleted]34 karma


timothyphoto118 karma

Further east in Maluku. (The Spice Islands)

the-invisiblefriend119 karma

THIS is amazing. No questions asked!

timothyphoto115 karma

Funny... I shot picture that 3 years ago and last month I ended up back at her family's farm in Central Mongolia. I gave her a copy and shot a portrait of her for the family....


She's all grown up now!

XPreNN28 karma

How old is she in this picture? I'm just wondering because I really can't tell.

timothyphoto45 karma

Drinking the milk she was about 7, now she's 10 I think.

ohyouthrowaway94 karma

The first thing that popped into my head, do you have time for a relationship? With all that travelling I can't imagine you do, but correct me if I'm wrong.

timothyphoto313 karma

I'm engaged to a fantastic woman called Liz. I'm so lucky to have her because she understands my passion (addiction?) to travel and photography. She's one of those amazing women who lets her man do his thing without asking too much in return. She comes with me on trips whenever she can but doesn't give me a guilt trip if I have to go alone.

It took me 37 years to find her.

I know plenty of photographers and cameramen who weren't so lucky.

cuppateawithajoint93 karma

Funniest photo?

timothyphoto115 karma

That is a Layap woman standing outside her house high up in the Himalayas in Bhutan. The phallus is a symbol used all over Bhutan in honour of a Buddhist saint called Drukpa Kunley, known more commonly as The Divine Madman. His teachings involved deliberately doing shocking things as a way of showing people that the path of the Buddha was not to do the 'right' or 'wrong' thing, but to be non-judgemental of all things. Thus, if the phallus shocks you, it is designed to remind you that you are being judgemental.

uhhhhoh78 karma

what is your personal policy/thoughts on photographing people? do you always ask permission?

timothyphoto139 karma

I am a big fan of asking people, and these days it's safe to say that I never take anyone's picture without their prior permission. If someone doesn't want me to take their picture then I won't.. that's not an emotion that I'm looking for in my images. I want people to want me to be there. There needs to be a degree of intimacy between myself and the people I shoot in order for me to feel comfortable, and that can only happen when two people open up to each other. That requires permission to shoot IMO.

I wrote about this the other day on my blog in more detail HERE: http://humanplanet.com/timothyallen/2011/07/take-better-travel-photographs/

Scroll down to the bit "When shooting people, stop using your long lens so much"

feureau55 karma

As a socially awkward penguin who's too shy to come up to people and ask, can you give any tips on how to overcome this shyness and how to best approach people for the picture taking?

timothyphoto130 karma

It's bloody hard! I still get cramps in my stomach when I approach a stranger. Some people can just easily do it... in fact they even enjoy doing it. Like you, I'm not one of those people. I have to feel the fear and do it anyway.

If i'm honest. I think I use my camera as a way of dealing with and avoiding my fear. Taking photos forces me to confront it on a daily basis but it also allows me to walk into places without having to feel awkward.

My advice... just do it. I have been for years and the shyness is still there a bit. It gets better though. I promise you.

jonnystitt63 karma

If you where going to be in danger.. say a riot/ hostile situation would you wear protective gear and identify yourself clearly as someone there to take photos or would you try and blend in the best you could?

timothyphoto102 karma

Depends. In a riot, I'd blend in and take the rough with the smooth. But if people have guns, that's a completely different kettle of fish. Helmet and jacket at least. But rather, I wouldn't be there at all.

nimie62 karma

What was the most interesting food item that you tried on your trips? also any news on a 2nd series?

timothyphoto111 karma

nimie39 karma

how was it?

timothyphoto119 karma

Like crab

[deleted]46 karma

How did they kill the tarantula?

P.S. This is important information for reddit.

timothyphoto84 karma

They just pushed the stick through it and it died on the fire. Hope that doesn't offend too many people.

Photoginak62 karma

I'm an aurora photographer, and I am trying to get my work noticed by bigger people. I have been featured on both space.com and nationalgeographic.com.

So, is there anywhere that you can recommend to get more recognition?

timothyphoto164 karma

That's a tricky question for me these days, and one I always struggle to answer because I had already made my name by the time new media took off. I got to work for magazines by phoning the picture editor up and making an appointment with them to show them my portfolio. The internet was very young when I started, and people still worked face to face. It's different now, although I would still advise you to try and make contact with the people you want to work for and try to make their aquaintance, because IMO picture editors choose to employ the photographers that they like working with the best. There are lots of great photographers out there who have a similar degree of skill, but there are some who are really nice people too and they stand out from the rest.
You have to take your work to people, don't wait for them to come to you. Cold-call people you want to work for and keep at it until you get a meeting. There's more than enough work going around IME provided you accept that in the beginning you aren't necessarily going to get the job you dream of. Working with the right people might lead to that though.

The other really important thing you need to do is get a fantastic and engaging website that showcases the absolute best of what you do. In this day and age, you are only as good as your internet presence, so you need to work as hard as you can to get that visible online. Incredible pictures will get you more recognition because they can spread like wildfire around the net. However, those fires that burn the brightest tend to die down the quickest, and it is always better to work on cultivating good relationships over the long term IMO, so I would reiterate how important it is to decide who you want to work for and then find out the number of the picture editor and give them a call. The worst that can happen is that they say 'no'. Very often it's about timing and not how good you are as a photographer. I got my first job on a national newspaper because so many of the photographers were away covering the Balkans conflict and I just happened to call at the right time. There's a lot of luck involved in getting a break. Don't forget that.

[deleted]54 karma

Hey man, kick ass job and thanks for the AMA! Ever been in any dangerous situations for photos?

timothyphoto77 karma

When I worked for a newspaper I went to conflicts and demonstrations where violence was relatively frequent. See question by NSI above for an example. I've shot hanging from ropes up trees, at the bottom of the sea, 20,000ft up mountains.. anything involving heights gets me scared... I've developed a fear of heights as I've got older.

[deleted]32 karma


timothyphoto99 karma

I have mixed feelings about war photography. That was never my path, and as I got older I realised that I wanted to do it for the wrong reasons. I'm not one of those people who believes that shooting conflict will change the world. That's just me.

I worked together with Tim Hetherington at the Independent when we were both starting out... he is probably the one I respect the most. Just after he died, I saw a short film he made which brilliantly captures the feelings involved with this kind of life on the road. Watch it... the whole thing if you can give it some quiet time...


As I remember, there's a really telling bit in the film where he says something like "I report on wars in order to understand war for myself" or something like that. That's why I respect Tim... because that's quite an unconventional truth to acknowledge openly if you're considered a 'noble' war photographer like he was.

Earlier in my career I came to a similar conclusion and it made me change the focus of my work. I never shot conflict or violence to help people or change the world if I'm honest. I did it for personal reasons.

pringalingaling51 karma

What has been the most awkward position as a photographer you have found yourself in?

timothyphoto84 karma

I'm really struggling to answer that, I've been racking my brains for 5 minutes and I can't think of an answer. I spend so much of my time in strange places full of people speaking a language I don't understand that I've become very good at just accepting what's happening. I don't feel awkward so much. The next question (below) might answer you question.

ionian24 karma

What was the most frightening experience you've had as a photographer?

Just in case they lose relative position later on :)

timothyphoto29 karma

See below!

[deleted]71 karma

Unfortunately the order in which the questions are displayed is by default not chronological, but depending on the amount of upvotes.

So here is a link: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/khh5c/iama_travel_photographer_who_shot_all_the_photos/c2ka0x1

timothyphoto36 karma

Aha. Thanks. Never done this before.

Karanime39 karma

To clarify, what is the most awkward physical position you've had to contort yourself into?

And if this isn't what pringalingaling meant, then I am truly sorry, but I would still like an answer to this question.

timothyphoto126 karma

To shoot this:


I was hanging upside down in a waist harness pushing myself away from the trunk of the tree and shooting every image at the furthest point.

idkmybffjill_38 karma

One of my favorite scenes in Human Planet was at the end of (I think) the jungle episode when the tribesman climbs the tree bare-handed to hang the rope for the white guy to climb using all his advanced equipment, meanwhile the entire tribe and BBC crew are laughing at the absurdity of the moment. It was such a testimony to human adaptability and cultural differences, but at the same time the humor of the moment was a bridge between them. Really cool scene. Were you there for that?

timothyphoto14 karma

I think that was the Korowai tree house shoot. If so, unfortunately I wasn't there. I was with another team in Mongolia.

Tranecarid18 karma

How did you get there in first place?! Also.. did you have any secure measures?

timothyphoto41 karma

A rope access specialist rigged the tree with a rope he shot up into the crown using a huge catapult. I then climbed up using the 2 rope belay system. Theoretically, you are then always attached to at least one rope. They almost never break. It's very safe.

AndySuisse8 karma

That was amazing footage when the guy went hunting for honey up that impossibly tall tree. Was it just you up there with him? Or a videographer as well? How did you get up there?

timothyphoto6 karma

I shot a different guy than the film crew... we did it on different days. The guy I shot is actually the one who's holding the smoking leaves in the film. His name is Mongonjay. They both climbed quite a few trees during the 2 weeks we were there.

LeoPanthera51 karma

Canon or Nikon?

timothyphoto95 karma


LaRapet28 karma

what model do you use?

timothyphoto91 karma

5D Mark II

[deleted]26 karma

How do you go about storing those photos? Also, RAW? I imagine you with a metre high stack of CF cards...

timothyphoto41 karma

I shoot JPEG not RAW, but I do have a lot of 32gb cards and a massive stack of HDs at the office.

jshg12331 karma

Why JPEG and not RAW? Doesn't RAW give you many more options in post-processing?

timothyphoto52 karma

RAW is useful if your exposure is off, but if you get it right with a JPEG, there is no difference IME. I used to shoot slide so I'm good at getting my exposures right. The only time I would shoot RAW is if I am in an incredibly contrasty situation and I want to see some detail in the sky for example, or a shadow. However, IME that often gives me an unnatural looking image because are eyes just can't see with that much latitude in real life.

ionian41 karma

Though I'm sure you've got gear pouring out your ears, if you were sent on an unknown mission with only one camera, what would you take?

(What's your bread and butter rig, essentially)

timothyphoto58 karma

The Camera would be a 5D Mark II and I'd probably choose one of those zooms that covers a lot of ground, like a 24-100 or something. I never use zoom lenses like those myself, but I'd have to give myself as much scope as possible in one lens. Otherwise, it would have to be a 50mm f1.2.

ionian23 karma

Apparently, the first digital to take the portrait of a US president, Obama. Cool!

timothyphoto47 karma

Same old picture though eh?

JimbaranUluwatu37 karma

What cameras and accessories do you always take with you.

timothyphoto74 karma

2 Canon 5D Mark IIs, Canon 16-35 f2.8, Canon 35mm f1.4, Canon 50mm f1.2, Canon 85mm f1.2, Canon 200mm f2.8, Canon 400mm f5.6

laptop and 2 external hardrives

That is the essentials for photography. For film and time lapse, I take extra things.

heiwa813 karma

What film cameras do you use and in what occasions?

timothyphoto34 karma

I don't own any film cameras anymore

cgsawtell8 karma

Do you know how they get perfect lighting with the nature time lapses on Planet Earth? By that I mean when they show a time lapse of a plant growing it's always in consistent, perfect lighting. Is it just really dedicated photography or is there a trick to it?

timothyphoto21 karma

Yes, They use an incredibly controlled environment. Outside they use harsh lights which keeps the exposure constant no matter what the sun does. Sometimes they shoot them in a studio and superimpose them over the top of the scene in post production.

Maxion6 karma

As a fellow photographer what is your opinion of the 50 1.2 and 85 1.2 lenses? I myself prefer sigmas 50mm 1.4 and canons 85mm 1.8.

timothyphoto9 karma

My favourite two lenses. Although, if I'm honest, I wonder if they really are better than the 1.4 or 1.8's. Sometimes I think it's all in my mind because I can shoot incredibly sharp photos on the 50 1.8.

vekko36 karma

Thanks for taking the time to answer. Some questions if I may:

1) When you're framing a shot is it a instinctive thing or is there a lot of thought that goes into your photo's first? I ask because it seems even at an amateur level some people just "get it" while others, like my mum for instance, take rubbish pictures. Back in the day we would always get our photo's developed and the heads would be chopped off.

2) With the arrival of the digital era and the demise of film have you seen a surge in the number of people trying to break into the photography scene? I ask because I suspect the availability of relatively cheap SLR's and photo editing software is now much more accessible.

3) What compact camera do you use when you can't be arsed carrying around all your big lenses and SLR's?

4) What do you think of my bee photo?

timothyphoto66 karma

1 - It's instinctive in as much as I have an awareness of what I'm looking at from a wider perspective than the person who chops someones head off. When you look at a great photo, all the elements sit together well and you can feel that it's right. That's the feeling I'm waiting for when I'm shooting, but honestly, if the action is coming thick and fast, I'll just point the camera in the right direction and keep my finger down on the shutter then choose the best photo when I look at them on my laptop. That's my reality.

2 - There are certainly more people shooting photos that ever before, but then that's true of any creative industry these days. Technology is giving people the power to have a go and get good results.

3 - I have an Olympus EP-2 with a Lumix pancake lens.

4 - You're not in close enough IMO and I'd rather see the bee lit from the front.. there's no definition in its eyes. Plus points for getting a lot of yellow in the pic... that works IMO.

AMISHassassin35 karma

What place has the best food? I love you?

timothyphoto67 karma

America has incredible food... and such big portions too! I love you too?

rospaya63 karma

I'm Ron Burgundy?

timothyphoto119 karma

Damn it! who typed the question mark!

ExdigguserPies35 karma

Were you there when the tree-house people undressed the white woman?

timothyphoto42 karma

No. I was in Mongolia during that shoot unfortunately. That's Rachel you're talking about. She was a researcher on the jungles/oceans episodes. She's a lovely girl.

adhutch2333 karma

most amazing place you have been?

timothyphoto77 karma

As a country... Mongolia. A single place... the Gobi Desert in the winter.

adhutch2322 karma

why Mongolia? the terrain? or the people? this is already useful

timothyphoto130 karma

I love their way of life. They are incredibly friendly. 40 percent of Mongolians are still nomadic. They live under canvas in some of the most remarkable terrain in the world. Also this is why: http://humanplanet.com/timothyallen/wp-content/gallery/timothy-allen-portfolio/timothy-allen_photographer_055.jpg

Baeocystin60 karma

I visited Mongolia the summer of 1992. We flew in to Ulan Bator from Irkutsk via a tiny MIAT plane. There was a Frenchman sitting in front of me, and he had a small, old Soviet-era map of the land we were flying over. The co-pilot noticed it during a stretch break, and asked if they could use it in the cabin, as it was much better than what they were using to navigate.

(The French fellow was happy to share.)

We stayed with a family of engineers who worked at the power plant before the Russians left. They were still in the process of getting things up and running at the time, and hearing about their trials and tribulations, as well as their incredibly positive outlook over the whole project, was incredible.

Later on we got to watch some guys play polo with a goat's head while the rest of the goat was being cooked from the inside out via fire-heated river rock. Good times.

timothyphoto17 karma

1992 Lucky you.

princeAlilad32 karma

What was your favourite moment in the Human Planet series?

And did you get to shoot for the 'Oceans - Into the Blue' episode?

That one was absolutely mindblowing! (Also the tree house was incredible too)

timothyphoto56 karma

Yes, I shot on Oceans. The most memorable were diving with Sulbin, the breath diver, and shooting the Filipino compressor divers in the South China Sea. HERE: http://humanplanet.com/timothyallen/2011/01/malaysia-bajau-free-diver-human-planet-oceans/ and HERE: http://humanplanet.com/timothyallen/2011/01/pa-aling-fishing/

One of my favourite shoots was the walk to school down the frozen river in Zanskar, Ladakh. I was incredibly touched by the young children who walked with us. They were amazing human beings in every sense of the word. Laughing and joking one minute, and then taking my hand to steer me away from danger the next.

Here's some more... http://humanplanet.com/timothyallen/2010/02/the-school-run/

odinsbane11 karma

What sort of dangers would they steer you away from on "the walk to school"?

"For the local Zanskari girls and boys, the walk to school takes several days with nights spent in caves . Accompanied by one or other of their parents, many are expected to carry their own possessions..."
Great pictures and thanks for the AMA.

timothyphoto20 karma

Mainly falling though thin ice. The river flows very fast beneath it and you would be washed away immediately. We had a lot of problems on that shoot because an avalanche had caused a dam upstream. When it eventually broke it sent a torrent of water down that smashed all the ice and we had to wait a week for it to refreeze before we could continue. That left alot of gaps in the ice too. A month before a Belgian guy died on the ice from hyperthermia.

dunnitrong8 karma

When shooting for this, were you using the compressor line or were you using modern diving equipment? If the former, what was your reasoning? if the latter, how do you come to terms with being in the same situation that is tremendously dangerous to these people day in and day out, but youre using equipment that, if they hwd access to, would save their lives? (im also curious about this for the sulphur mining episode, that was some scary shit!) Also, for the record, this isn't a veiled criticism, I'm really quite curious about the decision making process, and the level of mental participation that the documentors engage in.

EDIT: also, if you used modern equipment to shoot, did you have a go at the local techniques?

timothyphoto8 karma

We were using modern scuba gear. If we'd have shot using compressor pipes we would have been putting ourselves (and the local guys probably) in a lot of danger and that wouldn't have achieved anything. Compressor diving is a fact of life for the guys on that boat, whether we are there shooting them or not, so our decision making process goes something like this: How can we film this thing without putting anyone in any extra danger? Same with the Sulphur mining sequence, (although we did leave all our breathing equipment with them after we left).
Honestly, scuba gear would not make their job any safer IMO. The problems they were having were mainly to do with decompression sickness and that is something we told them about everyday. (We also treated people with oxygen when we could) However, when the boss needs you to go down to the bottom of the sea for 40 minutes and everyone else is doing it... you have 2 options... do it, or find another job. If all those men gave up work tomorrow, there'd be a hundred more to take their place. It was the same at the mine... in fact they considered a job at the sulphur mine as a good job because it pays a lot more than picking coffee beans in the neighbouring fields. Of course, those coffee beans end up in our coffee cups but we come to terms with that fact quite easily.

I didn't have a go at compressor diving but Simon Enderby, the principal cameraman did - it's in the 'behind the lens' sequence at the end of the episode.

Garyrae29 karma

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow a similar career path?

Would I be best off studying photography? journalism? or, like yourself, something more science-based like zoology?

timothyphoto64 karma

What you study is not too important in my experience. Where you study is more important I reckon. University opened my eyes to travel which started me off on the path I am now. The people I met literally changed my life, not the subject I studied. To get into this kind of career, you have to get out there and shoot pictures... without a strong portfolio you will struggle to find work. You don't need to do further education in order to build up a strong portfolio, just make some money and get out there in the world shooting pictures. Of my contemporaries, I know of only a couple who studied photography at college. Everyone else came a different path, but most of them did some sort of further education.

nobbyjim25 karma

if you could only carry 2 lenses with you, which ones?

timothyphoto35 karma

Canon 35mm f1.4 and Canon 85mm f1.2, but really, I'd need the 50mm too if I'm honest.

andlet23 karma

I work as a photojournalist (just finished school) and the thing I find the most difficult before i travel somewhere is to find good contacts/fixers in the country I'm going to.

How do you find people who can help you at the places you work?

timothyphoto39 karma

Good question.

When I started out I never used fixers. I would turn up in a country with a copy of 'Lonely Planet' and use that as a starting point. It's easy to find guides and fixers in remote places once you get there. IME, the person that speaks the best English will normally turn up and introduce themselves. In dangerous places however, I would say that it's really important to have a good fixer.

These days I use fixers a lot more. For example, the BBC has a system of rating fixers which is then available to other BBC employees when they're researching stories etc. It's there 'preferred fixers list' done country by country, but unfortunately it's not a public service.

http://www.lightstalkers.org/ is a good forum for finding trusted fixers.

Often I get fixers' details from friends and colleagues.

I think someone should start a really simple website that rates fixers and has their contact details etc. Loads of people would use it. If I had the time, I'd do it.

LurkerLuke21 karma


This is one of my favorite photos of all time. Anything interesting you can tell me about it? Did you know the man very well?

timothyphoto23 karma

Yes. His name is Silau and we lived with him and his family in the Altai mountains of Mongolia for 2 weeks. He is an awesome guy. Such a lovely man. Here's a pic of him with his 16 yr old son Berik: http://humanplanet.com/Mongolia%20Eagles_Timothy%20Allen_009.jpg

[deleted]19 karma


yurigoul28 karma

Not a specialist in the field, but my guess is you could make pictures no westerner could make (they are not allowed to photograph in certain situations or do not know how to behave and make people feel at ease - all due to cultural differences) and you know things no westerner knows. Use that to your advantage. The rest is technical knowledge and know how to frame your shot and timing.

And being able to sell yourself is the next step obviously.

timothyphoto22 karma

Couldn't have put it better myself

bluelyte18 karma

What inspired you to start taking photos?

When you started, what did you shoot?

timothyphoto21 karma

I started taking photos when I was about 15. I don't know why.
I received £90-00 as an inheritance from my grandfather and I bought a camera called a fuji STX-2 with a 50mm lens. Then I just shot pictures of my friends for a few years. At university, I joined a research project to a remote corner of Indonesia and that's when I began taking photos of the amazing indigenous people we found living nearby in the jungle. After uni finished, I went backpacking around SE Asia for 2 years and started shooting the kind of stuff I'm known for now.

I think that I like taking photos because I love showing people things that I love. It's about communication.

chimpwizard17 karma

What is your favourite Tim Allen movie?

timothyphoto21 karma

The one with the elves

arganis16 karma

This thread needs to be on the frontpage ten minutes ago! Question: What are your thoughts on photographers faking pictures like Terje Helleso recently (link)? Is it really that tough as a photographer to succeed, make a living out of it?

EDIT: Terje Helleso is Norwegian I believe.

timothyphoto20 karma

I don't really have an opinion on it. It's up to him what he does. I'm sure he's kicking himself now though, since it wasn't worth it.

[deleted]15 karma

This is not so much about photography, but your lifestyle.

You've spent a fair bit of the last 20 years on the road, I'm just wondering how this has affected your relationships with other people "back home"? Do you have a wife? Do you even have what the average person defines as a home? How do you manage relationships with people when you never see them regularly?

Also, your friendships while you're travelling, do you get the same satisfaction from those short friendships as you do from long-lasting ones? Do you ever regret that you can never really get to that comfortable stage in a friendship with somebody where you can just sit and say nothing? (I guess doing Human Planet you may have spent the 2 years with the same crew, but what about before that, during wars?)

TL;DR: Are you ever lonely, and how do you cope with it?

timothyphoto39 karma

Such a complicated question, I wish I could speak my answer to you!

I'm engaged to be married with my long-term partner. We live together in our 'home' but we have lived in 3 'homes' in the last year alone. We have decided that the next place we settle will be our last because we both miss the benefits of committing to one place.

Fortunately, I have some very solid friendships from my past. I have spent quite a bit of my earlier life living communally with people in the UK and the friendships I forged during those times could never die.

When I'm traveling I am under no illusions that my short term friendships will last. However, social media has changed everything recently because the people I meet now can contact me again very easily again if they want to. I have maintained some new friendships over long periods of time this way. I have about 100 friends on Facebook. That's the extent of my close friends who I want to keep in touch with.

I'm good at sitting in silence with people I know. That's the kind of person I am. My cards are usually on the table quite early on, so to speak. My best friend lives in a different country to me but we speak on Skype video for hours at a time. I just leave it on while I'm working and we natter.

Yes, I get lonely sometimes when I'm away and doing something that I'm not enjoying. I don't really know how I cope with it other than to say that I just feel lonely in that moment. I know it will pass, and it does. I've never felt lonely for a long period of time though. If I did, I would come home.

If you ever bump into me in person, ask me this question again. I feel like I haven't answered it very well. I need to vocalise it!

[deleted]14 karma


timothyphoto30 karma

I started a National Diploma in photography at night school when I was about 26. One day, one of my tutors who was a former pro said that my images were great and it changed the course of my life. Up until that point I had never even considered that photography could be a career. It was always a nice hobby to me. I was quite naive in that way.

Never under estimate how much a bit of encouragement can make a difference.

adhutch2312 karma

unrelated, but what is the biggest misconception Americans have about the Brits?

timothyphoto70 karma

That all English people are like Hugh Grant. Also, IME Americans frequently misconceive our sarcastic sense of humour as being rude when it's not intended to be.

bigcitycrows9 karma

Thank you very much for taking the time to do this AMA; your images have inspired myself and my family without us ever knowing your name until now, and your photographs, specifically, helped to change my life for the significantly better.

I wish I had more time, but for now I have only two questions:

What is the most valuable skill you learned from the people of a location where you filmed?

What kind of habitat do you have the most affection for (swamp? desert?), in terms of actual practical living, and what were some unique challenges presented to you (whether through physical or mental demands) throughout your career?

timothyphoto12 karma

I haven't really picked up any great skills so to speak. I tend to learn things about ways of being rather than ways of doing, if you know what I mean. Certainly, my biggest lessons from many of the people I've spent time with pertain to the importance of a sense of community in our lives, something that I always find lacking in my own 21st century existence.

On a lighter note, in Papua New Guinea I did learn how to peel a boiled egg in half a second by making a small hole in one end then blowing hard.

I am a mountain person through and through. I love the mountains and I love mountain people.

I'm presented with physical and mental challenges often in my work... too many to mention here. Mentally, traveling between time zones all the time has an affect for sure. It's the thing I dread the most when traveling. Sometimes I never get time to catch up.

blue_moose6 karma

What is your education? I mean, what did you do after graduating school and why?

timothyphoto8 karma

I went to Leeds University to do a BSc in Zoology.... basicly because I love animals. For me, university was about the things I did outside of lectures... the degree I chose has had little or no bearing on my life whatsoever. However, the people I met at uni and the adventures we got up to are some of the main reasons why I've ended up doing what I do.

Funkyy5 karma

Haven't got a question. However I'm a massive fan of the series and have seen some of your photography before, thanks for all your hard work.

Actually one question, do you consider it work or is it just literally your hobby and your being paid for it?

timothyphoto6 karma

A bit of both, although these days I don't shoot anything that I don't want to. I never thought much about the money. It was always a side effect of doing what I love. I know quite a few people who feel the same way about their passion. Follow it and everything else will tend to fall into place.

mattimeo_5 karma

I think your way of life sounds idyllic, but has always being away and on the road ever had an impact on or affected relationships?

timothyphoto6 karma

It used to, but now I am acutely aware of those kind of things. It's something I think about a lot. It's a double-edged sword. The life is idyllic, but it is so at the expense of the day to day simple joys that one only experiences from a life of routines and stability. You can't have both. I made my choice.

HowIMadeMyMillions4 karma

Hello Tim!! Cool AmA!!!

I was wondering, how much does lenses matter? I have a canon 500 with the standard lens, but I am not sure whether or not I should save up to invest in a new lens. I'm a poor student, and most of my time is used studying, playing music or photographing - @ concerts or just of nature and such, so it's a big investment.

Thanks for the AmA and your pictures are dazzling and inspiring!

timothyphoto4 karma

They matter a lot. However, it depends what you want to shoot. For example... a 50mm f1.8 is a very cheap lens but it gives excellent quality. It's no good for shooting animals though... you need a long lens for that and a good long lens will set you back a few thousand dollars.

IME experience, when you start realising that you need new lenses... that's the time to buy them and not before. Do you know what you're missing with the lens you have now? If you do... get what you need.

[deleted]4 karma


timothyphoto3 karma

Camera: Second hand Canon 5D mark 1. It's a great camera and they're good value since the mark 11 came out. You'll need a flash for your plan.

Ideas: Yes, that can work. I'm assuming that's something you really want to do... it could get a bit soul destroying I suppose... you really need to be into it.

Education: Don't bother with any courses IMO. Learn on the job. There's no better place than in the type of work you suggested.

dammsugare4 karma

You mentioned you worked on the "School Run" episode of Human Planet. Amazing shots, but one thing I was wondering was exactly how did you get some of those shots? You had close ups of the children going across that narrow, dangerous ice path, and then also a long wide shot of them doing it. With no cameraman anywhere in the second shot, at least not visible? How do you accomplish not filming cameraman in the large shots?

Thank you for one of the most amazing documentary series I've seen in a while.

timothyphoto9 karma

When we came to that bit we stopped and sent one cameraman back down the river until he could cross over to the other side then come back and climb the cliff opposite. He then shot a wide establishing shot with everyone out of the way before we got in for the close ups. It took a long time.