Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien's picture shows a young boy posing with a mask, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X.
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 with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM 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.

Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien with a 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

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 a long-term project. Called Afrikaner Blood, her project dealt with the youth camps organised during school holidays by the Kommandokorps in South Africa, teaching combat skills and apartheid-era attitudes to white Afrikaner teenagers.

The completed project 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 Afrikaner Blood, 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's image of Iraqi and Syrian refugees enjoying a sauna in Finland, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X.
"Iraqi and Syrian refugees enjoy the warmth at Sauna Arlan, a traditional Finnish sauna. The refugees stay in the reception centre at Kaarlenkatu, Helsinki, which is close to the sauna. The owner of the sauna, Kimmo Helisto, lets the refugees take showers and use the sauna facilities for free," explains Ilvy. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X at 1/25 sec, f/2.8 and ISO3200. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Warning: This profile article includes images that some readers may find disturbing.

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.

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. Being so opposed to 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.

Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien's image shows a young black woman being helped into boxing gloves, taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.
"16-year-old homeless Gelvin Samanta's coach puts on her boxing glove – the boxing school only owns two pair of gloves. This pair only consists of two right-hand gloves. The boxing school in the centre of Kinshasa teaches homeless women how to defend themselves on the streets," says Ilvy. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II at 1/64 sec, f/4.5 and ISO400. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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 my judgement."

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."

Facebook: @ilvynjio
Instagram: @ilvynjio
Twitter: @ilvynjio

Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien's image shows a man pointing a pistol at the back of a young man's head. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
"One of the leaders of the right wing Kommandokorps camp in Carolina, South Africa, shows the students how to 'defend' themselves in case of an emergency. Children born after 1994 are part of the born free generation. This generation, born after apartheid, is supposed to bring unity and change to the country," says Ilvy. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II at 1/1000 sec, f/4 and ISO640. © Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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."

Ilvy Njiokiktjien's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien's kitbag, containing two Canon cameras, photographic accessories and a notebook.


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 EOS R

A full-frame 30.3 Megapixel sensor with impressive detail, ISO performance and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. ""The camera is so easy to use," says Ilvy. "I didn't miss a single shot."


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. "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."

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.


Canon Speedlite 580EX

"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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