Nanna Navntoft

A ballet dancer warms up before a routine.

Documentary photographer and Canon Ambassador Nanna Navntoft photographed Astrid Elbo, a principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, for a leading Danish newspaper. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens at 1/160 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Nanna Navntoft / Politiken

Canon Ambassador Nanna Navntoft is a Danish documentary photographer whose personal work highlights and explores contemporary social issues. Through her sensitive portraits, she gives intimate insights into marginalised groups and mental health conditions that are often ignored or misunderstood.

Nanna was born in Copenhagen in 1988 and is still based in the city. At university, she studied for a BA in Geography and Communications, before taking a photography course at one of Denmark's folk high schools (institutes for adult education). Photography had been a part of her life from a young age, but now she appreciated its wider potential.

"I realised I could photograph the same things I was studying in geography, but I could now visualise something instead of writing about it," Nanna says. "I really liked that way of communication and found I could reach more people that way."

Nanna bought her first professional camera, a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and went on to study photojournalism at the Danish School of Media and Journalism (DMJX). The course included 18 months of practical experience at the Danish daily newspaper Politiken. During this period, she also studied photography at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK) in the Netherlands.

Nanna says her education has been important in developing the content and direction of her work. "At DMJX we talked a lot about approaches and discussed every single picture," she says. "It really helped me to become a better photographer, both in visual approach and how to deal with difficult situations. However, at KABK, the focus was very much on the narrative itself and how to showcase a project. I learned good things from both courses."

Headshot of Canon Ambassador and documentary photographer Nanna Navntoft.
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

Specialist areas: Documentary, portraiture

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
A black-and-white shot of a male ballet dancer with one arm raised and the other outstretched.

Alban Lendorf, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and The Royal Danish Ballet, is photographed after his return to dancing. Nanna was commissioned to shoot this portrait for Danish daily Politiken after Alban had to take two years off due to injury. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens at 1/30sec, f/16 and ISO100. © Nanna Navntoft / Politiken

A ballerina on pointe crouches down to stretch before a performance.

Dancer Astrid Elbo, a principal ballerina with the Royal Danish Ballet, is also renowned for her acting skills. She was photographed by Nanna for a long feature in Politiken. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens at 1/160sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Nanna Navntoft / Politiken

Nanna graduated from DMJX in January 2020 and currently combines working on her personal projects with teaching photography and shooting portraits for editorial publications on a freelance basis.

Her editorial work has included portraits of Danish authors, racing drivers, actors, dancers and musicians. Meanwhile, her personal projects have focused on issues such as Binge Eating Disorder (BED), the plight of refugees in Denmark and prostitution in Senegal.

Nanna says her choice of subjects follows naturally from her personal interests. "Sometimes there are projects that I just can't stop thinking about and usually it's because I think something is wrong, or something is not fair," she says. "I feel like maybe I can have a small say about it and I can't help but start to work on it.

"For example, I hadn't seen anything on BED either at home or abroad, and I could really feel people with this condition were very frustrated that they couldn't get any help or recognition. I thought maybe I could work with them, do something together and get some focus on it."

A tiny figure in a red dress walks across the desert under a blazing sun.

Nanna photographed Danish journalist and author Puk Damsgård in the desert near Cairo for Politiken in 2017. Puk Lives in Cairo, Egypt, and has written several books based on her experiences in war-torn areas. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/2500 sec, f/2.8 and ISO100. © Nanna Navntoft / Politiken

Nanna's work has had widespread editorial coverage, been featured in exhibitions and received recognition through prizes such as the Danish Picture of the Year awards. However, she says the real reward is when those she works with share in her success.

"The best part is when the people I photograph share on their social media channels the news that the photos have been shown or have won a prize, then I get really proud and think, yes, this collaboration is really working," she says. "And they feel it too. They are proud to be part of it. Then it really makes sense for me to do this kind of work."

What's been the most challenging situation you've worked in?

"When I'm photographing people with problems such as BED, it's really being in this situation that's the difficult part – but it's also the part I really like a lot, because that is when things are happening. When I've photographed refugees in Denmark that are dealing in narcotics, I have seen people who have overdosed, which is really challenging in a different way."

Do you approach your editorial and personal work differently?

"I work in much the same way. When I meet people I'm going to photograph, I try to understand them, to see who they are and what they do, how they move, and so on. I almost never talk when I'm photographing, just at the beginning and at the end. I never tell people what to do. If I'm photographing an actor, for instance, I watch things like the way they move their hands, the way they stand, and try to use those things in the images. I do the same on my personal projects."

How much do you arrange the images in your personal projects?

"It depends on the project. In my binge eating project, for example, I start off with a long interview with someone, then discuss how we're going to visualise what we've been talking about. I always work in people's homes and I don't bring anything other than my camera. I will tell them where to sit, so we get the best light and things like that, but otherwise I don't stage photos."

When you decide on an issue you want to explore, how do you find the people to photograph?

"In the beginning I mostly use social media. I join groups and start asking people if they are interested in me coming by, initially for interviews and later for making portraits. When I have done some portraits, I show them to other people so they can see what I want to do. The longer I work on a project, the easier it gets."

One thing I know

Nanna Navntoft

"For me, documentary photography is really about being genuinely curious about the people I photograph. If you have that curiosity, you are on your way to making something interesting and worthwhile. You have to want to understand people and have empathy for them. When you're photographing them, you really have to be in the moment and not constantly thinking about what to do next. It's also important to have the time to dedicate to your project – working on something for a long time will have an impact on the quality of the work you produce."

Facebook: @nanna.navntoft.7

Instagram: @nnavntoft


Nanna Navntoft's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Nanna Navntoft's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The successor to the 5D Mark III that Nanna uses is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. Nanna says: "I like that it's not too big; it's not so heavy either. I find it really handy to bring with me and I know it's reliable. When I'm working in people's houses, I almost never use flash, so the camera's high ISO performance is important to me."


Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM

A versatile, compact pancake lens. A fast maximum aperture enables low-light shooting and depth-of-field control. "I always have this lens on my camera," says Nanna. "It's a pancake lens and I love that it's so small, and it's not too intimidating for my subjects. It's my favourite lens for shooting reportage."

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

An affordable STM lens, with a fast f/1.8 aperture for general, low light and portrait photography. "This is another small lens which is great for portraits, especially full-body or half-body portraits – I like using it for upright shots without distortion," says Nanna.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

A short telephoto focal length, combined with a large maximum aperture and fast autofocus speed, make this an ideal optic for any photographer shooting portraiture. Nanna says: "I also enjoy using this lens for portraits, which also makes the subject stand out from the background at wide apertures."

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

A high-performance full-frame macro lens with f/2.8 aperture, that's also great for portraits. "I don't own one of these lenses at the moment, but I love it and I borrow one from a friend when I need one," says Nanna. "It's fantastic for portraits and it's also really good for photographing details."


Adhesive tape and black cloth

"I always take a sheet of black cloth and a roll of tape so I can stick the cloth up behind a sitter if I want to avoid including the background," says Nanna. "When I'm doing editorial work, I often only see the location shortly before I have to photograph. Sometimes I can be shooting in really difficult places, like in conference rooms, so it's always nice to have the option of making a simple, distraction-free background."

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