Nir Elias

Nir Elias

Tel Aviv, Israel
“I respect photojournalists who see their job as a real responsibility and stretch the limits of it, trying again and again to get to the truth.”


I have been lucky to cover a very wide range of topics over the years. I was working in Israel for five or six years and at that time we were all very much focused on the Israel/Palestine conflict. In 2005 I went to Shanghai. During that time in China, the world wasn't interested in one specific side of the Chinese story - it wanted to know everything you could show from daily life to sport, from politics to natural disasters. Since 2010, I’ve been back in Tel Aviv, Israel and the flames here are lower for the moment (which is a good thing). This frees up time and energy to do other things I didn't have the peace of mind to do before I left in 2005: many more religious stories, cultural stuff, innovations, sport and much more.

One Shot

. Shanghai, China. Reuters/Nir Elias
Boys hang on a bar for five minutes as part of a training session at the Gymnastics Hall of the Shanghai University of Sports.
“A few years ago I was in Shanghai to shoot a story about children at a weight loss summer school. Obesity is one of the symptoms of China’s growing wealth. I didn’t find it very tempting to illustrate, but I heard something going on next door. A few very young kids were being trained to break into the gymnastic world, with very tough discipline. At one point the coach ordered them to hold onto a bar for five minutes, and I had the brief chance to shoot it. Six of them holding onto the bar, each reacting in their own childlike, innocent way: one trying to cheat, one crying and others playing it tough.”


I was into photography since my early teens when someone in my family gave me an old manual Yashika camera. I went out to photograph doors and windows in the Orthodox side of Jerusalem—but that was mainly to impress the girl I was with!

I studied photography in a college in Jerusalem for three years, but I really advanced only when working: trying, making mistakes and moving on to the next job again and again.

I shot a meeting of a religious party as one of my first jobs for a local Israeli newspaper. The editor pointed out that I had cut off the head of the main rabbi in the corner of the frame without even realising it, which made the shot impossible to use. It was a small but very important lesson – to combine photography with the story and characters, and the importance of photographing what you see rather than just making an anonymous composition.

I had two assignments that left the strongest impact on me and both dealt with the human spirit that popped out in an extreme situation. One was the massive earthquake in Sichuan China in 2008 and another was the Israeli disengagement from Gaza at 2005. Although there is a very big difference between the two events, both dealt with the tragedy of the people experiencing their reality. In both cases I was lucky to be there and actually see at first hand how people at those extremes react.

I love to cover cultural and religious stories, as well as personal stories of special people.

I try to shoot for as wide a range of people as I can. I will pay attention to the heart of the news if it is a news event or will look for the best storytelling picture if it is some other event. But I will always look for the extra picture, the picture people who like photography might find interesting, or something that can illustrate a related story or a wider one.

I respect photojournalists who see their job as a real responsibility and stretch the limits of it, trying again and again to get to the truth when there is very limited or difficult access. This is what photojournalism is for.

It’s great to be able to make a living out of using a camera, travelling and meeting people in a variety of situations. One day you’re sitting next to a plastic surgeon, the next you’re walking with survivors after an earthquake.

Time makes you lose some of the innocence in your early photography. I often find myself looking for this.

Behind the Scenes

. MIANZHU, China. REUTERS/Stringer
Nir Elias walks with some 1,000 other survivors during a 9-hour trek from the village of Qingping to Hanwang in the earthquake-stricken Mianzhu, Sichuan Province as he covers the disaster's aftermath.