Nikolai Linares

A group of elderly footballers dressed in a red kit chat amicably as they prepare for their team photo.

Canon Ambassador Nikolai Linares shoots news events and portraits for big-name clients but also makes time for personal photography projects. The Real Old Boys came about by chance after Nikolai happened to see a team of elderly footballers in action while visiting a playground with his son. "I could have just not seen them but I'm very curious," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/5.6 and ISO640. © Nikolai Linares

"Sometimes my fellow photographers in Denmark tease me that I'm a sports photographer, even though everyone knows I'm not," says Danish photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Nikolai Linares.

Born in Elsinore in 1983, Nikolai shoots news events and portraits for national press outlets, alongside multi-award-winning personal projects focusing on sportspeople, from boxers and bullfighters to ice hockey players and ageing footballers. "I just love the stories within sports. There's always a climax, there's always sacrifice, there's so much drama. I used to look at sports categories of competitions and it was often just six images with no story. I thought, 'Where's the good sports reportage?' There's so much going on in sport. Why not show everything?"

The role model for Nikolai's photographic career was his uncle – "the coolest" of his Colombian mother's five brothers – who tragically died in a boat accident on assignment in 2003. "I only met him four times while on family trips to Colombia. I remember going to his work one day. I was fascinated by the whole news agency, by his pictures on the walls, the stories he could tell," says Nikolai. "I grew up with this idol." His uncle's death prompted the then 19-year-old Nikolai to take up photography, shooting on a Canon film SLR, before switching to a Canon EOS 350D.

After his military service he studied for a degree in economics and psychology, but photography kept calling. Following a year out taking photography courses at Rampen film school in Copenhagen, he won a place to study photojournalism at the Danish School of Media and Journalism. "I've never felt more in my true environment than when I was there," he says. "We were in sync, all going in the same direction, all so interested in telling stories."

While at the school of journalism, Nikolai won several awards in the international College Photographer of the Year competition, including silver for his student portfolio. In the year he graduated, 2012, he was selected for the Student Focus at a major international photography awards ceremony.

Danish photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Nikolai Linares.
Location: Humlebæk (near Copenhagen), Denmark

Specialist areas: Reportage, editorial, portraiture

Favourite kit:

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
MMA fighter Camilla Hinze stares intently at the camera. Her left eye is bruised and swollen.

This image of MMA fighter Camilla Hinze is from Nikolai's Woman Warrior series, which follows a female fighter before, during and after a match. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/100 sec, f/4 and ISO800. © Nikolai Linares

In the years since then he's built up an impressive client list, featured in the Berlingske newspaper and Stern and VICE magazines, and accrued a heap of awards and accolades – including nominations at the Danish Picture of the Year for six consecutive years.

In 2016, he took the top prize in the Professional sport category of a prestigious international photography competition for Second Best, a powerful portrait series showing boxers fresh from losing their final match in a national tournament. "The winner is the guy everyone remembers and the one who comes second is forgotten. I wanted to give them a name and a face," he says.

A close-up of a bloodied and bruised male boxer, moments after he's lost a fight.

Eighteen-year-old boxer Kevin R Nielsen contemplates his silver medal at the Zealand boxing championship in Copenhagen, as part of Nikolai's award-winning Second Best series. "Second Best was inspired by a Jerry Seinfeld comedy show where he talks about how awful it is to train all your life for an Olympic sport and then come second by less than a second," says Nikolai. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/9 and ISO125. © Nikolai Linares

A defeated male boxer stares dejectedly into the distance.

Another image from Nikolai's Second Best collection of 16-year-old defeated boxer Arrash Karimi. Over the course of two days of shooting during the Zealand boxing championship in Copenhagen, Nikolai asked 15 losing boxers if he could take their portrait, with 13 ultimately agreeing. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/9 and ISO160. © Nikolai Linares

This award provided funding and support to shoot another major project, The Boys and the Bulls, following young trainee bullfighters in Spain, which went on to win third prize in the Sports Stories category of the 2018 World Press Photo Contest. "That was a childhood dream come true," he says. "But when I shoot a story I don't think, 'This could be the one that wins a competition!' because you never know what you're up against or the judges' tastes. You do something you like and maybe you're lucky. I just want to share stories with as many people as possible."

How do you come up with ideas for new projects?

"Often something just catches my eye. The Real Old Boys came up because I was at a playground with my son and saw some elderly men playing football on a pitch nearby. I went home, looked on the internet and discovered Denmark was the only country in the world that had a 70+ league, so I contacted them. I could have just not seen them but I'm very curious."

What's the relationship between your self-initiated and commissioned work?

"I see them as quite separate. With editorial, it's not my own idea, sometimes I have a matter of hours to shoot it, so it's difficult to get into a story – when I'm working for newspapers I might have half an hour to take a portrait. I try to put myself into it but often it's just a craft. I know what I'm doing with my camera and my lights and I have a customer who needs to be happy."

When you're shooting a portrait in just half an hour, how do you build rapport with a subject?

"I make eye contact, try to be as nice as I can and make people feel comfortable by talking to them. When I arrive at their home, I'll ask them about it, I won't just walk in with my camera. Actors are used to being photographed but many people hate having their picture taken so we have to have a laugh together so they think it wasn't that bad, maybe that it was actually fun."

Is editing, as much as shooting, an important part of your process?

"Yes. There's a big difference in having 10 great shots and having a story. I look at my stuff every night to see which way the story's going and what's missing. Sometimes stories change direction so I ask myself, 'What am I trying to say here?' In the end, it's all about the sequence."

One thing I know

Nikolai Linares

"Always do your own stories, even if it's just once a year. It won't make you rich but it will make you happy. When you are just doing work for someone else, there's a chance you will forget why you got into photography. And I got into it to tell stories. If the story is good enough, and it gets published, you can say, 'I did this, it was my idea, I used my own time'. The fee for the story won't pay for the time you spent on it, but it will give you energy."

Instagram: @nikolailinares


Nikolai Linares' kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Nikolai Linares' kitbag.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. Nikolai says: "The 5D is a workhorse, it just keeps on going. It just does what I want it to do, I trust it. It's the same model that I've had for 12 years. I've gone through every model of the 5D until the current Mark IV and they've just gotten better and better. For some assignments I have to do video and the Mark IV has this autofocus system that works really well. I wouldn't say I never miss a shot, but if I do it's never the camera's fault!"


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. Nikolai says: "I mostly use the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM because it's so flexible. If I have an assignment with very little time – say 15 minutes, which is not unusual for a portrait – then I can do everything with that lens, close up, full length… It takes out any element of risk."

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

The latest version of Nikolai's lens is a professional grade wide-angle lens with a natural perspective, an f/1.4 aperture and low light capabilities. "I love the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM. It just gives me beautiful images. When I use it, I really have to be more mobile and awake than with the zoom. But that's something we should all do more often," says Nikolai.


Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT Flash

The Speedlite 600EX II-RT is engineered for fast frame rate shooting, and performs in the most demanding situations. Used off-camera or in the hotshoe, its versatility allows you to take complete control over lighting.

LED lamp

"For portraits I like to use a small LED lamp instead of a flash, especially in the half of the year when it's dark. Sometimes I put different colours on the lamp," says Nikolai.


"The bag itself is so important – you need to have a bag that you always can find your stuff in," says Nikolai.


"I always have a small notebook. If you're doing reportage you need that!" says Nikolai.

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