How I got the shot: Nori Jemil on capturing Turkey’s otherworldly Pamukkale region

Ever wondered what it takes to shoot a National Geographic Traveller photo story? Photographer Nori Jemil shares the tricks and challenges behind her latest assignment.

By Nori Jemil
Published 2 May 2020, 08:00 BST, Updated 22 Feb 2022, 13:49 GMT
Photographer Nori Jemil captured a local woman making 'gozleme', a local spinach and feta pie, in a village ...

Photographer Nori Jemil captured a local woman making 'gozleme', a local spinach and feta pie, in a village outside Pamukkale, as part of her assignment for the November 2019 issue. 

Photograph by Nori Jemil

On assignment for National Geographic Traveller, photographer Nori Jemil shot the photo story, Ruins, rituals and otherworldly springs of Turkey's Pamukkale region.

What drew you to this story and location?

Having previously spent a lot of time in Turkey, I’ve always been enticed by the cultural aspects of life there, from the architecture and history to the cuisine. Pamukkale had been on my radar for a while. It’s an area of immense beauty and one of the planet’s natural wonders; as a photographer, I just had to see it. When I researched a bit more, I knew that the cascading thermal pools, the ancient site of Hierapolis and life in the nearby towns and villages would combine to make a great photo story.

On location, what elements are you seeking out for a successful shoot?

I’m always looking for a dramatic opening shot, usually a landscape, that establishes a place. From then on, I’ll plan a series of images that will enable me to tell the story — a range of shots, from people to interiors, and the little local details that add colour. I try to make longer trips wherever possible. I know from experience that the deeper I dive, the more I’m going to discover. The energy that ensues from a face-to-face interaction can never be planned for, so you have to leave room for spontaneity. It’s often the unexpected people I meet along the way that give a story heart and soul.

Overlooking the southwestern town of Pamukkale are its tiers of white limestone that shimmer beneath thermal waters. This was the establishing shot Nori Jemil sought out for the opening spread of the photo story, which appeared in the November 2019 issue. 

Photograph by Nori Jemil

What were some of the challenges? 

I had already pre-visualised the opening spread for this story — a colourful sunset mirrored in the pools — and spent a while scouting the best location for it. What I hadn’t bargained for was a week of intense thunderstorms. Every afternoon for three or four days, the rain was so torrential and the lightning so ferocious that it would’ve been dangerous to remain on the exposed hillside. As I’d planned a longish trip, I was able to reschedule around this unexpected weather, working outdoors only when I had the best chance of good light.  

Was this shoot typical of your career as a travel photographer?

I like telling stories that relate to people and culture, but I’m obviously drawn to magnificent landscapes, so I’d say this is a very typical shoot for me. I also tend to do a lot of research and combine that with what inspires me once I’m on the ground. Working in tough conditions or remote landscapes seems to be a bit of a pattern — I’ve just come back from Patagonia, and have done shoots in Iceland, the Arctic, Antarctica, the Faroe Islands, Chile’s Atacama Desert and the Kimberley in Western Australia. 

What do you take into account when packing or selecting kit?

Usually it’s down to how much I can carry with me, especially if the job involves flying. It also depends very much on the story — if I know I’m not focusing on wildlife, I won’t take a heavy long lens. For National Geographic Traveller stories, I’m usually photographing a variety of subjects, so I’ll prioritise a spare camera body and a range of lenses that cover everything from portraits to food. I always have a tripod and lens filters, plus the usual hardware for daily back-ups.

Working in tough conditions or remote landscapes is what attracts Nori Jemil to the job. Here, she crouches among drift ice to get a shot of the fjords in Alberto de Agostini National Park, Chile.

Photograph by Nori Jemil

Where are you finding inspiration during lockdown?

I’ve been posting a photo a day on social media after a friend requested a distraction from these difficult times. It’s actually given me a real boost, too, and it’s a chance to revisit some incredible travels while I’m searching through my archives. Reading guidebooks and travel literature is giving me inspiration for future trips, and I’ve loved delving into some of the National Geographic Traveller editors’ favourite long reads online. 

Where’s next on your wishlist when we can travel again?

Apart from a postponed visit to Western Australia to check in with my parents, I’ve been truly inspired by the BBC’s recent Race Across the World, which takes place in South America. I lived in Chile for many years and have backpacked my way through nearly all of the featured countries at some time or another. But what I’d really love to do is to retrace my steps and do a long, single-leg road trip from Mexico City to Ushuaia — mirroring the programme — taking in all of my favourite locations and those still undiscovered places in between. 

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