A self-taught photographer based in Tehran, Newsha Tavakolian began working professionally in the Iranian press at age of 16, at the women's daily newspaper Zan. At the age of 18, she was the youngest photographer to cover the 1999 student uprising.

In 2002 she started working internationally, covering the war in Iraq. She has since covered regional conflicts, natural disasters and created social documentary projects.

In 2009 Tavakolian covered the Presidential elections in Iran, which ended up in chaos and forced her to temporarily halt her photojournalistic work. Instead she started working on projects that experts describe as a mix of social documentary photography and art.

Her work ranges from bold reportage of political events to sensitive portraits and evocative series on socially-engaged topics including issues of middle-class youth, female Kurdish fighters or the impact of sanctions on individual lives.

Her work has been published in international magazines and newspapers, including Time Magazine, Newsweek, Stern, Le Figaro, Colors, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, NRC Handelsblad, The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic.
Her work has been widely exhibited at international institutions, including Victoria & Albert Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), British Museum and Boston Museum of Fine Art.

In 2014 Tavakolian was the fifth laureate of the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award. In 2015 she was the principle laureate of the Prince Claus Award.

Tavakolian became a Magnum nominee in 2015.