Timothy Allen was born in Tonbridge, Kent. He attended The Judd School and took further education at Leeds University where he received a BSc in Zoology. Whilst at university, Allen undertook a three-month ecological research project in remote jungle on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi during which an encounter with a reclusive forest dwelling tribe proved to be a pivotal point in his life. At the age of 27 he began a part-time diploma in photography in Hereford and for his first year project he joined an aid convoy to Mostar during the town’s struggle to rebuild itself after the Yugoslav Wars.

After returning from Bosnia, Allen was offered his first job as a freelance photographer working at the Sunday Telegraph in London. A year later, after commissions from all of the British broadsheet publications, he eventually settled into a six-year position at The Independent.