Waddell attended Thirsk School and Sixth Form College. Whilst studying accounting at Brighton Polytechnic, he realised that his interests lay elsewhere and dropped out, taking up the study of photography at Barnfield College Luton and then London College of Printing. During this time, Rankin met Jefferson Hack, with whom he formed a working relationship. In 1992 the two decided to start a magazine together called Dazed & Confused. In December 2000 Rankin launched his own quarterly fashion magazine, Rank. He also publishes Another Magazine, Another Man and more recently Hunger, a website and biannual fashion and lifestyle magazine. In addition, Rankin has donated his services to publicity campaigns for the charitable organisation Women's Aid, providing photographs for use in the What's it going to take? and Valentine's Day campaigns. In April 2009 Rankin created Annroy, a contemporary structure designed by Trevor Horne Architects that is home to Rankin’s own photographic studio, gallery and living space, where he lives with his wife and model Tuuli Shipster. Each month Annroy holds a different exhibition, which features some of Rankin’s current work. In 2002, Rankin was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by The Royal Photographic Society. In January 2014, BBC 4 broadcast his 1 hour documentary Seven Photographs that Changed Fashion, in which he created his own tributes to images by Cecil Beaton, Erwin Blumenfeld, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, David Bailey and Guy Bourdin. He interviewed an array of original photographers, models and assistants, and used contemporary models including Heidi Klum, Erin O'Connor, Jade Parfitt, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Tuuli Shipster, Mollie Gondi, Daphne Guinness and David Gandy. In 2010, Rankin travelled to South Africa with the BBC to shoot the documentary, South Africa in Pictures The same year, Rankin was commissioned by Nike and Bono’s Product Red in the fight against HIV/AIDS, to shoot a global Nike campaign, Lace Up Save Lives, to raise awareness about the disease. Rankin was involved with television reality show Britain's Missing Top Model. The show followed eight young women with disabilities who competed for a modeling contract, which includes a photo shoot with Rankin and a cover photo in Marie Claire. Rankin has shot for Germany's Next Topmodel, where he was a guest judge, and regularly works with the winner of Cycle 2 of Britains Next Top Model Lianna Fowler. In 2011 Rankin served as the photography teacher in the Channel 4 series Jamie's Dream School featuring Jamie Oliver. He also presented the BBC Four documentary America in Pictures - The Story of Life Magazine. In May 2012 it was confirmed that Rankin would be re-shooting Azealia Banks's music video for her single "Liquorice". In February 2011, Rankin expressed the opinion that "in America the Jewish zealots are so powerful. Especially in the entertainment industry."  After this was reported, Rankin said "of course this is not my official position and I apologise wholeheartedly for my use of language and any offence this may have caused.