Nat Geo on Photo Filters: “Please Stop”

For those of you who’ve ever wondered what it takes to get your work into National Geographic, here’s a hint: not “creative” software filters. According to a set of guidelines laid out in a message from the magazine’s Director of Photography, certain minor post-processing is ok with the exception of filters. Minimal dodging and burning, black and white, hand tinted images (if you’re experienced), and cropping are ok when done well; fish eye lenses are discouraged; but filters are a definite no no.

How much of a no no? Well, the photo director’s exact words regarding filters boil down to: “No. Please stop.” So even though the current trend in photography, spearheaded by Instagram, is towards filters, don’t expect Nat Geo to jump on the bandwagon anytime soon.

A message from the Director of Photography of National Geographic (via Reddit)

  • φoε†ic φhο†ο φrεss™


  • disgruntled77

    Ironic that National Geographic was just touting its Instagram account and how it was used as one of the ways a recent Mount Everest expedition was documented.

  • Buzzregog

    you can share photos via instagram without using filters..

  • disgruntled77

    Yeah sure you can share photos on Instagram without filters. Now if only National Geographic had done that, then you’d have a valid point.
    Check it out for yourself.

  • Duke Shin

    Sure they used filters, but they didn’t use the pictures to spam photostreams and facebook newsfeeds like dumb bitches.

  • Iker Paz

    Thanks, man. 

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    It doesn’t really make them hypocrites – sharing via social media is a little different to being published in National Geographic. I don’t want to see heavily edited photos in Nat Geo – if I want heavy editing I just have to pick up a copy of any photography magazine

  • Ranger 9

    I can’t help thinking it’s a bit arbitrary to say that hand-tinting is okay, but duotone (which is not a “filter”) is off-limits. For that matter, what about using a red filter on the camera for black-and-white photos, or a polarizing filter for color photos? Both of those are techniques for creating an exaggerated, unnatural rendition of the scene, but apparently they’re fine, since they don’t use software.
    So what they’re really saying is, “Don’t submit photos that challenge our preconceptions about how photos ‘should’ look.”

  • Alex Braman

    no, it’s make the best photo you can by being a good photographer, not a digital editor. Composition, timing, luck, and skill all come together for a good photo.

    But then there’s people who take a bad photo and then add a filter to make it “art.”
    You want vintage photo effects? Shoot film. 

  • Guest

    “Photographs that are rea”l is the first line, funny considering NATGEO are the pioneers of digital MANIPULATION, anybody remember the moving of the Pyramids?  

    On a cover story of Egypt, pyramids were squeezed together to fit the cover’s vertical format. A picture story on Poland contained a cover photograph that combined an expression on a man’s face in one frame with a complete view of his hat in another picture. Both cover images were altered without a hint of possible detection and without a note to readers that such manipulation was performed./17

  • dosels22

    I’m all for filters. I use all kinds of techniques to make my boring pictures better, but with NAT GEO, the subject should be impressive enough. I see no problem here. However, I bet a touch of the LR4 clarity slider with a  notch of vibrance and bringing down the luminance in the blues for the sky just might make that alpine lake shot look a little more how I remember it.

  • Dan

    what is their position on HDR?  When done without all of the thick effects, HDR provides an image that is closer to what the eye/brain sees.

  • Osmosisstudios

    It’s REALLY HARD to click through links, I know, but sometimes – just sometimes – it answers your question.  Like I said, though, it’s REALLY HARD. Like, impossible.

  • Tanya

     OMG you could do that? I was not aware of the same till I read this post.

  • Jake

    Or, you could not be a dick and give a polite, constructive answer, like:
    If you click on the link in the article, it takes you to the original full text of the letter where he talks about HDR and stitched images.

  • Osmosisstudios

    Or, you could not be a fail and click the proper “reply” button, like the one at the end of, and below, this line of text.

  • John Dunahoo

    do they mean instagram-esque photo filters or do they mean polarizor, ND filters, etc… because if its the later that would disqualify any Nat. Geo photographer … I just never thought people actually used solarization

  • Drzox

    Nothing disqualifies a contracted shooter from exploring territory under the wide umbrella of covering a story, but when submitting to the public yourshot, the wacky filter stuff is at peak signal to noise. Also, if your RAW file does not support the color hue and saturation of the presented JPG, you may find your self in a bit of an editorial bind. For the right story illustration, they might hire on an HDR shooter. 

  • Drzox

    oh, and including ivory registration serial numbers on tusks freshly back from a bush hunt, co2 freezing mosquitos, or using stuffed kingfishers is a serious faux pas. 

  • robandrewphoto

    I don’t think this is NatGeo’s general philosophy on all things photography- its just a guideline for the “Your Shot” section of the mag, taken a bit out of context to make a point.

  • Elizabeth H. Crane

    a recent Mount Everest expedition was documented.

  • Stephen Newport

    I’m always thrown by the dichotomy of removing the photographer’s visually creative bias from a scene, but not removing a writer’s as well. While there is a time and a place for both straight facts and opinions, the “purist” approach to photography as the “right way” is bothersome.

    “The world is full of visual artiface”

    Well, the world is full of uninventive, unimaginative fact without any vision of “better” as well. 

    Photography is a biased medium used to show a very narrow view of a specific subject and it’s position in the world at that time and place. Saturating a sky to draw your eyes across it is not too different than removing a person in the background to keep your eyes focused on the subject is not too different than pointing the camera that way instead of that way. You’re trying to tell a visual story and there are many ways to achieve that. Much factual information about this world will be left out of any image.

    I’m right in the middle of this debate, it just seems most of the world polarize themselves on the extremes. Know your tools, use them well, and don’t limit yourself to just being a “photographer,” you’re an artist as well.

    I remember over a decade ago I used a specific piece of (vector) software. After completion of an image I began taking it into Photoshop to mess with the colors, contrast and other raster options unavailable in the former program. I remember a heated debate over those images taking place that I was not a “true vector” artists… something I never really thought of myself as! The final image was the goal for me, whatever the process.

  • Brad Trent

    The problem I have with ALL the high & mighty talk about digital manipulation is that ALL photography is essentially a fake representation of reality, including good old Black & White photography, so how can you draw a line and say that an arbitrary bundle of digital retouching techniques, a lot of which would be considered just groovy back in the day of darkrooms and hand printing, are now off limits?!! I dunno about the rest of you, but I don’t ‘see’ in B&W, so a black and white image is technically not ‘real’. How is converting a color digital image into B & W any different from adding one of these digital ‘filters’? And, as others have said, why would a ‘hand-tinted’ photograph be acceptable, but a similarly Photoshop tinted shot rejected?!! 

    I’m not saying the photo world will be a better place if we run around solarizing and duo-tone all of our images, but for Chrissakes, shitcanning a whole mess of Photoshop filters and proclaiming yourself a ‘Pure’ photographer isn’t exactly the creative, open-minded way, is it??? If so, I guess we’ll hafta toss out all of our Man Ray shots…..

  • Hls30

    Nat Geo- overrated

  • Rene Schlegel

    yeah, now we are all going to look for NG shots that have been altered. I think in principle that is a great statement. Should exeptions be allowed: sure, if declared in the caption of the shot. Viewers have a right to know if they are looking at the real or some artificial image.

  • Fotografox

    que falsa esta gente de NatGeo, les admiro pero casi que con esto me provoca escupirles…

  • Paul Gauthier

    You’re quite simply wrong. Post-processing is part of photography. Sure, HCB may not have given a monkey’s behind about it, but Ansel Adams sure as hell did.

    Digital post-processing is an integral part of photography in the 21st century, just as post-processing in the darkroom was for the previous hundred years. Just because you’ve failed to grasp the difference between good digital PP and crap Photoshop hack jobs — and thus conflate the two — doesn’t change any of these facts.

  • Kathleen

     Do you make it a habit of being obnoxious on public fora?  Congratulations on your online anonymity.  I see it serves you well.

  • Michael Cruise

    Yeah, kind of like how NASA is overrated when it comes to space travel.