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.
Last year we shared a table listing the various hazards National Geographic photographers experience while on the job. Of the 45 members surveyed, 8 of them had been attacked by wild animals. Here’s a video in which Nat Geo photographer Mattias Klum describes an experience in which he went face-to-face with a lioness, and escaped with both his life and an amazing photograph.
The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is a multi-year project by National Geographic photographer James Balog that aims to make show climate change in action through time-lapse imagery of glaciers. Balog has 27 Nikon D200 DSLRs pointed at 18 glaciers around the world snapping 8,000 photographs each year while powered by solar panels. His custom-designed rigs — created through months of trial and error — also include heavy duty tripods, waterproof cases, and wind-proof anchors. He has also created a documentary film about his project titled Chasing Ice. Read more…
The Photo Society has published an interesting article in which Kent Kobersteen, the Director of Photography at National Geographic magazine from 1987 to 2005, shares thoughts on what he looks for in photographers:
[The required] attributes are intellect, passion, maturity and drive.
Reading this, you may say “What about the photography?” Of course any person under consideration must be a great photographer. The National Geographic needs photography that is strong aesthetically and has a sophisticated use of color, photography that is poetic, journalistic, memorable, and comes from unique and intuitive seeing. But, that’s obvious, that’s a given.
All four of these attributes – intellect, passion, maturity, drive — ARE about the photography.
Kobersteen also states that he would choose “a photographer whose eye was not the best, but who worked very hard, rather than the person with the best eye in the world, and who was lazy.”
National Geographic photographers get to do the coolest things. In this video, photographer Carsten Peter takes us along with him on a journey into Son Doong, the world’s largest cave located in Vietnam. The biggest chamber in the cave is over 3 miles long and more than four times taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Ever wonder how the photographs found on the pages of National Geographic come together? Here’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes video showing how the images of the 1992 cover story titled “The Sense Of Sight” — photographed by Joe McNally — were shot, edited, and arranged. McNally writes,
And changes. Man, is that an understatement. High res digital cameras have replaced film cameras. Hard drives store pictures, not little yellow boxes. Kodak’s stopped making carousel projectors. Photographers go to the magazine far less often, given digital transmission. Ties and jackets are seen less frequently.
But, the main mission, over time, has remained. Tell a good story in pictures. The major components–photographer, picture editor, designer, magazine editor–are all still in place, and the interplay among them is ongoing and largely unchanged.
The next time you pick up an issue of National Geographic and are tempted to flippantly flip through the images, consider these crazy facts: the 40 page/40 picture story took roughly a year to create from idea to completion and required 1200 rolls of film shot during 6 months of field work!
One just doesn’t walk in off the street to get a job at National Geographic anymore. That was almost half a century ago when there were many more magazines being published that used good photojournalism. And the number of really fine photographers was not nearly as high as I believe it is today. So it’s much tougher to do what I did so long ago. But not impossible.
[...] I would never tell anyone you can’t get there from here, regarding getting to photograph for National Geographic. But, if that’s what you want, you have to want it really bad and dedicate yourself to developing your eye and photographic abilities to the very best you can, and then try to do even better than that. Don’t worry about being better than anybody you know personally or whose work you admire. Simply try to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday. You are not so much in competition with others as you are with yourself. Be your own toughest critic.
Ever wonder what National Geographic photographers go through to get the beautiful shots that appear in the yellow-bordered magazine? The Photo Society — an interesting new website created by the magazine’s Photographer’s Advisory Board — recently surveyed 45 Nat Geo photographers about hazards they’ve encountered while on assignment. All the incidences were then counted up and turned into a fascinating table showing how “glamorous” the photographers’ lives are. You can also read short vignettes of these experiences here.