October 22nd, 2015

PhotoPlus Expo 2015: Nat Geo Photogs on How to Get Your Work Published

How do you get published in National Geographic magazine? Obsess, obsess, obsess. “If you’re not completely obsessed with excellence, with your story, with sharing your vision with the world, then there’s a problem,” said long-time National Geographic contributor Lynn Johnson at a Photo Plus Expo panel titled “Women of Vision at National Geographic.”

Others on the panel were photographers Jodi Cobb, Diane Cook, Stephanie Sinclair and Erika Larsen. National Geographic photo editor Elizabeth Krist moderated the discussion. They offered advice and tips for pitching ideas to editors, shaping stories, editing your work, and other topics.

“I love to work with photographers who are obsessed,” not only because their engagement is inspiring, Krist says, but because “I can trust they’e not going to miss anything.”

Several of the photographers described how consumed they are by their projects, not only because of insatiable curiosity, but because of the commitment they develop to their subjects along the way. That commitment often supersedes personal commitments, Johnson said. “Your family and friends can roll their eyes and talk about abandonment, but you’re out the door.”

Johnson continued to work on her story about medical marijuana for months after National Geographic published it. “The story is out, but we’re still on it,” she said, because by raising awareness about the benefits of the drug “there’s a chance to save a life or elevate the life of a family.”

“It’s not just a story,” Sinclair said. “What projects do you want to dedicate part of your life to [doing]? You spend years working on some of these projects.” Her “Too Young to Wed” project about child marriage was published by National Geographic in 2011. She is still working on it, with a goal of ending child marriage by raising awareness.

The panelists talked about how they find and frame stories in ways that appeal to editors.

“I’m looking for a way to make a story fun” so people can relate to it, said Cook, who produces stories for National Geographic with her husband, Len Jenshel. They are currently working on a story about trees. And rather than do another story about the destruction of the world’s forests, they are taking a humanistic approach by exploring the social, cultural, and religious significance of different types of trees. “I would rather, through beauty and seduction, get [viewers] to care,” Cook said.

Cobb said, “Editors love to be surprised” by story ideas as well as by photographs. She advised photographers to pitch stories “that are kind of unknown, something you have unique access to…What are you uniquely qualified to do?”

Krist agreed. “If you have access to part of the world that others don’t, that’s a huge advantage. It pushes you to the head of the queue” of photographers who are trying to get National Geographic interested in their projects. For example, Sinclair’s unique access to mormon communities convinced the magazine to assign the story she did about polygamy, Krist said.

Krist noted that National Geographic needs certain areas of expertise–notably photographers who specialize in archaeology–more than others, such as wildlife and underwater specialists.

In response to an question from an audience member about how to get magazines interested in publishing personal projects, panelists emphasized the importance of believing in your own projects and committing yourself to them, even if editors aren’t interested.

Sinclair said that when she first started pitching her child bride project, editors asked, Why should we care? “I had to go and make pictures to show why they should care,” she said.

Johnson added, “You have to know your subject matter better than anyone else, so it’s embedded in you. You have to put your money, your time, and your passion out there. It can take years” before editors get interested in what you are doing.

Cook emphasized the importance of showing works-in-progress to colleagues, and of editing tightly. “Make sure your first three pictures are your best, because if you lose [an editor] on the first three pictures, they’re gone.”

Panelists also said competitions and curated photo blogs are a good way to build exposure for your work. If editors see your work once, “and see it again, and again, they know if it gets better every time,” Johnson said. “At some point, [good work] will rise to the surface.”

Krist agreed, and said that as a body of work matures and rises, “eventually we say, ‘That’s someone we’d like to have shooting for us.'”

The Unsentimental Education of Lynn Johnson
Lynn Johnson on Veteran Survivors of Blast Force

July 13th, 2015

Pulitzer Center Announces $1 Million Fund for Multimedia Journalism Projects

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has announced the Catalyst Fund, a new initiative that will support “as many as 40” multimedia journalism projects in the next two years with $1 million in grants made to journalists working with major news outlets.

In addition to supporting the production of multimedia reportage, the Fund will also support journalists in their efforts to disseminate projects to students through presentations at schools and via the Pulitzer Center website.

The Fund is supported by donations from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, and from individual donors.

“The Pulitzer Center is a leader among a growing field of nonprofit news organizations bringing creative models of production and dissemination to a disrupted news industry,” said Kathy Im, Director of MacArthur Foundation’s Journalism and Media program, in a statement.

The Pulitzer Center says it has already committed Catalyst Fund support to projects that will be published by The New York Times, National Geographic, MSNBC and other outlets.

Journalists interested in applying for Catalyst Fund grants are encouraged to apply through the Pulitzer Center’s grants portal, here: http://www.pulitzercenter.org/grants

Related: Q&A: How to Get Funding From The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

March 23rd, 2015

Unique College Program Helps Environmental Orgs See Value of Photography

© Joshua See

Mammalogist Tom Horsley prepares to remove a captured bat from a high-elevation mist-net in Borneo. Joshua See made this photograph while working with the Royal Ontario Museum as a student in the Environmental Visual Communication program. © Joshua See

Conservation photographer Neil Osborne understands how important visual communication can be to environmental and conservation organizations. Photographs, videos and other forms of visual storytelling can help non-profits share their messages and the work they do with wide audiences. Visual storytelling can also serve as an effective fundraising tool. But many nonprofits spend little on photography and other communications efforts, Osborne notes.

He and his colleagues at the Environmental Visual Communication (EVC) program at Toronto’s Fleming College saw an opportunity to match students with nonprofit organizations that need photography, video and other visual communications assets. Over the past three years they’ve developed a “placement partner” system for the EVC, which gives students real-world experience (and, in some cases, payment) while putting their talents to use for good causes. Many students “publish individual and collaborative works before they even graduate,” Osborne notes. In the process of providing “communication strategy and tactics to these groups to enhance and advance their messaging,” students demonstrate to nonprofits how valuable visual storytelling and the expertise of photographers can be in helping them meet their goals. (more…)

January 9th, 2015

National Geographic’s Photo Engineering at Work

Striving for new and unusual ways to photograph subjects from land, sea, and air, National Geographic photographers often turn for technical assistance to NG photo engineers Kenji Yamaguchi and David Mathews. The two men, who are the subjects of an article in January PDN and now on PDN online, devise ingenious tools for making pictures that would otherwise be too dangerous or difficult for photographers to make. ““These guys are the unsung heroes of the Geographic,” says long-time contributor George Steinmetz.

Yamaguchi and Mathews worked behind the scenes on Nick Nichols’s Serengeti lions project, Steve Winter’s snow leopards project, and various projects by underwater photographer David Doubilet, to name just a few examples. Here are some videos that show their technical ingenuity in action:


Nick Nichols and his assistant, Nathan Williamson, at work on the Serengeti lions project with a robotic camera tank and a camera drone.


Steve Winter explains how he used camera traps to photograph a mountain lion at night under the Hollywood sign.


The Photo Engineering department faces possible budget cuts, but National Geographic recently profiled of Kenji Yamaguchi, with this video showing him at work in the publisher’s Photo Engineering lab.


Addition videos on National Geographic’s web site:

Steve Winter describes his 2008 snow leopard project in northern India. Scenes of Winter setting up remote cameras and strobes on snow leopard trails start at 2:47.

An encounter, narrated by Steve Winter, between a tiger and a robotic camera vehicle developed by NG Photo Engineering.

Scenes from the sinking of a ship for the creation of an artificial reef, featuring David Doubilet’s remote camera images from the ship’s deck as engineers set explosive charges, then detonated them. Remote camera images begin at 1:21.

Related Article:
The Technical Ingenuity of National Geographic’s Photo Engineering Department

August 22nd, 2014

PDN Video: Gerd Ludwig on Why He’s Risked His Life at Chernobyl

In 1993, photographer Gerd Ludwig began documenting the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster while on assignment for National Geographic. “I got involved accidentally [while] covering a story about pollution in the [former] Soviet Union,” he says. “I was struck by the post-apocalyptic feel of the whole zone.” He ended up returning nine times over 20 years to tell the story of a human and environmental catastrophe that continues to reverberate, and he recently published The Long Shadow of Chernobyl, a 252-page tri-lingual book about the disaster. In this video, Ludwig describes the challenge and drama of photographing inside the destroyed nuclear reactor, and what drove him to take great personal risk to tell the story.

May 2nd, 2014

Bon Appétit, W, National Geographic, Glamour Win National Magazine Awards for Visuals

bon appetit cover2Bon Appétit, National Geographic, W, and Glamour were the winners of the photography, multimedia and video category awards in the 2014 the National Magazine Awards competition, the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) has announced. The winners were honored at a ceremony last night in New York.

Bon Appétit won the Photography award for overall excellence in print magazine photography. The magazine also won the Style and Design award for fashion, decorating, design and travel coverage.  Alex Grossman and Alex Pollack serve as the magazine’s creative director and photo director, respectively.

W magazine won the Feature Photography award for a May 2013 feature titled “Stranger Than Paradise” with a series of fanciful photographs of Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker.

National Geographic won the Mulitmedia award for “The Last Chase” by Robert Draper, a story about storm chaser Tim Samaras’s death last May 31 in a tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma.

National Geographic also won the Tablet Magazine award for its August, October and November iPad editions.

Glamour won the Video award for three videos from its “Screw You Cancer” series: “Confronting Cancer: BRCA1 & BRCA2 Gene Mutations,”  “Recovery: Meds. And Love,” and “Life Post-Surgery: Back on Stage.” All were posted on Glamour.com last October.

According to ASME, which sponsors the awards, sixty-six magazines were honored as finalists in 24 categories, and 17 magazines won awards. Among the other winners were Fast Company, which won Magazine of the Year; New York magazine, which won the General Interest, Design, and Website awards; and TIME magazine, which won the Public Interest award. The Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame Award went to Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair since 1992.

A complete list of winners and finalists is posted on the ASME website.

May 1st, 2014

George Steinmetz Wonders: Was It Worth Getting Arrested for National Geographic Cover Story Photos?

Brookover Ranch Feed Yard near Garden City, Kansas, with adjacent crop circles of grain used to fatten cattle. © 2014 George Steinmetz/National Geographic

A picture worth being arrested for? Brookover Ranch Feed Yard near Garden City, Kansas, with adjacent crop circles of grain used to fatten cattle.                © 2014 George Steinmetz/National Geographic

This month’s cover story of National Geographic, about how to meet growing worldwide demand for food, is the story that got photographer George Steinmetz in trouble last June, and he’s still stinging from the experience.

Caught in the political crossfire between animal rights activists and agribusiness interests trying to make it illegal to photograph factory farm operations, he wound up in jail in Kansas while on assignment to shoot the story, called “The New Food Revolution.”

“It was quite a surprise to me,” says Steinmetz, who is renowned for the beautiful aerial landscapes he shoots all over the world, and who is used to encounters with authorities. “I’ve been detained in Iran and Yemen, and questioned about spying, but never arrested. And then I get thrown in jail in America.” (more…)

October 7th, 2013

An Astronaut, Mark Seliger’s Music and Rick Smolan’s Trek: PhotoPlus Expo’s Keynote Speakers Announced

@ Donald Pettit

@ Donald Pettit

Ever wanted to ask a question of an astronaut, hear how Mark Seliger captures portraits of musicians or know what happens on a National Geographic assignment? You’ll have your chance at the keynote presentations
at PhotoPlus Expo. The conference and trade show takes place October 23 through 26 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New  York City. Each of the keynotes is free to attendees who register for one of the conference passes at PhotoPlus Expo.

Our space enthusiast friends (including some PDN staffers) are particularly excited to get seats for Dr. Donald Pettit’s presentation, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Photography in Space,” on October 24, from 12pm to 1pm. He will share images shot from the cupola of a spacecraft, and explain the techniques used to capture images from this unique perspective.

Mark Seliger, who has shot over 100 Rolling Stone covers, will be discussing the evolution of his portrait and fashion photography, and his own journey as a musician, on October 25, from 12pm to 1pm.

Rick Smolan, the creator of the “Day in the Life” book series, was assigned by National Geographic to document a young Australian woman’s 1,700 mile trek across Australia’s Gibson desert accompanied only by some camels and a dog. The story became the book, Alice to Ocean, which is now being made into a motion picture by the producers who made “The King’s Speech.” In his presentation on October 26 from 12pm to 1pm, Smolan will present never-before-seen images from the project and clips from the film.

The keynotes are just one portion of the educational program at the PhotoPlus Expo conference. There are seminars covering lighting techniques, marketing and social media, mastering video, creating compelling portraits, “How to Create Advertising That Doesn’t Look like Advertising,” “The Art of Video Storytelling,” “Understanding Your Smartphone,” “Today’s Changing Marketplace for Your Photographs,” “How to Navigate the World of Fashion Photography,” tips and trends. Speakers include Zack Arias, Olivia Bee, Jeremy Cowart, Joe McNally, Art Streiber, Jody Quon, Gregory Heisler, Bob Davis, Douglas Kirkland, James Estrin, Guy Aroch, Cliff Mautner, Corey Rich, Ed Kashi, Ron Haviv, Tyler Stableford, Brian Storm, Mary Virginia Swanson, Gail Mooney,

Lou Jones, Zack Arias, and Alex Buono.

For more information or for frequent updates, visit the PhotoPlus Expo website, become a fan on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Website:    http://www.photoplusexpo.com
Facebook:    http://www.facebook.com/photoplusexpo
Twitter:    http://www.twitter.com/photoplusexpo

By the way, in addition to hosting (and moderating) seminars at the conference, PDN will be exhibiting at PhotoPlus Expo. Please stop by and say hi.

June 27th, 2013

PDN Video Pick: Mark Moffett Gets Up Close and Personal with Pollinators

Among a number of noteworthy photo projects screened at the 2013 Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month was “Pollinators,” a four-minute video featuring stunning macro images of insects and animals in the act of pollinating plants, by National Geographic contributor Mark Moffett. Part of the charm of the video is Moffett’s narration, which evokes the plodding soberness of nature documentaries of yore, and then takes a series of wry, tongue-in-cheek turns after about 90 seconds. (This video was provided courtesy of Look3 organizers, with Mark Moffett’s permission.)

March 20th, 2013

National Geographic Celebrates 125 Years with Vintage-Photo Blog


As part of the celebration of their 125th year, National Geographic recently launched a Tumblr blog that unearths “lost” photographs from the Yellow Monster’s image archive, which is said to include more the 10.5 million images.

Called “Found,” the vintage-photography blog was quietly introduced a couple of weeks ago, and has built an audience rather quickly. As of last week, Found had more than 13,000 followers, according to National Geographic Digital Creative Director Jody Sugrue. Several of the images have been “liked” or shared hundreds—even thousands—of times.

“The response has been incredible,” Sugrue told PDN. “It’s been overwhelming, and I think its encouraging us to tell more stories like this, in this way.” Through Tumblr, “we have access to a community that National Geographic doesn’t normally tap into, which we’re excited about,” Sugrue says. (more…)