“I’m pretty sure most people have no idea what a photo editor actually does,” says photographer David Guttenfelder at the beginning of this short video recently published by National Geographic. In the video, photographers and photo editors explain a bit about the how the photographer-editor relationship works at National Geographic. “It’s a complete partnership,” says Erika Larsen. “It’s just as personal to them as it is to me.”

One of the best things photo editors offer, the photographers say, is tough criticism. Tim Laman recalls one editor saying, “I don’t care if you spent a week sitting in a blind to get that picture, it’s still a crappy picture.” Aaron Huey says Sarah Leen made him cry. And Joel Sartore says an editor told him, “we can’t publish your excuses.”

Nearly all the photographers agree that National Geographic’s demand that they hand over every image they’ve made on an assignment makes them feel “naked.” “The first time, I don’t think I ate for several days,” says Andrea Bruce. “It’s just pure shame,” adds Charlie Hamilton James.

While the video doesn’t delve into the nitty gritty, behind-the-scenes work, it’s fun to see the people behind the pictures talking candidly about the editing process. And to see Corey Arnold talking to his cat.

Related: How Photo Editors Find and Hire Photographers


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