• September 15, 2013

The Photographers on Photography

Pamela Chen

This post was originally published the day we launched Proof. We’re resurfacing it for this week’s #ThrowbackThursday to celebrate two years of stories about the power of photography—and our birthday!—The Proof Team

Chances are if you walked past a National Geographic photographer on the street, you wouldn’t know it—and that’s how they like it. As photographer and Editor at Large Michael “Nick” Nichols puts it, “I want people to remember the pictures, not my name or what I look like.” But as part of our 125th anniversary special issue this October, we wanted to turn the camera around on Nick and his fellow photographers.

The photographers of National Geographic magazine come from all walks of life. Their insights about the world are built over lifetimes devoted to documenting the lives of others. Their pictures are proof of their passion. But beyond the photographs, so many of these photographers are my heroes. They are our friends, our colleagues, our community. And with these upcoming videos, we want to share with you why.

This video portrait series is a labor of love. It involved sitting down with 44 photographers coming through headquarters this year to talk with me about how they found photography, and why they never left. From my interviewer’s chair, it felt like traveling to endless worlds without ever moving an inch. These were not your typical interviews; they were shoptalk conversations that didn’t seem to start or end in that room. We recently premiered this first installment, comprised of excerpts, at the international photography festival Visa Pour l’Image in Perpignan, France. Consider this a sneak peek of each resulting individual video portrait that is to come.

Photographs by Pamela Chen

There was a surprise twist in the making of this project. In addition to our dedicated staff production crew of Elyse Lipman, Barbara Paulsen, Spencer Millsap, and Shannon Sanders, we recruited an unexpected army of video editors: an undergraduate photojournalism class at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill, led by assistant professor Chad A. Stevens.

In record time, Stevens worked with the school to create a spring semester three-credit entrepreneurial course where we became the client, he became co-producer, and his students became editors. Each student was assigned a National Geographic photographer to study in depth and received raw interview footage. They were asked to craft a video portrait that was true to the photographer’s unique personality and deliver it on a rigorous real-world deadline. And deliver they did. Each National Geographic photographer profile we produced for this month’s series was edited by a UNC-Chapel Hill photojournalism student in Stevens’ class.

We all went into this project thinking that the class would be about video production and the business of client work. “On the surface, you have some great learning happening: very practical, applicable skills,” says Stevens. “But once you go deeper, it was slowly revealed that these students are learning from the photographers’ stories as well. The National Geographic photographers became the teachers.”

Surely we do have much to learn from them. After all, when someone tells you, “I’m a photographer for National Geographic magazine,” it’s hard not to be curious about the life they must lead. What drives our photographers to keep doing this work, and why does this life suit them so well? Everyone thinks they must have the most amazing job in the world, yet there are so many reasons why they would never tell you that. But now that we’ve asked …

Follow Pamela Chen on Instagram and Twitter.

Producers: Pamela Chen, Chad A. Stevens
Associate Producer: Elyse Lipman
Editor: Chad A. Stevens
Associate Editor: Kathryn Carlson
Picture Editor: Ken Geiger
Camera and Sound: Spencer Millsap, Shannon Sanders
Music: Tyler Strickland
Editors, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
Spencer Bakalar
Kathryn Carlson
Mika Chance
Erin Hull
Caitlin Kleiboer
G. Ligaiya Romero
Allison Russell
Julysa Sosa
Michelle Tessier
Carolyn Van Houten
Julia Wall
Ivan Weiss

There are 103 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Kimberly Cunningham
    August 4, 2016

    The nat geo photographers are a true inspiration. They inspire me to become a successful marine biologist and help remind me of how beautiful the world is during times of fear and chaos. They literally save my life.

  2. Rodolfo
    April 22, 2016

    Really amazing to watch and understand the mentality of a NG photographer. I plan on working for National Geography in the future but I definitely have a lot to learn!

  3. abdelilah amara
    March 25, 2016

    I want a photography in national geographic it’s my dreamI want a photography in national geographic it’s my dream

  4. Anthony
    February 12, 2016

    Interesting and informative. The world of photography is changing everyday. One thing I did notice is the lack of diversity in NG photographers. Not speaking for any specific minority group, but it seems as though only Caucasian males are your choice to hire and give assignments to? Kind of crazy that in 2016 things are not more diverse.

  5. Matt Hammad
    February 11, 2016

    As just high schooler with a strong passion for photography. I have never been so certain where I want to work in my life. Nat Geo is my dream. “I believe a little beetle with bright green eyes is just as magnificent as a grizzly bear.” I couldn’t agree more! So well said.

  6. jerry
    November 24, 2015

    I haven’t seen a photographer of color shooting for national Geographics why is that, hopefully this will change soon.

  7. Uming
    August 6, 2015

    I hope one day I can become to the part of Nat geo. Thats my Dreams.

  8. June
    June 15, 2015

    Inspiring for new photographers.

  9. Sofia Gratas
    May 25, 2015

    I am only 17, but i know that photojournalism mixed with the study of anthropology is what I want to do for the duration of my life. Nat Geo is so inspiring, and i found myself crying at certain parts of this video because Im so passionate about the work that is done by these photographers. Exploration, exposure, creativity, curiosity and so much more. These are all components of what i think make up this career, and my goal is going to be becoming a part of that. Awesome job on this.

  10. Roshan singh
    April 30, 2015

    One dream -yellow window
    I want to be a part of net geo cover shot magazine.. .photography is my passion, not my job……

  11. Ankush
    February 22, 2015

    Very insightful. Got to know a very different perspective which was quite intriguing. Delighted to see the passion which was oozing out with every word. I am glad i am associated with this.

  12. Adnan Hashmi
    February 17, 2015

    Interesting minds see interesting things.Thanks for sharing with us.

  13. Wael Habib
    January 9, 2015

    The passion those wonderful people have for the world and for people is unmatched, this is one of the main reasons I continue to subscribe to your magazine to support in a small way your efforts for awareness. Keep doing it well.

  14. Rene Ner
    December 7, 2014

    Lucky are those that work in the field when you love what you are doing, as it does not become such but a pure enjoyment with love and passion.

  15. Luan Roveri
    November 9, 2014

    Desde pequeno sempre fui uma daquelas pessoas que vivem sonhando acordado pensando no mundo, e desde os 8 anos pegando o atlas do meu vô ficava sonhando em conhecer cada um dos países que no mundo existe , cada ilha e cada canto. Sabe deve existir uma sensação tão maravilhosa em poder tocar e sentir a verdadeira alma e espirito humano que me arranca sorrisos só em pensar.
    E assim que conheci Humboldt e Cory Richards decidi definidamente que é a vida que eu quero.
    Fica vento National Geographic, daqui uns 8 anos quando eu vou ter terminado a faculdade de fotojornalismo e sera eu ai nesse quarto sentado, nessa cadeira, conversamos com vocês e tentando de todas as maneiras converse vocês a me aceitarem.
    Não desisto tão rápido viu, me aguardem 😉

  16. Jooeun Kim
    November 2, 2014

    Great advice for a person who’s preparing to be a photojournalist like me.

  17. Liz Field
    October 27, 2014

    Wonderful! Will share with both the B&W FILM (yes, I said film) high school class and my digitial classes. Good words, advice and images for them to see.

  18. Sanyam
    August 1, 2014

    Nostalgic !!

  19. jeshua Speer
    July 13, 2014

    photography is my passion and a gift i have. working for national geographic is a huge dream of mine and would love to work for you! i have lots of pictures of many different things you would find interesting as does everyone who has seen my pictures. if interested in my work, please email me!

  20. Michael
    June 8, 2014

    Thank you for this. Inspired.

  21. Stacy Newkirk
    June 1, 2014

    I have been a fan of the NGM for many years now. I love the very diverse photography that is being displayed in the magazine. I did notice that the photography staff is not very diverse. Do you not hire African American photographers? I happen to be a person of color.

    Curious in Kennesaw, Ga.

  22. Ershanna Morgan
    May 27, 2014

    I cant wait to be apart of the family. Yes im going to be a photogerpher for National Geographic. NO MATTER WHAT!

  23. David MacFarlane
    May 14, 2014

    After reading all the other comments on this page,the least I can say is thankyou.

  24. boulis mokbel
    May 14, 2014

    I want a photography in national geographic it’s my dream

  25. avadhut kadam
    May 13, 2014

    i really love photo of national geographic i really enjoy and I want to be a National Geographic photographer

  26. avadhut kadam
    May 13, 2014

    I want to be a National Geographic photographer and i will……………….

  27. tikku
    May 6, 2014

    The proof is simply amazing. I cannot but pay my complements to the photographers and the National Geographics team.

  28. sudhanshu shekhar
    April 29, 2014

    its very very nice thanks to give me knowledge and tell me what should be devotion toward photography

  29. Afzaal Khan
    April 29, 2014

    Thanks …………………. National Geographic

  30. Chad
    April 22, 2014

    Thanks for sharing this blog, very inspiring to us and keep it up! Congratulations!

  31. Chandra Prakash
    April 13, 2014

    Hello team National Geographic! I am an Engineering student looking forward to develop my career in the field of Photography! By working with this team maybe it will ensure my chances more and more towards this field. I am a continuous visitor of this Photography page and willing to do an Internship with National Geographic team. I have a Facebook page where i keep posting my photographs which are i think amateur only. If you want then please have a quick glance over them. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/chandraprakashphotography?ref=hl

    Thank You! 🙂

  32. Rene A Rodriguez
    April 1, 2014

    Hello, really enjoyed your photos of Horse People. Would you be willing to contact me? You took a photograph of Brooke on an Apalusa. I love it. The Lady is beautiful, Could you get me in touch through you.? Continue your career, you are goog, great!!

  33. Rene A Rodriguez
    April 1, 2014

    Hello, really enjoyed your photos of Horse People

  34. zhuhaile
    March 23, 2014

    I want to be a National Geographic photographer

  35. Wendy Arthur
    March 4, 2014

    Amazing and inspiring. I would love to see a video of the photographers taking those powerful images. How they get that perfect lighting.

  36. Elisabeth M. Karakli
    March 1, 2014

    Powerfully inspiring and wonderful video. Thank you for sharing the stories of these inspiring photographers!

  37. Glenn F Johnson
    February 28, 2014

    That was one of the best videos i have seen in years. It really gets you thinking about nature and the people around the world. Thank You

  38. Ana Alina
    February 18, 2014

    1 word – Magnificient

  39. GEGJR
    February 10, 2014

    Ryan Earl Sheckler in the words of the song Killing Me Softly you are “Strumming my pain with his fingers,
    Singing my life with his words,
    Killing me softly with his song,
    Killing me softly,
    With his song telling my whole life
    With his words,
    Killing me softly,
    With his song”

  40. Ryan Earl Sheckler
    February 9, 2014

    This is very inspirational for me. As a full time welder that’s out of work do to a broken arm. This video motivates me to work harder with my first love “Photography”. American society taught me I needed a lot of money and a 7-5 job that I hate and makes me feel like a Zombie and Worthless. I have this restlessness in me that have been pounding in the back of my head to travel, adventure, and change, enjoy and HELP OTHERS, really a pursuit of happiness. Thank you for this.

  41. Abhishek Sarkar
    January 23, 2014

    The videos are like life changing. When I was watching these videos, really I started loving the world. Though I love Photography very much. To listen the words from these masters is like losing mind and pull my mind into Photography.

  42. Paul Cabuguason
    January 23, 2014

    The unsung people behind the yellow border!

  43. Dori Jacobson
    January 15, 2014

    Passion is a word that is thrown around too much. It’s a word that means more than a definition. This word means so much to me.
    Photography is my passion. Traveling and seeing the world is something that I love to do. This video is fantastic; It made me cry actually. Seeing what photography has become truly inspires me to see the world in a different way. I hope that one day I can influence others like these photographers inspire me. Thank you National Geographic for inspiring the world.

  44. Sam
    January 15, 2014

    I need the whole video

  45. Suhey Ortega
    January 15, 2014


  46. H. A. Harvey
    January 15, 2014

    Powerfully inspiring. Photography is a way of opening the mind and to learn. The interesting stuff part will come with time and travel.

  47. Sam
    January 14, 2014

    I would like to know if this short video is a trailer for a longer documentary . If it is please publish it on the site or atleast post a name .

  48. Lorenzo
    January 13, 2014

    Thank you guys for what you are doing and how you are doing it. Greetings from Italy

  49. Gustavo Carneiro
    January 10, 2014

    I’m a portuguese 16 year-old boy and this video was so inspiring, so genuine, so honest, that it almost made me cry. National Geographic photographers inspired me to start photographing and they will keep inspiring me to make more and better photographs… and even if I that doesn’t happen, I’ll be able to enjoy all the magnificent works of this AMAZING photographers and I’ll never forget what this family taught me.

  50. Ari Hancock
    January 8, 2014

    ~ Fabulous ~ ..putting words to what I already love ~

  51. Curtis Irvine
    January 6, 2014

    I’m 16 years old from Northern Ireland.
    Nat Geo is what makes me want to take images. The broken world is what I want to heal and Nat Geo has taught me that using my skill of photography, I can do this. I hope with all my heart that my life leads me to becoming a National Geographic photojournalist.

  52. Neville Samuels
    January 3, 2014

    What’s striking is the humanity and compassion of these great photographers – and their sense of humor. Wonderful!

  53. Zeinab
    January 3, 2014

    That was wonderful

  54. valentina
    December 26, 2013

    my question is, how they became photograpers of nat geo, and if someone would like to became one, what we have to do

  55. Albert
    December 25, 2013

    just Outstanding and so much connect that i could see in my passion for photography and my passion to discover new things all the time. Would request to kindly pass me on the email ID of each of the above photographers please. Would contribute and qualify to be a part of the team. This passion in me is not only my passion but my meditation and my prayer too. please help me to reach each one of you please.

  56. Aimee Robinson
    December 17, 2013

    My question is more on the use of a recording camera device. Would any of the Photographers or Explorers be able to receive from GOOGLEGLASS a pair of the glasses for a objective opinion on the use? The glasses are being given only for those who believe they may be advantageous for the feedback on the product. I ask Natgeo for a look into the product and insight to share.

  57. Adryyy
    November 16, 2013

    Verry nice message .

  58. Jorge
    November 13, 2013

    Se ve muy buena la información, pero desgraciadamente muchos no dominamos ampliamente el idioma, deberían de traducirlo, sería muy bueno.

  59. Karen
    November 12, 2013

    “It’s funny how on one side of the video you see people of color. On the other, you don’t. Old habits die hard!” Amen, Dave. Other comments note photographers of color who could/should have been included.

  60. Barbara Franklin
    November 3, 2013

    How do I get a commemorative issue? How does one get considered for employment at National Geographic?

  61. Dave
    October 30, 2013

    It’s funny how on one side of the video you see people of color. On the other, you don’t. Old habits die hard!

  62. Mohamed Alamri
    October 24, 2013

    Truly inspiring this 5 min increased & enhanced my faith in photography it’s really interesting to work with such a channel I hope I can get the opportunity to work those inspiring photographers.

  63. Abel Rojas
    October 16, 2013

    We surrender to the power of the image. And yet, a single image is able to amaze, to discover a world we had not seen before. National Geographic has contributed greatly to the renewal of the human eye.

  64. GEGJr
    October 15, 2013

    What continues to baffle me, among other things about photography, is why is I don’t see any non-white photographers particularly African-Americans in this video? Another thing that baffles me is why is it that “natural” photographs like these never win photo contest at places like CreativeLIVE.com?

  65. Vaibhav
    October 10, 2013

    Hi, there.

    Where is Steve McCurry ?

    Hey Natgeo, his Afghan girl photograph has become as signature for National Geographic as your yellow window. And you missed him to join these elites !

  66. Vaibhav
    October 9, 2013

    Just wondering why there is not caption mentioning their name when they are speaking ?

  67. Jonathan Ellis
    October 7, 2013

    Wonderful! I’ve been a fan of National Geographic for years and have had the pleasure of meeting a couple of folks involved with the process. Being close to their headquarters is one of the few bonuses of living in Washington, DC.

    I just wish there would have been at least one person of color in the whole lot…

  68. Robert
    October 4, 2013

    Disappointing that you chose to exploit students for some free video editing rather than employ paid editors. There is way too much of this going on these days.

  69. José
    October 3, 2013

    Me ha encantado lo que e visto, siento no hablar ingles por lo que no he podido entender que se ha comentado en las entrevista. Tal vez sería buena idea esforzarse un poco más, y subtitular al menos esos comentarios que intuyo deben de ser al menos tan interesantes como las fotografías.

  70. Troy Armstrong
    October 2, 2013

    To those that took exception to the final commentary I’d like to say this . He never said to anyone what was ” more interesting ” . That could be anything . I think the message was point that camera at something that makes you think , sparks your imagination . To say there was any intent to say the everyday is uninteresting in that commentary is of itself reading into it with a negative self conclusion . These photografers all shoot very different subject matter often under very different circumstance . I don’t believe for a second that he was saying you needed to buy a plane ticket to an exotic locale to find something ” more interesting ” but more along the lines of looking deeper into yourself and what moves you !

  71. Chris Canada
    September 29, 2013

    This is one of the most inspiring commentaries on what it means to make an image. Thank you to everyone who put this together. I especially appreciate the closing advice.

  72. stephanie barboni-seppa
    September 28, 2013

    . . . thank you. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

  73. John Waire
    September 23, 2013

    This is a really fantastic, inspiring piece. I’ve watched it several times…and afterwards, I’m reaching for my gear, ready to get out there and do what we do…

  74. Julia Pamies Jassans
    September 22, 2013

    “Connections between people…” that’s a great sentence… I also feel photography this way. Looking for interesting stuff, always! Thank you for sharing the video and congrats for the 125th anniversary!

    September 20, 2013

    just plain interesting, must be a work of people passionate about nature and the creatures that live in it, and his work give us the true feeling to make your shots. guys are really great people, congratulations on the 125th anniversary, in good time.

  76. Michele Iannone
    September 20, 2013

    … people able “to stop time for a moment”, … but moment who will live forever …

  77. Heather Vanderdeen
    September 19, 2013

    I loved the video except for the last line about being a better photographer that you need to stand in front of more interesting stuff. It has so little to do with that I think and a whole lot to do with finding the wonder and intrigue in what is right in front of you now. To be a better photographer, you need to learn to see more of what is right in front of you I think and how to capture it. Because what is common place and boring to one person will be “more interesting” to another. I love the guy who thinks that the beetles are fascinating and I feel the same way. there is so much beauty (in terms of nature) around us in our every day life if we only take the time to actually see it. there is a quote- it is not what you look at that matters but what you see. I think that really applies to photography.

  78. Cecilia Crespo
    September 19, 2013

    Great stuff!! Curios for more.

  79. Kristi Rhines
    September 19, 2013

    Photography is a love of mine..never forget the amazing process..always thought of your job as a Dream job =)

  80. Roy Cox
    September 19, 2013

    I hope my pictures are seen by many long after I’m gone.

  81. jude wills
    September 19, 2013

    love it! so glad to have this new inspirational resource. thank you!

  82. Fred west
    September 19, 2013

    Truly amazing! You and your images is what drove me to fall in love with photography. Keep up the awesome work. Thank you

  83. connie henshaw
    September 18, 2013

    Very nice to have those who paint with light explored as the unique and talented folk they are!

  84. Nour El Refai
    September 18, 2013

    Amazing video! Its awesome to hear from some of the best photographers out there.
    Thanks so much for this inspiring Blog.

  85. Angelica
    September 18, 2013

    Exceptional, human, honest & truly inspiring what a beautiful art

    September 18, 2013

    Truly inspiring. A must view item for a photography lover. Thanks every one behind this. IMAGE MOHANDAS, PALAKKAD, KERALA, INDIA

    September 18, 2013

    Truly inspiring. A must view item for a photography lover. Thanks every one behind this.

  88. Jay Exiomo
    September 17, 2013

    Thanks for sharing. You guys are amazing. Keep inspiring us!

  89. Randy Douglas
    September 17, 2013

    Love it. Please mix in some longer segments, please. Perhaps it is time to make another feature-length film….

  90. arslan mubashir
    September 17, 2013

    nice biogarphy

  91. Katie Barnes
    September 17, 2013

    Wonderful commentary… excited to follow along with this new site!

  92. Gina Martin
    September 17, 2013

    truly inspiring!

  93. Duncan Knifton
    September 17, 2013

    Great viewing….photography is a passion, not just a job.
    It gets into ya blood…
    @Gordon Lafleur…what a great line..
    “…If you want to become a better photographer, you need to be able to find wonder and interest in what others find commonplace…”

    Hope you dont mind…but just quoted this in my facebook photo groups 🙂

  94. Marty Wilson
    September 17, 2013

    Fantastic blog! what a treat to see all the photographers

  95. John Freeman
    September 17, 2013

    Great idea! I do wish the speakers had been identified, though. I was glad to see University of Florida graduate Stephanie Sinclair in the group.

  96. Linda
    September 17, 2013

    Congratulations to all. May all your hopes and dreams be filled with courage and strength to continue photography. Also this thought came to my mind, My mother once told me: “When a teacher stops learning from their students, then it is time for the teacher to become a student again.” We can all continue to learn from one another. There is always an opportunity to learn. Be willing and wise.
    Enjoy your Blessings.

  97. Miguel
    September 17, 2013

    This is what I dont like in natgeo these days. It is all about the “more interesting stuff”. Reason wy I dont read a natgeo magazine with the same enthusiasm I used to, 20 years ago.

  98. Teresa N Castañeda A
    September 17, 2013

    Great blog! Enlightening, inspiring and entertaining. Unfortunately, I missed seeing some of your legendary photographers, such as Raymond Gehman, Pete Oxford and Miguel Angel de la Cueva! I would love to see them talking to me like a friend, as they all do here! 🙂

  99. Hasmik
    September 17, 2013

    Guys you are awsome, my day is starting with photo of the day! You inspire me a looot!!!! Keep working and sharing!!!

  100. Jose Hernandez Claire
    September 16, 2013

    The title of these series of videos immediately reminds me of Nathan Lyons 1966 book on interviews to famous photographers like, H.C. Bresson, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, A.Kertesz and many other whose concepts on photography were very inspirational for a photography student or a serious professional; i am glad to know that these new videos from many NG heroes will stimulate in their craft a many students a will allow people world wide to appreciate the wonderful photographs and stories to tell behind these. Congratulations to all you who made possible this great project.

  101. Sebastian Vela
    September 16, 2013

    Congratulations for this exciting new photographic experience. An interesting new way to discovered other people’s work in an original way. I hope NG will find all the support that this project diserves.

  102. Gordon Lafleur
    September 16, 2013

    I have to take exception the the comment “if you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff”
    If by “more interesting stuff” we mean exotic locations and situations, then any photographer will make more interesting pictures. A portrait of a celebrity is a more interesting picture than of an anonymous person, although the photo of the celebrity is not necessarily a better photograph. If you want to become a better photographer, you need to be able to find wonder and interest in what others find commonplace.

  103. Steven St. John
    September 16, 2013

    Great inspiration to start the week. Thanks everyone and congratulations on the new blog!

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