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Photography at the National Geographic

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  • Photography at the National Geographic

    A while back someone had asked about the number of shots taken on a typical article for National Geographic. Here is their response to me:
    "Thank you for your email to the National Geographic
    Society regarding the numbers of photos taken by photographers on

    The last time anyone compiled statistics the numbers looked like this: NGS
    photographers shoot approximately 20,000 rolls of 36-exposure 35mm film
    every year; this yields about 60,000 photographs available for use in each
    issue, or 300-1200 rolls per major article. Our photographers often
    bracket their shots, that is, take the same shots at various exposures. We
    have not compiled figures for digital cameras."

    The also included a list of books and articles of interest on that subject:

    Thank you for contacting the National Geographic Society concerning photography careers. We are often asked by aspiring photojournalists for advice about entering this highly competitive field.

    NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photographers have college degrees in a variety of disciplines. Most did not major in photography but all took photo courses. The most common majors have been journalism, anthropology, sociology or psychology, fine arts, and sciences. Our editors and photographers agree that it is important to complete a degree in a discipline other than photography. Freelancers usually come to us with at least five years of photojournalism experience or from specializations such as wildlife, underwater, nature or aerial photography. We seek balance and an eclectic blend of interests, abilities, and photographic styles in the freelancers we hire.

    There are many universities in the U.S. offering good photojournalism courses. Many colleges and universities—Syracuse, North Carolina and Western Kentucky among them—offer top-notch undergraduate programs. Some of the best undergrad and grad programs are at the University of Missouri, Ohio University, Indiana University, University of Minnesota, University of Kansas, etc.

    In a stylistic sense, the type of photography for which we most often look might be described as a classic Magnum style: images that work on various levels, which the viewer can study for a period of time, constantly discovering new insights. (For your reference, Magnum Photos' website is at We desire photographers who possess an extraordinary ability to portray physical geography, but what is most often overlooked by photographers submitting work to us is that we also value highly the ability to portray social geography as well.

    The difficulty for a photographer attempting to break into NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine is that the competition for our assignments is especially keen. Desire and drive count, but photography is a competitive business, and for every successful photographer there are dozens looking for work. Although a person may have a passion for photography, no amount of training or desire can compensate if he or she lacks a natural “eye.” Many people must be content to be advanced amateurs. Also, the demands of life on the road and the likelihood of always being an outsider require a certain inner security. Business acumen, interpersonal skills, and photographic ability are crucial to making a successful living but most photographers do it for the love of it, not because they intend to get rich. At NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC we are in the enviable position of being able to select from the world's best photojournalists; a select group of staff, contract, and freelance photographers win most of the GEOGRAPHIC’s assignments.

    NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine provides two paid 14-week internships in photography each year. The winners of these placements experience the rigors of professional journalism and receive critiques by the photo staff. Intern assignments range from shooting single pictures for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine to articles or chapters for our other publications. An intern may also assist GEOGRAPHIC photographers in the field.

    One intern is chosen based on a portfolio, which may be in the form of CDs, slides, or prints up to 8”x 10” in size, in color and/or black and white. Applicants should concentrate on content, professionalism, and journalism. Work should demonstrate technical proficiency, lighting skills, the ability to interact effectively with subjects, and the ability to make strong photo essays from original ideas. The portfolio-based internship is geared to undergrad and grad students but we will consider others, although applicants should not have worked as photojournalists. Interns must be U.S. citizen or have appropriate student work documents. Please include a resume and letter of reference from a photography teacher or professional and send materials to: Susan Smith, Deputy Director of Photography, National Geographic Society, 1145 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 USA. Portfolios and supporting documents are only accepted in the month of January. All applicants receive notification by early March.

    The other internship is awarded to the winner of the College Photographer of the Year competition administered by the University of Missouri, Columbia. For details go to

    You may be interested in reading the August 1995 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC article about our photographers.

    The following books published by National Geographic Society are among those focused on photography:

    National Geographic: The Wildlife Photographs, 2006
    The Book of Photography, 2005
    Wide Angle: National Geographic Greatest Places, 2005
    In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits, 2004
    Through the Lens: National Geographic Greatest Photographs, 2003
    Landscape: Photographs of Time and Place, 2003
    Women Photographers at National Geographic, 2000
    National Geographic Photographs: The Milestones, 1999
    National Geographic Photographs Then and Now, 1998
    National Geographic: The Photographs, 1994

    Field Guides

    National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Action & Aventure, 2006
    National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Travel, 2005
    National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Black & White, 2005
    National Geographic Photography Field Guide, 2003
    National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Digital, 2003
    National Geographic Photography Field Guide: People & Portraits, 2002
    National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Birds, 2002
    National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Landscapes, 2002
    National Geographic Photography Guide for Kids, 2001

    You might look for the above titles in your library. The field guides contain technical tips from the experts.

    "The Photographers," available on VHS videotape and on DVD, provides a behind-the-lens look at NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photographers, how they get those breathtaking shots, the dangers they face, and the lives they lead for the love of their craft.

    Our website includes quite a bit of information on our photographers as well. You can find this information at

    Veteran NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photographer Michael "Nick" Nichols offers his candid insights about the life of a photojournalist in the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section of his own website, at
    Lee -clockdoc-

  • #2
    clockdoc, thanks for sharing this! very interesting!
    Cameras: Canon EOS 7D, Canon EOS 40D
    Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM, Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro, Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM FLD, Tamron SP 500mm f/8 CF
    Digital Darkroom: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5

    OK to re-edit or re-post my photo(s) on DPS only ... Website ... Blog ... Flickr


    • #3
      That's 10,800 - 43,200 exposures per assignment! Are there any index finger workouts anyone knows about at the gym? My finger would not only get tired, but probably fall off!

      Interesting information clockdoc, thanks for sharing!
      Canon Digital Rebel Xti~Canon EF 50mm f/1.4~Canon EFS 18-55 f/3.5-5.6~Canon EF 17-40 L~Photoshop CS3


      • #4
        Although I kind of figured as much, that was very interesting to actually read it. Though I'm sure it's a form letter, they sure did put a lot of thought into that response. Thanks for sharing.
        - Sander <---- that's my name.