Being published in National Geographic is considered by many photographers and admirers of the legendary yellow-bordered publication, to be the pinnacle of photographic achievements.
I recall as a youngster sitting at the base of a large pine bookcase we had positioned in our “rumpus room” at home that housed Dad’s collection of National Geographic magazines. Oblivious to the fact that I would later develop a deep passion for the art, I remember fondly sitting and flicking through the collection marveling at the beautiful and colourful images communicating what life was like in far off countries and for people from other cultures.
As time has passed, my healthy interest in the Nat Geo mags has well and truly evolved into an insatiable hunger to travel to and photograph these far off lands, their people and the abundance of wildlife within, for myself.
As I touched on a couple of weeks ago, I consider myself VERY fortunate to have taken part earlier today in a Travel Photography Seminar presented by “National Geographic Traveler” magazine. My friend Melissa and I made the early morning trip out to Vancouver’s Science Center where, with roughly 80 other enthusiastic people seated in the theater, we were introduced to legendary National Geographic photographer “Jim Richardson”, and current “Traveler” senior photo editor, “Dan Westergren”.
Jim, who’s images are truly inspiring, has been specialising in “Celtic Realm” culture with assignments over the past decade throughout Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany. His work thus far has been beautifully collated into a narrated flash presentation that can be viewed in the multimedia section of NationalGeographic.com if you are interested.
Over roughly 6 hours these two incredibly knowledgeable and entertaining speakers captivated all of us with their stories of photographic adventures and experiences around the globe. As can be expected, both Jim and Dan’s presentations were supported by some truly amazing images from both their own archives as well as the lenses of a number of other notable National Geographic assignment photographers like Amy Toensing (see image below).
I found it really interesting that from the get-go Jim had pretty much the entire room full of budding photographers sorted into three categories:
- Hobby Photographers – those who take pics for the sheer love and joy for the art form.
- Amateur Photographers – those of us (like me) who aren’t necessarily wanting to make photography our full-time profession, but are interested in continually furthering our skills and potentially making some money out of our results.
- Budding Professionals – those who dream about one day being sent on regular assignments for National Geographic
With that in mind, it was pretty obvious that a day full of technical babble (f-stops, white balancing and shutter speeds) simply wasn’t going to work across such a diversely skilled audience. It wasn’t surprising then, that the entire day focused more on practical aspects of travel photography and how to ensure you are in the right place at the right time to “make” a great shot, not just “take” one.
Interspersed with an array of entertaining anecdotes, Jim and Dan covered the following topics:
- The photos National Geographic love and why (Jim and Dan)
- Rules of the Photo Road 101: Photo Basics for All (Jim)
- What’s in the bag? Travel photography gear (Jim)
- Opportunities of the Digital Revolution (Dan)
- Great travel destinations (Jim)
- Photo research: How and why? (Jim)
- Anatomy of a travel photo story (Dan)
- Making yourself welcome with your camera (Jim)
- How to pitch your stories (Dan)
In summary, I can tell you that my whole outlook on what makes a good photo and how to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time to capture that image have changed dramatically after today. I’m the first to admit that most of my better shots can be put down to pure luck. I’ve never been a huge fan of including people in any of my shots unless they are specifically portrait shoots, and I’ve never really put all that much thought into composition of shots BEFORE arriving at locations.
After today’s seminar I know now that things are going to change stylistically for me in 2007 and beyond. Hopefully you’ll see more shots of people reflecting their cultural values (particularly if I do get down to South America this Summer as planned), and I’m going to do my best to research like crazy before doing specific shoots to help ensure that I “make” better shots from now on. Oh, and I can’t tell you how reassuring it was to hear from Jim that he constantly finds himself camped in the one spot for 2 hours or more snapping off 2,000 frames in the quest to get that one perfect shot – you gotta love the digital age!
Finally, to those individuals (you know who you are) who have remarked on various occasions that I should be knocking on National Geographic’s door with some of my photos, this last little account from today is for you. Dan, in his coverage of the topic “How to pitch your stories”, reassured us that unless we have had a serious collection of published photo stories for local or other respected publications already under our belts, 99% of approaches made to the magazine would pretty much be ignored. Even Jim said he was shooting for local publications in Kansas for something like 15 years before he even got a shot at Nat Geo. So please… no more silly talk of that nature!
I feel like I can’t sign off on this post without sharing at least a couple of priceless tips I picked up on today. So here they are. Take note and happy snapping!
- The best shots taken are those when you find a great scene and then find interesting elements to add. And remember – if an element (person, vehicle etc) isn’t “contributing” to a shot then it is “distracting”.
- Don’t get discouraged when the weather turns bad. Bad weather usually equals more even light – the best conditions for settings such as waterfalls and streams.
PS. Another big shout out to Mum and Dad for taking care of the registration fee for me as a belated Xmas present! Love you guys! X