Elizabeth Krist, Senior Photo Editor at National Geographic, and the rest of the Nat Geo team seek photographers who not only have a fantastic eye for creating striking images – but also those with real worldly curiosity; those who aren’t afraid to delve into the intellectual and research sides of a photographic narrative.
In this live video interview, Elizabeth gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how the team at National Geographic magazine selects photos from thousands of submissions and how they intimately work with photographers to bring a story from inception to completion.
Elizabeth had some noteworthy tips for photographers, including:
- Keyword your images so photo editors can find them online and also in their personal archives.
- Research potential clients ahead of time so you know who specializes in what, and send your work to the right person.
- Know how to tell and present a complete narrative – not just a collection of images (even if it’s strong work).
- Attend photo festivals, portfolio reviews, and other events where you can interact with photo editors.
We also asked Elizabeth to answer a few of the most popular questions asked by the audience. Still hungry for more? Leave your questions in the comments and we’ll put the best ones through to Elizabeth.
1. Would you talk a little more about ownership? As a photographer, can I not use an image sold to National Geographic for my own portfolio?
Photographers always keep copyright unless we buy out their images, which happens extremely rarely – usually only when a museum requires us to secure all rights in order to prevent images of their artifacts appearing without their permission. And even in those cases we often negotiate to allow photographers to display the images in their portfolios.
2. What is the best way of pitching picture stories to National Geographic?
If you are not a regular contributor, your work must first be approved by our Executive Editor for Photography, Kurt Mutchler, before you would be encouraged to submit any story ideas. A new photographer could approach any of the photo editors initially rather than bothering Kurt, but as I mentioned, it makes sense only if you’ve had a tremendous amount of experience producing in-depth journalistic stories (color only), or if you happen to specialize in an area we need (like archaeology).
3. I’m interested in traveling to a location and doing a year-long photography essay as well as filming a documentary. Is it better to approach a magazine with this project before, during, or after the project?
If we know your work, we like to hear ahead of time about the projects that you are planning. But if we haven’t worked with you before, it would make it easier if you could show us your coverage in progress, so we can better understand your intentions and your style of shooting.
4. Does National Geographic process the photographer’s RAW files? Or do you let the photographer oversee post-processing?
Photographers who shoot digital are required to send us their RAW files. Many photographers send us toned JPEGs as well for editing. Once we’ve selected the images for the print and digital versions, the photographers are welcome to send us files as color guides, but the photo editors and layout editors work with our own pre-press department to prepare the images for publication.
5. Can you speak about how much stock is used and what agencies you find yourself returning to?
Stock is often used in the departments in the front and back of the book, but quite rarely in the feature stories. We do of course pick up historical material occasionally. I’m hesitant to mention any agencies by name, as it varies so much depending on what we’re looking for. But our first call is often to our own archive, the National Geographic Image Collection.
6. At what point does the writer become involved? Many stories seem to be written in the field while the photographer and writer are working together. And, are many photographers also the writers of the stories?
It is extremely rare for one person to write and photograph a story. Occasionally a photographer will work with a writer or text editor who will help them draft long captions for a story that is more of a picture portfolio. But in most cases a writer is assigned at the outset when a photographer is assigned. Ideally they would overlap in the field, but it’s unusual for them to travel together every step of the way (unless it’s an expedition), as photographers generally require much more time – because of weather, light, and the unpredictability of human and wildlife behavior.
Finally, here are some of the resources Elizabeth mentioned in encouraging photographers to explore and look:
- Photo festivals: Visa Pour l’image in Perpignan, France; LOOK3 in Charlottesville, Virginia; Palm Springs Photo Festival.
- Portfolio reviews: Review Santa Fe, Eddie Adams Workshop, Palm Springs Photo Festival, FotoWeek DC, NYC Fotoworks.
- Workshops: Santa Fe Workshops, Eddie Adams Workshop, FotoVisura.
- Websites: National Geographic, New York Times Lens Blog, TIME LightBox, New Yorker Photo Booth, Magnum Photos, VII Photo Agency, Burn Magazine, Verve Photo, Visura Magazine, Photo-Eye, MediaStorm.
- Competitions: World Press, Pictures of the Year, PDN.