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Working for National Geographic

In the previous issue I summarized a portion of my interview with Barbara Paulsen, Senior Story Development Editor for National Geographic. The question I posed to Barbara was, “How do photographers get considered for a National Geographic project?” As Barbara recounted, the bottom line is National Geographic actively seeks out the photographers and writers they want. She very rarely uses a proposal submitted by someone with whom they have no prior experience for a very simple reason: the investment in time and resources National Geographic must expend to get and develop the story. Read the discussion {HERE} about the essential field team criteria National Geographic story development editors consider when putting together one of their projects.

Preparation is Key

Since Barbara had explained that National Geographic seeks out the photographers and writers they want for a project, my next logical question was, “How do photographers/photojournalists shape their career to position themselves and prepare for future consideration by National Geographic?” Barbara recommended two essentials.

“Learn multimedia skills: filmmaking, photography and writing,” said Barbara. “However, story-telling skills are primary, rather than media.” This means you don’t have to be equally proficient in all three mediums. But by being at least moderately proficient in two secondary media, such as filmmaking and writing, you can better understand the challenges of, and see the opportunities for, incorporating other media into a project on which you are the principal photographer.

Specialization Sets You Apart

“Specialize,” Barbara emphasized. “Become an expert in a subcategory (of a subject) about which you are passionate.” Notice Barbara recommends a subcategory. There are literally hundreds of photographers, filmmakers an­d writers who are quite knowledgeable about aviation, medicine or sports. There are, however, relatively few who have a thorough knowledge of the growth of aviation between World War I and World War II, the use of robotics in surgery, or women in baseball. Being the specialized photographer means understanding what is important to photograph, and why. As Barbara summarized, “(It’s) amazing how many photographers know completely the entirety of their subjects. (I) try to get writers to think more like photographers.”

My final question, “If National Geographic learns about up-and-coming photographers by seeing their work in other media, where should aspiring National Geographic photographers submit their work?”

Where to Publish

You might well be surprised. I know I was. Read Barbara Paulsen’s response in the next issue of PhotoBizGuru.