What pho­tog­ra­ph­er has not dreamed of being on the cov­er of Nation­al Geo­graph­ic? Susan Gold­berg, edi­tor-in-chief of the famous mag­a­zine, gives advice on how to imple­ment this, and also tells a lot of inter­est­ing things — read our trans­la­tion of arti­cles from the Petapix­el resource.

Pho­to: Eri­ka Larsen / petapixel.com

Susan Gold­berg has been the edi­tor-in-chief of Nation­al Geo­graph­ic for the past sev­en years. In the his­to­ry of Nat Geo, which began in 1888, she is the tenth edi­tor and the first woman. The leg­endary yel­low bor­der mag­a­zine is one of the most read mag­a­zines of all time. It is pub­lished in 35 lan­guages ​​and has always been known for its dra­mat­ic pho­tog­ra­phy.

Susan worked for dailies for 35 years San Jose Mer­cury News, Bloomberg and oth­ers. And then one day the phone rang — it was a recruiter who asked if she was inter­est­ed in work­ing at Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

“Before she even fin­ished her sen­tence, I said yes, yes, I’m inter­est­ed,” recalls Gold­berg. “I came to a slight­ly low­er posi­tion, and four months lat­er I was pro­mot­ed to edi­tor in chief.”

A gloomy set of med­ical equip­ment typ­i­cal of the COVID-19 epi­dem­ic: a stetho­scope, a pro­tec­tive visor, a suit. All this lay next to the hos­pi­tal in La Lou­viere, Bel­gium. The doc­tor removed things between the ambu­lance and the emer­gency room — in order to avoid a new infec­tion. Pho­to­graph: Cedric Ger­be­haye / Nation­al Geo­graph­ic

Nat Geo can tell the most impor­tant sto­ries in the world in the most vivid way. The famous “Afghan Girl” is a good exam­ple of how a sin­gle pho­to was able to tell the whole world about the prob­lems of refugees.

“I think, to be per­fect­ly hon­est [в 2014 году, когда она начинала в Nat Geo]we were a bit behind in dig­i­tal sto­ry­telling, and we did an amaz­ing job of not only catch­ing up, but becom­ing a pow­er­ful dig­i­tal hub, telling our sto­ries around the world across mul­ti­ple plat­forms,” says Gold­berg.

“We are the biggest brand in the world on Insta­gram with 150 mil­lion fol­low­ers, we launched pod­casts, we have new newslet­ters… and we con­tin­ue to tell sto­ries across plat­forms. Now peo­ple are very excit­ed about our abil­i­ty to reach a wider and more diverse audi­ence than when we worked only in print.”

“When I grow up, I want to be a Navy SEAL to pro­tect my coun­try because oth­er bad peo­ple are killing my peo­ple,” says Riley Richard of the Pine Ridge Indi­an Reser­va­tion, South Dako­ta, USA . Pho­to­graph: Robin Hammond/National Geo­graph­ic

“Select­ing a cov­er is one of the most inter­est­ing, chal­leng­ing, intim­i­dat­ing and fun things about my job. And it’s not always pho­tographs; some­times there are illus­tra­tions,” says Gold­berg.

Nation­al Geo­graph­ic is pub­lished in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and in dif­fer­ent lan­guages. The Jan­u­ary issue of the mag­a­zine in the Unit­ed States fea­tures a stat­ue of Robert E. Lee on the cov­er, trans­formed into a Black Lives Mat­ter mon­u­ment with a pro­jec­tion of a por­trait of George Floyd. In Bel­gium, where the pan­dem­ic was the main sto­ry, the cov­er showed two exhaust­ed nurs­es hud­dled togeth­er on the side­walk out­side their hos­pi­tal.

Stat­ue of Robert E. Lee in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, USA, trans­formed into a Black Lives Mat­ter mon­u­ment by pro­jec­tion of a por­trait of George Floyd. “Time to start heal­ing,” LeVar Stoney, may­or of Rich­mond, tweet­ed. “For the sake of pub­lic safe­ty, for our his­to­ry, for our future, mon­u­ments to the Lost Cause are being torn down.” They tried to block the demo­li­tion of the mon­u­ment with the help of lit­i­ga­tion. Pho­to­graph: Kris Graves/National Geo­graph­ic

COVID-19 has closed trav­el oppor­tu­ni­ties and Nat Geo has had to find local pho­tog­ra­phers to cov­er the sto­ries. And even when trav­el resumes, this will sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand the cir­cle of those who par­tic­i­pate in the work of the mag­a­zine.

A con­ser­va­tion ranger com­forts Sudan, the plan­et’s last male north­ern white rhi­no, moments before his death in March 2018. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ami Vitale first met Sudan in 2009 and has since devot­ed her­self to high­light­ing the plight of these ani­mals, pushed to the brink of extinc­tion by poach­ers who hunt them for their horns. Today, only two females remain, and sci­en­tists are bold­ly try­ing to revive the rhi­noc­er­os pop­u­la­tion through in vit­ro fer­til­iza­tion. Pho­to: Ami Vitale / Nation­al Geo­graph­ic

Below, Gold­berg shares sev­en of her most pop­u­lar pho­tog­ra­phy ques­tions and her answers:

How to become a Nation­al Geo­graph­ic pho­tog­ra­ph­er?

Today, when every­one has a cam­era (smart­phone) 24/7, every­one can be lucky and take one great pic­ture. We are look­ing for pho­tog­ra­phers who can tru­ly cre­ate a sto­ry: find a unique idea, do research, cap­ture com­pelling shots, and tell a pow­er­ful sto­ry through a series of pho­tographs. We have core nich­es — includ­ing wildlife and the envi­ron­ment, sci­ence, peo­ple and cul­tures — and we are always look­ing for pho­tog­ra­phers who are inter­est­ed in these top­ics. But basi­cal­ly, you have to be able to take amaz­ing pho­tos!

In Mons, Bel­gium, fel­low nurs­es relax and chat with each oth­er dur­ing a short smoke break. Like many oth­er health­care work­ers around the world, these nurs­es were trans­ferred from oth­er duties last spring to inten­sive care in response to the COVID-19 epi­dem­ic — rein­force­ment troops, often under­pro­tect­ed and over­stretched, in a long, gru­el­ing bat­tle. Pho­to: Cedric Ger­be­haye

“What is your favorite pho­to?”

There are a lot of them, but one of them is with Avery Jack­son, a nine-year-old trans­gen­der girl who was on the cov­er of our spe­cial issue on gen­der issues. Avery has lived as an open­ly trans­gen­der girl since she was five years old, and she has grasped the intri­ca­cies of dis­cus­sions about gen­der. Today we are not only talk­ing about the gen­der roles of boys and girls — we are talk­ing about our evolv­ing under­stand­ing of peo­ple on the gen­der spec­trum. And the por­traits of chil­dren from that edi­tion, by pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robin Ham­mond, are beau­ti­ful. We espe­cial­ly love the por­trait of Avery — strong and proud, look­ing straight at the cam­era. We thought that she showed the essence of the con­cept of “gen­der rev­o­lu­tion”.

The 20th cen­tu­ry is a dan­ger­ous time for griz­zly bears. Due to hunt­ing and habi­tat loss, their num­bers were reduced to 600 in the 1960s. But pro­tec­tions under the US Endan­gered Species Act have helped make a dif­fer­ence. By the 2010s, there were about 1,000 griz­zlies in the Yel­low­stone region alone, includ­ing one that Char­lie Hamil­ton James caught eat­ing a bison car­cass in Grand Teton Nation­al Park. Pho­to­graph: Char­lie Hamil­ton James / Nation­al Geo­graph­ic
Take a clos­er look: this is not an ordi­nary male sheep crab (Lox­orhynchus gran­dis), but rather a zom­bie crus­tacean that has been invad­ed by a par­a­site. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Anand Var­ma has spent years cap­tur­ing a world of mind-con­trol­ling par­a­sites like this one — he will use all his pow­ers to expand a crab’s abdomen, cre­at­ing a womb to fill with his own eggs. Pho­to­graph: Anand Varma/National Geo­graph­ic
In 2013, writer Paul Slopek under­took a 21,000-mile jour­ney across four con­ti­nents to trace 60,000 years of human species migra­tion. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er John Stan­mey­er accom­pa­nied Salopek on the first leg of his jour­ney. Here he filmed Soma­li migrants hud­dled on the coast in Dji­bouti City try­ing to pick up an inex­pen­sive cell phone sig­nal. Pho­to­graph: John Stanmeyer/National Geo­graph­ic

“Do you think pho­tog­ra­phers have the pow­er to make a dif­fer­ence?”

Absolute­ly. Sto­ries like the Mega­Tran­sect tril­o­gy from the ear­ly 2000s inspired for­mer Gabonese Pres­i­dent Omar Bon­go to cre­ate 13 nation­al parks in his coun­try. Our 2008 sto­ry on endan­gered right whales helped gal­va­nize the devel­op­ment and enact­ment of laws to slow down com­mer­cial ves­sel traf­fic in crit­i­cal whale breed­ing grounds. In more recent sto­ries, our cap­tive tiger project in the US has helped speed up pas­sage of the Big Cat Safe­ty Act in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which is now pend­ing con­fir­ma­tion in the Sen­ate. Our sto­ry of Glu­ay Hom, an injured Thai ele­phant, has sparked world­wide calls for his res­cue. Over 70,000 peo­ple have signed a Change.org peti­tion call­ing for his release. As a result, he was released and sent to the reserve, where for the first time in four years he felt grass under his feet. Final­ly, I think our cov­er­age of glob­al warm­ing is also extreme­ly impor­tant because it cuts through pol­i­tics and the noise around us, show­ing peo­ple how things are real­ly chang­ing in dif­fer­ent places on Earth.

“Which is the most impres­sive pho­to­graph ever pub­lished in a mag­a­zine? How to choose only one?

For each of our main themes, we have fea­tured mem­o­rable pho­tos that have touched our read­ers – a pho­to of a killed moun­tain goril­la (pho­tog­ra­ph­er Brent Stir­ton), a new face for Katie Stub­ble­field, pho­tos of nurs­es on the front lines of the fight against COVID in Bel­gium, pho­tos of a stat­ue of Robert E. Lee with a pro­jec­tion of George’s face Floyd in Rich­mond (pho­tog­ra­ph­er Chris Graves). They are all pow­er­ful, but there are many more!

“How do pho­tog­ra­phers and writ­ers inter­act?”

The team works close­ly togeth­er to define storytelling—both tex­tu­al and visu­al. We tell a sto­ry through words, pic­tures, graph­ics, maps, and now sound. We not only do not illus­trate texts. It’s an intense col­lab­o­ra­tive process and dif­fi­cult com­pro­mis­es ulti­mate­ly make us all bet­ter.

Fast and agile, leop­ard seals have mas­tered the art of hunt­ing. But with humans, they are more curi­ous than dan­ger­ous, as Paul Nicklen dis­cov­ered when a 12-foot-long female swam up to him in 2006 in the South­ern Ocean in Antarc­ti­ca. Hav­ing dropped her catch — a pen­guin chick, she briefly grabbed Niklen’s cam­era and part of his head with her mouth. Pho­to­graph: Paul Nicklen / Nation­al Geo­graph­ic

“How much time do your pho­tog­ra­phers spend in the field, […] work­ing on his­to­ry?

It depends on the sto­ry, but usu­al­ly six to eight weeks. Sci­ence sto­ries can take twice as long because you may want to shoot over sev­er­al sea­sons. But it could be much longer: The Immor­tal Corpse, a sto­ry about a woman named Susan Pot­ter who donat­ed her body to sci­ence, took 15 years to com­plete. Three dif­fer­ent edi­tors-in-chief have come and gone, but, incred­i­bly, the entire sto­ry team has stayed togeth­er!

“Do you fake/modify/photoshop your pho­tos?”

NO NO NO. We do tonal and col­or cor­rec­tion of our images. But we don’t remove or add pixels/information to images. And if we go beyond any stan­dard process, we are out­spo­ken about it, as is the case with Stephen Wilks’ recent Day to Night images or Chris Graves’ Jan­u­ary 2021 mag­a­zine cov­er images.

* Opin­ions of the authors may not coin­cide with ideas of edi­to­r­i­al.