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.
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
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!
“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”.
“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.
“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.