The Real Lives of “The Photographers” for National Geographic

2 Sep
My attempt to photograph animals in the jungle... of the Lincoln Park Zoo

Monkeys in The Lincoln Park Zoo  Copyright 2007 Linda Hays

These days, with so many amateur photographers using their camera phones and uploading pictures to Facebook, it is easy for us to take for granted the effort and dedication of professional photographers.  In an attempt to shed light on what is thought to be one of the easiest and most glamorous jobs, National Geographic’s documentary “The Photographers” takes viewers behind the lens of the cameras of National Geographic magazine’s courageous photographers and shows that their lives might not be as charmed as you would expect.

Since the birth of National Geographic over a hundred years ago, the magazine’s photographers have carried the tradition of capturing themes of discovery, exploration, wildlife, and faraway places in pictures.  The brave photographers risked their lives to shoot the unfamiliar cultures and customs of distant lands.  Though photography was still a relatively new technology, pictures made up over half of National Geographic’s content by 1908.  Today, National Geographic photographers shoot about 150 stories and travel over one million miles a year to bring images of the world to the magazine’s readers.

It may seem like National Geographic photographers have a dream job, but photography is more than just traveling to interesting places and pressing a button on a camera.  According to interviews in “The Photographers,” the real lives of National Geographic photographers are not always fun.  During their travels for assignments, the photographers might have to put up with “miserable conditions and horrible hotel rooms.”  According to one photographer, they often spend more time gaining permissions than taking photographs.  Another photographer commented on the loneliness of the job, comparing it to the Texas Rangers because “You’re by yourself, doing your thing.”  A common complaint of the job was also the diseases and injuries the photographers have experienced, the most common of which was malaria.

In the spirit of a photographer’s mantra “Show, don’t tell,” “The Photographers” goes further than just interviewing the National Geographic photographers about their jobs.  When Nick Nichols spent seven months in a Central African rainforest, video cameras followed him and his camera as he ventured through a jungle that wasn’t so human-friendly.  Close-ups of Nichols’ hands and face revealed hundreds of tiny insects that not only obscured his vision but also burrowed into his skin.  Another fascinating moment from Nichols’ expedition was when Nichols was photographing a charging elephant.  As the elephant stampeded towards Nichols and the videographer, the video is shaking so much that it is difficult to tell what is happening.  Even with the pressure to get the photo in a short window of time and the danger of being trampled to death by an elephant, Nichols captured a clear and impressive image.

The photographers of National Geographic are not just photojournalists—they are artists, each with their own style and point of view.  It also seems as though they are all modern-day adventurers, like Indiana Jones searching for the Holy Grail of images to show the world.  Most of us would focus on the glamorous parts of this life, the traveling and the experiences, but it is important to remember that even National Geographic photographers have to put up with a few “snakes” in their paths.

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One Response to “The Real Lives of “The Photographers” for National Geographic

  1. Bisogno September 3, 2009 at 1:47 am #

    Where do I sign up?

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