Photo by Annie O'Neill

Photo by Annie O’Neill

“It’s not about what you can take. It’s really about what that person chooses to give you.” It is a sentiment woven throughout Lynn Johnson’s photography, in which the respect she has for those whose stories she is telling shines through.


Lynn has dedicated the last four decades to exploring the far reaches of the human condition. She is known and respected for shooting elusive subjects—vanishing languages, disease, rape, the invisible injuries inflicted by war —and for asking tough questions. But what is striking about Lynn is the respect and integrity she demonstrates throughout her work, always putting the people who let her into their lives above her own ambitions. Her ego never gets in the way of allowing the people in front of her lens to tell their story. In her most recent story for National Geographic Magazine she put away her medium format camera in favor of her smaller, less intrusive iPhone, as her friends mother passed away before her. For a story on crossing over she went against the instructions of her editors to honor the people that invited her to witness such a profound and moving moment.
Lynn’s images frequently grace the pages of National Geographic Magazine, and she was recently awarded a National Geographic fellowship.
It was a rare treat to sit down with Lynn at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC to discuss everything from her unique approach to photography to how she came back from being told by an editor that being around her was like being dropped into a pit with a cloud over it, and to absorb some of the wisdom she exudes.

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On developing as a photographer

“In my younger mind I believed that I wanted to be in the presence of hard news – that that’s where intensity lived – to some extent that’s true. Now I understand it lives everywhere.”

“The work has to come from that deep place [like a profound experience in your life that gives you purpose]. And then you will learn the tools that you need to do that work. But if you start from the outside – ‘I have to know how to do video, and audio and stills, and I have to know this program and that program’ – you’re starting on that widest circle. Whatever level you are, starting from that interior self and working out is the best way.”

“I don’t think of images I’ve done in terms of relationship to history as much as in relationship to first and foremost hoping it changed the life of the person that allowed me to photograph them, because they have to go through a process of self awareness and reflection.”

On being an outsider

“I am an outsider, I’ve always been an outsider, and I think being an outsider is what enables me to do the work.”


Pete Muller profile shot copy“I never think I’ve got the story. Ever. It’s almost ridiculous. I put myself through the wringer” says the ever humble, ever dedicated Pete Muller. Muller is a contributing photographer to The New York Times and The Washington Post, and is currently working on his third story for National Geographic Magazine. Since 2005 he has been working to document the individual consequences of war, poverty and social unrest. Through a combination of photography, text, audio and video recordings, he aims to illustrate broader issues through individual stories. He creates images and material that demand consideration for the lives of those depicted, driven by the belief that intimate, sensitive photographs leave indelible marks on the conscience and actively oppose the sterilization of human suffering. In 2011 Pete was named TIME Magazine’s Wire photographer of the year for his contributions to the Associated Press from Sudan and Central Africa. Visit Pete’s website and follow him on instagram below.


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On photography and the role of art

“Photography is a relatively simple medium in its technical elements. Therefore it has to mean that what’s driving the photography is something bigger than just the photography. I love the visual elements of photography. I love the artistic components of photography. But to me it’s got to be part of a conversation.”

“It might be beautiful to look at, but your staying power comes from your critical thinking. What are you helping to explain or explore or understand through photography?”

“The role of art is to connect us and let us know that we are not alone… You have to give a lot of yourself. And that’s where connection happens. That’s where trust happens. And that’s where vulnerability happens.”

On self doubt

“I never think I’ve got the story. Ever. It’s almost ridiculous. I put myself through the wringer.”

Advice for younger photographers

“I would advise younger photographers to put your head down and think about what you are shooting and why. Think about how you can add to the conversation. Think about how to contextualize your work in broader conversations that are unfolding. Try to make yourselves relevant by contextualizing yourself appropriately and situating yourself in discourse that’s interesting and important beyond photography.”

On being asked to shoot the ebola story for National Geographic Magazine

PM: “When I got the chance to shoot the ebola story, I was SO scared. SO nervous. I was a ball of nerves.” RM: “Did you have to sit on it, think about it, do a little research before you agreed?” PM: “Well I accepted it right away. There was no way I wasn’t going to do it.”

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Peter van Agtmael has been a mentor and source of inspiration for Pete – check out his work here.


Annie-Griffiths-Belt-Web-headshot“In a creative field you need inspiration and you need comfort and you need humor. You need to not take yourself so seriously. And move that focus to the work. That’s when stuff happens.”

Annie Griffiths is a photographer with a mission – some might say many missions.

She is a true trail blazer, refusing to be bound by convention and unafraid to push for what she believes is possible and right. Annie was one of the first female photographers with National Geographic, and managed to balance the demands of assignments that would span two or three months with motherhood, bravely taking her two children, Lily and Charlie, with her to the remote corners of the earth. Their presence opened doors for Annie in cultures in which other mothers welcomed her, and demonstrated that women did not need to relinquish their chance at a successful career to become mothers.

Annie has photographed in over 150 countries and has seen the good, the bad and the ugly in the human condition. But where others may see only problems and challenges Annie sees opportunity. Angry at the role the media was playing in portraying disenfranchised women and girls around the world as vulnerable and weak, Annie decided to tell a different story, and founded Ripple Effect Images to cover under-reported issues that impact women and girls. She assembled a team of some of the best photographers to help her, and Ripple Effect is going from strength to strength in helping to scale solutions for women and girls globally. Annie is also a Senior Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Annie’s exuberant personality and positive outlook shine through in her vibrant images and stories that paint women and girls around the world as strong, resilient and bursting with hope.


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On finding your path

“When you get your internship, when you look for your job, make sure you are surrounded by people who are better than you. The last thing you want is to be the best photographer at the place, because it will make it much more difficult to grow.”

“There isn’t a clear path. No-one to fix it for you. Your expectations should be high of yourself, but not of the world and the path that should lay before you.”

“Don’t be competitive. I’ve seen it trip people up all the time. I see them lose focus on their work, because they’re looking over their shoulder. It’s like being at a cocktail party with someone you’re trying to have a conversation with and they’re constantly looking over your shoulder.”

“You grow up and realize that the only people looking at your byline are your parents and that it’s the work that’s important.”

“Attorneys don’t start out at the supreme court. For some reason with photography there can be an unrealistic focus on the goal and not the path. And the path is really important. And it humbles and it informs, and sometimes it takes you in a completely different direction than you had planned.”

“In a creative field you need inspiration and you need comfort and you need humor. You need to not take yourself so seriously. And move that focus to the work. That’s when stuff happens.”

On self doubt and humility

“One of the things many photographers struggle with is self doubt. There’s a perception that we’re all just totally confident in what we’re doing, and it’s just not true.”

“You get [to these remote communities] and people have never heard of National Geographic or Photographer of the Year, and they are just being kind to a stranger. It’s another thing my mom taught me: People who have nothing give everything. And it’s true.”

“There are celebrity cardiologists and celebrity businessmen. In each profession there are people that lead. And what matters is not them, it’s the work that they do. So I’ve always wanted my work to be useful as well as beautiful.”

Advice to her 20-year old self

“I would tell myself not to be so hard on myself, and not to worry about silly things like style and reputation and the kind of lala land stuff. If you want to be a photojournalist you need to count on your curiosity and your skills, and be proactive about moving stories forward not just yourself forward.”

“Be kind, treat people well, do your job to the best of your ability, set lofty goals and work your way towards them, but don’t think you’re going to start with your lofty goals.”

Brian Skerry on assignment“I am a photojournalist, first and foremost, and if I cross a line, then there might not be any going back. I think you have to maintain journalistic integrity, and if you do the story right, then people will draw their own conclusions to the degree that there is a right and wrong in these stories. Hopefully, people come away with a right informed perspective.”

Brian Skerry is a photojournalist specializing in marine wildlife and underwater environments. Since 1998 he has been a contract photographer for National Geographic Magazine, and in 2014 he was named a National Geographic Photography Fellow.

Brian is praised worldwide for his aesthetic sense as well as his journalistic drive for relevance. His uniquely-creative images tell stories that not only celebrate the mystery and beauty of the sea, but also help bring attention to the large number of issues that endanger our oceans and its inhabitants.

Brian’s year round assignment schedule frequently finds him in environments of extreme contrast, from tropical coral reefs to diving beneath polar ice. While on assignment he has lived on the bottom of the sea, spent months aboard fishing boats and traveled in everything from snowmobiles to canoes to the Goodyear Blimp to get the picture. He has spent more than 10,000 hours underwater over the last thirty years.

Brian frequently lectures on photography and conservation issues having presented at venues such as TED Talks, the Royal Geographical Society in London and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. He is also a regular guest on television programs such as NBC’s TODAY Show, CBS Sunday Morning, and ABC’s Good Morning America. Recognition for his work includes awards from organizations and competitions such as Pictures Of The Year International (POYi), BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Nature’s Best and Communication Arts. In 2010, National Geographic magazine named one of Brian’s images among their 50 Greatest Photographs Of All Time

Brian is a founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) and is actively involved with numerous conservation groups. 

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On learning to dive and photograph in cold, murky waters

“I knew that if I could work in those conditions, that are more challenging both from a diving and photography standpoint, that I would probably have a little bit easier of a time when I got to the warmer, clearer, easier places to work.”

“You’d work all week for a half an hour on the bottom on a given dive or maybe a couple of hours over the course of the weekend. Part of that time was just getting down to these sights, the shipwrecks, or to the ledges that I was diving, looking for lobsters or fish and things. Trying to make a few pictures and then come back. It was a tremendous amount of time invested for a very little reward.”

On breaking in to National Geographic

“[My colleague] said, ‘if you want I will recommend you but I think you’ve got about a 98% chance of failure with this story. Keep in mind with National Geographic you’re only going to get one chance so you might want to wait for a better opportunity to come down the road.’ I thought about it and part of my gut told me that another opportunity may never come down the road.”

“I was leaving [National Geographic], I was in the elevator wearing my suit and tie and heading back to my hotel. There was a woman in the elevator who I really didn’t know, she was in a lot of these sessions. She started asking me questions, “Geez, Brian what else do you shoot? Do you do natural history? Do you have more stuff we could look at?” It turns out she was the Deputy Director of Photography, Susan Smith, at the time who was one of the people that was sort of a talent scout.”

On drawing the line between photojournalism and advocacy

“I am a photojournalist, first and foremost, and if I cross a line, then there might not be any going back. I think you have to maintain journalistic integrity, and if you do the story right, then people will draw their own conclusions to the degree that there is a right and wrong in these stories. Hopefully, people come away with a right informed perspective. That being said, as a human being you can’t do something for decades and not have an opinion.”

“If I am in the ocean, and I see an anthropogenic stress that has occurred to an animal … For example, if I was swimming along a coral reef and there was a sea turtle all wrapped in fishing line in monofilament and struggling on the bottom of the ocean and if I could go over and untangle that turtle, I absolutely would do it.”

On balancing the desire for meaning and the need to earn a living

“You’ve got to make a living, you’ve got to pay the bills, but if there’s a little bit of time in your schedule to do something for free that it benefits the world, then boy, that’s a rare opportunity.”

“For the most part, I believe that the people who go into this kind of work do it because they very much care about nature, they care about the planet, they’re not in it just for the money. I mean we have to make a living, but if we were in it for the money there’s a lot of other careers that would be far more lucrative.”

On excuses for not getting the shot

“They really don’t care that there was a hurricane, or that the boat sank, or that my camera flooded. I mean, at the end of the day, either you got the picture, or you did not get the picture. That’s really all that matters. It’s like a professional athlete. You could have maybe one bad game. Boy, if you have a couple, you’re going to be sitting on the bench.”

Advice for emerging photographers

“Timing is everything and this is what I often tell emerging photographers, young photographers that it isn’t really a race. Obviously, you want to get out there and do your thing but you also want to be prepared so the more time that you can invest in yourself, your skills and whatever it is that you want to do out there, it will not be wasted. That’s really important.”