Joel Sartore © Cole Sartore

“I’ve never had anybody [at National Geographic] tell me what to do. There’s never an agenda, I mean, never. They just let me go out and be a journalist. As long as I’m a responsible person and respect that, I’m okay, and that’s the way they expect us to be good, truth-telling journalists, and just to show what we see.”

Joel Sartore is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker, author, teacher, conservationist, National Geographic Fellow, and a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine. His hallmarks are a sense of humor and a Midwestern work ethic.

Joel specializes in documenting endangered species and landscapes in a way that draws attention to a world worth saving. He is the founder of The Photo Ark, a multiyear documentary project to bring awareness to endangered species, habitats, and the biodiversity necessary for healthy ecosystems. Joel has contributed to numerous magazines, books, and national broadcasts including National Geographic Explorer, NBC Nightly News, NPR, PBS, and CBS Sunday Morning.

He is always happy to return home to Lincoln, Nebraska to his wife and their three children.

Visit Joel’s website.

Coincidentally, Joel’s latest National Geographic Story on small cats features a friend and colleague of mine, Jim Sanderson, and the work of Global Wildlife Conservation in protecting endangered and forgotten species.

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On the power of photography

“It’s harder to lie with photos.”

“Even if you were to stitch one person’s head onto another person’s body, it’s easy to discern that, it’s easy to see that it’s fake. So people do have a visual sophistication about them as never before, and that plays to our advantage – if you’re a good journalist and you’re telling the world what’s going on. They can tell whether or not you’ve been truthful right off the bat.”

“The fastest thing on the web is a still photograph”

On journalistic rigor

“The first thing they teach you on the first day of [journalism] class is, spell people’s names right, because that’s the one thing people are going to care about the most, and you’re going to hear from them.”

On the importance of being a specialist

“Even the generalists are known for lighting things a certain way or having a certain style, so they specialize too. You better be really great at something if you want to be employable.”

On shooting for National Geographic

“I’ve never had anybody [at National Geographic] tell me what to do. There’s never an agenda, I mean, never. They just let me go out and be a journalist. As long as I’m a responsible person and respect that, I’m okay, and that’s the way they expect us to be good, truth-telling journalists, and just to show what we see.”

On the evolution of photography

“Am I angry that the web has reduced the number of print journalism jobs?” One, you can’t fight the tide, and two, there’s no way I’d want to go back. We can let the world know right away when there’s an environmental problem or when somebody does something very well and it’s something we’re celebrating.”

On the Photo Ark

“It was an 11-year overnight success.”

“A mouse is every bit as vital and interesting and big as an elephant on these backgrounds.”

“It’s the only chance they’re going to have to be seen alive looking good, and big, and beautiful.”

“I’m bummed continually that I didn’t start the project until I was half dead. I started it at 42. I should have started it at 20 but I just didn’t … It just took that long to come to me.”

“I would have encouraged myself to not worry about the money, and start shooting that project then.”

“It’s easy to be critical, it’s harder to do something positive and constructive”.

“There’s never been a better time to save species, because there’s never been so many on the ropes. But also people have a lot of information at their fingertips. They want to be heroes to themselves and their friends and family.”

On learning manmade light

“The lighting couldn’t have gotten any worse than it was at the start. I’d been shooting for the Geographic for 20 years almost and just didn’t really understand the properties of manmade light. I’m starting to learn that now. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m starting to learn it. I like the fact that photography’s very hard to master and it’s infinite in its variety. I like that.”

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