“Only when I was able to relinquish control, to give up, to embrace hopelessness, was I able to start to see some semblance of order.”

Cory Richards’ camera has taken him from the runway to the wild and remote corners of world, from Antarctica’s unclimbed peaks to the Himalayas of Nepal and Pakistan, in an attempt to capture not only the soul of exploration, but also the beauty of modern society.

Cory is a passionate mountain climber on the North Face athletic team, and has carved a niche as one of the world’s leading adventure and expedition photographers.

Cory delivers stunning commercial and editorial images, and his client list includes National Geographic magazine, Outside, The New York Times, Red Bull, and Fossil.

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On community

“Community, above all else, is probably the most impactful thing that we can engage in.”

On growing up

“I wanted to fight everything, and that has been both a blessing and an absolute curse to this day.”

“I always felt very persecuted. I think that comes from a place of privilege, and sort of unknowing privilege. It comes from a place of entitlement. I didn’t know how good I really had it.”

“I couldn’t function as a normal human because I was so enamored with the lifestyle, and not understanding that you had to work for that lifestyle.”

On early success

“There’s a little bit of a curse that comes to getting it young. At the time I got my first [National Geographic] article I was 29. That’s young. I don’t think I was totally prepared for how that was going to push my life. It’s been a real struggle since then.”

“Getting the work a little bit later can be really valuable; you just know how to handle it a little bit more. You’re more prepared, you’re more adept, you have a bigger toolkit.”

“I think we always know when we’re getting blown up, but there’s something deeply addictive about ego.”

On hitting rock bottom

“I remember just laying on this carpet, and the smell of this empty rented house, and the shitty blinds, and just sobbing because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. It was the absolute most vacuous place I’ve ever been.”

“I got divorced, I left my production company, I left my primary sponsor – and I did all that in a month. I burned my life down.”

On relinquishing control

“What really puts things in perspective for me is how far out of control my life managed to get when I was controlling it.”

“Only when I was able to relinquish control, to give up, to embrace hopelessness, was I able to start to see some semblance of order.”

On the authenticity of being authentic

“Being vulnerable helps. It helps me be honest. It helps me say, ‘Okay, I’m not lying. I’m no longer hiding anything.’ Because I feel like when we hide things, we become unhealthy.”

“I have to put myself in check and say, ‘Okay, am I being honest in this moment out of an authentic place or out of a place of: I want to be vulnerable because I know it works?’ That’s a very thoughtful process. You cannot escape that, and if you try to escape it, that’s not authentic.”

On seeking external validation

“When you’re relying on external validation as your source of value, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Those are very, very, lightweight skinny bowling pins, and you’re using a wrecking ball.”

On photography for a cause

“I think I’m in the process right now of getting out of my own way, getting out of the way of myself in order to actually start using photography to my greatest capacity.'”

“The sooner we can start to understand that we are not separate from the world, but we are very much tied to it, I think we’re going to have a lot more success both with ourselves as a human family, but also with solving the problems that we’re creating.”

“We’re engaging in a space right now where we have to teach the world to love itself a little bit.”

On identity

“There’s a lot of bullshit that comes with identity. In fact identity itself is bullshit.”

“If all this goes away tomorrow the legacy that I choose, the legacy that I want, the legacy that I value, is that I lived with integrity, I was honest, and I was a good person who lived in service.'”

“Only recently am I coming to terms and understanding what Andrew Phelps, my first photography mentor, actually meant when he said to me: ‘Cory, you’re probably going to be good at this and I just want you to remember. Never, ever, ever let what you do become who you are.'”

On the photographic process

“It’s an expression of my most inner space. It is a very meditative act where you do actually connect with a moment completely. It helps work through some of the mud of life and the emotions that we tend to push down. It becomes an expression of those.”

“On a very superficial level, it’s a game. It’s fun. It’s sneaky. It’s a dance. It’s a balance. How do I be delicate? How do I be intimate? How do I engage without invading? How do I maintain sort of this fly on the wall status? All of that is a very, very fun thing to do and I think it’s very valuable. Because, that’s what allows us to create emotive art and any art that creates emotion – elicits an emotional response – is, I think, valuable and good.”

“Composition, light, all of that stuff comes with observation… I actually pity people that it comes naturally to because there’s so much value in learning and seeing and being with light and time.”

On the dangers of feeling entitled

“When we start thinking of ourselves as entitled, that’s like buying a ticket on the Titanic. The old model is going down. We have to figure out how to innovate and be creative with how we move forward, not adhere to an antiquated past.”

On being a specialist

“Being a specialist has its upsides. People who are known for one thing tend to do very, very well. In order to be that one person, the Marco Grob of the world doing the portraits on every cover of Time or every celebrity or the Paul Nicklens or the Jimmy Chins of the adventure world, all of whom I look up to, I don’t want to be that. I have no interest in being that specialized.”

On having the best job in the world

“I would never say that I don’t have the best job in the world. I do. I hear that all the time. It’s too long of a conversation to have, nor would I want to have it with everybody, but at the same time you’re like: ‘it is the best job in the world, but be careful. Be careful what you wish for.'”

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.”

Jim Richardson on Fair Isle, Scotland © Kathy Richardson

“I gave up on the idea of objectivity. I don’t mean I gave up on the idea of truth. I gave up on this idea that you can be intimately involved with a place and not rely on your emotions and all the complex of things you know to help you understand the place.”

Richardson first began using a camera as a youngster on his parents’ wheat and dairy farm north of Belleville in north-central Kansas. He began experimenting with his father’s second-hand box camera, photographing the world of the farmstead for display at the Republic County Fair.

Now, his combined areas of expertise include volcanoes, agriculture, rivers and aquifers, and the United Kingdom, especially the people, culture, and landscape of Scotland, his Scotland, his family’s native Cornwall, and the wider Celtic world. His work has made him a prized speaker and visual presenter around the world.

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“It hardly matters what the subject matter is; it’s your understanding of it that’s going to bring life to it.”

“You can find the depth anywhere. The trick is knowing what to look for.”

“If we find photographs compelling there is probably some underlying reason and it would behoove us to examine what we’re getting out of it. [We should not be] too deterministic about the photographic frame that we use, the style.”

On objectivity and truth

“I gave up on the idea of objectivity. I don’t mean I gave up on the idea of truth. I gave up on this idea that you can be intimately involved with a place and not rely on your emotions and all the complex of things you know to help you understand the place.”

“We have to understand both how [photography] works and how it fails, otherwise this sort of glib idea that the camera tells the truth is actually destructive if it stops us from seeking a better understanding.”

On being a photographer in the digital age

“Photography has become another language. It’s how we speak, it’s how we share our thoughts and wishes and dreams, how we share our daily life down to the most mundane levels.”

“Photographs have come down from the gallery wall and joined everybody at the water cooler.”

“We used to have gatekeepers. If Bob Gilka at National Geographic thought you were one of the great photographers of the world, that’s all you needed. If you could convince that one person, you’re in. Now, when you post on Instagram, you have to convince all of those. I’ve got 375,000 followers – I have to convince them on a one-to-one basis each time that they ought to punch the like button.”

“We need to retune how we think about it and what reality really looks like as opposed to what it looks like when we doll it up and make it interesting.”

On community

“You can probably know the names of up to about 1000 people. But beyond that, no matter what size of the city, we’re all living in communities of 300 people.”

“The real interest comes in figuring out how these places work. Invariably, that comes down to how are people there bringing meaning to their lives. That what you see in front of you is the outward expression of what is going on invisibly in their minds.”

On being a contrarian

“There was a bit of anti-social angst in a teenage kid. The photography was a way of reaching some sort of creative productivity. Without sort of giving in to everybody else’s norms. I guess you could just say it was teen rebellion carried out with the twin-lens reflex.”

“I had a true aversion to doing anything that other people would glibly think you had to do.”

“I have always been satisfied standing off by myself… I have always been comfortable not being the prime player.”

“I was going anti-documentary, anti-photojournalism, and becoming something very different from what I had anticipated being.”

“To be able to be amazed on a regular basis – it’s not easy, but you can work on this, you can work on that garden in your mind.”

Matthieu Paley is a National Geographic photographer living between the remote and a small village on the Aegean coast in Turkey.

For the past 16 years Matthieu has embarked on assignments for various magazines all over the world, from the base camp of the highest unclimbed mountain in the world in Bhutan to Nauru, the world’s smallest republic in the middle of the Pacific ocean. He has published numerous books including a book on Siberia, a monograph on Mongolia, a commissioned book about Nomadic America and a crowd-funded book on the Evolution of Diet which started as a National Geographic assignment: documenting the lifestyle of self sufficient communities all over the world. His longest book project, “Pamir, Forgotten on the roof of the World”, lasted 12 years and began unexpectedly in 1999, on a high mountain pass on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Matthieu’s images have been exhibited in private galleries all over the world. He is a member of The Photo Society, a group of contributing photographers for National Geographic magazine, and is represented by National Geographic Creative.

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On being mindful and present

“You have to be mindful of what makes you happy. I knew that, for example, with social media, there’s aspect to it that kind of make me feel that I’m not doing enough as a photographer. Of course, if you look at Facebook feed and you see all this poppy, beautiful news of everybody winning prizes, and you’re sitting there in your village in Turkey, you can feel depressed. You need confidence and strength to be able to just remind yourself that this is not the case. You need to just be mindful if it affects your mental state.”

“This whole thing with Social Media, people are spending more time promoting themselves than being themselves. It’s kind of ironic.”

“Living in the moment is very difficult and it seems everything has been worked out now with technology to make you live forward and backward but not in it. “

“To be able to be amazed on a regular basis – it’s not easy, but you can work on this, you can work on that garden in your mind.”

“I learned to, when I’m home, be really there.”

On the element of surprise and pushing the limits

“I don’t think it’s good to know your equipment too well because you can’t surprise yourself visually.”

“If I surprise myself with the image I know the viewer will be surprised too, and that’s a good thing. I like to shoot in this situation where the camera is at its limit, in terms of technology or aperture, where there is barely any depths of field and you have to work with that.”

On storytelling and feeling

“It’s never a one-sided story. There’s always the other side. And it’s too easy to comply with what people want to hear about violence.”

“This job I did in Pakistan that was published three weeks ago, I shot it with a camera that cost 500 euros. It’s a little point and shoot. The point is the story. The point is not the equipment.”

“Your images should be drenched in feeling, I think, really drenched in it. From all levels, from whatever you are photographing to the way you prepare it.”

“I tend to pre-visualize a lot, even if I don’t know the place. Usually in bed at night before I fall asleep I start to see things.”

On earning the right to be an eye witness

“You know, it’s not only about getting the beautiful picture. It’s also about feeling that you deserve to be here and a witness of what’s going on. And to be able to live with it and not feel you’re raping or stealing that image.”

“I managed to slowly make my way into people’s hearts and people’s homes by being myself really.”

On overcoming self-doubt

“That doubt that I had at the beginning, as to whether I could really make a living out of it … my passion was replacing the doubt, slowly.”

toensingheadshot_2013“I look back and think I was so naive. But I actually treasure that I had that opportunity to be naive about it. It was beautiful … There was a freedom to not knowing how intense the pressure can be.”

Amy Toensing, an American photojournalist committed to telling stories with sensitivity and depth, is known for her intimate essays about the lives of ordinary people.
Toensing has been a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine for over a decade and recently completed her fifteenth feature story for them. She has covered cultures around the world including the last cave dwelling tribe of Papua New Guinea, the Maori of New Zealand and the Kingdom of Tonga. She has also covered issues such as the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and Muslim women living in Western culture. For 4 years she documented Aboriginal Australia which was published in the June, 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Toensing’s work has been exhibited throughout the world and recognized with numerous awards, including an exhibit at the 2012 Visa Pour L’image, Festival of the Photograph in Perpignan France. Her work has also appeared in Smithsonian, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. A photograph she took in the Australian outback was chosen as one of National Geographic magazine’s all time 50 Best Photos. Toensing began her professional career in 1994 as a staff photographer at her hometown paper, The Valley News, in New Hampshire. She then worked for The New York Times, Washington D.C. bureau covering the White House and Capitol Hill during the Clinton administration. In 1998, Toensing left D.C. to receive her Master’s Degree from the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University.

In addition to her photojournalism work, Toensing is committed to teaching photography to kids and young adults in underserved communities. This includes working with the non-profit organization VisionWorkshops on numerous projects including teaching photography to Somali and Sudanese refugees in Maine, Burmese refugees in Baltimore, young Pakistanis in Islamabad and children and adults in South Sudan and Jordan.

Toensing lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with her husband Matt Moyer, who is also a photojournalist.

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On humanity

“Everything for me has humanity in it. Even if I’m doing a story on the drought. What’s the human impact? I’m always looking for the humanity in every story.”

On developing as a photographer

“I look back and think I was so naive. But I actually treasure that I had that opportunity to be naive about it. It was beautiful.”

“There was a freedom to not knowing how intense the pressure can be.”

“I try really hard to acknowledge how wonderful it’s been when I have opened up myself to different ways of seeing things. I’ve always been rewarded when I do that.”

“The most beautiful thing about photography is that I’m always rewarded when I put in the time. I think that’s a really wonderful life lesson that I don’t think I’m very good at applying to everything in my life. But I do know with photography that I really trust that – it’s about being present, being there, and giving the time to somebody or something.”

“One way that I’ve been most shaped by another person is when they’re pulling images out that I took, but I didn’t even see it, and it’s like they’re pulling things out of me that I didn’t even know I had. I think that’s probably the strongest way you can teach somebody, because you’re not saying ‘well you should go out and do this and that and you should approach it this way’. You’re actually finding things within them and celebrating them.”

“Whoever we work for, there’s always these pressures, and the real goal is to keep all those voices out and stay true to your artist’s voices.”

“I think the biggest challenge for a photographer is cultivating their instinct to know when you’re in the right spot and when you’re not, and when its time to leave or time to stay.”

“That’s the really, really hard thing, with our work; how do you take information and then get it to a photograph, but in some sort of beautiful, visual way? That’s hard. How do you get your camera out of the way?”

On advice for aspiring photographers

“I wouldn’t encourage people to go straight through and study photography. It’s like writing. What are you going to say?”

On teaching

“I love teaching, and it also gives me a break from myself and my work. I think that it’s a really great challenge. To try to frame things and get outside of your head to explain your own process.”

“One thing I love the most when I’m doing some of the workshops, especially the National Geographic photo camp, is editing. I really love working with the kids, but I really love just looking at other people’s work. I find that really like a psychological study.”

On shooting for National Geographic

“I think my first few stories at Geographic, I was probably, to a fault, not acknowledging what the formula is for a Geographic story.”



“With the democratization of voices you can start to build an audience and talk to that audience and say what you want to say. You can become your own publishing platform. It can make a difference. It is one of the most exciting times to be a photographer.”

Tyrone Turner is an independent photographer based in Arlington, VA, who has traveled extensively shooting stories focusing on social and environmental issues. As a contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine, he has produced stories on the disappearing wetlands of Louisiana; increasing hurricane threats; the coasts of the United States; a special issue on hurricane Katrina; the rebuilding of New Orleans, and a cover story on energy efficiency and conservation. Tyrone was part of the Nat Geo team covering the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010. From August, 2014 to August 2015, Tyrone collaborated with the Nat Geo Proof blog, producing still and multimedia stories about New Orleans as the ten year anniversary of Katrina approached.

Tyrone has won awards from the Pictures of the Year competition (POY) as well as The Best of Photojournalism (BOP). He was recently was named as a Fellow with the Virginia Museum of Fine Art for 2016-2017.

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On dealing with the highs and lows

“Everybody goes through highs and lows. The highs are a lot of fun. The lows are hard. If this were easier, then even more people would be doing it. But the lows are when you really need to kind of boil down what you’re doing, and what your vision is. Also really tapping into your community for the support. Then giving that back.”

Advice from his father

“Things are never as bad as they seem. But they’re also never as good.”

On advice to young photographers

“I find that people will take a picture and then escape. And that’s really blowing an opportunity to connect with the person. To get a little bit more.”

On his path to National Geographic

“I did not know how to get to National Geographic, and it seemed like a very long road to get to people at the magazine.”

On the challenges and opportunities of being a photographer today

“As people struggle with the economic models of photography and photojournalism, especially with the media outlets either being smaller, like not as many assignments or not paying that much. There are just not as many jobs out there. It’s really become a smaller marketplace in that way. There’s this real economic challenge. At the same time, there’s just this huge explosion of how you connect to people, and so that’s really heartwarming.”

“With the democratization of voices you can start to build an audience and talk to that audience and say what you want to say. You can become your own publishing platform. It can make a difference. It is one of the most exciting times to be a photographer.”

“The media that’s out there, it saturates, but I think that that’s a real opportunity because then the people who have a little more clearer thing to say, the people who have better pictures, who have something that they’re really passionate about and they can do it in a good way… that stands out amongst the chatter.”

On specializing

“To come to the forefront of someone’s mind, they need to have an image attached to it, so they know who they are going to and why.”

“It seems that what is valuable in the marketplace is being able to stand out for one thing.”

On evaluating his images in the field

“I’m surprised a lot of times by how hit and miss that evaluation is. Sometimes, I’ll come back, and I think, “Man, I really nailed that,” and you know, it’s all right. Sometimes you think, “Man, I didn’t get that,” but then you’re missing what you did get from the situation.”

On shooting difficult and traumatic situations

“Sometimes you’re in situations where it feels like people judge you as pariahs, or of really taking advantage of people, but I don’t see that at all. I see it as walking with people, and you’re interpreting through a lens.”

“It would feel worse to walk away without a good picture.”

Rena Effendi © Maria Ionova-Gribina

© Maria Ionova-Gribina

“In the media, you see events, and events have a tendency to be forgotten. You kind of look, and you forget, and I think there’s a lot more staying power if you lay down a gallery of faces.”

And staying power is what Rena Effendi achieves through a thoughtful, reflective and deliberate approach to photography, shunning the immediate gratification of the digital camera to shoot film, and in doing so, telling enduring stories from the shadows

Rena is a fellow National Geographic Creative photographer born in Baku, Azerbaijan. She grew up in the USSR, witnessing her country’s path to independence—one marred by war, political instability, and economic collapse. From the outset, Effendi focused her photography on issues of conflict, social justice, and the oil industry’s effect on people and the environment. From 2002 to 2008, Effendi followed a 1,700-kilometer pipeline through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey documenting the impact this multibillion-dollar project had on impoverished farmers, fishermen, and other citizens. This six-year journey became her first book Pipe Dreams: A Chronicle of Lives Along the Pipeline, published in 2009. The project received numerous awards, including a Getty Images Editorial grant, a Fifty Crows International Fund Award, a Magnum Foundation Caucasus Photographer Award, and a Mario Giacomelli Memorial Fund Award. In 2012, Effendi published her second monograph “Liquid Land”, where her images of Baku are paired with photographs of perished butterflies hunted by her father, a Soviet entomologist, who collected more than 30,000 butterflies in Soviet Union. “Liquid Land” punctuates the theme of fragility and environmental decay of her native city.

Over the past 10 years, Effendi has covered stories in the post-Soviet region, as well as in Turkey and Iran, including the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, women victims of heroin and sex trafficking in Kyrgyzstan, and the hidden lives of youth in Tehran. In 2011, she received the Prince Claus Fund Award for Cultural Development and moved to Cairo. In 2012, Effendi was short-listed for the Prix-Pictet Global Award for Photography and Sustainability, for her series documenting life of the survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Effendi’s involvement with World Press Photo goes back to 2005, when she was a participant in the Joop Swart Masterclass. In 2012, she was a selector for, and later contributor to the organization’s Reporting Change project. In 2014 Rena Effendi won 2nd and 3rd places in Observed Portrait Stories and Observed Potrait Singles categories of the World Press Photo Contest.

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On guilt

“Sometimes I feel guilty. I mean, I realize that I shouldn’t, but there’s always this moment where you’re in a place and there’s a lot of despair in that place – the people, the way they live, and the circumstances in which they’ve found themselves are not good. Then you realize you’re going to walk away from there, and you will be fine and then they’re still there.”

“There’s this part of me which thinks in a way I prey upon the misery. That’s the nature of this job unfortunately. It’s the flip side in a way, because we’re paid for it. At the same time, there is no harm in it. By being there I’m not doing something bad for the people. I’m not harming the people.”

“I would not walk away from the stories just because I’m not strong enough. I think these are important stories. They need to be told.”

“When you look at a photograph that’s sad or horrific or when you look at photograph that’s full of light and happy, they all belong, they all have a right to be.”

On self doubt

“Every story, there’s always this self-doubt, “Oh my God.” I arrived in Mumbai that first day. It was pure anxiety. I was really worried. Then, you know what? The magic happens when you take the camera in your hands and you start working. Then all the stress, all anxiety, everything, it’s like meditation. Everything goes away. You’re so focused on the pictures that you can’t physically think about … Mentally, there’s no mental space to think about anything else. That is, there’s no mental space for anxiety. You can’t have it.”

“I compare it to meditation because it’s hyper focus. The way you see things when you are photographing is very different, and it’s much more concentrated focus than when you’re just walking around. You’re in a different state of being completely.”

On storytelling

“I think it’s important to go in with some kind of structure in your head of what, how you want to tell the story. Not necessarily the shots but what feelings you want to convey, what is the flow in a way, and what elements would make it into a narrative? What elements do you need to build a narrative?”

On Rena’s approach to photography

“With film I wait a lot in between, I don’t shoot. I wait and I observe, and it’s much more focused. That’s the main difference for me, the main difference in digital.”

“In the media, you see events, and events have a tendency to be forgotten. You kind of look, and you forget, and I think there’s a lot more staying power if you lay down a gallery of faces.”

“I don’t think that the gear gets between me and the subject. I think when we have a tiny camera, we are already an outsider and the subject is already looking at us like we’re space aliens. It doesn’t matter what you have in your hands, a phone or a crazy looking camera.”

On photography as a tool for change

“I try to keep an even bar of my expectation and not be too romantic about it. [Change as a result of my photographs] is not something I can predict or guarantee.”

“Social change is very important but I think also information is very important. Informing the public about these things, about these issues, about these places, is as important.”

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.”

Other Links

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.”