How to Become a National Geographic Photographer

Michele Wanke
nationalgeophotog

Are you wondering how to become a National Geographic photographer? It's a question millions of people who share a love of photography and travel ask themselves each year, according to the nature magazine's editors-and the answer may surprise you.

Learn How to Become a National Geographic Photographer

Entering into the highly competitive field of photojournalism is no easy task. However, if you have a passion for photography, are able to produce outstanding pictures, and are not afraid to take risks, then you might have a shot at working for one of the world's most popular magazines.

Education

According to National Geographic editors, staff photographers are college educated, though not all of them have degrees in photography. Most National Geographic photographers are journalism, anthropology, sociology, psychology, or fine arts majors, who have minored in photography or have completed several college-level photography courses. The magazine's editors strongly believe that it is beneficial for an applicant to be proficient in other areas besides photography. In addition, given the nature of the publication's global assignments, editors note that it is helpful for applicants to be able to speak a second language and have knowledge of foreign cultures. Exposing yourself to a diversity of civilizations will help you in your quest to gain employment at the magazine.

Experience

To be considered as a legitimate applicant at National Geographic, you must have at least five years of photojournalism experience or have been previously employed as a professional photographer specializing in wildlife, underwater, nature, or aerial photography. This is a requirement for both full-time staff photographers and the freelance photojournalists the magazine hires throughout the year.

Editors at the magazine realize that experience is vital in shaping stellar photographers. Consequently, National Geographic provides a number of opportunities for burgeoning professional shutterbugs to gain experience and invaluable feedback through its online photo contests.

  • Your Shot-This online contest allows photographers of all skill levels to submit their favorite images for possible publication in National Geographic. Each day a panel of editors selects 12 outstanding photographs to be published as part of the "Daily Dozen."
  • International Photography Contest-Each year National Geographic runs a contest to find the best photographs on the planet. The global initiative typically generates submissions from more than 200,000 photographers. The contest features three different categories: People, Places and Nature. The grand-prize winner receives all-expenses paid National Geographic-sponsored expedition to the far corners of the world and his or her winning photograph is featured in a special edition of the magazine. Winners in each category get their images published in the magazine and are awarded photo gear packages.

Tips on Becoming a National Geographic Photographer

Not every nature photographer will get to work for National Geographic. Gaining employment at the award-winning magazine takes years of experience and an impressive portfolio. However, there are ways you can increase your chances of becoming a National Geographic photographer.

Workshops

National Geographic Expeditions offers a series of photography workshops that simulate on-the-job training. The workshops take place in exotic locations around the globe, including the Sea of Cortes, Venice, and Mexico's Ruta Maya. In addition, you will be studying with some of the best National Geographic photographers.

Highlights of these workshops include:

  • Working in the field with actual staff photographers to learn the true National Geographic-style of photography
  • Completing a professional photo essay
  • Hands-on training in downloading, saving, organizing, and archiving images
  • Learning about cropping, sizing, and manipulating photos
  • One-on-one tutorials with National Geographic photographers covering all aspects of digital photography

These workshops run seven days and don't come cheap. Prices range from $2,500 to around $4,000 and don't include airfare to and from your home city. In addition, workshop participants are required to bring their own digital SLR camera, a laptop computer, and some type of photo editing software.

Books

Another way to obtain helpful photo tips is to read books written by National Geographic photographers. The following titles are filled with vivid illustrations, which can serve as inspiration to future professional photographers:

How to Apply

If you would like more information on how to become a National Geographic photographer, visit the magazine's website. The company has an entire section detailing current job opportunities and tips on how to become a member of the National Geographic family.

How to Become a National Geographic Photographer