What it takes to become a national geographic photographer

How To Become A National Geographic Photographer

Kent Kobersteen was the Director of Photography for National Geographic magazine from 1987 to 2005 and was recently interviewed by Gerd Ludwig of The Photo Society. Below is just an excerpt, hit the link at the bottom of the extract to read the entire interview. Quite fascinating: 

When it was suggested that I write about what it takes to be a National Geographic photographer I was somewhat reluctant to do so.  I cannot speak for the leadership of the Magazine today.  Certainly every Director of Photography, and every Editor in Chief, has his or her own requirements and preferences. 

I began my career with the National Geographic in 1983 as a picture editor, became the deputy to the Director of Photography in 1987, and became Director of Photography in 1998.  I left the Magazine in 2005. 

Since leaving the Magazine I have kept in close touch with many photographers, and also with the worldwide photographic family.  I have continued to do workshops and give talks in Poland, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Italy, on National Geographic ships in Antarctica and the South Atlantic, and on a National Geographic Around the World by Private Jet journey.

While I cannot speak for the leadership of the Magazine today, I think there are several required attributes that are constant – they’re the same today as they were when I was Director of Photography, and earlier.

Those attributes are intellect, passion, maturity and drive.

Reading this, you may say “What about the photography?”  Of course any person under consideration must be a great photographer.  The National Geographic needs photography that is strong aesthetically and has a sophisticated use of color, photography that is poetic, journalistic, memorable, and comes from unique and intuitive seeing.  But, that’s obvious, that’s a given. 

All four of these attributes – intellect, passion, maturity, drive — ARE about the photography.

If one looks at the work on this site, and reads what the photographers have said, I think it’s obvious that each of them possess these attributes.

I worked with most of the photographers represented on The Photo Society site, and I am very proud to say that a significant number of them are people who did their first work for the Magazine when I was Director of Photography – they are my legacy, if you will. 

I always felt that my responsibility was to get the best, most appropriate photographer for a given story, and then to make it possible for that photographer to do his or her best creative work. 

Certainly who is the “best, most appropriate photographer” is a personal value judgment.  What is the “most appropriate” to one person may not be to another.

Read more at The Photo Society