Reader Question: How do I become a photographer for National Geographic?

My Answer: Photography is really no different than any other pursuit in life if you plan to make a living at it. Unfortunately, there are very few full time salaried photography jobs. All the photographers who take pictures for National Geographic Traveler are freelance independent business owners.

Taking pictures is an enjoyable activity, but if you decide that you want that to be your job you may find it’s not much fun anymore. So, in order to be a successful photographer you need to be absolutely obsessed with photography. You also need to have an inner compulsion to communicate stories you feel strongly about.

As I said before, becoming a photographer is not too different than other jobs. First you need to find out everything you can about that field, then you need to figure out who the decision-makers are. At the same time you must spend all your time taking pictures so that when you finally find the right person to talk to, you have the work to back up your ideas.

As a former director of photography at National Geographic magazine used to say:”If we want to hire you, we already know who you are!”

What he meant by that is photographing for National Geographic is not a first-timer’s job.

Our editors are constantly looking at magazines, books, newspapers, and online for photographers who deliver compelling pictures time and time again. Once they start to see a photographer’s name over and over associated with good work in different media, then they might reach out to those individuals and ask if they have any good story ideas.

Because it’s not enough to just be a good photographer. To make it at National Geographic you have to have interesting stories to tell.

Dan Westergren is director of photography for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow him on Twitter @dwestergren and on Instagram @danwestergren.

Do you have something you want to ask Dan about travel photography? He’ll be answering reader questions periodically on the blog, so be sure to leave a comment.

Comments

  1. Sara
    New Brunswick
    June 15, 2013, 9:58 pm

    My daughter is currently studying at university in hopes of becoming a travel photographer. She is getting her degree in Communication and photography. What advice would you give her at this stage that you wish someone had told you or what advice would you personally give her. She is becoming passionate about photography!

  2. Tiffany Carroll
    Atlanta, GA
    June 16, 2013, 7:14 pm

    Hi. I’m currently a senior at Georgia State Univ. majoring in Journalism. I do freelance writing on the side but I also think it’s important for me, as a journalist, to know the ins and outs of photography because we’re at such a digital age where most people prefer visuals over reading.

    I would like to know what’s a great starter camera and what are some tips that you can give me to become more familiar with the art of photographing?

    I’ve wanted to work for Nat Geo since I saw Steve McCurry’s timeless photograph of the Afghan girl. lol I look forward to getting a response

    -Tiffany M. Carroll

  3. Sisi
    June 17, 2013, 2:38 am

    Thank you. I know why you got your job at National Geographic, because you can definitely write a good story with great passion and love. Even when it’s just about a question like this one.

  4. Jean Jacques Fabien
    Mauritius
    June 17, 2013, 9:53 am

    Your article is very compelling. I am a professional photographer in Mauritius. After 19 years of accounting and 18 years of amateur photography, I decided to make a living from my camera. It’s been 3 years now and my ultimate dream is to be commissioned by National Geographic for one or several shooting. I’m currently gathering information about the Mauritian bat which is endemic. I am working to have sufficient material to built an appealing story.

  5. Ankit
    United States
    June 17, 2013, 2:56 pm

    Cant get more clearer than this. Wish you good luck and hope to see more of your work in NatGeo.

  6. Dariusz
    Torun, Poland
    June 17, 2013, 5:25 pm

    What does Photography mean to you Dan?

  7. Anjanette
    Philippines
    June 17, 2013, 7:06 pm

    Someday, I want to be National Geographic Photographer.. I will study hard…

  8. Mike
    June 18, 2013, 3:32 pm

    National Geographic used to have a bunch of staff photographers working for the magazine. Now they have one. Working for National Geographic is NOT what it was in the good old days. A “National Geographic photographer” does not exist anymore. You are essentially just like any other newspaper photgrapher. Underpaid, overworked, and constantly worrying about your job. Pick up an issue of NatGeo from the 70s or 80s and notice the quality of the images, and the amount of images in an article. Then pick up a recent issue and compare. I used to dream about shooting for NatGeo while growing up, dreaming while seeing the images by William Albert Allard, Sam Abell, and James Stansfield. Now, I would actually turn down the magazine if I was asked to shoot for them. My advice would be to pick something other than photojournalism. The Chicago Sun Times just laid off their entire photographer staff and is replacing it with iphone wielding amateurs. The trade of photojournalism is DEAD.

  9. David Sinclair
    United States
    June 19, 2013, 7:58 pm

    what is the best digital camera to use for travel photography?

  10. ratan sonal
    india
    June 22, 2013, 6:30 am

    Dear Sir,
    I would like to join ngm in my life.

  11. Aluna
    Canada
    June 22, 2013, 1:49 pm

    Hey, I was just wondering why Canada isn’t in the National Geographic more, there are some very amazing places right in my back yard waiting to be discovered by you people.

  12. Aluna
    Canada
    June 22, 2013, 2:00 pm

    P.S I totally agree with your Article and this particularly stood out to me “because it’s not enough to just be a good photographer. To make it at National Geographic you have to have interesting stories to tell” I like this, because I want to be a good photographer, and I feel passionate about finding unique ways of expressing realistic art through photography, but photography isn’t the only thing I am passionate about… I am interested in many many things and there is a whole world out there for me to experience and explore; I am still young and there is a world out there just waiting for me to succeed in the many talents I have under-wraps.

  13. Kyem
    Kolkata, India
    June 24, 2013, 11:49 am

    Can mobile photography be taken as Profession in this mobile age? I’ve only got my iPad and a nokia phone for shooting and my friends say that I have an aesthetic nature capturing view. And yes I do realise myself developing. And yes, I try to follow the tips in the article on iPhone photography in the nat geo website. Can I be a professional mobile photographer/traveller?

  14. ahmed hassan
    Sudan
    June 24, 2013, 11:47 pm

    thanks for sharing us this nice information about how to be a good Photographer

  15. Sharifa Khatri
    Mumbai
    June 25, 2013, 9:47 pm

    Sir

    I travel a lot and have many images from different parts of the world like India( Goa, Leh and Ladakh, Sikkim, Kutch ), NZ, Malaysia, Morocco, Turkey, USA, Brazil, Canada ect.

    I will like them to be published in National Geography or become National Geographic Photographer.

    Will be awaiting your advice.

    Thanks and regard.

    Sharifa Khatri

  16. Jan Wolf
    USA
    June 26, 2013, 10:05 am

    I’ve been interested in submitting work to the national geographic photo contests, but I haven’t because I do not have photo releases/photo permissions from any of my international subjects. Can you give any advice on how to remedy this in my future travels? Is there a form that national geographic photographers use?

  17. Harvey
    June 27, 2013, 11:00 am

    To Jan Wolf: Get online and locate a form for photo releases and carry copies with you when you travel. You may need to have a translated copy in foreign country so the person know what they are signing. You will have to get a signature from the person you are photographing (or property) if the image will be used other than personal use.

  18. Lizzy Nickell
    United States
    June 27, 2013, 1:33 pm

    Nat Geo is definitely one of my dream jobs. I’m currently a biology major at Northern Kentucky University with a “concentration” in photography (basically half a minor). What kinds of magazines accept newbie photographer’s work?

  19. Amigo Kandu
    Southwest USA
    June 27, 2013, 2:25 pm

    50 years old, lived around the world as military kid. Always was included in most cultures *within protocols*. Here in USA though, we play a game of “racial barriers”. Again, I respect all people, but my deepest admiration falls upon the aboriginal cultures of the USA that have survived since European contact. I attend powwows and gatherings with friends almost every week. I am new to photography, and taking my baby steps now.
    My YouTube videos have over 1 Million views, getting good comments. Amigo Kandu on YouTube & Facebook

  20. Col
    North UK
    June 28, 2013, 4:39 am

    I remember asking myself this question 30 years ago. I _was_ obsessed with photography and desperately wanted to work for Nat Geo. There followed years of real hard slog, projects, books and finally I sold some pics to them. Working so hard killed my passion and almost killed me! Now I do my own projects and the enjoyment has returned. My answer to the question is 1) times have changed and Nat Geo should not be seen at _the_ holy grail of photography and 2) do your own thing, photograph what you feel strongly about and don’t try to fit into a mould. And to answer another question no, you can’t make it into serious print with a mobile phone camera/iPad unless you happen to catch something unusual, then you will get your 5 seconds of fame.

  21. sabri mohamed
    Kurinchipitiya-sri labnka
    July 3, 2013, 9:47 am

    I have lot of fantastic photos.pls let me know how to send them to Net geo.I m so interested in photography.
    thank you.

  22. reza
    iran
    July 5, 2013, 2:18 am

    I have lot of fantastic photos from iran nature .pls let me know how to send them to Net geo.
    thank you.

  23. e. step
    delaware
    July 7, 2013, 12:25 am

    mr. dan could you please let us know where to start. please give us examples of how you did it,where you may have gone and what kind of stories did you write about. I have a lot of passion about a lot of things going on in this world today. It cost a lot of money to travel let alone take many photos.

  24. Daniel Lowe
    United States
    July 7, 2013, 3:27 pm

    Dan, I’m a professional outdoor photographer living in Western North Carolina. I take a lot of night sky, sunrise and sunset photos, I’m a documentary filmmaker in training. Please check out my photos and videos on my website at http://starmountainmedia.com

    FYI, I found the Nat Geo “100 Most Beautiful Places” issue to be a bit bogus. The photographs were great, but the writing was terrible, and the places selected in the Eastern U.S. were all along Interstate 95. Haven’t you people ever heard of Asheville, the Biltmore Estate, and the Blue Ridge Mountains? Major oversight, IMO, putting the Okeefenokee swamp on the list, but not the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  25. Kalyan Chakravarthi
    India
    July 7, 2013, 5:22 pm

    At present i am a doctor but love to photograph alot n alot , I would love to work like that but only a future plan , anyway thanks for the information . Useful dude

  26. Ister
    Slovakia / Bratislava
    July 8, 2013, 10:30 am

    Mike (18 June), your advice on Chicago Sun Times sit has been for me sad info forasmuch as two decades ago I had seen it as an example of a good photojournalism. At that time I attended briefing of one of its anchor who traveled to Bratislava to bring his experience for post-communist journalists and it looked marvellous… (p)

  27. ashfaq khan
    india
    July 8, 2013, 12:32 pm

    i want to work in photography field……..and want job……

  28. MAURICIO COBO MARTINEZ
    ISLA Isabela, Galapagos Ecuador
    July 10, 2013, 4:46 pm

    I am a naturalist guide for the Galapagos islands, where are huge territories with no people, no constructions: divine and pristine nature .
    Photography has to protect it , as a goal: against the double moral, that is the dominant aspect of our world…
    We have to propose the way, to keep this treasure against the ignorance of greed and images are a beautiful weapon.

  29. Jane
    Philippines
    July 11, 2013, 5:06 am

    I am very interested in photography .. I have a plan of pursuing it ,maybe next year co’z i still need to buy DSLR camera for better photos, i don’t have one right now. Can you pls give me some tips about photography? I am a starter actually.. pls.

    thank you.

  30. Michelle Jaskot
    Raphine, VA
    July 11, 2013, 11:15 pm

    I am a photographer and I love to take photos of wildlife. I am the one that always has my camera ready to go at any given moment. I believe that I have been able to capture some really nice photos. I am also the type of person that would rather be out in the field than sitting at a desk.

  31. Husaini El-ladan
    Katsina Nigeria
    July 16, 2013, 12:03 pm

    Iam a civil servant and because of the nature of my job i relate and work alongside journalist most especially photographers. This made me to develop interest in photography, filming most especially unusual behaviour of small animals in my compound such as rabbit,cat and turkeys. Iam so much committed, what advise could you give me to expand and eventually got engaged by NG.Anticipating your positive response, please.

  32. farick
    kuala lumpur
    July 18, 2013, 1:39 pm

    i know what ever it was Mike said regarding photojournalism,
    is all facts, and yes i agree with him,all together.,about those big names from the analogue era..the GREAT Nat Geo. photographers. Daniel Lowe too,had the same sentiment ,although different words rearranged,I can simply say both gentlemen agree with each others opinion and me,i just can’t beg to differ,but to agree altogether. I dont know yet,but as for now i’am still optimistic in becoming one of the ‘selected’ few,maybe (fingers cross) just once, in a blue moon, I’d make my Mark on Nat Geo- Good,bad or the Ugly..I know..I will try-n going to leave me mark behind ~ wish me..best of luck.. con dios..?! :)

  33. Prasad
    Mumbai, India
    July 20, 2013, 11:21 am

    I love photography..
    I m quite passionate about it.
    Although I m nt a pro photographer but still I m glad to take beautiful clicks ..:)

  34. Lisa Munoz
    Australia
    July 21, 2013, 12:15 am

    Wow, thank you for sharing this with us. I found it extremely useful but scary.

    Two weeks ago I decided to quit my career in sales and go travel around South America for a year. I leave next month.

    I am hoping to take this opportunity to follow my dreams of becoming a travel photographer and since this was an impulsive decision, I am trying to prepare and teach myself as much as possible about travel photography.

    I would be keen to touch base with you directly as I would love to ask you a couple of questions and someone who can be my Critique. :)

    I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Lisa

  35. Tim Johnson
    United States
    July 23, 2013, 11:42 pm
  36. rehan ahmad
    kuwait
    July 24, 2013, 2:23 pm

    i have spent almost 8 years in middleeast. i have good sotries to tell about the culture,desert tribes, living,wild life,food etc. how to submitt those to NG?

  37. LISA PINAUT
    Dripping Springs, Texas
    July 26, 2013, 10:40 am

    Hi,
    My passions are travel, photography and food in that order and I am at a point in my life that I can travel freely when I want and for however long I want…are there any specific mediums that you would recommend sending photos to, or are contests really a good way to get your photos out there?

    Thank You,
    Lisa

  38. kritika
    india
    July 27, 2013, 3:50 pm

    hello sir,
    i m very much interested in photography ,right now i m training under a professional photographer ,i m very confused what to do next ,from where to start .i want to be a travel photographer .plz help me and guide me..

    thankyou
    kritika

  39. Angad
    Dharwad,Karnataka,India
    July 28, 2013, 7:44 am

    I am still a teenager,but i have the interest to get into this field.Animal Photography…what all i have to do to get into it???

  40. muhammad sajjad akram
    islamabad, Pakistan
    August 1, 2013, 2:46 pm

    Respected Sir,
    By profession i am a sculptor. i do paint, write poems, photograph nature. As an artist i always remain exploring nature, life, expressions. And as student of history of arts i am documenting my research through words , visuals, dimensions, surfaces etc. Recently i documented officially “Forts of Cholistan”, which is part of my friend’s research for her thesis.
    To be part of an adventure is my passion, i want to ask you sir, that how i could take part of Nat Geo or how could i share my vocabulary to world through Nat Geo..??
    Waiting for your guidance and support.
    Thanks..
    Stay blessed…

  41. aditya prasad
    india
    August 9, 2013, 1:40 am

    nice to hear your words and i am going to be a photojournalist

  42. aditya prasad
    india
    August 9, 2013, 11:45 am

    my aim is to travel around the world,i want to see how people of different countries live,i want to taste the food of each and every country…………………….and by reading the above information it had led me to fell deep in doing freelance photojournalism………………..thank you:)…….

  43. prateek
    india
    August 18, 2013, 11:26 am

    sir,
    i’m in 12 standard…
    recently preparing for JEE…..
    my parents want me to become a engineer,but my real passion is in photography………………
    my life is going full of stress at this time .
    not able to understand what to do……..I’ve have a nikon D5100 . and i”ve taken some beautiful pics with it ………
    sir, pls give some tips ……. i’m not seeing my future good. if all is going to be like this…. plsssssss

  44. gursharn
    india
    September 6, 2013, 7:50 am

    Thanks for share this information with us and i want something information about camera which good for a student who want to learn about professional photography.

  45. gursharn
    punjab,india
    September 6, 2013, 10:40 am

    i am a photography lover and it is my passion so your advice are very useful for me. i also want that your come in punjab and capture the punjabi culture with your camera.

  46. tushar
    india -uttar pradesh-(lucknow)
    September 19, 2013, 3:27 pm

    sir i love to take photos like animal flower and nature and i want to travel different country to see those different animal,flower
    ……what all i have to do to get into it???becouse i like photography and travelling sir please give ur good gudince to me so one day i do all those thing . thanku :)

  47. Mohsin Khan
    Gujrat-india
    September 25, 2013, 3:10 am

    give me guidance to be part of NatGeo.

  48. anurag giri
    uttarakhand-india
    September 26, 2013, 4:24 am

    hello sir, i wanna also become like you, its my dream, my passion an all things that makes me feels happy…i want to know the beauties of nature you captured in your photos….i loved to be like you…bt my conditions are not give me that chance in my life…because firstly i have no experiance of photography…n no experiance in this profession but if life give just one chance in any way…that day my deams comes true…and i give my best in any how to become like you….so plz give me a chance or any advice to become a part of NatGeo or can i gain some knowledge of photography to work under you?? plz reply me sir…

  49. partha maitra
    India
    October 2, 2013, 4:38 pm

    Hi , this is partha maitra ,i am holding a hospitality and tourism degree with overseas experience in hospitality department , but i am so much interesteng about international photography, like as travel ,and many more, so please tell me how can i make myself as a photographer , please please please its my dream become a photographar , please help me to find out the way .

  50. sonu thakur
    india (himachal pradesh)
    October 7, 2013, 4:32 am

    Sir I am army person,and I want to job in national geography channel.(part time)eg.photography.I like photography pls sir send me email

  51. aneesh anand
    Kerala, India
    October 8, 2013, 1:03 am

    LOL, I read all comments and it doesn;t stop me from laughing.
    Guys – please read the article again, before posting your requests here. By the way – this article gives the exact info for every aspiring photographers, and encourage them to make better works in this hope. Kudos NGM.

  52. Andrew bateup
    New Zealand, ohinewai
    November 1, 2013, 12:19 am

    I am 14 years old and I have a love for photography and it would be my dream job to work for national geographic what would you recommend to do to be able to work for them one day

  53. Noah Saripalli
    Andhra Pradesh- INDIA
    November 17, 2013, 3:40 am

    I’m a very passionate Photographer, and have been practicing since three years by photographing Birds, Nature, everyday life, Landscapes, Flowers and everything that I find in my way… I basically want to be a Wildlife Photographer and Ultimately work for NatGeo.. If there are any wildlife Photographers, who need assistants please contact me….

  54. Dillon Hardinger
    United States, Nebraska
    November 24, 2013, 4:59 pm

    My Future goal is to work for National Geographic. I keep trying to get recognized and get out there its hard. I’ve been in a few Magazines. I’m only 21 and I know I got much further to go. But some day I’ll be working here! I DON’T QUIET! if anyone wants to critic my work feel free to do so. I do a little bit of everything. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dilleo22/
    http://www.hardinger-photography.com/

  55. ABHISHEK PANDEY
    kanpur,India
    December 5, 2013, 11:59 am

    i want to became a national geography photographer and i m a class 12th standered student not know alot about photography

  56. Pratik Mishra
    Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India
    December 6, 2013, 1:58 am

    I’m a very passionate Photographer, and have been practicing since three years by photographing Birds, Nature, everyday life, Landscapes, Flowers and everything that I find in my way… I basically want to be a Wildlife Photographer and Ultimately work for NatGeo.. If there are any wildlife Photographers, who need assistants please contact me….

  57. rachana
    india,adhra pradesh, hyderabad
    December 14, 2013, 8:35 am

    i love to take photos of nature,mountains,beach,children,animals, specialy historical place………. mostly i like traveling photos to take….. i really enjoy it………..

  58. Akash harizan
    guwahati, assam,india
    December 14, 2013, 8:44 am

    i am a photographer and i like to take snakes photos cause i wanted to became a herpetologist but i just started with photography… so any wildlife photographer required a assistant please contact me…

  59. Mehdi Hassan
    manipurindia
    January 1, 11:54 am

    i like photography…..my habit to take photoes of snakes birds mad dogs wild life nature….sice my childhood days with mobile camera handycam…etc. how i could become a photographer of net geo…..?

  60. Ann Hoven
    Oregon,USA
    January 27, 12:44 am

    How did you first get interested in photography?

  61. Jennifer Hoang
    January 27, 1:09 am

    Thank you for such an insightful response to a simple question. I have always dreamed of becoming a travel photographer and documentary film maker. On my first real documentary film, I experienced working with the Karen people along the Thailand border. During this, my partner took steps to ensure beautiful cinematography, but at an unethical cost. I felt we were objectifying our subjects and the stories became secondary reason for making the film. We brought DSLRs but even those cameras felt intrusive and unethical. Some of our subjects were so confused about the whole situation. What advice would you give to someone documenting stories of people who cannot speak English?

    I am still contemplative about that experience and I hope to connect with a fellow photojournalist about the issue of objectifying our subjects for the sake of beautiful cinematography.

  62. Jonathon McCaffrey
    Australia
    January 27, 1:19 am

    Did anyone actually READ the article? The majority of the comments seem to portray that no one indeed did.

  63. Sarah Jo
    Sparks NV,
    January 27, 1:41 pm

    I have been taking photos for years , and still take photos I love it makes me feel so free ,and I love to travel I have a great photo of pyramid Lake and a story of what happened there years ago and about the trout that are in the lake it is a very cool place .I have photos from Ky, KeyWest Lake Tahoe im always taking photos have my camera with me at all times u never know what u may see . We have a beautiful world that’s why I would love to travel more to take these amazing photos of our amazing world and show others how great it is

  64. Ralph DeLeon
    DeBary, Florida
    January 28, 6:29 pm

    I have been taking pictures of landscapes and animals since I was a young teenager, now at 57 I still go out to shoot nature scrapes.

  65. mai
    Egypt
    February 2, 9:22 pm

    currently studying at university {{ veterinary medicine((( in hopes of becoming a travel photographer.I know it is very far from my studies but
    But I love photography . What advice would you give me at this stage.؟؟.What advice would you give me to become distinct in photography until the age of graduation and what to do in order to graduate be able to work as travel photographer …..and There is difficulty in being a vet and I want to work as travel photographer ?

  66. Brodie Fryer
    Australia
    February 4, 7:51 pm

    Hi I am wondering how do I start of to becoming a travel photographer in this business seeing that I am not even out of high school and have been taking pictures since I was ten years old and I am really looking for a way of getting in and hoping to make a future in the art of travel photography

  67. Priyanka Dhingra
    India
    February 7, 11:12 am

    Hi I am 15 years old and I am in the last session of 10th standard. I love Wildlife Photography and I want to become a photographer. Which subject should be taken in 11th standard to be an photographer. Please suggest me for this.
    Thanks.

  68. Hiva
    Iran
    February 18, 2:00 am

    Hi
    Im a civil engineer.I love photo and photography from my childhood to now and I love to be a successful hotographer and work for Nat Geo.I have a certification for Photography.Can I be successful in this field?

  69. haryadi
    Batam, Indonesia
    March 6, 11:08 pm

    need an advice from me?

    Start walking and taking pictures….
    And share your story, even from your backyard….

  70. Abhinay
    gurgaon,haryana
    March 23, 10:47 am

    Thank you Dan for your great advice to me.Now,after reading your blog ” I’ll be clicking many pictures and one day i’ll like to be the next you”……… Dan Westergren.