The dream dies hard. National Geographic remains the gold standard for high quality Wildlife, Nature and Travel photography and narrative. All photographers fantasize about the call from NatGeo that will send them out on assignment.
The sad truth is there are very few full-time NatGeo photographers on the magazine’s staff payroll. Most important assignments are parceled out to a small population of professional photographers with proven track records with the magazine. And most of those assignments are on a onetime contractual basis.
Actually that’s how most photography is done these days. There aren’t too many so-called Staff Photographers left. It’s just too costly for organizations to maintain staff, and frankly there is just too much talent out there for them to tie themselves exclusively to just a few photographers. So most [professional] photographers today work on individual contracts or assignments, and only a few enjoy modest retainer fees with large organizations (if they’re good enough).
I had the opportunity, here in Mexico, to be the Staff Photographer for The Yucatan Times online newspaper for a period of time. The owners, Sylvia and Raul Ponce de Leon, provided the opportunity, and I being a recent retiree and transplanted expat from the USA jumped at the chance. It was thrilling for awhile, going to all of the local events with my press pass, and running with the big dogs in the press corps. A heady, ego-satisfying experience. I learned a lot, on the job, under pressure and with deadlines to meet. Excellent training in a different photographic discipline.
The Gold Standard of Wildlife, Nature and Travel Photography
National Geographic Magazine – The Legend Lives On
But soon the Grin & Grip photo ops with the local politicos, and the community social elite and business tycoons grew stale and a bit jaded. The special assignments were still a hoot, shooting images for articles on Kaxil Kiuic Biocultural Reserve and Puuc Jaguar Conservation, but those didn’t come along everyday. Most day-to-day shooting was much more mundane. So after awhile I decided I wanted my time back, to pursue the photography I love, and with great hesitation tendered my resignation.
Stock photography, especially micro-stock photography, has really hurt [professional] photographers in the pocketbook in my opinion. In the old days you could sign with an agency, and earn hundreds of dollars per image sold. Now, everyone with a digital camera submits their images to the multitude of online agencies clogging the internet. Where once you could earn hundreds of dollars for a single image, you now earn only pennies on the dollar. I’ve sold a number of images commercially through various stock agencies, and the money I’ve earned from those sales didn’t warrant the effort. It is a labor intensive activity, and the ROI (Return on Investment) just doesn’t make sound business sense any longer. I don’t submit my images for micro-stock use anymore—it’s passive income, but again the payoff is not commensurate with the labor and effort involved.
However, with all of that behind me, I still find myself dreaming about shooting for Starship NatGeo. Even if it were offered (and assuming I was good enough) I am too long in the tooth for full-time assignment work. People underestimate the physical and emotional rigors and hardships encountered while shooting for an organization like that. It is hard work, very hard work. Similar to being a Combat Photographer, that kind of shooting is a young man’s game. That ship (my ship) has sailed. But the dream persists nonetheless, closely followed by having a few of my images accepted by the prestigious Getty Gallery in New York City someday.
Things change in this world, NatGeo now allows, and in point of fact encourages, photographers from around the world to submit their work for consideration. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of photographers now submit millions of images to NatGeo in the hopes that one will get picked up for publication (and they do). And I just joined that group of dreamers by starting a portfolio with them. At the very least you get critical feedback from NatGeo editors, your peers and the general viewing public. Everyday the NatGeo editors will select images, from recent submissions, to be published online in the Daily Dozen. Photographers are also encouraged to submit their images to currently posted assignment opportunities, with the final goal being publication in the printed magazine itself. By viewing one’s online gallery you can see, at a glance, when the image was uploaded to the site, how many viewers have favorited your image, any NatGeo editor or viewer comments and whether the image has been published.
The dream lives on. If you would like to visit my NatGeo gallery, or view more spectacular images from other photographers from around the world, then (Click Here). Feel free to save the website for future online reference.