So, what does it take to be a National Geographic photographer? As I have said, great photography, but also the photographer must possess the attributes of intellect, passion, maturity and drive.
Intellect is essential because the photographer shapes the story, and works independently of the writer, and to a great degree independent of direction from the picture editor. The photographer must be an intelligent, ethical, informed journalist.
Passion is an important attribute because without caring about the subject one cannot do their best creative work.
Maturity is another essential attribute. In the span of a single story a photographer may be working with slum-dwellers to a head of state. The photographer must have the maturity – the “salesmanship”, if you will – to convince this broad spectrum of individuals to give him or her access, and to allow him or her to do their photographic work.
In addition, the photographer must have the maturity and diplomacy to work within the editorial structure of the Magazine.
The amount of drive – just plain hard work – necessary to accomplish a National Geographic Magazine assignment cannot be overstressed. I have often said that I would rather have a photographer whose eye was not the best, but who worked very hard, rather than the person with the best eye in the world, and who was lazy.