How to Become a National Geographic Photographer (A Complete Guide)

When it comes to taking outstanding and beautiful photographs including wildlife, culture, exploration, science, and others, National Geographic Photographers are the best of the best.

The question is, how can you get into one of these National Geographic photographers and take part in National Geographic Publication?

The publication has featured the best photographers in photojournalism for over a century.

These photojournalists are typically freelance photographers. They come from diverse backgrounds and expertise.

Hence, this article shall focus on offering guidelines on how to become a National Geographic Photographer and also provide information related to pursuing a career in the National Geographic Society.

What Is A National Geographic Photographer?

What is a National Geographic Photographer

A National Geographic Photographer is a term or name given to some set of photographers who can shoot pictures that are compelling, outstanding, and perfect.

Their pictures are not only based on any subject but instead, a collection of picture stories.

In addition, they are experts in various photography specialties including, wildlife, underwater, landscapes, portraits, and geopolitical to mention but a few.

They don’t just work as photographers but are also narrators, explorers, and scientists who use their cameras to explore and record the world.

Most importantly, to qualify as a National Geographic photographer, you must have at least five to ten years of photojournalism experience.

How To Become A Photographer For National Geographic

Step-01: Education

To be a photographer for National Geographic, one should study journalism.

Getting a background in media or photography from a reputable college specializing in journalism, sciences, anthropology, sociology, arts or a similar profession will be very helpful to you to acquire the relevant expertise.

By pursuing a journalism degree, you will have an opportunity to create your portfolio of works, network with peers, and develop skills from practitioners and leaders in journalism.

On the same note, it is not compulsory to have a journalism degree since we have seen several National Geographic photographers holding different degree certifications or learning via self-study and practical application.

Passion, experience, and a great work ethic will bring you closer to your dreams.

Step-02: Experience As A Photojournalist

One of the steps towards becoming a photographer at National Geographic is to gain work experience as a photojournalist.

National Geographic states that one must have a minimum experience of five to ten years in photojournalism to qualify for an assignment.

Moreover, you must specialize in either single or multiple fields like wildlife, underwater, landscape, portraiture, culture, geopolitics, or even aerial photography.

Consequently, you should create images that educate the public on diverse matters as well as convey stories, information, and messages.

In addition, you must have the ability to perform under pressure, meet your set targets, and adapt to changing circumstances.

It is possible to start your profession as a photojournalist within other newspapers and magazines either in-house or external services.

Additionally, you can come up with ideas for projects that you can shop around potential media clients.

Involvement in more photojournalistic works will allow you to enhance your portfolio, prestige, and social connection. Moreover, you can upgrade your photography abilities, manner, and sight.

Step-03: Contribution As A Freelance Photographer

Another important requirement you need to fulfill before being a National Geographic Photographer is to work as a freelance photographer in magazines, newspapers, or any other types of media platforms.

You will be expected to come up with new ideas for projects and stories and demonstrate your individual views, style, and talents through the photographs.

Aside from this, you will also need to sell your concepts to editors for various journalism outlets and persuade them that it is a good publication.

By offering your skills as a freelance photographer, you will demonstrate your capability of producing original, quality content that attracts more people and audiences from around the world.

Other benefits include being exposed to opportunities, gaining feedback, and building one’s portfolio and network.

More so, being a freelance photographer contributes towards your reputation as National Geographic editors are always on the lookout for new talented photographers to work with.

Step-04: Specialize In A Unique Skill

NAT GEO photography Skills

For photographers who are aiming towards being hired by National Geographic, you have to develop a notable specialty that can interest the National Geographic editors as well as their audience.

Hence, a prospective photographer needs to grow their style, vision, and voice in a photography niche.

There are several types of photography niches that you can specialize in such as wildlife, underwater, landscape, and portraiture that are of interest to National Geographic.

Finally, you may opt for unconventional methods of photography such as novel formats, techniques, and perspectives to take original photos that will make your photographs remarkable.

By specializing, you become distinct from the vast pool of photographers.

Thereby showcasing to National Geographic your uniqueness and the creative capacity you possess.

Step-05: Submit Your Work To National Geographic

Now here comes the last but critical part of the journey which will have you mailing your pictures to a National Geographic editor who may look at them and wait for their response.

In other words, you will be required to submit your portfolio, CV, and cover letter via email or by posting your materials on the appropriate National Geographic website depending on the type of photography.

Submission guidelines and requirements vary for various niches.

You need to comply with this in terms of how many pictures to send, the format, size, including the deadline, length and style of the text, and submission frequency.

However, it is important to note that there is keen competition, and the number of accepted photos is usually minimal because National Geographic gets thousands of submissions annually from photographers worldwide.

Hence, you should not become depressed due to rejections and keep practicing and improving your skills.

Besides that, you need to monitor the current and future stories and topics of National Geographic to give direction to your work and ensure it is in line with their editorial philosophy and purpose.

National Geographic Jobs and Career

Depending on a photographer’s interests, skills, and job goals, National Geographic has various types of jobs.

Some of the jobs and careers at National Geographic include:

01. Photographers And Storytellers

These are the freelancing photographers associated either with the National Geographic Magazine or any other media houses that document and disseminate unique stories around the world.

These photographers need to sell their concepts and create excellent and exclusive materials that fit National Geographic’s requirements.

Additionally, they have to master a specific skill or domain of photography.

02. Editors And Producers

These people form a team with the photographers and the storytellers to give their stories shape and finally have them published.

They are required to choose and edit the pictures, and also the writing of the publication. They also manage the production, packaging, and distribution of the content.

03. Educators And Explorers

These are the employees of the National Geographic Society who collaborate in making and delivering educational programs and grants for exploration, research, and conservation.

This career entails designing, introducing, and evaluating the effects of the programs and grants.

Furthermore, they interact with the community and collaborators on issues like funding, goals, and more.

04. Scientists And Researchers

This career field includes staff or grantees associated with the National Geographic Society.

They are tasked to conduct research and communicate their scientific findings on different aspects such as nature and culture to advance knowledge and protect the natural world.

Largely, they ask for grants from sponsors to conduct their research (fieldwork), analyze results, create a manuscript, and share their work through the National Geographic publication.

05. Administrators And Support Staff

The people in the career include employees from the National Geographic Partners or the National Geographic Society whose job is to facilitate the administrative operations of the organization.

Their core duties include performing tasks like finance, human resources, marketing, legal, IT, and customer service.


How Hard Is It To Become A Nat Geo Photographer?

Photography in National Geographic is a highly selective and competitive area of practice; hence, it’s not easy to work as a photographer with National Geographic.

The photographers employed by National Geographic are freelance journalists with at least 5-10 years of experience as photojournalists.

Particularly, they specialize in topics including wildlife, underwater, landscape, cultures, and other niche fields of interest to National Geographic.

Each assignment by National Geographic is assigned thematically to determine photographers with skills suitable for that particular task.

Moreover, thousands of photographers apply to become National Geographic Photographers which makes the competition fierce with mass rejections.

How Much Does It Pay To Be A Photographer For National Geographic?

The National Geographic photographers do not receive a fixed salary because they are self-employed individuals who are paid for each job assignment from time to time.

Payment is determined by the number of days, the difficulty, the expense per order, as well as the experience and reputation of the photographer.

A study found that the National Geographic photographer’s average hourly rate in the U.S. is estimated to be $20.36, resulting in an annual income of around $42,348.

Nevertheless, this represents just an estimation by taking into account a sample of 25 salaries.

Note that many other aspects could considerably modify the salary amount.

How Do I Sell My Photos To National Geographic?

It is impossible to sell your photos directly to National Geographic because they do not buy photos from an outside source.

On the other hand, you should send your photos to National Geographic for consideration.

How Do You Get Hired By National Geographic?

To get hired by National Geographic, you have to demonstrate your skills, experience, and passion as a photographer and a storyteller.

You have to build a strong portfolio that showcases your unique vision, style, and expertise in a specific area of photography.

You also have to keep an eye on the current and upcoming stories and themes of National Geographic and try to align your work with their editorial vision and mission.

Who Is The Youngest Photographer In National Geographic?

The youngest photographer ever to be published in National Geographic is Hawkeye Huey at the age of four.

Hawkeye was 4 years old when he started taking photos with his father, Aaron Huey, a National Geographic photographer.

Do National Geographic Photographers Edit Their Photos?

No, however, they may crop the photograph. It goes against the guidelines of National Geographic that National Geographic photographers should not edit their photographs.

National Geographic requires that photojournalists submit RAW files of the images they send in, allowing the magazine to examine the original, untouched pixel data captured by the camera.