Process 083 ☼ How I Started Shooting for National Geographic Traveller
And how it led to five more stories
This week’s letter is about the first time I shot for National Geographic Traveller and how it all came about. The timing of this issue also celebrates that my fifth story was just published in their most recent issue, out now.
How My First NatGeo Shoot Came About
Way back in 2017 I got a very cool assignment for a cruise company and an online publication that had me traveling the carribean to shoot stories in places like Trinidad, Honduras, Bonaire, and the deeply tucked away hills of Jamaica.
I traveled alongside a video team that was making shortform documentary work while I focused on still images. This is one of my favorite ways to work because it turns a set from a solo operation into an environment where it feels like I have colleagues to pal around with and learn from.
Each of these trips was amazing. We met and documented fascinating people in stunning environments, ate authentic food, and really got to know each other.
When the stories ran I was thrilled to see how the team integrated the images but there was also a tinge of disappointment that might be familiar to other working photographers: the client’s selection didn’t include some of my favorite images.
It’s rare for a client to pick all of the photographer’s favorites. It’s not only a matter of taste but the creative director also has more complex considerations. Where the photographer might make their selection based purely on the basis of the image, the creative director must balancesthe need of many internal and external parties. They have to take into account space limitations, what the focus of the story is, where the story will be distributed, and more.
This minor disappointment is a normal part of a photographer’s job, and sometimes it can be a blessing in disguise. This is a story about the latter.
The story we shot in Jamaica centered around an incredible farm-to-table restaurant Stush in the Bush. Its run by a beautiful couple, Lisa and Chris. It is fully vegetarian in line with the rastafarian beliefs of husband Chris and operates sustainably. The food they kindly served us during our lunch break was out of this world. I felt a great connection with Lisa and Chris, loved taking their pictures, and we kept in touch.
A few months later I received a message from Chris. He explained that National Geographic Traveller was working on a story about the highlands of Jamaica and that they were interested in including Stush in the Bush. What an opportunity for them!
There were some challenges to making this happen, like the relatively difficult journey to reach Stush, including driving off-road vehicle deep into the gorgeous hills. It’s part of what makes it such a special place to visit but also made it hard for the magazine to get someone out there in time for publication.
Chris mentioned to the editor that I had recently visited and taken pictures they felt represented Stush in a great way, and that many had gone unused up until that point. The magazine got in touch with me, I got permission to use the photos from the original client, and this is how my first story landed in National Geographic Traveller.
The experience working with the NatGeo creative director and photo editor on this story was amazing. It was perhaps the first time I felt that a client’s cropping and lay out enhanced the power of my pictures. Just look at this double page spread. So nice!
Since I was traveling a lot and they enjoyed working with me we kept in touch. A few months later I was invited to contribute to their Snap Shot column and shared the story of my most meaningful portrait. (Read more on that story in Process 046.)
The following year later I was excited to take on two very ambitious assignments. I was to document 25 locations across Philadelphia and nearly 30 across Seattle for two separate stories on the best places to eat and experience culture in these cities.
I had one day per city and I am not sure how I managed to do it but I did. These stories were the first two with my name on it properly next to the writer’s credit at the start of the article, which was a special moment for me. Both were many pages long.
During the pandemic there wasn’t any travel work for me sadly. I was so excited to hear from the magazine again late last year for something unexpected. This brings us to my most recent shoot for the magazine. Rather than flying to an exotic location I rode my bike all over the eastern side of Amsterdam to document the artistic and culinary highlights of a unique neighborhood. I haven’t received the print edition yet but my friend Lea spotted at the airport magazine and sent me the snaps below.
Now that travel is slowly getting back to pre-pandemic levels of ease I hope to work on another story for this wonderful magazine in the near future. When I do I will of course take you along for all the behind-the-scenes and lessons learned.
Keep your files organized so you can deliver work to unexpected last minute clients rapidly. Read more about how to do this in Process 004.
Genuine relationships pay of. Take an interest in everyone you work with. You will likely learn something and it might lead to future opportunities, personal growth, or an opportunity to cast someone for another shoot. Read more about this in Process 035.
That’s it for this week!
Next week I talk about my work as a visual art and photography curator for WeTransfer and the International Center of Photography in New York City and what a curator’s job entails.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
PS You already know this but all my film work is developed and scanned by my friends at Carmencita Film Lab. Use code “PROCESS” at check out to get a free size upgrade.
Last week’s Giveaway in partnership with Moment is still open for submissions until January 29th and over fifty readers have already shared their answer to the question:
When did you first start taking pictures and what motivated you to start?
Go check out their stories and share your own in the comments.
The winner will be randomly drawn. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only.
Major shout out to my friends at Moment for making this giveaway possible. Check out their webshop for all your photo needs.
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Thanks for publishing this. Working with a publication as renowned as the National Geographic would be such a dream for me - so it is wonderful to have more of an insight into your own experiences as someone who has actually achieved it. The little synchronicities for how you got the first assignment are quite amazing. But also, so much respect for you for the dedication with the later assignments too. It really shows that, while a stroke of luck may happen at some points, it still takes a particular talent to really capitalize on this, and go on to take advantage of further opportunities.
Another great article- what an amazing sequence of events. Absolutely hear ya on that feeling when clients don't choose your favourite shots, but on a way smaller scale. I usually put them in a blog post, since I don't have the issue of them having been commissioned by global media giant!😅