Where to for National Geographic?


National Geographic remains the world's premier showcase of nature photography. But I often wonder for how much longer.

It is easy to maintain a virtual monopoly on high quality imagery when camera equipment and publishing are expensive and require a highly specialized skill set.  But neither of these things is true anymore.  Professional-quality photo equipment is broadly affordable. And numerous online venues allow anyone with an internet connection to distribute their photos for free.

Consider the following fantastic arthropod photographers, all from the galleries of the free online site Flickr:

While these amateur photographers show stylistic differences among themselves and from established Nat Geo insect photographers Mark Moffett and Christian Ziegler, I'm not sure one could find consistent differences in overall artistry between the amateurs and the professionals.  And given the abundance with which amateurs share their work online, it is now possible to get a fix of rich nature photography for free.  At any hour.  Without waiting for the mailman to deliver it.

Incidentally, I do enjoy Nat Geo when it arrives on our doorstep every month.  I'm not knocking the organization or the quality of their publication.  I just wonder about the brand's longevity as a seal of transcendent quality when the world is now drowning in spectacular photography.

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Lord V's Collembola images are amazing. I tried to photograph a Dicyrtomina once, with considerably inferior results to his!

Just wondering, how does one shoot stacked images in the field? Or can that only be done indoors with a rapid-fire shutter/focus apparatus of some sort?

By James C. Trager (not verified) on 17 Oct 2009 #permalink

You make excellent points in this blog. It's similar to how newspapers are struggling against online and television news. New technologies can make older ones obsolete.

One problem with just putting your photos up on Flickr is that they still have to be discovered. National Geographic still provides a consolidation service for good photos.

I guess this raises the question of how you get these photos "out there". Photosynthesis helps (I assume you got an increase in traffic after your month there), but only for the select few. Is there a website or blog that acts as a showcase for photographers like these and you) which allows more to be seen?

Nat Geo has actually been relatively proactive on this front with their MyShot feature, capitalizing on the cachet of their brand image to solicit content from amateur photographers at no cost to them. I can imagine that this may not make some of the professionals they employ that happy, but it seems at least some of the editorial staff is paying attention.

If National Geographic was *just* a photography magazine they might be in trouble -- but much of the photography in the magazine is linked to the scientific research that they fund. I hope that public interest in the science behind the amazing imagery remains vigorous enough to ensure the organization's (and magazine's) viability.

I've wondered that myself, James. I think the main thing is a motionless subject. A macro focusing rail is probably also helpful. But I've only tried it for dead specimens under a scope.

I've got mixed feelings about focus-stacking in the field. You can really get some strikingly sharp images, but they often look a little bit...artificial.

What am I going to read while waiting for the doctor.

By Jack Jumper (not verified) on 18 Oct 2009 #permalink

Difficult times for magazines and newspapers. However, I believe they still have two advantages to offer:

The first, as mentioned above by Neil, is the scientific content of their articles and pictures with an appropriate caption. As you have noticed many times in this blog, sometimes the "free" pictures are associated with a wrong caption.

The second point is more about what to take a picture of and where? Price of cameras and technologies has decreased a lot, but travelling in some part of the world can still be very expensive, or risky without appropriate equipment or knowledge/ human network. The extreme ecosystems, such as the deep sea ecosystems, are also simply impossible for non scientists people to get access.

For me, and I believe it is the case for other people, National Geographic is associated with the exploration of far wild lands (and seas), and I think there is still quite a few like that left. So I can imagine that it will have some more NG issues...