Tag Archive: national geographic


Ag-Gag Arrest: National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz arrested for photographing Kansas feedlot

Black angus beef cattle stand in a holding pen at a ranch near Ledger, Montana, USA. - M. Scott Brauer

Black angus beef cattle stand in a holding pen at a ranch near Ledger, Montana, USA. – M. Scott Brauer

We’ve covered the so-called Ag-Gag bills enacted across the US to outlaw the unauthorized filming and photography of agricultural operations. NPR’s On the Media has a great primer on the recent movement to enact such legislation.

Now, freelance photographer George Steinmetz, on assignment for National Geographic (he’s done 31+ major assignments for the magazine), was arrested after taking pictures of a feedlot in Kansas while paragliding. Steinmetz and his paragliding instructor are charged with trespassing because they took off from private land without permission and because feedlot employees believe that his low altitude and circling pattern constitute trespassing in the air above the feedlot. The case raises interesting questions about how far up above physical land property ownership goes, but also may run afoul of Kansas’ 1990 Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act, an early predecessor of current Ag-Gag laws. Wikipedia has a nice overview of such laws in various states.

A spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association told the Hutchinson [Kansas] News that Steinmetz’s activities could pose a safety risk to the food supply and reminds agricultural operators to remain vigilant in identifying and reporting similar incidents.

Artist preserves print by embroidering newspapers and magazines

In our first year at dvafoto, I wrote about Kim Rugg, an artist who rearranges the letters on newspaper front pages in alphabetical order. In another imaginative approach to the object of print journalism, Lauren DiCoccio has taken to embroidering snippets of newspapers and magazines (among her many other projects) and the results create a beautiful preservation of the periodical publication. In sewnnews, DiCoccio covers sections of the New York Times in muslin and embroiders sections of the cover photos and headlines. In 365 Days of Print, she isolates small segments of the page and renders the text in thread. In National Geographics, she creates thread and fabric idealizations of issues of the yellow-bordered magazine. Throughout these projects, threads dangle and the embroidery seems almost unfinished.

Girl from Sebastião Salgado photograph found

In a story similar to the famous “Afghan Girl” photograph by Steve McCurry and the efforts National Geographic followed to track her down in 2002, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paolo has found the girl whose photograph was the cover of Sebastião Salgado’s book “Terra”.

Joceli Borges was 5 years old in 1996 when Salgado made the portrait along a highway in Brazil. Borges, 21, lives now with her husband and daughter in a Landless Worker’s Movement camp near Iguaçu Falls, on the Brazil-Argentina border. Read the original article for more details about Borges’ life: “Girl immortalized in a photo by Sebastião Salgado is still landless” (in Portugues), or click here for a Google Translation to English.

I first saw this photograph in another of Salgado’s books, “The Children”, featuring portraits of children from around the world. Like McCurry’s photograph of Sharbat Gula, the picture of Joceli Borges lept out at me from the pages of the book when I was in the University of Washington library, and it has long been one of my favorite portraits, for reasons I cannot quite explain. I always felt I could see both a girl and a woman who had already lived a life of struggle in the very same eyes, the two people flashing together with the same face. It seems it has come true, sadly.

National Geographic photographers form The Photo Society

Screenshot of The Photo Society website with image by Melissa Farlow

Screenshot of The Photo Society website with image by Melissa Farlow

‘Explaining the diversity of this group is the easiest way to answer the question, “How do I become a National Geographic photographer?” I usually answer this question by saying: “It is not easy or glamorous (see Reality Check). And this is not where you begin your career. You are competing with world-class documentary photographers and within that genre there are men and women who are the absolute best at their specialty. There are a number of specialists — underwater photographers with different skills — one works in very deep water; a couple photograph at all depths and temperatures; one dives in caves, another holds his breath under whales; and then there is a guy who just works in puddles. One photographer travels all over the world to strap a big fan on his back to shoot aerials. There is a bug guy, an archeology specialist, and a number of folks that photograph critters. There are climbers, conflict photographers, portrait photographers and landscape specialists.” Then I usually end with how amazed I am that I can survive in this crowd as a generalist… in such esteemed company.’ -Randy Olson, About the Photo Society

The Photo Society site’s been live for a little while, and it’s got a wealth of information for those wanting to learn a little more about the people and processes behind National Geographic’s photography. Started at the behest of National Geographic’s Photographer’s Advisory Board, the site collects stories and snippets from a host of the magazine’s contributing photographers. Initial momentum, and what got me to peek at the site initially, started with a list of the various ailments and mishaps encountered by these photographers while on assignment. They’ve had 90 cases of severe diarrhea, 16 parasitic infections, 33 arrests, 21 paraglider crashes, and 1 viper in a camera bag, among other things. But there’s more to the site than that. The blog is frequently updated with links and original content. A few posts of note: Bill Allard Explains How He Became a National Geographic Photographer, I Went Blind in One Eye Shooting First NG Assignment, and How to respond to requests for free photography. That last one shouldn’t be surprising to me…there’s a certain comfort in knowing that even at the highest levels of photography, you’ll still get asked for free work.

Watch out for rights grabs – National Geographic My Montana contest and SmartShoot (UPDATE)

UPDATE (20 March 2013): TurnHere is now known as SmartShoot and remains a rights grab.

We try to publicize good opportunities for photographers through the blog here and our deadline calendar. In deciding whether or not to include a contest or call for entry on our calendar, we look at the terms and conditions of submitting work to the contest. A good contest, in line with Pro-Imaging’s Bill of Rights Standards for Photography Competitions, promotes the winners’ work while respecting them and their work. Usually, this means by entering or winning a contest, the photographer retains all rights to his or her images and that the contest and its sponsors can use the submitted or winning images only to publicize the contest and its winners and only for a short time period. All of the contests on our calendar conform to these basic guidelines.

But we see a lot of contests that have bad conditions for entry, usually in the form of a “rights grab,” which you’ve also probably encountered in contracts for assignment photography. A “rights grab” takes your copyright away from you, preventing you from reselling your work ever again and, potentially, from even showing your work in your portfolio. It’s a dirty tactic, and it’s sad to see how many photo contests have rights grabs. A good rule of thumb is that any contest run by a travel-related company (airlines, luggage companies, resorts, etc.) is a rights grab. For the organizations in charge, running these contests is a quick, easy and cheap way to build an image library for its future use. Why should an airline company, for instance, pay fees to photographers to take pictures of tropical destinations when all of their paying customers will just send in their travel pictures for free? It’s a bad deal for photographers. Your rights have value. Here’s a short mention of one photographer earning upwards of $140,000 by relicensing images to the same client over 8 years. Had the photographer worked under a buyout, work-for-hire, or other rights grab situation, he would have made nothing beyond the initial fee. Had he submitted them to a rights-grabbing photo contest, he would have made nothing at all.

I thought I’d share two rights grabs that recently caught my attention because they at first seemed like interesting opportunities for me to gain exposure and future work.




National Geographic - My Montana contest is a rights grab

National Geographic - My Montana contest is a rights grab

National Geographic’s My Montana contest features a pretty standard rights grab. It’s particularly sad to see National Geographic taking advantage of photographers in this way, especially since the organization has been so supportive of photography and photographers since the beginning of the craft. Here’s the rights grab, from the contest’s rules‘, Section 4:

Submission of an entry grants Sponsor and their agents a license and right to use, publish, adapt, edit and/or modify such entry in any way, in whole or in part, and to use such entry alone or in combination with other works, as solely determined by Sponsor, in commerce and trade and in any and all media now known or hereafter discovered, worldwide, including but not limited to the Website, without limitation or compensation to the Entrant and without right of notice, review or approval of any such use of the entry.

Reading that section, it’s clear that by entering a photo in the contest, you give National Geographic and the State of Montana the unlimited, perpetual, worldwide right to use and publish your photos anywhere for any purpose. National Geographic could publish your photos in one of their books, or sell it as a poster on their website, and you wouldn’t see a dime. If Montana’s Office of Tourism wants to put your photo on a billboard in Times Square or on the side of a train in Minneapolis, they don’t have to pay you. And they could do it now, next month, or 300 years from now, and you wouldn’t know. I personally know the value of this. Montana’s Office of Tourism recently contacted me to license a photo for this year’s winter tourism guide (page 9 of this PDF). It was a very small usage, but it paid for rent. Had I submitted the photo to the contest, it wouldn’t have won and they could have used the picture for free. I would have lost twice, and possibly many times in the future, too.

I tried contacting National Geographic through the contest website and twitter, but have not gotten a response.




Turn Here - an egregious rights grab

Turn Here - an egregious rights grab

About a month ago I received an email from TurnHere with the subject line: “Hiring Professional Freelance Photographers.” The email said, “We’re growing our network of professional photographers and like what we’ve seen of your work. TurnHere provides paid shoot jobs to our photographers on behalf of some of the world’s premier brands (Google, Microsoft, Audi, . . .) and we’d like to invite you to apply to our network as part of our early access program.” Corporate work is a growing part of my business, and it looked like an interesting opportunity. After seeing the website, it looked even better: more than $12 million paid to creatives, $100,000 made by a single person this year, 600+ jobs currently available through the system. Sounds great! But the Independent Contractor agreement is really ugly. For instance, Section 4.a and b:

TurnHere is the sole and exclusive owner of, and Independent Contractor hereby irrevocably assigns to TurnHere all Deliverables, regardless of whether such Deliverables are specified in any Project description, and all rights, title, interest, and ownership throughout the world in any Deliverable, including all Intellectual Property Rights in and to any Deliverable. Independent Contractor hereby irrevocably and unconditionally waives all enforcement of each of the foregoing rights. All Deliverables are and will belong exclusively to TurnHere, with TurnHere having the right to obtain and to hold in its name, any and all Intellectual Property Rights. … In jurisdictions such as Canada, where moral rights may not be assigned, Independent Contractor irrevocably and expressly waives in favor of TurnHere and agrees never to assert any and all “moral rights” that it may have in any Deliverable.

That’s hard to parse, but what it means is that you never own any pictures you take as part of TurnHere and that you can’t even show them as part of your portfolio. More than that, there’s no requirement that your work will be credited to you once it’s used in an advertising campaign. You’ll get paid (though I don’t know the rates) but you’ll have nothing to show afterward. Everything you do for the job becomes the property of TurnHere. This hurts you in a couple of ways. You can’t relicense any of your pictures to the original client or future clients. This may not seem like a big deal when you’re looking at a commission and don’t have a lot of other work, but subsequent licensing fees can and should be a part of your future business. I know a couple of photographers who’ve recently paid for cars and houses through corporate use of photos that started out in an editorial assignment.

Steer well clear of TurnHere and any other such deals. By taking part in such a scheme, you’re crippling your future earnings and making it difficult even to market yourself through your previous work. TurnHere suggests that by working through them, you’ll be able to associate yourself with some of the world’s top brands, but reading the above excerpt of their agreement about “moral rights,” your name will not be associated with the pictures you make for these companies. The only way to get work is to show your previous work. Here, you don’t have the right to show your photos without permission of TurnHere after the fact. By agreeing to work for TurnHere, you’ve pulled the rug out from under yourself before you’ve even begun.

I emailed back and forth with a representative from TurnHere to try to figure out what was going on here, and they seemed receptive to input from potential contributors. But communication died off without getting an official response from the company.




The sad fact is that rights grabs are becoming more and more common. The good news is that sometimes you can negotiate away a rights grab in a contract. I’ve had to do just that a few times this year. In a couple of cases, I was successful and achieved a decent fee for a limited usage of my work. In other cases, I’ve had to turn down the work because it was a bad deal for me. And I’m not a copyright absolutist. Everything can be had at a price. If someone wants to pay a million dollars for perpetual, exclusive rights to a photo shoot, I’m all ears. I have sold full copyright to one image in my career, and it was for a very nice fee.

Contests with terms such as in National Geographic’s My Montana contest and assignment contracts such as TurnHere’s make the future sustainability of a photographer’s career all but impossible. The best way to protect yourself is to educate yourself and keep your rights. You never know what images will sell down the line, and you don’t want to decimate your future earnings. A good place to start with learning about contracts and rights is with John Harrington’s excellent Best Business Practices for Photographers book. And here are a few tips on how to avoid a rights grab and how to deal with rights grabbing photo releases common in the music industry.

UPDATE (20 March 2013): TurnHere is now known as SmartShoot and remains a rights grab.

Must read: John Stanmeyer’s blog

John Stanmeyer - Blog

John Stanmeyer - Blog

I didn’t know John Stanmeyer‘s work before my internship at VII in late 2005, and then it only crept up on me. His work distinguishes itself not by the sexiness of blurry black and white or other trends of the moment but by the slow burn of a dogged, investigative, and thoughtful approach to complex and abstract notions. You might not see wars directly in most of his work, but you will see the issues that lay behind them or the numbers underpinning a report in The Economist or an exploration of long-standing sentiment giving rise to social change. This is not easy to do, but thankfully Stanmeyer has just started blogging, showing the rest of us the process that goes behind illustrating the undrawable.

Of particular interest, check out Stanmeyer’s intermittent series detailing the process of shooting a story for National Geographic, The Amazing Yellow-Bordered Magazine (and part 2). I don’t know how many features he’s shot for the magazine, but his work for the publication is always wide-ranging and intriguing. In the blog posts, Stanmeyer details how he approaches an assignment, from the first cold call from an editor to the reading of anything related to the topic to story research to working with fixers to editing work along the way to more reading and so on.

In another series of posts, Why Choose a Holga (and parts 2 and 3), Stanmeyer begins discussion by answering a question from facebook about why he chose to use a plastic Holga camera for his book Island of Spirits (website) and continues on with a discussion of the entire process of making the book. There are more posts promised in the series.

Also, make sure to check out Stanmeyer’s field recordings–he’s spent much of his past 25 years of photography with a microphone in his hand or in his ears, and some of those recordings are coming out now through the blog.

Sam Abell talks about taking a year to make a picture

“Sammy…compose your picture and wait. Compose and wait.”

-Sam Abell recalls his father’s advice

In the video above, from The Atlantic, Sam Abell recalls taking a year to make a picture of bison skulls for a National Geographic story on the life of American cowboy painter Charles M. Russell. The story here hits close to home for me; the areas Abell photographed for the story are where I grew up, and my high school was named for Russell. Be sure to watch to the end of the video; the story on the airplane is great.

Early Kodachrome color film test footage

This is beautiful:

The above video is early test footage of Kodachrome color movie film from 1922. Kodak’s blog has more info about the film. It predates the first color feature film by 13 years.

In other Kodachrome news, you probably have already heard about how Steve McCurry was given the last produced roll of Kodachrome and shot it for National Geographic, and that the last place to process Kodachrome will cease processing the film in December 2010.

In other test footage news, here’s some early improvisational camera test footage of Kermit the Frog and Fozzy Bear.

Worth a Look: Chien Chi-Chang’s Escape from North Korea

Along the lines of Ed Ou’s project we just posted about, photographer Chien Chi-Chang recently has published a Magnum in Motion presentation of his project “Escape from North Korea”, on assignment for National Geographic. He followed the paths and stories of men and women escaping from North Korea into China, Laos, Thailand and eventually South Korea. This is the project we’ve been waiting to see on this topic. You should have a look.

You should also visit Chang’s photos on the Magnum site if you haven’t seen his work before. He’s a special one, and he even came out of Seattle.

National Geographic Grant 2009: Alessandra Sanguinetti

Just a news brief with a few minutes of internet while traveling through Bosnia: Alessandra Sanguinetti Wins National Geographic Magazine Grant for a project about food production.

(c) Alessandra Sanguinetti / Magnum

(c) Alessandra Sanguinetti / Magnum


I had the pleasure of seeing her speak about her work as part of a Magnum workshop last year and was utterly enchanted. She has a beautiful, unique voice in documentary pictures right now and I hope you take some time to look through (and think) about her work. I was very confused when I first saw the pictures but came around when I thought about the message, the truthful beauty in her pictures. I can’t wait (just like Jonas Bendiksen last year, and Eugene Richards the year before that) to see the pictures that are made from this grant.

(h/t PDN’s Twitter feed)