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National Geographic Photography Seminar Inspires Impact Through Imagery

From Jan. 9 – 12, the National Geographic Society welcomed renowned photographers for its annual Photography Seminar. The theme of this year’s seminar, “Photography for Change,” reflects the vital contributions photographers have made to National Geographic for almost 130 years as well as the increasingly critical role photography is playing in driving awareness, engagement and progress. Today, there are so many challenges facing our planet, from overpopulation and abuse of our natural resources, to rising geopolitical tensions and poverty. In an age of noise, distraction and speed, photography has an unparalleled ability to command our focus and attention and deliver clarity and truth that cannot be questioned, spun or ignored. Photography cuts through geographic, cultural and political barriers and unites people by creating a universal language of beauty, wonder, sorrow, and joy.

Photography shows us the infinite scale of our planet and universe. At the same time, it is profoundly personal, capturing human emotion in all its rawness and intimacy.

Photography provokes thought, changes perceptions, and evokes compassion.

And, perhaps most importantly, photography makes people take action.

Throughout the week, acclaimed National Geographic photographers including Michael “Nick” Nichols, David Doubilet, Maggie Steber, Ed Kashi, Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier filled the halls of National Geographic, sharing the power of photography to inspire meaningful action, empower new conservation movements, and make a measurable impact on our planet. These are a few of our favorite images from this powerful week.


Conservationist and National Geographic Explorer Mike Fay, award-winning photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols, and writer David Quammen gathered together for the first time in years to reflect on the 1999 African Megatransect project. This more than 2,000-mile expedition, supported by the National Geographic Society, was a turning point in conservation, inspiring bold initiatives to explore and document the world’s wildest places and to show governments why they deserve protection. The Megatransect project did just that, informing the president of Gabon’s decision to set aside nearly 11 percent of Gabon’s land mass for 13 national parks. Many conservationists cite this project as the catalyst influencing them to pursue a career in conservation.

A number of photographers took the stage to showcase images that commanded focus and attention. Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop used his photos, like this one, to re-expose the past, giving life to revolutionary heroes that have been forgotten.

Ian Teh documented the impact of the Industrial Revolution on China’s countryside, portraying the sad truth that its environment is on the brink of ecological exhaustion. Jonathan Harris used photography to examine the human connection – or disconnection – with social media. And, Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier shared the triumphs and trials that occur when a photo goes viral, as their recent documentation of an emaciated polar bear did.

Mandy Barker used her photography to raise awareness of the exorbitant amount of plastic debris in the ocean by artfully arranging the debris to resemble the form of marine life.

David Doubilet is a National Geographic photographer who has made an incredible career creating images that he says, “transcends the need of the story.” In a conversation with Jimmy Chin, Doubilet expounded on the fact that we live in a very resilient and complex world that we are just now beginning to understand and illustrate.

Emerging photographers Claire Rosen, Alice Wielinga, Hannah Reyes Morales, Nina Robinson and Philip Montgomery covered such powerful topics as the sex trade in the Philippines and the opioid crisis in Ohio. Additionally, Julie Winokur and Ed Kashi shared how they use photography to tell the story of immigrants in their project, “Newest Americans.”

Carol Guzy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for The Washington Post, has taken heart wrenching and powerful photos of people fighting to adapt in the wake of tragedies. She culminated the Photo Seminar with a simple yet profound statement, “It’s not about making great pictures, it’s about telling the story.

Want to learn more? You can watch full presentations and panel discussions from the Photography Seminar here. Want to become a National Geographic Explorer? Learn how you can apply for a grant from the National Geographic Society here. You can support National Geographic’s efforts to enable more cutting-edge storytellers, scientists, conservationists, and educators like these to get out into the field here.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.