I am NOW in the layout room of National Geographic Magazine. We are making decisions on which pictures will be included in my Outer Banks article coming up in June. You are going to help. You are going to help us pick the lead/opening shot . We are going to give you three choices. Pick one. Stay tuned. Next picture up with the three choices will be coming very soon.

Pictured here is Bill Marr, Creative Director, who is taking his weekend time along with Senior Photo Editor Sarah Leen to take this from a collection of pictures, to a publishable essay for Nat Geo.

The 3 photos with OBX type up at the top are what we are thinking for the opening shot. Which one of the 3 would you pick?


  • The middle one catch my attention. Mouvement, contrast, deep blue, bright white. The calm of the coast on the background… the struggle for survival on the foreground.

  • Loving this work David, #2 and #3 speak ‘recreation & lifestyle’ to me but #1 has something more powerful as an opening spread. OBX is a frail yet beautiful spit of land at the mercy of the elements and sadly, occasionally seriously threatened by hurricanes. The fishing and the surfing seem self evident (and important) to me in this environment, I don’t need them in the opening.

    In other words I like #1 because it has everything to set up a story about the way of like and characters inhabiting ths special place. I look at it and it without telling directly it evokes images of the surfers, fishermen, beach bums and pirates that inhabit those shores…..


    Richard Beaven

  • Popular #2 seems somewhat limiting in describing OBX, but #3 has light, people, attractive and more encompassing activity, as well as the long pier that hints at “outer” for me. Hi Bill. Hi Dave.

  • Doesn’t the choice of photo on the opening spread depend upon the story you’re trying to tell about the Outer Banks?

    You should post your manuscript, David. And more images from the layout. Then we’ll all know where you’re going with your OBX narrative.

    Otherwise, we’re just picking a pretty picture.

    { P.S. By framing the decision this way, David, you’re confirming all the worst fears of the Word folks on the 7th floor! :-) }

  • #3 would be my choice for the first image: it includes all the kitch and poetry of the coast, with beautiful composition (as always)

    #2 would be my second choice: fun, tense

    #1 would be my last choice, simply because it’s not telling me enough. However, I also can hardly see it!

    Great stuff


    the first looks like something for a travel or real estate story. The third is just expected.

    The middle one is different and dynamic.

    Not rocket science here.

    Nice shot! They are all nice. But 2 rocks.

  • At first I was drawn to #3. I get to meet some of the people, can imagine myself walking out on the pier. I feel like I’m standing on that boardwalk. I can hear the surf and the weather is nice. It gives a sense of place, there are multiple things going on, it splits nicely into separate halves in a dual-page spread. If the picture is to go over two pages, this is the obvious choice.

    #2 did nothing for me at first, and I was wondering why so many people prefer it. Maybe because I don’t like to fish. But now this second photo is growing on me. It’s unexpected, it has a strong graphic quality to it, gorgeous light. There is that decisive moment, just before the fish lands on the deck. It gives a feeling of being there. Also, knowing your work, and looking at the other posted shots, there will be plenty of opportunity to meet the people living there. So I will join everyone and vote for #2.

  • .why put NatGeo in a corner??
    laughing too.. (ha ha i always did that from day 1 didnt I?)

    i loved what tom hyde said above:
    (tom hyde
    January 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm
    #1 because it sets it all up … OBX holding a thin tenuous grip between the ocean and the sound.)

    so… Tom sounds right…although Picture 2 is the one i choose (and still prefer)it might give someone the impression (for someone that has never been to OBX) that OBX is a fishermen’s haven…and im not sure thats the case…but the photo number 3/ postcard -like definitely DESERVES A PLACE ON MY DENTIST’s office…. something that the classic NatGeo subscriber “expects”, anticipates, “requires”…
    i’ll be thrilled to be completely wrong on the latter…maybe things changed and i havent noticed…and that could be dope!

  • Number 3 with orange type.
    David, I think this offers the best combination of travel/landscape, people/emotion, depth/perspective, dynamic/color. And because of all those reasons, it’s the most interesting to me.
    Humble opinion from an art director/photographer. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to pitch in!

  • #2 stuck out immediately to me – I think that #1 is too obvious…beautiful, but obvious and safe…
    I really like #3 for the 70s nostalgia vibe… but I think the most unique one is #2…
    Fish on!!!

  • To me the wave shot on the left represents the forces at odds with each other on the outer banks. It is my choice, man against the power of the sea. I like the light shining on the crashing lip. The shot on the right with the pier and people enjoying the natural resources is my second pick. The middle one comes in third.
    By the way the fish is a pompano, a common summer time catch for recreational anglers. Great eating.

  • This is so exciting!
    I think I will have to go with #1.
    Difficult to decide, I was leaning to #3 initially but then I imagined opening it up as a ‘double-truck’ (a new term I learned recently:). I tried to imagine what I would think the article was about if I had no idea what OBX meant. Everything about outer banks experience is the related to the water and sand. It’s a beautiful image and makes a concise point.

  • Wait, can I change my mind ;-))

  • Really hard! After I hit send started doubting, but I will stick with #1. Just wanted to add that I love the tension and the strong blue and white of 2, the sunset colors of 3 with the people some close some far, would make a great spread …but yah #1. I get lost looking in all that water, I guess I like how that fills the frame the most.

  • hey thanks for asking us to be involved!

    hmmm ,,,i like the way fishing pole in #2 points toward “obx” .. but i like the way #3 incorporates the waves of #1 and the (fishing) pier of#2.. and then adds people to the mix…

    of course i also like the way #1 shows the sea dominantly over the land, kinda hinting at the precariousness of living on such a narrow strip of land surrounded by so much water. might even be my pick, altho i am more used to seeing people in your images David.

    i guess i would kinda like to see the pix for the following spread before i commit tho ;)

  • bit late to join this post… hard to keep up with you dah!
    the middle one, without any doubt.

  • this is very interesting…first and foremost, i have been impressed with the quality of these comments..intelligent thinking and writing…i thank you….we are always ready for all kinds of thinking, but i totally appreciate well thought out discourse….

    most interesting is the fact that all 3 photos seem to have about equal votes..i am looking here and on FB….we obviously have chosen all 3 for various reasons and of course will show you at least some of the rest of the story so you can see relationships

    the text for this NatGeo story is being written by me of course…a personal returning to my roots sort of piece, so all three will fit the way i am doing my lead…anyone who thinks that i would be picking pictures for any other reason than an overall visual literacy, of course does not know me at all…my relationship with writers goes back further than my relationship with photographers or photography, so literary referencing and metaphor where are where i live…at the same time acknowledging the relatively new language of photography…

    this little experiment with this audience giving their opinion is a unique and first time experience for all of us…editors are interested in the opinions here and have been fascinated with your reasoning and yet will still make their own decisions…honestly the conversation amongst ourselves has varied little from your observations and comments……again, many many thanks for taking the time….

    cheers, david

  • #1 could be the lead for an article about pollution (beautiful but a little dark).

    #2 is my favorite image, but my first reaction was like Panos, unsure whether it will draw in the audience or not. It’s not just about the NatGeo audience. It’s not as warm and inviting as #3, but it’s more active and interesting than #1.

    #3 is less exciting, more stereotypical, but I personally might be more likely to read that story. That’s because I’m attracted to articles like this not for the photography only, or even primarily, but to learn the human story. Even #2 interests me in part because I know there’s a person on the other end of the fishing pole.

  • I have no doubt that *you*, David, will choreograph your pictures & words so they’ll dance beautifully together for 24 pages (?) or so.

    My point is that it’s impossible for **us** to choose an opening photo that will do justice to your story since we have no idea what your story is.

  • A bit late here, I would go with #3, it ‘speaks’ Harvey (individually) and Nat Geo at the same time. The colour palette of the photo and placement of text work very well…

  • I would go for number 2. I think that it’s visually more interesting. All three pictures are nice, but it seems to me that number 1 and 3 are a bit too cheezy and unoriginal. The’re both good pictures and would be a good opener to put some context, especially the last one, but the middle one shows the same thing with a more interesting twist. I like the way the composition make me look at the picture. First you see the fishing rod, then the fish and you finally go to the beach. You don’t have that with the other ones, your eyes don’t linger. Some people mentionned that there’s a element of death in it, but I tend to see more a symbol of life than death.

  • #2 was the one that caught my attention on first look ad the one that has stayed with me
    after a couple of hours of drinking.
    It is also,in my opinion, a little more of a ‘hip’ composition and less frequently seen
    in NG.
    I’d also second the sort of disclaimer that Bob pointed out. If it’s a full DPS and the fish
    falls in the gutter then the image would fail.

    Is it safe to assume most of the images we see on the wall are GF-1 ?
    Not that it matters one iota but I’ve found my most interesting pics in the past 18 months
    have been with the GF. Just easy to loosen up with.

  • Also,FWIW I like better the layout we see half cropped off on the computer screen in the lead
    image of this post.
    Think it would work well as a way to move te fish out of the gutter.
    For my taste I would position the ‘obx’ so that the ‘x’ falls completely over the image
    and the ‘ob’ falls on the white and picks up the cobalt blue of the sky.

  • After reading the ‘back to the roots’ bit, even more the left one.. it is you.. I know, we’re talking NatGeo and an essay about OBX.. but I can’t help myself and think that this photo is the most about you.. where you started out as reader which led to photographer, lonely watching out the window.. as in that left shot, alone watching over.. longing feeling.. and being the sea, it can go both ways, mercyful or demanding all..

    Will be very interesting to see what the choice will be.. did YOU have one first choice already on your mind when presenting them to NatGeo?

  • #1 and maybe try with a different color on text OBX maybe yellow/orange… like #3, the text is orange…

  • ALAN

    ahhh yes…but the assumption has to be that all three of these photos reflect the text or compliment the text…otherwise we would not have gotten this far anyway….what i am asking the readers here for is not for the “storytelling” aspect, but just for the visual part…a totally legitimate question….i was not asking about the story….the readers here do not have to know the story to pick a picture for its visual acuity only…of course the words and pictures must be in balance or symbiotic in the final package presented, yet a photograph can easily be judged out of the context of the story…just as brilliant lines and quotes and even graphs can be pulled out of a manuscript and appreciated for their artistic merit outside of the context of the whole….

  • a civilian-mass audience

    I will go with number 4…the FIREWORKS…

    yes…the red one with the fireworks…!:))))

  • a civilian-mass audience

    oups…the top 3…my apologies…I wasn’t focused…

    Number one looks like Greece
    Number two…looks like fish
    Number three …kinda orange…ish…

    hmmm…number one…little boring BUT hey…it looks like Greece:))))))))))))))

    VIVA !!!

  • #3 for me. Something about it suggests coming home.

  • I think 2 is the strongest, yet 3 is OBX.. 1 and 2 seem more generic and exclude people.


  • Thanks for your reply, David. If you say all three photos work equally well with your story’s main theme (whatever it may be), then of course — pick the most compelling image.

    Looking forward to seeing what rises to the top….

  • pic #2 because it is very dynamic, it guides your eye through the frame and keeps it there. Powerful geometrics.

    runner up- pic#1 has a very nice textured feeling to the eye, it was a superb use of available light and the results show. It is a powerful contender to the first place, possibly the best picture, but I think it’s second place because the geometrics of pic#2 are really catchy to the eye, possibly making a better choice for opening a story

  • The right one. But I already said that…

  • All three, in their own way, could represent ‘enviroment’ as in geographical location.
    Only number one speaks of precariousness/fragility.
    Two and hint three hint slightly at vacation as a theme.

    But all three are so neutral and un-threatening and NG friendly that the choice must come down to possible context rather than a straw poll on aesthetics….or just play pin the tail on the donkey in the office there and see which one gets it.

  • Without reading anything else. The middle one is my favourite picture but with my editing head on I would guess the one on the right with people would get more people to read the article. David that’s really nice work.

  • David any chance of getting a vid up of the process?

  • I choose number 1, I like the dynamic of the sea waves…

  • Michael Kircher, I agree that the fish does not always have to be linked to capture and death. I did look at the photographs within the context of magazine covers (DAH wants the cover, right?) and in that context I’d pick one over two because some people may be dissuaded from buying the magazine … maybe, and you want to hook (pun intended) as many people as possible with the cover.


  • A bit late round here. Personally it would have to be N3, all I know about OBX is from your stories on Roadtrips and Burn… Beaches, the sea, lots of sand, waves, wooden piers, frisbees and of course SURFING. I really like N2 but it could be anywhere and N1 is a definite no in my humble opinion.

  • MIKE R
    “(DAH wants the cover, right?)”

    my understanding was “lead picture”, not “cover picture”.

    In the introducing words DAH says: “You are going to help us pick the lead/opening shot”

    I would not choose any of those pictures as cover picture, because I think if you cut them for vertical, much of the magic gets lost.

  • I suspect it’s too late but I’d go for no.2 followed by no.3.
    Thanks for including the Burn crowd!


    I start understanding why you and Eva are selecting number one, however this is quite complex. Not sure if that would be so obvious to an average reader, unless it is accompanied with some explaining words…

  • Thomas..

    I’m in a much more fortunate situation, I can just let my heart speak, and don’t have to take into consideration the readers.. ’cause I have not, my choice is solely based on my own aesthetics, what I can feel out of the photographs, and what this says to me, in this case, also about the photographer.. but I do think that even not knowing, the lefthand picture would be my choice.. it is the picture I would put up on the wall..

    Sarah Leen and Bill Marr have a much more difficult job, they have to think about the audience..

  • Number 1 because it is open-ended, introductory, non-editorial, and because it has that makes-me-want-to-turn-the-page factor going for it. It also has plenty of room for text.

    Number 2 has strong dynamics and powerful colour, but seems more appropriate for a Conde Naste opener.

    Number 3…hmmm…shouldn’t that one be saved for a book on surfing? :)


    good idea…let me see if we can do it….

  • David when you are producing a layout in the geographic do you ever try and second guess the reader?

  • Hopefully, the professionals shooting for and running a publication have better knowledge and taste in these matters than the mythical “average” reader, so the pros’ choices will give those readers more satisfaction than if they cater to what they perceive as the “average” reader’s taste, which is an inherently condescending approach that more often than not results in an average outcome rather than an excellent one. Steve Jobs has driven that point home rather forcefully.

  • I like the ominous potential of the first one – never been to OBX but idyll with living in edge quality seems to open up more possibilities for the story …

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