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?


  • MW
    by “average reader”, I did not want to condescend anyone, or hurt anyone’s feelings. I think each of the three pictures are excellent. My thinking was more into, which one would drag the most into reading the story. It is not about winning the best picture, it is about starting an essay with an interesting picture, which makes a good intro.

    Here “average” means sub-summarizing my assumption of which picture would get the most viewers, not saying something about the viewers itself. “Average” by definition does not mean bad or anything like that, in the mathematical sense it is the sum divided by the number of items.

    Sorry, if I stood on anybody’s toe here.


    you have similar questions , so i will answer you together….obviously in the case of NatGeo editors, and i do hope one of them jumps in here at some point, what the readers want is for sure important…an editor of any super circulation magazine must think about readers and advertisers who are the lifeblood economically for the publication…yet in my experience, it is not the creative editors who are working with text and pictures and layouts who think much about the biz side…..i have NEVER had any editor ever ever bring up anything about the advertisers for example……somebody IS thinking about this stuff, but it is not those who are producing the creative content…the content producers think about the content…

    yet, of course when content is produced for a very specific publication , the editors at the very top must think about the readership…they DO owe their readership something…what that interpretation of “something” is varies with the editor…

    the best of these top editors in my experience are trying not only to be leaders for their creative staff, but LEAD THEIR READERS AS WELL…any editor who ONLY panders to his/her audience will lose in the long run…audiences want leadership…they want to be taken somewhere they have not been…but they probably do not want to be lead over a cliff either…so this is the balance editors must “feel”..get to the edge, but don’t fall off…

    readers might say “give me what i want” but what they “really want” is an exciting and educational version of what they do not know or enlightenment of a subject they think they do know…it is human nature…

    people want to be surprised…they do not want to be offended, but they do want to have their imagination piqued…nobody wants to be bored…everybody wants to be part of an adventure of one kind or another….

    some editors totally rely on ‘readership surveys”, others fly by the seat of their pants, going on gut instinct….i think the history of journalism and business and entertainment shows us the “seat of the pants” folks tend to have probably the most failures AND the most significant success …the super success….

    for those of us who have audiences built on the internet, it is a whole new equation….we build our audience with zero investment and the audience we have are just the folks who are here, who like what happens here…those who do not like Burn , just go to another place and there is no loss either way….this campfire is this campfire…. Burn does not preclude other great places to hang….matter of fact i recommend the work and sites of others all the time…i do not live in a vacuum….

    you are both part of my audience…..i have disagreed with both of you, i have published both of you….why? well i liked the pictures…period…but i will not always publish your pictures only because you are part of my loyal audience..i should say a part of my commentating audience…some never speak …i do listen to both of you, but i will make my own decisions not in either agreement or opposition to either of you or any of this audience, but just based on my sensibilities built up over time or just raw instinct based on the moment..both can work…

    it has been a whole lot of fun to get Burn readers opinions right here right now on this NatGeo piece….it is unbelievably cool, you may have no idea, how unique an experience this is…THIS just does not happen at a top magazine to get this far behind the scenes as a “live” experience…this really is happening right NOW…..i will leave my hotel room soon and go right back to it today working on the whole layout…

    this is sort of a readership survey in advance…the editors responsible for this story in NatGeo will not rely on this advance survey, but i promise you they are listening….since we know you do love surprise , even though you ask for immediate revelation, we will hold off on showing you the whole thing until it comes out in the Magazine…yes, buy the June issue featuring OBX!! even if you do not subscribe…many of you have been on this journey with me and i am sure you will enjoy the final result..

    ok ,speaking of final results, i gotta write the text over the next several days…i am past deadline…people are waiting…i am always on the verge of being truant….yes, i guess i DO like the edge…but do not worry , i will not fall off…

    thanks for participating…i do hope it has been either entertaining or educational or hopefully both….

    cheers, david

  • Is it too late?…

    I love no.3 very much … It tells many many stories … People, wooden bridge,continuing waves, floating clouds and color of lights…all everything would remind readers of their own memories…
    Very lovery and sweet…

    David, Thank you for sharing.
    Kyunghee Lee

  • The photo on the far right of the man carrying the surfboard.


    so nice to have you back here….not too late…we are still working….your opinions are always valued, and i do look forward to your next work….

    cheers, david

  • but LEAD THEIR READERS AS WELL…any editor who ONLY panders to his/her audience will lose in the long run…audiences want leadership…they want to be taken somewhere they have not been…

    Yes, that’s what I was trying to say.

    And Thomas, sorry, I was not referring to your use of the term. I think I know you well enough from your writing and photos to feel secure that you would never be condescending to anyone.

    I find this process endlessly interesting, which is why I have made it such a large part of my life. Although there are many and ever changing intricate relationships across these vocations, being a writer and/or photographer is one thing, an editor another, and a layout artist something else again. Being all three on the same project requires some interesting paradigm shifts. Fun stuff.

  • # 2, ’cause is the most DAH style… others are more intelectual… others are more quieter pictures…with amazing light of course!
    …and readers DOES judge an article by its front picture!

    Hard choice.

  • I’m drawn to #1 because the essence of all living existence in OBX is very closely related to the whims of the ocean. I feel a calm underlying rumble when I look at this picture. It’s my select.

    I also like #2 very much for it’s striking simplicity and interaction with man/nature, but I’m curious/concerned of what the gutter will do.

    #3 has wonderful rhythm and calm warmth, but perhaps I like something less straightforward.

  • I like the fish image the best, but the people image with the pier in the background says OBX to me. Brian

  • Well, I still prefer the old biplane shot as a lead, but I guess that got dropped along the way. I think #3 is most representative of my own personal experience, and what most people’s personal experience, of the OBX is…there is something about that late-day feeling, when you’re a little bit sunburned, but you still want to stay out because it’s such a great day. Plus, the Avalon Pier is probably the most truly iconic setting on the OBX…there are tourist attractions and other piers, lighthouses, etc, but I think most anyone who’s lived there for a long time would concur that as strange and funky and sometimes shady as Avalon Pier is, it’s ground zero. The design on the longboard (I actually have one like it) references the famous surfboard from the movie “Endless Summer”, which is a classic film and I think kin to the vibe of the essay. The shark shot is cool, and I guess it’s kind of an arresting photo so if you want to run the lead with a “kapow”, then that’s an option. But I think if you really want that nostalgic, “this is why I love the Outer Banks” vibe, you got to go with #3. It sets the scene, and puts people in it, from the get-go…And there’s something still and painterly about it, which I like. I think it would also flow well with the double truck of the two married couples… #1 is good as a concept, leading you in to the place by way of the ocean, but for all the waves that come to the OBX, that one doesn’t feel very strong…and it feels a little lonely to me, with no other lines of swell to put it into perspective. Also the way it’s lit (must have been sunrise) and the way it’s breaking–looks like it got hit by backwash–it makes the back of the wave look like the face of the wave, which is a little confusing, unless I’m not reading it right. Anyway, I like #3 the best. It’s got old-school soul to it. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to vote!

  • Scenes of “carnage’ always make me feel a bit queasy…not everyone likes to see dead things (even fish/sharks), and most people have no interest in fishing(how many people ACTUALLY fish?) so I go with the right one….has more of the Outer Banks feel for me. The colors and textures are very ‘Monet-esque”

  • The one on the left catches the eye and is representative of OBX. Wild untamed beauty is the OBX.

  • Thomas,
    you’re right, it did say lead / opening shot; I just thought cover, my mistake. Still prefer one though: the fragility of the houses against the forces of nature.


  • The one on my left. Beautiful light in that picture. The other two depict human activity so they don’t appeal as much to me.

  • As a newspaper editor, I usually look for something with people in it (or animals). My choice would the the far right, because I think it will appeal to readers who like to see people in photos. It also seems more inclusive – not everyone likes to fish or would appreciate photo #2.

  • I would go with the middle one. It seems to me to be the most visually eye catching with the stark white fish against the blue. The right one with the people in it, is interesting and makes me want to ask questions, but the composition is more complex and takes a minute more to explore. To me, it would make more sense to be on the inside of the magazine for when someone has sat down with the magazine and is ready to spend time with it. The first one, to me is too simple. It doesn’t have enough in it to hold my attention or have me asking any questions.

  • 2nd one. its really amazing

  • I have been going to the Outer Banks every summer for nearly 40 years…and hope to retire there – or near there – some day in the not too distant future. All three photos are beautiful and do justice to such a wonderful place, but the first photo is my favorite. In most locations, the beaches are pristine and there are very few people – part of the beauty of OBX.

  • No 2 definitely deserves a double page on its own, but not the lead; the title on it would spoil the strong impression.
    For me it´s No 3 – I go with bnd1999 and Roberta Tavares on that.

  • I’ve been to the OBX a few times and lived there for one summer with my brother; Its a great place to do a lot of photography. All three photos are really well done, but I’m going with number one. Number one works the best as a opening/leading shot because it has the simple elements of the ocean and land. I like how there is a golden strip of light between the water and sand. The color of the sky is also the same making the water focused between the two golden walls. Seeing that it was shot in the late afternoon, it reminds me when I would go out to the beach and meditate till the sun had almost vanished out in the west. The water over taking the sand. The night overtaking the day. The calming time of the day where you can relax and listen to the sounds. Also in the horizon, the line of buildings adds some detail of living in the OBX and what you realize is their backyard. Number two and three would be good photos to add more in the article. The middle one expressing the fishing and wildlife aspect and the far right which portrays some of the the tourism in OBX with surfing and exploring the old pier.

  • Chris brought up an interesting point, I’m surprised there isn’t an aerial in the short list for lede. Too “standard”? This whole discussion is fascinating.

  • #2 More powerful, It really grabbed me – also, not the recent norm for Nat’l Geo.
    Thanks for letting me in!

  • Ok everyone i am back in the layout room….my last shot at this baby….i must go home to OBX tomorrow to write the final text…

    there is one more thing coming to you very soon… three versions of the first three spreads…this might change your mind on the often changes ours when we look at the overall opening feeling, not just the first picture….a lot of thought goes into what for most people is a 30 second experience when they open the magazine…but we do not think about things like that…we just take the whole process very seriously…just to make it right…the craft of it….

    of course we are always wishing we had more space…just never quite enough pages..after all , there are 5 other photographers and 5 other writers who have THEIR story in the same issue…all of us competing for the same space….but alas, the net, the iPad….if it doesn’t all get in here, we will get it all in

    k gotta get to work…stay tuned

  • I say definitely go with #2, the one in the center. Great sense of movement within the image. Love it.

  • #3 captures the color of the sky so beautifly. The conbination of the old and the young are represented so well in this photo. THE beauty of the land, the old pier and the young sufers so represents todays OBX !!

  • Personally, of the three, I’m most drawn to the first, on the far left. I’m not familiar with OBX, so I can’t really offer an opinion based on the place, but the first photo speaks most to life on the edges of change and is therefore most intriguing to me. That said, the shot that I think you should use for your opening one is not one you’ve included in your three, but rather the one of the two couples on the beach underneath the ones you’ve asked us to select from. Of the images shown, this is by far the strongest and most compelling visually and provides the most fodder for the mind, speaking both to the place and also the experience of that place over time. #2 says ‘fishing story’ to me, and the one on the far right looks like it’s advertising a vacation spot. It’s beautiful, but doesn’t really say much beyond that, though depending on the story, I can see how that might be a good thing.

  • For the record, I’m pretty sure that’s a pompano in the middle. ;^}

  • I think the middle one is the best because I find it a bit exciting and peaceful at the same time. The 1st photo is nice but slightly boring. The last photo gives me the feeling of not enough solitude which would be the reason I would go to a place like this.

  • #3 because it’s warm, human element and depth.


  • Fish pictures are not interesting unless the fish is smoking a cigar.

  • I pick the picture on the right. I like it because I think that it not only represents the Outer Banks but the people who live and enjoy it as well. The one on the left makes me think of an article about water pollution and the middle looks like the cover of a sports fishing magazine. All are very beautiful and well done, but my pick is the one on the right.

  • Fish out of water. Middle. No contest. It’s full of the anticipation of a delicious meal.

  • Mind you, Akaky has a point.

  • Wow, nice choices to have. Having just finished a great book while on vacation in Hawaii about the English first attempts to settle in America (which happened to be the Outer Banks – book is Big Chief Elizabeth by Giles Milton) my vote would go to #2 which speaks to the life and death struggle that has gone on there for millennium between man and nature (and man and man when the English showed and the Native Americans weren’t so keen at first).

    Good luck and looking forward to the piece!

  • 2, 3, 1. I’ve visited OBX many, many times. The middle photo shows it all. Fishing, beach, people, and some of the great cottages. Only thing missing is a pier, or maybe not, I can’t see it close enough to tell :) If I could see it closer, I could tell you the milepost! If you use a pier, the Nags Head Fishing Pier is the one to choose. Old style.

  • #1. They are all great pictures representing OBX, but the natural beauty captured in the first pic says it all.

  • While I love the middle shot, I think the fold would really detract from its impact. The one on the right, however draws me in and makes me want to take a closer look at what is going on. I actually moved the computer closer to take a look. I vote right!

  • I would choose the middle picture with the fish. The colors are more clear/vibrant and the silver fish in the air with the darker background catches the eye everytime.

  • The one on the left. The choice was difficult, though. Wonderful photos all three of them!

  • Number 2 is the most interesting. Number 3 is so expected, a typical touristy shot. Number one is too generic and boring. As a North Carolinian, the Outer Banks is distinguishable from other beaches in the Carolinas by its distinctly non-touristy feel, its lack of row after row of high rise hotels, its residential feel, etc. We chose to go there as opposed to the other beaches because you actually experience the ocean, its wildlife and habitats, and feel like you just live there.

  • By the content of the photos, I would guess the article is about tourism in the Outer Banks, perhaps about how it’s becoming a hot destination.

    It is difficult to choose an opening photo without knowing what the opening paragraph of the article is. But the photo should help to set the tone of the article, to lead people into it.

    In that context, the first photo (the one on the left) is not “active” enough. It’s a beautiful shot, but it is also “lulling” — not enough action to draw readers in.

    The photo on the right doesn’t quite feel right for an opening. For me, it is a turn-off. It lends me little to want to go to a place like the Outer Banks. However, if the article focuses a lot on surfing in that area, perhaps it would be ideal. However, the composition of the photo just seems a bit blah.

    That leaves the middle photo. It has nice color and composition, as well as action. I can almost sense the tug on the rod as the fish is leaping out of the water. It also says much about the Outer Banks: not only is it a nature paradise, it is also an outdoors sports area.


    the focus of the text is actually quite personal…the only reason i am doing the text is because the story is really about me coming back to my roots…i started out as a youngster in this area, and after traveling the globe shooting 40 plus stories for the Magazine, i have chosen OBX as my inspirational place to there is no attempt with this particular article to do a “coverage” of the Outer Banks, but a little vignette of all that is within about 10 minutes of my front porch….

    thanks for writing….much appreciated

    cheers, david

  • Guess I will jump on the bandwagon for #2 – besides color and form it shows action, whereas #1 is a nice shot but static and #3 shows an activity that is over at the end of the day, a nice mood set; but, does not draw in the viewer like #2. Good luck with the issue.

  • the left. absolutely. The margins and colours are peaceful and I just like the way it moves like the water. I’m not a photographer (obviously, by my comments) but the lighting is just so lovely.

  • Love the first layout it shows the natural progression of the events as they occur.

  • I like the middle one with the fish. I like the white of the water and the white belly of the fish. It makes the picture pop against the deep blue of the sky and water. The pole without a human visible gives the shot a mysterious quality and makes me think about where they are in regard to shore.

  • The one with the surfer and the pier…

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