NATGEO LAYOUT ROOM…DAY 2

Sarah Leen, Senior Photo Editor, has been the Magazine editor most involved with this story. She has been shepherding this story since day one. Sarah was a working photographer for 26 years with over 15 stories published in NG prior to evolving  into an editorial role. So she knows whats up.

A question in comments here from Sam Harris prompted this answer from Sarah

Thanks everyone for all your incredibly intelligent and thoughtful comments. This has been not only lots of fun but a real education for us in so many ways and we at NGM truly appreciate your participation in our first effort to open up our story process to the larger photographic community.
I will try to answer some of your questions (and yes Sidney I did work with John Stanmeyer on the Malaria story we did a few years ago. Thanks for remembering that one!)

Sam, the process in general goes something like this. A new story idea comes in from a photographer, writer or someone on the staff. It gets reviewed by an Executive Team of Editors, including our fearless leader Chris Johns (see David’s interview in an earlier post.) Once the idea has been approved it goes to the story team that has a Photo Editor, a Text Editor, a Designer and maps, graphics and research staff. And of course the photographer and writer.
Then the photographer and I do more research into the idea and make a plan for how to cover it photographically and also rough out a budget. (We collaborate with the assigned writer and text editor on the overall direction of the piece from the beginning.) Then we have what we call a “pitch meeting” where the story team presents our plans to Chris and his Executive Team. At the pitch we get feedback on our plans and hopefully the greenlight to proceed. If its a yes we submit the budget, get that approved and away we go.

In the field I communicate with the photographer as needed. Some photographers like alot of communication, send in jpgs for feedback, lots of back and forth, others are lone wolves and you have to go looking for them. The photographer sends in ALL images to the Photo Editor at the completion of each trip, and in RAW form if its digital. (This can be thousands of frames.) I do look at every frame. The photographer also does their own edit which I combine with mine. We value and want their input at every stage. Its a real partnership and one of the things I most loved about working here as a photographer.

Once I have gone through all the images and have a rough edit the photographer and I will often continue to edit together using some screen sharing program to get it down even further. Sometimes we edit the whole story this way especially if they live abroad. If they are more local we bring them in to finish the edit and create what we call either the Halfway Show or the Final Show, depending on length of story, how many trips, etc.
The Shows are presented to the Executive Team and story team. If its a Halfway we discuss how we plan to continue and finish, what’s missing, etc. Also get feedback from the team and find out from the Editor if we are delivering the story he wants. If its a Final we generally proceed to layout and start the process you have just been witnessing.

The layout process is the culmination of months of effort and can be so much fun but also heartache as you have to make tough decisions about what stays or goes. And there are only so many pages to play with. Also there are different ways you could put it together and it would look good. Then we present the layout to the Editor and team. That will happen tomorrow afternoon with OBX. Chris can then approve it as is or want some changes. He may see images we left out he wants back in or a different lead or ending. I value these meetings and hope new ideas bubble up and we can make it even better than it already is.

David’s OBX is a bit unique as it’s more of a personal essay about OBX than a reportage about the Banks. Its personal yet it still reflects OBX to anyone who knows the place. I myself have waffled back and forth about what should be the lead. But I always try to make decisions from a place somewhere in the center of my body that responds almost physically to an image I like. I use my brain to keep me on track journalistically but I try trust my heart and guts about the photography.

Sorry this has been so long but I hope I have answered your questions in general. And thanks again for participating. Once Chris decides on the lead we will let you all know. Then you will just have to wait till June to see the whole story!!

 

We are showing you now the “next step” ..Three versions of three opening spreads. You can see just by moving things around a bit, it changes the whole mood and feel. We are not going to show you any deeper into the story, because we want to still surprise you a bit in June when the story is published.   We also need to surprise the Editor Chris Johns when he will either approve or have his own ideas on what direction we should take. There is no free lunch. These are the layout challenges of print. Picture choice and sequence needing to fit into an 18 page slot in the Magazine. Of course, simultaneous with the NatGeo Magazine publication of this essay will be an all inclusive version for your iPad.

Next week we will let you know which opening Chris chose.

I will find out when you do. Right now, I am getting on my horse and riding out of town. Down to my OBX front porch. To write the text for this piece, and to just enjoy my favorite spot on the planet.

64 Responses to “NATGEO LAYOUT ROOM…DAY 2”


  • Nice to ‘meet’ you, Mrs. Leen.. and thank you very much to you and NatGeo and David for making this happen, it is insightful, educational and a lot of fun!

    That said, as far as picture choice, I keep the far left shot, here in third row.. even more.. we are catapulted from far away, from isolation, from lonely, right in the middle of family-beach-busy madness.. love that picture btw, so much going on..

  • I agree with Eva. I like that quiet, perfect opener, just a lick of light, so poetic, on the breaking wave, followed by the human chaos and then the avian chaos. I love the fishing image, and assume it would still be a spread later in the story. Now, what magic image do you END on? Always so important as well.
    When all of America (well, a LOT of it) sits glued to their TV sets watching football, it’s nice to think of you and the super talented Sarah Leen hanging at Nat Geo playing with pictures. How lucky (yes, i know it’s not luck, but still) you two are.

  • DQ

    yes, i feel lucky…..moments like this are indeed rare air…just so you know, it is not just Sarah and i who are working at the office on a Sunday , you must be aware that Creative Director Bill Marr (featured on yesterday’s post) is doing the actual layout. Bill says he would not be watching football even if he were not here at the office…he would be at home, but still on the computer working on NG layouts..

  • Bottom row for me too. Hi Sarah, nice to put a face to the name. David, from the displayed photo on the Mac you seem to live IN the ocean.

    Mike.

  • Love layout #1. Nice twilight follow by flying birds!

    “We are not going to show you any deeper into the story, because we want to still surprise you a bit in June when the story is published”…

    I can see the following pages of the issue, in the background of the main image with Sarah Leen… jejeje.
    Love the picture with the guy fishing in front of the wind!!
    So change my mind to layout #3. Ahhh, hard choice!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience, here in Burn.
    P.
    PS: WOW!! 18! Dieciocho!! pages in NG!

  • Bill Marr, so you get paid for doing what you love? Lucky, Bill, lucky.

    Mike.

  • MIKE R

    everybody who lives in the outer banks almost lives in the ocean….

  • Thanks for the background on Mr. Marr, David. Were Bill home today he would apparently be without his wife, Sarah, who according to the web, is the other half of this creative duo. How cool!

    Hard to find, via Google, a trove of Sarah’s photos, although on the “image search” tab your portrait of her, just posted, shows up, as does the detail of the layout wall.

    thx
    dq

  • “You are going to help us pick the lead/opening shot . We are going to give you three choices. Pick one.”

  • I spoke too soon: 579 images by Sarah, on nat geo stock: http://alturl.com/7b3xn

  • Living in NC, Top Row! Dave, I can not wait to see this article. I’ve spent a lot of time out there and can remember your older work from there as well. Interested in what angles of OBX where covered. Have a safe drive back down.

  • It’s been since Nixon resigned that I was at the Outer Banks, a magical place and still in my mind all these years later. I would go with the 3rd row. I actually shudder to think of all the homes and people that must be there now! Kate in KK

  • 1st row…the different skies that loom above the same place speak of the changing temperaments and beauty of each moment..left pix is the romance of the place..middle pix..burst of life.. right is quiet mystery, yet calming..like ending the day simply(this pix personify beauty in simplicity!),but being reminded of the bounty/catch of the day(the fish) which need not mean the fish per se, but also the bounty of beautiful experiences “caught” that day. Actually, it was so hard to choose favs among ALL favs!

    thx to the team for the effort & sacrifices put in this endeavor..lucky for us..end consumers! more power!

  • My choice goes to the layout of the first row. I keep my choice of photo #3 (first day) for the double opening page. In any case I would not include photo #2 of the 2nd and 3th row in a double page Best, Fernando

  • Have to say, 1st row works best for me…flow seems better. There’s the right amount of peacefulness and tension/vibrancy. The other rows seem to be a little to chaotic…sort of opposite of what the OBX is, except under hurricane watch or peak tourist season! Thanks for this insightful journey!

  • I have to go with the first row. Grabs your interest, pumps up the excitement, and then the text so you can find out what’s going on, segueing into the beautiful action shot of the arcing road and fish. With three full page photos in a row, by the third one it starts to become just more of the same and doesn’t have the same impact. I suggest you end with the couple getting married on the beach suggesting a happily-ever-after for the OBX.

  • Hmmm, that shot in the background of the girl with the hair blowing in the storm would make a great opener too (with the OBX on her silhouette). Sorry, couldn’t resist throwing that into the works…:)

    Otherwise, yeah kinda leaning towards the first row, but I think there’s combos that still haven’t been explored…

  • Having lived near a beach all of my life, I would open with the bird shot. Nature at its best. This shot is intriguing, yet it captures a reader’s curiosity, as to what is in the article’s content.

  • Opening with pompano, then next in sequence I would have the murmuration of birds, then the people shot. Seeing these only in small/thumbnail format makes it easier to “feel” the flow of the imagery. The people shot after the fish shot is too jarring for me. I prefer the softer feel of the birds to follow the opening photo.

  • Im Liking the bottom row as a tripdych..
    And how the images speak to one another…
    But
    I still like the orange font….
    :)
    ***

  • Sorry, they’re all good but I’d probably look to follow the first pic in row one with something other than the birds, something dynamic with some orange in it, maybe the one of the guy with the fishing pole just over Ms. Leen’s shoulder in the top pic. But of course this is just idle chatter, good fun, cause in real life it’s serious work that requires access to more than we’ve seen so far. And of course we have every reason to trust that the people in the room will ace it as always.

  • HELLO Sarah Leen!

    I have been a fan of yours for many years… really! Two stories you did in particular stick out in my memory, one in Mali, and the other on suburban sprawl in the U.S.

    I have often wished that National Geographic stories would carry the name of the picture editor as well as the author and photographer. In a few cases I have known who the editor was, and sometimes I can guess that it was probably Susan Welchman, Elizabeth Crist, you, etc. But you editors are so important to shaping the story and its final look that I think you deserve more public credit. I understand you were the editor of John Stanmeyer’s story on piracy in Southeast Asia, which I thought was a classic. Did you by chance do his malaria story as well… one of my all-time favorites?

    In the current case, I have to go with the third layout at the bottom. That opening shot was my preferred opener anyway (former geography teacher), but that triptych just makes such visual sense. Cheers!

  • David, Sarah… thanks!

    i wonder if you could tell us a little about your working relationship, the process, the ‘shepherding’…
    things like… do you create a shot list together? does Sarah edit your contacts David or edit your edit? to what degree and how often do you collaborate, the what, how etc. etc.?

    cheers, Sam

  • Like the flow of the top row. But now that I see more of the potential lay out I really like the fish opening.

  • a civilian-mass audience

    oime…do we need a horse now?…can I ride my big turkey?:)…instead…:)

    number 3…always…!!!

    Good morning from beautiful Oh Boy Greece=OBG …Monday 4:30a.m…time to read your comments!

  • a civilian-mass audience

    AKAKY…28 for you BUT I can do better…miss you…BOBBYB?…JIM…? DAVIDB?…KATIEE?

    BURNIANS…ALL…don’t make write my name list…please report the soonest…!

    Thank you and I love YOU ALLLLLLLLLLL…

  • a civilian-mass audience

    ***don’t make me…read proof…pfff

  • CHARLES PETERSON

    well if you were to see all of the pictures together, i think it most likely you would end up thinking something similar to what we are…when we do not have the picture for the opening shot, does not mean it does not have a very key role in the pacing and in the punch of the essay…for example you really don’t want your very best picture first…at least i don’t ..i like to build…..so you just have to figure out the almost musicality of it…of course we look at all combos…and then i dig inside my own head to think what i really think about when i think obx…so we came down to these three as first things i think…and the NG editors WANT me to think like this…so it really is personal…and personal is actually the whole point of this story…you will see that i literally put my Burn philosophy to work for an NG essay…RIO will be hotter!! But OBX is the big warm….

    cheers, david

  • David, Bill, Sarah….

    Thanks for showing us this process. I’m learning a lot…. from all you smart Burnians commenting, too.

    I find it hard to pick a spread without knowing anything the captions and the story. That said, the third row is growing on me. I like the “wave” opener more and more. The first layout is nice, too, with only two pictures before the story begins…. the pacing is nice here with the more quiet picture of the Pompano after the first page of text. It’s calming… in fact now that I think about it I think that’s my favorite, and maybe the perfect placement for the Pompano…. it fits better once we’re more “settled in” to the story, so to speak.

    Question: In the first layout, where does the “wave” picture go? How would it look if the ocean is followed by the people at the beach with the pier? Seems like a natural sequence, but maybe it is too obvious?

  • I knew Howard Payne at NG and I am sure he would still go for #2 as the lead photo. :)

  • David, OK, your friends call you Dave?

  • Changin’ my mind about the fish shot, likin’ no. 1 layout

  • GORDON

    my friends from 30 or more years ago may have called me Dave…i was Dave in college and at the newspaper right after…my credit line was Dave Harvey for a lot of early years , although on Tell It Like It Is i was David…i think if it was something serious i was David…my first dah byline was NatGeo…for my mom…

  • zing! Love the 3rd row. Having the group follow the waves makes me love that lede image even more.

    Thanks again to you and the lovely folks at NG for this peak in. As with Rio, watching over your shoulder is thrilling and a rare learning experience. Makes me dream a lot.

  • FABIAN..

    yes it is impossible to pick photos without knowing the context ..at least for editorial use…but remember , we have already culled everything down to these choices so you already know each of them fits otherwise they would not have gotten this far…the story is simple…i grew up near here, traveled the world photographing, and now am back here…so this is for sure a most personal essay not trying to give you a narrative, but rather give you a feeling….and obviously answers the most often asked question “what is your favorite place?”

  • Coming back to this one day later.. seems there’s been a shift towards picture 3 (first row) and 1 (third row), whereas previously the fish picture (#2) seemed to be first choice (I have not counted, only read through the comments). Interesting…

  • I like the flow of the top row and feels a little less ‘busy’ that the others.

    I feel the top row images convey more of a sense of tranquility and peacefulness. I dunno if thats your MO or not though!

    Having said that, the first image of top row kinda looks like a ‘lifestyle’ shot, but of course from this distance its hard to see details.

    When its all said and done, im sure the Nat Geo editors with years of experience will make the best choice compared with my couple. :)

  • Bottom row without doubt. The serenity of the ocean, yet threatening the land in the distance. Then the next is of it’s seemingly chaotic and disorganized inhabitants preparing to enjoy what threatens their existence. The third shot of the birds fits perfectly, birds, flocking en masse, pests (to some).

  • Love love LOVE #1. I love the feel and mood of that opening image, followed by the explosion of birds, followed by the darker pallet of the third spread. To me, it’s more interesting to begin with a somewhat idyllic scene-setter than the more obvious Harbinger-of-Something-Ominous opener. That shot would be more powerful at the end – the sea having the final word, the land a palimpsest of human endeavor.

  • Still going with picture #1 from the first post so I go with the third layout…makes sense…but breaking it up like in the first layout since it’s a magazine after all.
    I love how it feels like a book otherwise but I don’t think that is the intention.

  • Thanks everyone for all your incredibly intelligent and thoughtful comments. This has been not only lots of fun but a real education for us in so many ways and we at NGM truly appreciate your participation in our first effort to open up our story process to the larger photographic community.
    I will try to answer some of your questions (and yes Sidney I did work with John Stanmeyer on the Malaria story we did a few years ago. Thanks for remembering that one!)

    Sam, the process in general goes something like this. A new story idea comes in from a photographer, writer or someone on the staff. It gets reviewed by an Executive Team of Editors, including our fearless leader Chris Johns (see David’s interview in an earlier post.) Once the idea has been approved it goes to the story team that has a Photo Editor, a Text Editor, a Designer and maps, graphics and research staff. And of course the photographer and writer.
    Then the photographer and I do more research into the idea and make a plan for how to cover it photographically and also rough out a budget. (We collaborate with the assigned writer and text editor on the overall direction of the piece from the beginning.) Then we have what we call a “pitch meeting” where the story team presents our plans to Chris and his Executive Team. At the pitch we get feedback on our plans and hopefully the greenlight to proceed. If its a yes we submit the budget, get that approved and away we go.

    In the field I communicate with the photographer as needed. Some photographers like alot of communication, send in jpgs for feedback, lots of back and forth, others are lone wolves and you have to go looking for them. The photographer sends in ALL images to the Photo Editor at the completion of each trip, and in RAW form if its digital. (This can be thousands of frames.) I do look at every frame. The photographer also does their own edit which I combine with mine. We value and want their input at every stage. Its a real partnership and one of the things I most loved about working here as a photographer.

    Once I have gone through all the images and have a rough edit the photographer and I will often continue to edit together using some screen sharing program to get it down even further. Sometimes we edit the whole story this way especially if they live abroad. If they are more local we bring them in to finish the edit and create what we call either the Halfway Show or the Final Show, depending on length of story, how many trips, etc.
    The Shows are presented to the Executive Team and story team. If its a Halfway we discuss how we plan to continue and finish, what’s missing, etc. Also get feedback from the team and find out from the Editor if we are delivering the story he wants. If its a Final we generally proceed to layout and start the process you have just been witnessing.

    The layout process is the culmination of months of effort and can be so much fun but also heartache as you have to make tough decisions about what stays or goes. And there are only so many pages to play with. Also there are different ways you could put it together and it would look good. Then we present the layout to the Editor and team. That will happen tomorrow afternoon with OBX. Chris can then approve it as is or want some changes. He may see images we left out he wants back in or a different lead or ending. I value these meetings and hope new ideas bubble up and we can make it even better than it already is.

    David’s OBX is a bit unique as it’s more of a personal essay about OBX than a reportage about the Banks. Its personal yet it still reflects OBX to anyone who knows the place. I myself have waffled back and forth about what should be the lead. But I always try to make decisions from a place somewhere in the center of my body that responds almost physically to an image I like. I use my brain to keep me on track journalistically but I try trust my heart and guts about the photography.

    Sorry this has been so long but I hope I have answered your questions in general. And thanks again for participating. Once Chris decides on the lead we will let you all know. Then you will just have to wait till June to see the whole story!!

  • PANOS,

    Got MLK???

  • DAH,

    Of course. I was just throwing that one out there because this is… BURN! On further thought I could see why you wouldn’t want such a dramatic shot about the weather as an opener – too “Nat Geo” as others have said (though not really – as you have responded, just what is too “too”?). Editing and sequencing is just about the most difficult part of the whole process in my estimation. And the most rewarding as you see the images come to life by how they relate to other images. Fun, very personal, and I’m jealous!

    Best,

    CP

  • Oh, and the one combo I didn’t see was the fish shot followed by the surfer shot – man vs animal, man vs sea, the pole stretching out, the pier stretching out, the deep blue, the dusky orange. Great set of contrasts and similarities going on with those two shots – great stuff….

    And Sarah, thanks for the post! Very informative.

  • Sarah,

    Thank you for that detailed post! lots of info there.
    I loved what you said here:

    “But I always try to make decisions from a place somewhere in the center of my body that responds almost physically to an image I like. I use my brain to keep me on track journalistically but I try trust my heart and guts about the photography.”

    All the best for tomorrow….must be a bit nerve wrecking.

  • Sarah,
    Thank you so much. Great to read it all and wonderful to have your perspective and input here.
    M

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