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.
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.