Photo Tips # 2: NatGeo Editor Speaks

Check this out. No way you won’t get something out of this short preview of a longer conversation with Susan Welchman, a Photo Editor at NatGeo. This is a one time chat like I never had before with a colleague with whom I have collaborated on at least 10 major essays at NatGeoMagazine.

41 Responses to “Photo Tips # 2: NatGeo Editor Speaks”


  • I see you’re back to Burn David.
    I like your videos, I like your sense of humor. Will wait for more.

    Best

  • David, you are one person that I keep learning from, even a couple years after the workshop. THANK YOU.

    I went to my birth place Hong Kong for a couple weeks, here’s a slideshow on the edited photos. May be you will have time to take a look:
    http://richardmanphoto.com/PICS/HK-2014/

  • MARCIN

    my FIRST commenter on Road Trips! how in the world have we never met? i think i have met personally almost every commenter on Burn at one time or another except for you….in any case , i do hope you are fine and i am still thinking someday we will meet…very nice to see you back here…

    by the way, i am always working on Burn one way or another..i just sometimes get so busy i do not have time for getting in here and chatting with the readers…

    i think by using sometimes YouTube we can actually talk with editors and photographers and others in the arts to gain some insights that we can’t quite get with a written conversation….anyway, we will see how it goes….

    cheers, david

  • RICHARD MAN

    ok i took a look…it is good that you have gone back to your birthplace to shoot….for sure a sentimental journey….

    what is lacking here is any sense of how you FEEL about HongKong…i get the sense of the place in these shots of course…unfortunately that is all i get…also your edit here needs to be tightened considerably…..you have 43 pictures in this edit, and i would take it down to less than 10 right away…maybe even to 5…..

    you appear to sort of be roaming around….and not locking on anything in particular…we need to see that one super killer picture…the one that rocks us…..you do not have that picture here…..

    what has happened here , happens to many photographers….you seem to have gotten caught up with HongKong the place but you have not gotten caught up with it in a visual or emotional way….

    if you are still there, or are going back with any great intent to show us something very special about HongKong, stop walking around so much…you are looking for pictures…wandering aimlessly using up all your energy….and it is all about energy….stay in one place until you have really really nailed it….let the pictures come to you..be a part of a scene so that you can be really in the scene…

    make us feel and taste and smell HongKong Richard…not just SEE what it looks like….we all know what HongKong looks like…give us a Richard Man vision ..just as Susan says in her interview….

    so nice to hear from you Richard…

    cheers, david

  • DRIVEN… A heavy mix of work ethics, passion, obsession, an all round love of people and life. A positive mind and not much time for fear and failure. What’s lost is gone turn the page and push on. A clear idea that the image is paramount above the talking, the equipment and the whole bull shit which surrounds most people.

  • PAUL

    yes, that’s it…HOWEVER, one still needs balance for living…that is why i have ALWAYS taken family and friends with me everywhere….and even probably why i engage with this audience….besides, in my case, the pictures ARE the people…strangers, friends, soon to be friends, family….all rolls together….yet yes, i NEED for the picture to come…somehow, someway, someday…

    cheers, david

  • Nice little video. Good advice, too, I suppose. Don’t try to be like Harvey (ape his style), but try to be like Harvey (have a vision, love photography). And now we know how he manages to stay so thin. I mean, it must have been hard enough to keep meat on the bones by just eating photography back in the all-analog days, but now when you throw in so many digital meals, that’s meagre fare indeed.

  • What a tease that was….sure, lots to digest in this little bit but now can’t wait to hear the rest.
    I dont remember if I read it or if I saw a video about Sam Abel talking about something similar.
    During an important interview with an editor he asked Sam Abel if he was framing him as they were talking. He said yes and the editor tells him that his got what it takes then…. of course I am badly paraphrasing here but that has always stayed with me since I heard it and here it is again.

    Being “in it” or having “it” always “on” how i understand it is what you David have said before and what you have just written to Richard Man….the pictures just come to you. Is not about chasing anymore…it becomes “seeing” very much like Sam Harris, Sally Mann, Larry Towell….

    Anyways…loving these videos a whole lot!

  • Just a reminder that like old-time commentator Marcin, you and I have never met (though we did talk at length on the phone once).

    Speaking of ‘visual language’ I gotta say how much I really, really like the scarf you are wearing, Harvey, even though it doesn’t go particularly well with the shirt… I would lose the shirt, but that scarf is a killer. Also glad that Susan Welchman (whose editing pedigree at NatGeo is probably unmatchable… David is not the only great photographer she has worked with… her list of credits is astonishing) has decided to ‘grow old gracefully’ but is still going strong…

    If that video snippet is just a teaser, then where and when can we see the rest?

  • a civilian-mass audience

    Welcome home Dear SUSAN !!!

    and THANK YOU !!!

  • Thank you

  • What a riot that the photo editor takes the time to properly illuminate the scene while being interviewed by a photographer known for his lighting workshops.

    I love the ironic surrealism of these YouTube mini-workshops – please keep ‘em coming, BURN!

  • If I could be myself, I wouldn’t have to pretend to be someone else.

    AKAKY_IRL: I know yourself and even when you’re pretending to be someone else, you’re just not that interesting.

    AKAKY: Thank you for that.

    AKAKY_IRL: You’re welcome, although you should lay off of the sarcasm. It’s an ugly habit.

    AKAKY: I can’t imagine where I got it from.

    AKAKY_IRL: Me neither.

  • Richard Man:

    Please take my comments and judgement to be worth nothing more than squat…but I’ll disagree just a bit with David. I think images 17, 20, 26 and 29 of your essay show the poetic efficacy of your interpretation of Hong Kong David is looking for, with number eleven as a maybe.

    It’s as if your creative receptiveness was turned on in those photographs. They’re where I’d start.

  • SIDNEY ATKINS

    yes, i noticed in the video that the scarf did not go with the shirt…at least not in traditional “right”…need a solid shirt…got it….but IF i do dress “right” it is probably by accident…i go for a clean shirt, and anything after that is frosting on the cake…

    when i was in Seattle recently i was really hoping we could meet finally..alas, not to be….we have exchanged a few emails for sure and i am still remembering how you tracked the weather and very specific roads for us when we were on that road trip in the snow with the big van that i would never try to work out of again…ever.

    always nice to hear from you Sidney…and i will TRY to match scarf and shirt next time for a video..

    i will post soonest the entire uncut interview with Susan…it is 14 minutes long but worth the time i think….

    cheers, david

  • JEFF HLADUN

    i am kicking myself for not doing these videos sooner..so much amazing stuff has gone by that would have been really informative for many…..still i am most likely i suppose to keep running into interesting folks who will be good for this….you just might be one of the “interesting folks”

    cheers david

  • David…

    Never again in that van? Not even in the lovely warmth of summer?
    I was so concentrated on the talking I didn’t even notice the scarf. BTW is Susan a photographer? I was wondering because somehow even though she may be a ruthless editor she must understand the complexities of the craft.

  • David,

    between that video and your advice to Richard Man, I’ve gained so much from this single post!

    I signed up for your upcoming workshop at GPP 2014 and as the time draws near I get more and more excited everyday. Really looking forward to meeting up with you!!

    Javed.

  • @Jeff Hladun
    Thank you. One thing I don’t do is to counter-comment on criticism because if someone (regardless whether it’s DAH, or anybody) sees something not right, then something is not right in their perspective, and I need to accept that and reflect on it.

    But I am glad you gave your comments as well because truth be told, I am trying to BEGIN to tell a story there. Hong Kong is in transition, and… most non-natives would not know it, the suitcases (the short of it is that HK is being swamped with Mainlander daytripping into HK buying milk powder, antibiotics etc.) in the first few frames is part of that story, as most of the frames really. Obviously I need to tell the story better and go there again, and again, and again.

  • Oh, it’s cool to see a conversation spark up here again. I learned so much just from trawling back through the roadtrips archives and have enjoyed lurking along the journey now for years since. So much to learn from following a critical exchange…

    How do you pin down those feelings you’re talking about DAH? Or do you not pin them down, just switch off the mind completely and go by feel? How do you stay open? How do you find the place to wait? Research, or just a feeling? And if it’s the latter, what do you do to pick up the trail?

    @Jeff Hladun: Good eye. I agree with your choices. Richard, I can’t say if those shots have the subject or motif you’re looking for in them, but there’s definitely more tension and movement in those frames.

    The video is great. It reminds me, almost, of the years I spent at Lonely Planet back when she was healthy and on top of her game. Can’t wait for the next instalment.

    I’ve forgotten who coined the term ‘reckless commitment’ but there’s an intoxicating gravity to it — in creativity and in leadership that seems to draw collaborators and contacts in.

  • About the Hong Kong essay, I shared David’s reaction, both about the lack of killer images (drama) and the seeming random nature of the photos, or lack of story to put it more bluntly. But then I wondered if Richard Man was just doing a non-dramatic style of photography that I have really struggled to appreciate but still just don’t get. Then, as I always respect Jeff’s views, I looked at the photos he recommends, which are the dramatic ones of the bunch. Finally, Richard tells us what the story is he’s seeing, one which I, who has never been east of Prague, would never glean from those photos in a million years, but which I realize may be obvious to someone with a more nuanced understanding of Hong Kong dynamics.

    My only point in that recap is that I find the conversation interesting, particularly as it relates to story. One of my first thoughts was that it takes a lot of hubris to try to think one can capture a city of many millions in a few photos (a topic, as many of you know, I’ve dwelled on in some of my own work). So here I bring it back to the video and Susan Welchman’s advice to be like Harvey but not be like Harvey. Harvey is really good at “doing” a city — think Nairobi or (duh) Rio. Should Richard Man consider that approach? Would it have turned out he were trying to “do” Hong Kong, I’d say definitely. Consider it, understand it, then hop on your own tour bus. But of course we now know that it’s about Chinese day trippers; a focused story, and one which definitely requires some written or voiceover accompaniment. And, I’d agree, fewer, more dramatic images.

  • Hi David,

    Will you visit Europe this year? Maybe we can find a way to meet :)

  • RICHARD MAN

    you have the right attitude….and always good attitude carries one further than anything else…write down on a piece of paper five concepts about HK that you want to show or feel something about..get those keywords in your head….these keywords are not a “list” per se to be checked off, but might give you a subliminal structure…again, DO NOT MOVE AROUND MUCH…stay stay stay in ONE PLACE until you have really really really nailed that one place…THEN move on…..

    cheers, david

  • STEVE CADDY

    hard to describe how i pin down those feelings…it is a combo of a bit of obvious homework/research and gut level reaction and/or emotional attachment….first off, i don’t just take on any random assignment…i work on things i feel at least something about in the first place…my magazine work is 90% stories which were my idea and proposal….i can professionally DO a random assignment if i must, but it will never soar the way something close to me may be…i can always get to a level of what i call professional mediocrity to pay the bills…but this is not the full on dah ….

    near and dear to heart is what works for anyone….like Sam Harris in his family essay….the same Sam Harris might not look like Sam Harris on another kind of project…so your books and exhibitions must be YOU….nobody does a book on assignment, or at least not a good book…never saw that animal….

    work on what moves you and do whatever it takes to do THAT…for sure all that matters in the long run

    cheers david

  • MARCIN

    I usually am in Europe several times per year….perhaps Italy in May or June is all i have in my mind now…i hate to move from home for most of the summer…oh yes, maybe Arles in July for a few days…

    oh yes, maybe Germany in late March or early April on my way back from Dubai….

    will let you know…my plans always change a bi…

    cheers, david

  • HEY DAVID ALAN HARVEY !!!

    since you seem to be tuned in here, thought I’d ask: you were at FILSON a few months ago. any info about the Harvey Camera Bag?

    looking now for a bag for a fuji x kit — a few tempting items out there but nothing perfect. whaddaya say?

    gratefully
    dq

  • DAH, a final question if I may!

    On Road Trips / Promises, eduardo said:

    …I can tell that one of my first experiences in your workshop was when you said to me: Eduardo, you see that couple? Take the picture! …i felt that as a very violent and unexpected freakish thing to do at that occasion- specially in a place of quiet, conservative, kind, respectful, modest people and with all a history of any levels of abuse like Oaxaca – like kind of one of the worst possible karma to your pics was disrupting a couple of teenagers, like the last thing you’d like to do was to screw up that moment in life of anyone and for no -at least apparent- reason at all…

    Now i think i can say that at that instant i wasn’t understanding at all what photography is really about. It’s not taking, but giving. It is the same verb of confusion in Spanish for photos, to take: ‘tomar’. But it is not robbing someone in particular something, it is much more a recognition of what clay we all are made of…

    I feel like I’m close to understanding this, but am lacking the final ah-ha. What is the flip from taking to giving? I get that it gives to the world, but if it invades then … how does it not feel to the couple like they’ve been ‘taken’ advantage of … somehow?

  • STEVE CADDY

    a very good question…i could answer it now but when i post the whole of Susan’s interview , she answers that very question perfectly…i will say this..i do not think anyone i photograph feels that i have “taken”from them…i do not ruin their day…i try my very best to make their day….when i suggested to eduardo that he “take the picture” i did not mean at all for him to “steal the picture”….nor to be a paparazzi.nor abuse anyone…quite the contrary…i always “ask” permission to photograph..either by eye contact or body language or by simply asking directly…oftentimes i will shoot first, and ask later if it is a situation that will be ruined if i ask…if i have made a nice picture and show it to them, i have never seen anyone frown over a good picture of themselves…it is diplomacy it is common sense it is a dance….

    cheers, david

  • DQ

    i just got the prototype to test last week…so i will test it for a month in Dubai, and then hopefully in stores it will be by May…

    AJ ADAM

    you are going to be especially lucky, because my whole Burn team will be in Dubai….good that you are wired for this…my classes are hard….i push people sometimes even too hard…but i know that tough love works….don’t worry, you will have fun…yet you will also suffer ….everybody does…why? because i make you look at yourself deep and i try to squeeze out of you what Susan speaks of in this video clip….most photographers of course want “the answer” to be having the right camera, meeting the right editor, going to the right place..everybody way overvalues “contacts” for one and equipment for two…when those i mentor realize it is just THEM alone and developing an eye and a heart, they often panic…that answer is too hard to deal with for many….the process for creativity is oftentimes sooooo different from what they are used to in their daily business and personal lives , that it throws them…

    keep an open mind and be prepared for not much sleep!!!

    looking forward to meeting you…

    cheers, david

  • David; I’m probably going to be the only (sorta) naysayer here…..

    I’m having a bit of a problem with the statements “Everything in his life comes second” and “If that isn’t your situation; forget it”….. Surely it’s possible to have a balanced life (and I’m not saying that your life isn’t) and be a good/great photographer too?

    I just look at my situation over the last few years. My parents have both had major illnesses; my mother’s (82) health is picking up; but father (87) has early stages of Alzheimer’s which also puts a lot of strain on mum. I have had to put a lot of my own work (over the last few years); both commercial and personal, on hold to help them through a tough patch. Someone has to do it and in situations like this it is “all hands to the pump”.

    The above statements are at odds with my own views in that there is no way I could throw my folks to the wolves; just so I can go take some photos…. Surely it is possible to be a good father (in my case stepfather)/mother, son/daughter and a photographer producing innovative, strong personal projects?

    I think I’d rather been known as a decent stepdad (and hopefully a decent sort of photographer going hand in hand with that) than a photographer that was so driven that I couldn’t or wouldn’t think of anything other than photography?

    In my case I have still continued to shoot my personal work; albeit on a more limited scale; but am pretty happy the way that work is developing.

    Has helping my folks affected my career? Yes; both commercially (articles etc.) and personal essays. Could I have not done my bit with my folks? A resounding no; I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I hadn’t.

    Some might say I’m a “weak” person (photographically) by not using my folk’s predicament as an essay/project. But if that’s the case; so be it. I’m not; and never want to be an “ambulance chaser” type photographer (e.g. shooting drugs, the homeless etc etc)

    But by the same token I am shooting what is directly around me and what is happening around me (Sam’s essays are a continued inspiration). And; this year I have managed to work a way of getting my commercial work and personal essays back on track.

    This isn’t a criticism of you or the editor; just curious to develop the idea more….. :-)

  • Perfect David. I get it, but look forward to the rest of the interview. Maybe a workshop some day… (how do you fancy Australia?)

  • David

    It would be great if you can run a workshop in Hong Kong one day !

    cheers, jonathan

  • Steve Caddy…
    Maybe this quote will help with your first post and questions…

    “I make a life there…Then I photograph that life.” David Alan Harvey on working on essays in foreign countries and reviewing the legendary Epson digital rangefinder. Way back in 2005

  • Yeah, that helps too Paul, and it echos Salgado’s advice to photograph ‘from inside the circle’.

    DAH, your advice about the list, feeling something for the project and staying put is backed up by David Hurn’s advice in On Being a Photographer too.

  • Hi David and Susan: Must say hello to Susan after many years. Thanks for the advice about being one’s own person. When photographers say they want to be [famous lens celebrity], I am sure they mean to be able to have the same experiences, travel, publication (and income…?), not necessarily to make the same photos. But of course in learning from others and emulating mentors it can be hard to find that personal place within, that shore on which when one finally washes up one recognizes home and the source of strength and vision. And I hope it is okay for me to partake of this blog, David — I still consider myself emerging, and it’s clear that you must feel that way also.

    Thanks to both of you and congratulations on all you’ve accomplished and shown the world.

    Gary

  • Thanks for the great post and the great comments of burnians.

    I’ve rememeber a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself, everybody else is already taken”

    Shine. P.

  • pAtrIcIO:

    Always be yourself.

    Unless you can be a pirate. In that case, always be a pirate.

    :)

  • eduardo sepulveda

    Steve,

    It was just that terrific picture of a couple on the beach on road trips what make me rimind and put in those words some of my feelings of what happens in just some few seconds. The moment right after that it was a play between that couple showing/hiding themselves or just laughing, a ballon seller, the wind of Oaxaca and you in a frame.
    It was more like when you smile about how you used to see or think things on your own ‘inexperience’… a couple? Ah, how boring … I remember also how strange it was to me DAH voice saying: ‘i don’t want to give you an asingment’ like if it were a terrible punishment.

    To see and listen to Susan and people like her are just diamonds!!! Viva Burn!
    Thanks!

  • Thanks Eduardo. I loved the comment. A real eureka moment; it’s why I had to ask.

    Paul! That whole Vogue Masters series is excellent. I just found the Korean In Frame ep. with DAH in it :)

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