‘Photographer’ Isn’t About Photography at All

Don’t be fooled, National Geographic’s new series Photographer isn’t about analyzing images. Talk of lighting, depth of field, and good angles is minimal. Instead, it’s an examination of what compels a person to do whatever it takes to get the perfect shot. They “work hard to the point of death,” says fashion photographer Campbell Addy, and Photographer aims to illustrate why.

The docuseries, which premieres this week on National Geographic, Disney+, and Hulu, features six episodes, each one an hour-long journey into one photographer’s process as they work on a particular project. Having been a WIRED photo editor for some 20 years, I’ve hired many photographers, and still there were secrets I didn’t know about the deep strife of many shoots.

enerally, when people think of NatGeo, they imagine documentary footage of wildlife in jungles and the Australian Outback. Photographer has some of that traditional NatGeo style, but instead of tigers or marsupials the camera is trained on the photographers themselves. It’s about watching the photographer hunt—as Krystle Wright does while chasing tornadoes—or avoid prey, like Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier do while capturing big oil rigs.

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Each episode starts with a specific assignment and then goes deeper into the personal lives of the photographer. Mental health is a frequent topic. Love, too: love of family, the ocean, the thrill. Love for that exact moment when they know they got the shot, a feeling I’ve experienced vicariously often. Photographer’s mission, really, isn’t to show you beautiful photos; it’s to show you what it took to get them.

Insecurity also prevails. So does obsession with getting it perfect. They have a vision from the start. “Is it good enough?” asks Addy in reference to the results of any of his assignments.

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NatGeo’s new show also goes deep on just how wrong a photoshoot can go. In science photographer Anand Varma’s episode, he struggles with a time lapse of a hatching chick. Addy finds himself contending with his first solo exhibition. Despite this, they both emphasize they must get their client—usually someone, like me, sitting comfortably distant from the hassles—what they want.

here are so many similarities in these episodes, even though the genres of each photographer vary, from war to wildlife to celebrity portraits. These artists want perfection, and not just for their client but for their own sense of self, so they can move on to the next project in peace.

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Dan Winters, who is a WIRED contributor, makes photographs for everything from celebrity profiles to reportage; he even dabbles in illustration. Like the other Photographer photographers, he has a process. A specific one that leads to success, every time. Prior to this series, I had no idea he was not alone in his obsessive and meticulous tinkering on photo shoots.

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Winters is the perfect photographer to be featured in one of these episodes, which all go a step beyond uncovering their subjects’ methods. There’s a very tender moment between him and his son, Dylan, 30, who feels hurt about being the center of his father’s photography his entire life. It made me wonder about my own daughter and having her be the subject of my photographs, from birth through yesterday. Does she feel the same way that Dylan does? One day I may get my answer the way Winters does.

About Michael Zotos 334 Articles
Founder and owner of Performer.com/Performer Media LLC, a multimedia content creator for a variety of national plus local print & electronic media affiliates.