Nat Geo’s ‘Photographer’ Series Reveals How Pros Work

Typically, a photographer’s objective is to use an image to tell a story. Usually, the picture is the story. The creative work is self-contained, and its creator remains unseen to the viewer.

But behind the lens, there’s an individual. And that person influences the finished product inextricably.


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A post shared by Krystle Wright (@krystlejwright)

That is the concept behind Photographer.

The National Geographic docuseries dropped this week. In it, you can glimpse the interior worlds of people like Paul Nicklen, who has dived with humpback whales, and Dan Winters, who photographed the first launch of NASA’s Artemis project.


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A post shared by Dan Winters (@danwintersphoto)

You’ll watch the undersea arctic exploits of Nicklen, tune in with Krystle Wright on a storm-chasing tour through the American Midwest. And don’t miss Anand Varma, who gazes so intently at various gigantic beetles and reef arthropods that you start wondering if the animals under examination are getting embarrassed.

Mad scientists

“Working with Anand is like working with a mad scientist,” his intern says. “He has such passionate and eccentric and focused energies. It can come in crazy waves of long, long nights — and then slow, focused, bigger-picture thinking.”

(They’re cutting holes in chicken eggs and replacing them with glass “windows” in a bid to capture the full-term germination of a baby chick in time-lapse.)

There’s a force to the series that can’t be faked because it mostly owes to the mastery behind the images themselves. We all know it when we see a great photograph, even if we have zero idea what it took to create it (pointing the finger directly at myself on this one).

But as I watched the series play out, it illuminated its subjects’ creative processes in ways I didn’t expect. Due to the largely unrelated careers of the six characters involved, I thought Photographer would basically present six standalone portraits. Instead, I started to pick up on a through line. If there is one, it’s improvisation.


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A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen)

The series is heavy on personal-history narratives. And no matter which episode you key in on, I bet you’ve got a similar, wayward story from your 20-somethings. Or 30-somethings, or 40-somethings.

No spoilers; but I defy you not to find contact with a central trait of at least one photographer — Winters’ vagabond affectations, Wright’s risk tolerance, Nicklen’s “survivalism.”

One colleague assesses the effect of Varma’s macrophotography: “setting people’s brains on fire.”

I didn’t expect it to happen to me — but Photographer lit the match.


The series premiered on March 18 on National Geographic at 8/7c and began streaming on March 19 on Disney+ and Hulu.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.