Curating a National Geographic Traveller (UK) photo story

Art director Chris Hudson has the lowdown on pulling together one of our photo features

By Chris Hudson
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:17 BST, Updated 8 Jul 2021, 11:47 BST
Curating a National Geographic Traveller (UK) photo story
Photograph by Kris Davidson

It's a privilege to be working with some of the finest travel photographers on the planet and a highlight of working at National Geographic Traveller has to be putting together our regular In Pictures photo stories.

We work with a wide range of subject matter and narrative from all over the globe, and it's often a real shame that we have to condense such great storytelling into a nine- or 10-page A4 format. However, this means we have to have a clear idea about the story we want to tell and how we go about communicating that story to a reader.

Quite often, a story comes from a photographer's pitch. This might initially only be a paragraph or two of description, after which we commission and send them to shoot, or we may be supplied with a fully shot piece with anything up to 300 photographs. Either way, we normally end up with a large selection of photos that we then have to shape, curate and lay to page. We may focus on geography, subject matter, even tonal value in the photographs to separate them into manageable chunks, and then proceed to work up layouts.

We might run through several versions of layout, but key at this stage is to start with a good sense of place. We need to let the reader know exactly where they are in the world, so we often open with shots that are familiar to the average reader. If not, we might want to communicate the subject matter, and so we open with something different, something quirky, or perhaps an image that really sums up the subject — be it creative, dance, food, adventure or so on.

We try to mix the piece up with a selection of close-ups, details, landscapes, street scenes. And people carry a lot of weight in our picture stories, too — just like in our written stories, it's all about the people we meet on our travels and the stories they can tell us, and this is of utmost importance in our photo features; the connection and the eye contact are essential. If we visit, say, a cattle ranch in Texas, we want to meet, interact with and learn all about the cattle farmer through the photography on show.

Quite often, stories need a good ending. Night shots can be a nice way to do this, but often a poignant image does a similar job — perhaps one that relates to the image we use to set the scene at the beginning, or an empty scene looking back on the location we've just discovered. Quite often, we like to include something unusual, offbeat or memorable, and this can sometimes be a good way of ending a piece too.

Ultimately, we have to treat each story on its own merits. But what we always try to do is work with our photographers to make sure they capture everything we need to tell the full story, from the biggest to the smallest detail. We ask them to consider the cityscape, then the street, the building, the bar, the interior, the barman, the cocktail, the slice of lemon in the cocktail. That way we're armed with all of the shots we could need and we're able to continue telling the great stories our photographers discover.

Discover the Photography Magazine

Published in issue 6 of National Geographic Traveller (UK) Photography Magazine


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