Communicating Visually: Expert Tips from Photo Editor Sarah Leen at Bild

10/26/2023Link0

Have you ever struggled with editing your images to present in a portfolio or as a story pitch? If so, our conversation in this podcast might be of some help.

We recently had the great fortune to speak with one of the finest picture editors in the business, former National Geographic photographer, photo editor, and director of photography, Sarah Leen, who we interviewed as part of our coverage of B&H’s 50th Anniversary Bild Expo 2023.

Leen has worked all sides of the table, starting in the field with a camera in hand, then transitioning to a photo editor, and ultimately being tapped to lead National Geographic as Director of Photography in 2013—the first woman ever selected for this role.

Among the topics covered in this chat are Leen’s shift from picture maker to photo editor and how she gained the credentials to take on such a role. We make the important distinction between editing the work of others vs. a photographer editing his or her own images, emphasizing the added difficulty of disconnecting from personal experience to make objective decisions, and how the guidance of a skilled photo editor can help.

Focusing on her career trajectory, Leen explains the differences between a photo editor and the Director of Photography, which is a managerial role. And, when it comes to the recent organizational changes at National Geographic—not to mention within the industry at large—Leen clarifies that, despite ceasing newsstand sales, the magazine will still be widely available in print, yet by subscription only.

We end our chat with details about Leen’s current work as an independent photo editor and educator, her founding of the Visual Thinking Collective with three former colleagues, and the upcoming release of her latest book project Ukraine: A War Crime, featuring work by 93 photographers.

Above photograph © Sarah Leen

Guest: Sarah Leen

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At the end of the day, Koryak reindeer herders join in communal singing and drumming. The bi-annual reindeer harvest celebrates the spiritual and practical bond that exits between the people and their reindeer. Only the spirits of deer, they believe, can deliver souls to “the other side.”
At the end of the day, Koryak reindeer herders join in communal singing…
Sarah Leen appears onscreen during the Indian Photo Festival in Hyderabad, in conversation with photographer Smita Sharma (left), discussing her book, We Cry in Silence, for which Leen served as photo editor, published by FotoEvidence.
Sarah Leen appears onscreen during the Indian Photo Festival in…
Sarah Leen in Maine, demonstrating her current commute to work, about 20 yards from the house. Photo Credit: Bill Marr
Sarah Leen in Maine, demonstrating her current commute to work, about…
An Itelman fisherman dries smelt from the spring harvest in western Kamchatka. The Itelman have been living on the Kamchatka peninsula for thousands of years.
An Itelman fisherman dries smelt from the spring harvest in western…
Newlyweds pose for a portrait with Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, Russia. This tradition continues even in the winter. The lake is often referred to as the “Pearl of Siberia” and the “Sacred Sea.” It is revered by all. 1991
Newlyweds pose for a portrait with Lake Baikal in southern Siberia,…
Sarah Leen on assignment in Mexico for a 1999 National Geographic story about the Mexican volcano Popocateptl. The crew picked up a local man who was hitchhiking with his sheep and gave them a ride. Photo credit: Jose Lopez, translator and guide during the assignment.
Sarah Leen on assignment in Mexico for a 1999 National Geographic story…
Sarah Leen teaching a 2019 photo editing class at the PhotoLux Festival in Lucca, Italy. Photo Credit: Bill Marr
Sarah Leen teaching a 2019 photo editing class at the PhotoLux Festival…
Sarah Leen photo booth portrait
Sarah Leen photo booth portrait
Koryakskaya volcano looms over the capital city of Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, Russia in 1993. Soviet era housing construction is at more risk to earthquakes than eruptions.
Koryakskaya volcano looms over the capital city of Petropavlovsk,…
Sharing a song from their Ukrainian homeland, five women from Baikalskoye—all honored veterans from WWII—picnic after a morning spent digging for potatoes on the shores of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. 1991
Sharing a song from their Ukrainian homeland, five women from…

Episode Timeline:

  • 1:36: Sarah Leen’s start as a photographer, her transition to a photo editing role at National Geographic, and the differences between editing one’s own work and the response of an objective photo editor.
  • 5:47: The unique editing process National Geographic uses to review every frame, and differences between editing analog slides and editing images digitally.
  • 10:09: The criteria for assigning photographers to stories at National Geographic and the ways that editors discover new photographers for assignments.
  • 12:20: The importance of versatility in presenting pictures on social media and thinking beyond single images when trying to tell stories.
  • 16:22: Leen’s advice to photographers about pitching story ideas: Short is good, knowledge is good. Think about the pitch in terms of the universal and the personal.
  • 21:42: Episode Break
  • 22:24: Leen’s elevation to National Geographic director of photography and how that position differs from that of a photo editor.
  • 25:50: Relationships between photos and text, as well as photographers and writers.
  • 30:02: Recent changes within National Geographic, as well as in the industry at large, and the decision to cease newsstand sales of the magazine to get people to subscribe instead.
  • 32:55: Photographers’ ongoing desire to have their images in print and the seduction behind publishing a book of one’s work.
  • 35:16: Leen’s latest work as an independent photo editor and educator, her founding of The Visual Thinking Collective with three former colleagues, and the upcoming release of Ukraine: A War Crime, featuring images by 93 photographers.

Guest Bio:

After becoming the first woman to receive the College Photographer of the Year award, Sarah Leen worked as a freelance photographer for National Geographic, becoming the first female Director of Photography at National Geographic magazine and Partners in 2013. In 2020, she established the Visual Thinking Collective, a community of female editors, teachers, and curators specialized in creating and managing visually driven projects. Leen believes in sharing her knowledge through mentoring, teaching photography, and photo editing workshops, while consulting and editing visual projects and books. FotoEvidence is releasing her new book, Ukraine: A War Crime in 2023.

Stay Connected:

Sarah Leen Website: https://www.sarahleen.com
Sarah Leen Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/roseleen
Sarah Leen X: https://twitter.com/sleen3
Sarah Leen Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.leen.92
Visual Thinking Collective Website: https://www.visualthinkingcollective.com
FotoEvidence Website and the book Ukraine: A War Crime: https://fotoevidence.com/books/ukraine-a-war-crime-by-ninety-three-photojournalists


Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: Jill Waterman
Senior Producer: Mike Weinstein
Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner

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