Published: August 2008

International Photography Contest

Sartore Polar Bear

Focus on Nature

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is your expert mentor in the Nature category.

Photograph by Joel Sartore

Photographer Joel Sartore is a storyteller. His images tell compelling tales of insects dead from chemical spray on Florida's sidewalks, medical wastes on the shores of Texas, and hard times for Alaska's polar bears. "We humans live out of the weather, in climate-controlled spaces with our packaged food, and we've never been further from the natural world," he says. "My photos are a way of saying, 'Hey, everyone, ignore nature's story at your peril.'"

To focus the viewer's attention, Sartore looks for situations that are visually loaded. His polar bear image from Kaktovik, Alaska (above), connected several threads of a larger Arctic story: offshore oil development, whale migration, endangered species, and global warming. "Of course, polar bears don't care a bit that you're with National Geographic," he says, laughing. "And as with all animals, you have to respect them and leave them undisturbed. An animal running away is not a good nature photo.

"Photograph what's real," he advises."My bear is dirty and industrial, and that's just fine. That's how he really was, and besides, it's an image that goes to work and ties things together."

Sartore believes photography can focus attention on endangered species: "It boils down to a few simple questions," he says. "Do we respect nature? Do we show benevolence to all life-forms? Is there room for us and them?"

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