Published: August 2009
Focus on Nature
National Geographic photographer Mike Yamashita is your expert mentor in the Nature category.

Mike Yamashita still considers himself an amateur. "I ambled into photography and succeeded beyond my wildest dreams," he says. "My career is proof that dreams come true." He grew up in New Jersey, a nature lover and a keen hiker. After studying Asian history, he took off for Japan with a camera to record his wanderings. Traveling further into a developing continent, he sought out nature's permanence: "I wanted to photograph nature as it is, as it always was, and as it always should be for future generations."

Yamashita's grounding in history led him to follow the footsteps of Marco Polo, explorer Joseph Rock, and the Japanese poet Basho. Following trails became his trademark; likewise he sees photography as a quest. "Great photos must be tracked," he says. "With photography, as with poetry, you seek the feeling in a moment. You first imagine your vision, then get up at dawn, work every sunset, and seek out that moment."

The quest for Basho's inspiration led him to a forest trail one wet, fall afternoon. Imagining the scene through the poet's eyes, the photographer returned next morning to realize the image that would invite readers into the haiku master's world (above): "I turned the corner and there was the moment I sought—this poetic combination of backlit fog, subject, and composition."