Jonathan Blair began his photography career taking pictures of stars at Northwestern University's Dearborn Observatory. While on a trip to help set up an observing station near White Sands, New Mexico, he discovered a passion for landscape photography.
Soon after, Blair transferred to New York's Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to pursue a degree in illustrative photography. But a summer position with the National Park Service in Yosemite National Park led to his becoming the park's photographer and, later, a park ranger.
While a ranger, Blair worked on several publications for the U.S. Department of the Interior, which helped him gain credit toward his B.A. in fine arts and photography from RIT, as well as an internship at National Geographic magazine.
Blair's first published photographs in National Geographic included images from Yosemite National Park and other locations in California. Following his internship, the Society sent him to Asia Minor, Africa, and Europe.
During the 1970s, Blair established himself as a contract photographer with the National Geographic Society and began specializing in adventure stories that took him from the Berkshires to the Mediterranean. He also developed new skills in underwater photography while working on stories including "The Last Dive of I-52," which took him to a record-breaking 17,000 feet (5,180 meters) beneath the Atlantic.