How did Joel Sartore do it?

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

Imagine working on a single project for a decade and a half. Today, photographer Joel Sartore marks a milestone in a truly audacious project. Joel set out to document every species living in zoos and sanctuaries. His stoic, empathetic, even hilarious portraits encourage people to take action before it's too late. His Photo Ark started small, but today, this elusive güiña from Chile (above) got the outsized title of being the 10,000th species photographed.

Bold, fearless, courageous, undaunted are words that describe Joel (more on him below) and so many of our photographers. Here are a few of their projects:

Lions: Photographer Nick Nichols spent five years planning before taking a single image for his Serengeti Lions project. Part of the preparations involved working with our engineers to build a "lion tank" for his camera to capture these beauties up close and personal.

A human study: Photographer Lynn Johnson holds the record for the longest-in-the-making feature story we've ever done, spending nearly two decades documenting Susan Potter (above) in life and death. "Time tells good stories, and this is an extreme example," says Kurt Mutchler, our assistant managing editor of science and Lynn's photo editor for this project.

It's not an exaggeration to say that our photographers have documented the Earth's tallest forest, slowed down time to capture the breathtaking maneuvers of a hummingbird in action (below), endured extreme subzero temperatures to photograph the Arctic Cold War, and explored the Earth's deepest underwater caves.

First, the hummingbirds: Photographer Anand Varma uses a high-speed, high-resolution camera to document what the naked eye can't see. "If you can control every photon of light in your frame, you can manipulate light to create details no one has ever seen before," Anand says.

Brrr! Photographer Louie Palu made 24 trips to the far north to document the Arctic Cold War. Here, Canadian soldiers build an igloo as part of their training. But the true testament to Louie's commitment? He had to pass the same Arctic survival test as the soldiers he sought to photograph: pulling himself out of frigid waters after an “unexpected” fall through the ice.

The deep: Photographer Wes Skiles explored some of the world's deepest underwater caves including Dan’s Cave on Abaco Island. He called on his expedition team to help him light the cavernous spaces, like this Cascade Room (above), some 80 feet beneath the surface. "This is one of my favorite images," says Sadie Quarrier, our deputy director of mobile storytelling and Wes' photo editor on the project. "The images are surreal and show us a world most of us will never experience."

Perfect pitch: As if these feats weren't enough, our photographers have other talents, too. Kathy Moran, deputy director of photography and Joel's longtime editor, shared this: "Joel (above, at work) has perfect pitch. Although he has never had formal musical training and can’t name a note if you ask him, he can hum any song in the right key." I wonder if he sings to the animals?

If Joel has piqued your interest in wildlife photography, here’s a selection of our Nat Geo photographers’ favorite wildlife images. Enjoy!

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Today in a minute

Take that, coronavirus! He survived the Battle of Normandy. And now, at age 97, former war and celebrity photographer Tony Vaccaro beat back a bout with COVID-19, the Associated Press reports. The Queens-based Vaccaro, the subject of an HBO documentary on his fabled life, credits his longevity to determination, “blind luck, red wine.” Vaccaro’s work, which hangs in the New York’s Met and at the Pompidou Center in Paris, ranges from wartime images to portraits of Sophia Loren, John F. Kennedy, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Pablo Picasso.

Street View photography: Creative Director Yousuke Ozawa wanted to take a vacation, but he couldn’t. So he started taking “digital vacations” through Google Maps, and capturing Street View travel photography. He adjusts color and contrasts and titles each image, reveals where it was taken, and links to the exact Google Street View location before putting them on his Tumblr blog. “In between Zoom calls, I go on Google Maps as if I’m on vacation with a camera,” Ozawa tells PetaPixel. “I started to see really interesting things captured by Google. With interesting light, environment and body expressions. Those three elements, combined together, told an interesting story.” See a few images from the collection here.

Big Rembrandt: Last summer in Amsterdam, your humble curator’s view of the Dutch master’s painting The Night Watch was interrupted by scaffolding and a 100-megapixel, medium format Hasselblad H6D-400c. Now you can see what that camera in the museum was up to—a 45 gigapixel image from 528 stitched-together photographs. “The huge image file allows researchers to zoom into the painting to examine incredibly fine details,” Fstoppers reports, “giving insights into how the aging process is having an effect.”

We asked, you answered: Joel Sartore’s animal photos prompted us to ask readers about their favorite endangered animal. We got nearly 100 responses from all over the world, including photos of the red-shanked douc langur, a coastal tailed frog, and a very strange African shoebill (which can stand up to 5 foot high). Thanks!

Your Instagram of the day

Still in love: The bonds of friendship and family are known to boost happiness levels and longevity. In these strange times of confinement, you might be getting too much of it, or not enough ... After a gathering with extended family, 99-year-old Apolonio Torres and his wife, 90-year-old Maria, retreat to their bedroom. “I did not expect the kiss,” photographer Matthieu Paley says. The couple has been married for 72 years. This image was shot in 2017 in Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica, as part of a National Geographic magazine story on happiness.

Subscriber exclusive: These are the world’s happiest place.

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The big takeaway

From Venice Beach to the world: The sidewalks, streets, and oceanside parks of this Southern California enclave, captured above by photographer Dina Litovsky, have displayed a freestyle, fashion-conscious skateboarding culture that, like surfing, has gone global. Once a thorn in the side of communities, skateboarders have influenced design and urban planning, Robert Draper writes for Nat Geo. Until the pandemic struck, the sport was headed this year for the first time to the Olympics—and will still be a part of the delayed world competition when the Games finally take place.

Subscriber exclusive: How California skateboarding revolutionized global culture

Photo tip of the week

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On Mondays, Debra Adams Simmons covers the latest in history. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Victoria Jaggard on science, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animal and wildlife news.

The last glimpse

Ahoy! This image was taken aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier for a 1963 Nat Geo magazine feature. Photographer Thomas J. Abercrombie captures crew members reading radar screens aboard the giant vessel, says Sara Manco, our senior photo archivist, who is a fan of the photographer’s work around the Middle East. “This photo was originally published with a tight crop, cutting out the ceiling and the floor and leaving only the repeated pattern of people and radar screens,” Manco says. The image brings back memories for your curator, who spent two summers aboard warships as an NROTC midshipman.

Subscriber exclusive: A broader role for women in today’s U.S. military

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend.

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