By Alyssa Olvera
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
National Geographic photographer Catherine Karnow says she is always learning something new.
“I have such a passion for it. Everything I know about photography has been from my own personal experience,” Karnow said in a phone interview about her career as a photojournalist for the National Geographic Society. Karnow, who lives in San Francisco, specializes in travel and documentary photography. She has worked for National Geographic for 20 years.
Karnow has been teaching photography since 1995 and gives photography workshops such as the Santa Fe photo workshop along with private workshops and seminars in the U.S. and around the world. On the weekends in San Francisco, she gives National Geographic workshops. This month she will be giving a nine-day workshop in Umbria, Italy. In October, she gives a workshop in Vietnam.
Karnow specializes in photographing Vietnam and has done a lot of work there.
“It is one of my favorite places to go,” Karnow said.
In 1994, General Vo Nguyen Giap invited Karnow to be the only non-Vietnamese journalist to accompany him privately to Dien Bien Phu for the 40th anniversary of the battle, she said. Karnow has also done other work in Vietnam.
Once while Karnow was in Paris shooting for the National Geographic Traveler magazine she was told she wasn’t allowed to take photos of anyone or anything.
“It was really hard to get any shots with everyone telling me no. It really made me mad, but I had to figure out how to get the shots I needed,” she said.
Karnow advised students or anyone with an interest in being a working photographer to produce and create work. Photography requires a lot of hard work and long hours, she said.
“Take risks and get out of your comfort zone," she said. "Push yourself to do things you never thought you would do. When photographing someone or a group of people always take into consideration their point of view. Be considerate and be smart. Talk to those people, make friends with them and make them feel comfortable with you.”
Another part of being a photojournalist these days is social media, she said.
Karnow said she uses social media to reach people who might want to attend one of her workshops, promote herself to potential employers, announce workshops and brand herself.
“Use social media as a tool to show the real you and not just the career you," Karnow advised. "Social media can help in this way for people to be comfortable with who you are as a person if they know more about you than just your work."
Karnow was born and raised in Hong Kong and is the daughter of an American journalist. She always had an appreciation for photography, but once she started taking photography in high school she began to have a passion for it and knew it would be her life's work. Karnow has a degree in comparative literature and semiotics from Brown University. She graduated in 1983.
Karnow’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, French and German GEO as well as other international publications.
One of Karnow's first major assignments was in 1986 when she was asked to create a photographic guide book to France. She drove around the country for three months taking pictures. She said everyday was an adventure and she learned a lot.
Karnow has a variety of interests and said that photography fell into all of the categories.
“Photography is a beautiful way to see the world and connect with people. It’s a learning experience and teaching it is a joy,” she said.
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