National Geographic Magazine has long had a tradition of publishing some of the most impressive photographs in the publishing world. While not every image in the magazine is as memorable as the next, when you leaf through a copy you can pretty much guarantee yourself that you're going to find some visually stunning images to gawk over. But have you ever thought about what went into getting those images on film in the first place? What the photographers had to go through to get 'the perfect shot?' National Geographic's Most Incredible Photos gives us some insight into that with three fifty-minute programs.
This first episode takes a look at what was involved in capturing a classic National Geographic cover shot where the dark figure of a geologist is contrasted dramatically against a volcano erupting in Hawaii quite close behind just where he's standing. We start off by learning a bit about the area where this shot was taken before meeting the geologist and the photographer involved in the shoot. As learn about the risks involved in getting this dramatic shot we get to check out other shots captured during the shoot, and we get to watch the photographer and his subject revisit the location where they originally captured the action way back in 1974 - which doesn't exist in the same way it did thanks to the changes that have occurred in the area over the years.
A photographer in war torn Afghanistan states early in this episode that he's not a 'war photographer, I'm a peace photographer' as we learn how he hopes to preach the importance of peace through his photographs by showing the horrors of war. We learn how Afghanistan became the way it is as this man tells us his story and explains how and why he shot the portrait he did in hopes that it would capture 'the face of Afghanistan.' He too revisits the site of his original subject in hopes of once again capturing the reality of the area as he did in 1975 when he shot a photo of an Afghani resistance fighter named Masoud who was a national hero at the time. His journey takes him through Taliban controlled areas and provinces and gives us a fascinating look at the area and its populace.
Nat Geo's Top 10 Photos:
This third program is a bit less focused than the first two, as it covers ten great cover images instead of just one, but it's still pretty interesting. With over a million images shot in a year by their team of photographers it had to have been a daunting task to pick just ten but it's hard to argue with the shots the editorial team have selected here. As Chris Johns, National Geographic's Editor In Chief, explains why he chose the ten shots he chose, we learn about shooting Amazon river dolphins, a man climbing across a river in western China, a nasty drought in southeastern Australia, exploring underground caves in the southeastern United States, the changing face of Islam in Indonesia, the green rooftop movement around the world, a vanishing tribe in Tanzania, the global food crisis, a swimming bear and other life on the Kamchatka Peninsula, and last but not least, the world's tallest trees.
While the subject matter may seem a bit dry on the surface, give this stuff a shot. There's a nice ix of human interest and biography in here along explanations of photographic technique and environmental hazards. A lot of what the photographers have to go through to capture these images, so easy to take for granted as they are, is frequently as remarkable as the photography itself.
National Geographic's Most Incredible Photos looks pretty good in the 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD. Some of the archival clips and photos do show a bit of wear and tear but the newer footage is pretty much pristine. Color reproduction is always strong, nice and bright and bold and frequently beautiful, while skin tones always look pretty natural. Some shimmering is present and if you look for them you might spot some really mild compression artifacts here and there but they're far from overpowering or even distracting. All in all, the image quality here is pretty good.
There is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track and an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track on the disc with optional subtitles provided in English and English SDH. The only noticeable difference between the two tracks is how the music is spread out through the rear channels on the 5.1 mix. Other than that, the both sound more or less the same, which isn't a bad thing, really. The levels are well balanced and the dialogue is always easy to understand. Some of the scenes shot outdoors have a bit of background noise depending on what sort of environment the crew is shooting in, but there's nothing to get upset about here, it sounds fine.
Aside from menus and chapter selection, the disc also contains about fifteen brief one-two minute Digital Photography Tips mini-featurettes. These are hosted by National Geographic photographer Mark Theissen. Some of these tips are simply common sense, such as not forgetting to zoom in while trying to capture the drama of a certain situation, while others get a bit more technical and involve changing lenses, aperture settings and camera settings. Most experienced shutterbugs will already know what he's talking about, but for beginners looking to improve their own work, this could prove to be helpful.
National Geographic's Most Incredible Photos was a surprisingly interesting viewing experience. It's bound to appeal more to shutterbugs and photography junkies than your average viewer but if you fall into that category and want to learn how some truly impressive photographs were taken and maybe learn a bit about the people who took them, give this disc a shot. The audio and video quality are fine and if the extras are a bit slim, the quality of the three documentaries that make up the 150 minute run time of this release makes up for it. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.