Skip to main content

Follow the Data Podcast: “Your Shot” and Local Climate Action

Katie Orlinsky speaks on a panel at the “Paris to Pittsburgh” screening in Washington, D.C. on February 13.

Inspired by our most recent film, Paris to Pittsburgh, National Geographic launched a new Your Shot photo assignment, calling for citizen photographers to document local climate leadership in their communities for the chance to be featured online on National Geographic’s digital platform.

This episode of the podcast features a conversation with Katie Orlinsky, National Geographic Photographer and Your Shot Editor and Katherine Oliver, of Bloomberg Philanthropies and executive producer of Paris to Pittsburgh.

This Your Shot assignment is to photograph what climate change looks like in your own community, and/or how it is affecting people in other communities, highlighting impacts to climate action leadership and solutions.

Also, for this assignment see if you can share images of people or projects that are taking positive steps to protect their communities from the devastating impact of climate change. Whether that would be someone who uses clean energy (solar, wind, etc,) recycles, or takes part in sustainable practices, from farming to transportation.

The assignment is open for submissions until March 6th, 2019.

Submit your photo by following three easy steps!

  1. Create a Your Shot account on your desktop computer or mobile phone at

  2. Select the assignment, titled Climate Action in Your Community

  3. Share with your social network!

You can hear the podcast and past episodes in the following ways:

  • Download the episode from iTunes and be sure to subscribe!
  • Listen to the episode and follow us on
  • Follow the Data is now available on Stitcher – be sure to rate and review each episode!

We hope you enjoy this episode. Follow us on Twitter @BloombergDotOrg for information about our next episode. Until then, keep following the data!

To hear more from Katie Orlinsky, listen to the podcast now.


KATHERINE OLIVER: National Geographic is a giant in the field of photography. Their magazine covers have made news – and history – for decades. In the world of modern technology and social media networks, it’s easier than ever to snap a photo and post. While the famous yellow bordered magazine has been published continuously since its first issue in 1888.

While only a select few photos make it to the cover of the National Geographic, anyone, amateur or professional, can contribute photos to Your Shot. Your Shot is National Geographic’s photo community, encouraging users to engage in storytelling conversations through photography.

Each month, National Geographic photo editors issue “assignments” to the Your Shot community. Your Shot members upload photos to the assignment throughout the three week submission period. The submission process is interactive; Your Shot members and the assignment editors comment and like photos.

At the end of three weeks, the assignment closes, and the editor will assess submissions and select 10 to 15 photos that best embody the assignment theme. Those selections are featured in a story curated by the editor.

Well, today I have the pleasure of speaking to photographer Katie Orlinsky about her work as a National Geographic photographer, and editor of a new Your Shot photo assignment, which was inspired our film Paris to Pittsburgh.

This assignment, builds on efforts to reach new audiences and raise awareness about climate change through visual media, as seen in Paris to Pittsburgh. Individual photos form a collection of data, illustrating what climate action looks like.

Listen to our conversation to learn more about Your Shot and how to submit your own photo.

OLIVER:  So hello, Katie. You’re a native New Yorker like me…


OLIVER:  But your work takes you as a National Geographic photographer all over the world. I understand over the last five years you’ve concentrated on climate change and its impact on communities, most specifically Alaska.  So you must have had some amazing experiences.

And we just produced a film on climate change, so of course that’s very near and dear to our hearts, Paris to Pittsburgh, distributed on National Geographic.  It’s really exciting to have an expert on photography with a special focus on climate join us.  So first off, please tell us a little bit about how does one become a National Geographic photographer?

ORLINSKY:  I get that question a lot, mostly on Instagram actually.  Yeah, I mean it is a dream job in a lot of ways, so it’s a good question.  And there’s not really one path.  All of my colleagues, we all sort of ended up there on our own way.  For me, my journey to here started pretty young.  I would take pictures at protests.  I was an activist in high school and…

OLIVER:  So that was in New York.

ORLINSKY:  That was in New York. I would take pictures to accompany my projects as a Latin American studies major.  I eventually sort of in getting involved in more and more activism, realized that I was pretty good at taking these pictures at the protests, but I wasn’t so great–at sitting indoors and planning and organizing.  So I started moving in that direction after I graduated college.

I had moved to Mexico, started working locally there, eventually started freelancing, covering news for wire agencies, eventually The New York Times, doing sort of day-to-day New York City news.  And all throughout that time, I was working on personal projects.   So I was working on long-term stories.  And I think that’s what’s really important for becoming a photo journalist in general, but also one that might end up working at a place like National Geographic.  It’s not just about one single image; it’s about telling a story.

OLIVER:  They have very high standards, so I can imagine the competition to be a National Geographic photographer is fierce.  So how did you stand out in the crowd?

ORLINSKY:  I think, yeah it’s a question of photographic eye for sure, which is maybe innate, but can absolutely be learned, and just a lot of dedication and commitment to your story.  I mean it’ll take years and years to make a very good photo essay, and those are the kind of things that they want to see.

OLIVER:  So the old saying is a picture tells a thousand words.  We’re recording a podcast today, so I want to try to convey to our listeners why is photography such an impactful medium, and why is it so important to you in terms of expressing your views on activism or even just experiences that you’ve had in your life so far?

ORLINSKY:  Yeah, I mean as you said, pictures can really make a difference. Not everybody is fortunate enough to get to see what’s happening all over the world.  And so many people aren’t exposed to even what’s happening around the corner.  How are we supposed to know about the lives of others, and how are we supposed to care?  And reading about people, I mean any form of art is very important to educate the public and make them think about lives that aren’t their own.  But I think photography takes a really special place in that because there’s so much truth in it. I believe in it.

OLIVER:  It’s not just important to have a good eye to frame the subject. What else is important?

ORLINSKY:  I think dedication and passion.  I think if you really care about a story or you care about an issue, and it could be a social issue or a conflict, but it could also be a culture or daily life, but in-depth about what the life is like for one family that’s a farmer for example, it shows. It shows in the photos if you care.

OLIVER:  Well the listeners should check out your Instagram and follow you on Instagram, because it’s quite impressive.  You’ve got an amazing eye, and clearly you’re not just doing this with an iPhone.  And a lot of folks who are going to be participating in Your Shot probably will. Let’s talk a little bit about Your Shot itself.  We’re so thrilled that we’re collaborating with National Geographic on this photo assignment on climate change.  Can you describe the assignment challenge and how folks can enter?

ORLINSKY:  Sure.  So yeah, so Your Shot is a community of, I think it’s at this point a million…


ORLINSKY:  People are a part of it.  And so it’s this large global community of photographers where they can post and share their images.  And also we give them assignments, just like a kind of assignment I will get.  We’ll give the Your Shot community an assignment and then curate it and create a story.  And it’s a chance to get your work seen by National Geographic editors. So for this assignment, the plan is about climate change in your community.  And this is something that’s kind of really near and dear to me because I really think that, especially with technology now and with phones, it’s so important that people tell their own stories.

And when I was working in Alaska I was documenting a community, Shishmaref, and it’s one of the communities that’s disappearing as a result of climate change.  Any storm could wipe this place out any minute now, and they’re scheduled to relocate.  And I get there, and I’m taking images and there’s a decent amount of kids that are really excited about me being there and really into photography, a lot of kids with iPhones, a lot of people on Facebook, not quite Instagram yet, but they’re starting to join Instagram.

And I just thought why don’t we look at their photos of what is happening there?  And I feel like if people that are experiencing the impacts of climate change, people that are out at the frontlines of climate change can share their stories, it’s so much more impactful than someone else coming in.  So I think that this is a really wonderful assignment, where we’re going to give people an opportunity to tell their story and also to tell stories of climate change in other places.  We just need more people contributing to this conversation.

OLIVER:  I know since concentrating on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ environmental work, I think more about where I get my energy and also my habits regarding the environment.  Have you found that in your work as a photographer that you’re keeping your eye out for climate impacts that maybe reflect on your own personal habits?

ORLINSKY:  I work on my personal habits in a small scale as far as being really conscious about my trash. Every small thing counts, and people need to make, and it would be wonderful if people can make more sort of personal day-to-day decisions about saving the environment–

OLIVER:  Being more green.

ORLINSKY:  Being more green.   But we’ve got these huge issues.  So I’m a part of the world, so I’m contributing to fossil fuels.  So I think about this a lot.

OLIVER:  I think people are looking for examples.  And I think that you want to say okay, I’m thoughtful and conscious, and what can I do every day?  Like how do I make a difference?  And so I’m noticing now, I go to bodegas in New York City, and now they don’t have plastic straws, or maybe they have paper straws.  Or maybe they are advising you to buy a bowl instead of using a plastic for the salad that you’re about to buy, and just being thoughtful.  And I think if people could spread the word about doing things like that, it’s like what can I do in my everyday routine to make a difference?  And I think people just need suggestions.


OLIVER:  Perhaps through a photo exposition that that could be a way to really show how you could lead by example.

ORLINSKY:  Absolutely.  And it’s also still important just for people to understand that this is the biggest threat facing our planet and facing all the people on the planet and, we need to be reminded constantly.  This needs to be on the front page of papers every day.  And so I think creating more imagery that relates to it is very important.

OLIVER:  In our film, Paris to Pittsburgh, we’ve offered a few new ways to address the climate change narrative, specifically looking at the issue from a public health and an economic standpoint.  Have you used your photography to reframe the conversation around climate change, think of it differently?

ORLINSKY:  Yeah, I’d like to think I do.  I mean especially with the focus that I do on people, and especially in the Arctic, I think a lot of, everybody kind of sees these images of melting glaciers and starving polar bears.  And it’s impactful, but it’s very unrelatable to most of the world.

OLIVER:  And there are a lot of environmentalists that will say I don’t want to see…


OLIVER:  The polar bears anymore.  Let’s see something else.


OLIVER:  And I think that’s what I’ve seen in your work.

ORLINSKY:  Yeah, I mean there’s real people that are living in the communities where these icebergs are melting and where polar bears are under pressure, and things are happening to them right now that are going to start happening all over the world.  So I think documenting real people stories is very, very important just to foster empathy towards what’s happening with climate change to others and the realization that it’s going to happen to us.

OLIVER:  I understand that you teach photo workshops to help people connect isolated communities, advance conversations around climate change.  So Your Shot seems to be another perfect opportunity to further the conversation. What do you advise people in these workshops. Help us create that perfect shot…


OLIVER:  And that perfect picture.  Is it lighting that is important?  Is it people?  Is it animals?  Is it context?

ORLINSKY:  All of the above.  Lighting is important, composition is important, getting up there, getting close to your subject if you can, feeling some sort of intimacy between the photographer and the image is important.  Color is important, and truth is important.  So the same sort of ethical guidelines that we follow as photographers on assignment apply to this, so no baiting animals, and no photographing somebody that doesn’t want their picture taken.

Another thing that kind of makes photos interesting, it can be a beautiful landscape.  It can also be activity or action.  It can be about animals and nature.  It can be about people because right now, pretty much everything can be a climate change story.  So if you’re fortunate enough to go somewhere very dramatic and make images there, that’s great.  We want to see them.  But if you want to participate in this and you are kind of living in a normal place, there’s still ways to tell this story. Everything from green technologies to industry, kind of looking at what sort of industries we struggling to transform and capturing images of that, everyday ways that people are trying to make a difference, and people who live have a very low carbon footprint.  Folks that, whether or not they’re doing it on purpose, are helping the planet by their lifestyle, which is very close to nature.  So all of those things could apply.  We want people to think about climate change, but also think about solutions.  There’s so much that we haven’t even thought about yet as to what we can do and how we can help the situation.  So just kind of opening your minds to that and that framework would be incredible.

OLIVER:  So wearing your editor’s hat right now, talk to us a little bit about what your criteria for selecting highlights from the assignment, what are you looking for?

ORLINSKY:  If an image jumps out at you and makes you feel something, that’s number one.  But yeah, we’re looking at your standard, good photography.  It can be taken on a phone; it can be taken with a DSLR camera.  It doesn’t matter.  I think National Geographic has really published quite a handful of iPhone photos at this point.  They’re pretty good.  Composition and light is important.  Subject matter is important.  Captions are important. We want to know what we’re seeing and why it matters and how it relates to climate change.  I think moments, human moments or even if its nature, just feeling like you’re capturing a moment in time is what we’re looking for.

OLIVER:  I mean have you often found where you’ve taken a photo, but then it’s like enhancing it with filters or cropping it has really changed it dramatically?

ORLINSKY:  Yeah, a little, tone that down a bit.  I know it’s really tempting, especially right there on your phone.  But no, we want this to be real.  it doesn’t have to be just the plain old photo.  If you know how to use Photoshop and know how to tone, you can go for it.  But we’re trying to follow the guidelines of making it look like something you could do in a dark room.

OLIVER:  Finally, some words of wisdom of giving advice to people who would like to participate.

ORLINSKY:  Okay.  Well, so it’s, for one, and you can build your profile to start and start submitting. I think it just can’t hurt to go for it, for one, but don’t be embarrassed or shy to get your photos out.  That’s kind of a lot of times what taking pictures is all about, is getting them seen.  So get your photos seen.  We just, we want to see what your world looks like. We want to see your vision.

OLIVER:  Are there parts of the world that you’re interested in?  I mean we’ve got a vast reach here.

ORLINSKY:  Everywhere.  I mean absolutely everywhere.  I mean everything, and places where we’ve dealt with a lot of issues around climate change, I would love to see.  I would love to see things from the wildfires in California, for example, or the hurricanes–

OLIVER:  Showcased in our film Paris to Pittsburgh.

ORLINSKY:  Mm-hmm, the hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

OLIVER:  In Orlando in the film, we showcased on something that I had never heard of before, fleet farming, and how people are really working hard to dig up their lawns, because having a lawn is apparently not good for the environment.  But having an herb garden or having different types of plantings is much better.  And so there’s a whole community in Orlando now that’s leading the charge with fleet farming.  I’m hoping we’re going to see some fleet farming in Brooklyn soon.

OLIVER:  We hope you enjoyed this episode of Follow the Data.

Many thanks to Katie Orlinsky for joining us. Be sure to submit to Your Shot! Select submissions will be featured on and highlighted on National Geographic social and digital channels.

If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Follow the Data podcast. This episode was produced by Electra Colevas and Lindsay Firestone, music by Mark Piro.

As our founder Mike Bloomberg says, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So until next time, keep following the data.

I’m Katherine Oliver, thanks for listening.