Blog Post

National Geographic Photo Camp Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Since the program’s inception in 2003, Photo Camp has provided a meaningful introduction to photography for over 3,000 young people from 44 countries.

WASHINGTON D.C. — The National Geographic Society is proud to celebrate the 20th anniversary of National Geographic Photo Camp, a program that provides a meaningful introduction to photography for young people from communities around the world. Since the program was founded by National Geographic Explorer Kirsten Elstner in 2003, more than 3,000 students from 44 countries have participated in 147 Photo Camps.

“The mission of Photo Camp has always been to inspire youth as they explore the power of their own stories through photography,” said Elstner. "I’m so thankful to the Society and our generous partners for supporting Photo Camp, to all of my fellow Explorers and photographers who have given their time as mentors, and of course to the students who continue to inspire me with their passion and creativity as they’ve shared their stories. Over the past 20 years, I can truly say that I've learned as much as I've taught."

Over the past 20 years, Elstner has provided mentorship to students around the world –– from the very first Photo Camp in Washington, D.C. in 2003 (left) to New Zealand in 2023 (right). Photos by Becky Hale/ National Geographic and Erika Larsen/National Geographic.

Photo Camp fulfills its mission by working closely with renowned National Geographic Explorers and photographers, who provide positive mentorship and foster a sense of community among students. Each Photo Camp is a tailored, immersive experience that invites students to explore the world around them, share their personal stories, listen to and learn from others’ perspectives, and reflect on big ideas like the meaning of home or the ways we are all connected.

The program’s impact extends beyond the week as Photo Camp students continue to use their training and grow as storytellers and leaders. Many alumni have continued a relationship with National Geographic –– some as Young Explorers like Te Aho Jordan and Markus Martinez Burman –– or as teaching assistants at other Photo Camps.

“My experience from Photo Camp has not only influenced my photographic practice but in a wider sense, my artistic and design practices as well. I learned how necessary it is to empathize with your subjects in order to tell their stories well,” said Ankita Das, who started as a Photo Camp student in India in 2018. “As a team leader for two later Photo Camps, I tried to pass on my Photo Camp lessons to the new students because Photo Camp is just not only about learning technical skills and having a good time, it's so much more than that.”

Photo Camp students have taken more than 2.5 million photos to date. Left, Photo Camp alumni Ankita Das made this photo during a Virtual Photo Camp in 2021. Center, Photo Camp alumni Latamai Katoa photographed her fellow Photo Camp student with the pride flag on the beach in Russell, New Zealand during Photo Camp Northland in 2023. Right, Photo Camp alumni Mokgwathi Motswagole took this photo during Photo Camp Botswana in 2022 while exploring the Okavango Delta.

“National Geographic is proud to support Photo Camp as a program that truly speaks to the heart of our mission and exemplifies the profound power of storytelling to illuminate, connect and inspire,” said Kaitlin Yarnall, the Society’s Chief Storytelling Officer. “We know that each Photo Camp leaves a lasting impression on the participants –– and the mentors –– but we hope that each photo also inspires the world to listen to this next generation. Their voices and stories matter, and they can make a difference.”

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Photo Camp, 20 Photo Camp alumni have traveled to Washington, D.C. for a master class at National Geographic Base Camp that will kick off today. Follow @NGPhotoCamp on Instagram to see the students’ work throughout the week.

Additionally, National Geographic will publish a book entitled Photo Camp Stories: Our World Through the Lens of Young Photographers on November 7. This inspiring book of photography unfolds around issues including identity, hope, and growth, delivering an authentic portrait of how large numbers of young people around the world see themselves and what matters most to them. Filled with more than 200 images spanning two decades and 35 countries, Photo Camp Stories conveys the raw yearnings of youth –– and imparts enduring lessons for the future.

About National Geographic Photo Camp

National Geographic Photo Camp provides a meaningful introduction to photography for young people from communities around the world. Each Photo Camp is an immersive experience where students receive instruction and guidance from world-class National Geographic Explorers and photographers, build skills and confidence, explore the world around them, and develop deep connections with each other. The goal of the program is to inspire the next generation of storytellers, and support them in sharing their experiences and perspectives.

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About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.