Photography Tips from a National Geographic Pro

Gerd Ludwig‘s coverage of the Los Angeles food truck scene that he shot in October and November will be featured in National Geographic this summer. I jumped at the chance of attending a 3+ hour workshop with the award winning photographer at LA’s Annenberg Space for Photography. After traveling around the world on Semester at Sea at the age of 20, I have secretly dreamed since then to be a photojournalist with National Geographic exploring, learning about the world, and sharing those undiscovered stories with others.

Annenberg Space for Photography Gerd Ludwig food trucks
Gerd Ludwig

Time with Gerd Ludwig inspired my love of learning, curiosity of the world, and understanding of other cultures by hearing his stories as he scrolled through moments he captured with photos. Gerd shared photo memories from many different cultures and countries. He is known most for documenting the transformation of Russia. His images have garnered him distinction as the world’s foremost color photographer documenting the region.

Gerd started off the presentation reminding us that things have changed. Once photography was all out about technical skills, now, anyone can take a fantastic photo. Due to the iPhone, anyone can make interesting images…..Gerd often referenced two photographers in his presentation that showcase their photos on Instagram. Both shoot with iPhones – David Guttenfelder @dguttenfelder and Benjamin Lowy @benlowy.

Annenberg Space for Photography Gerd Ludwig food trucks

“Look at the world in your own way. Be inspired. All images are personal. Different perspectives are all due to our background knowledge. The value of images lie in  your own personal perspective. You have a unique perspective of the world. You are only as interesting as your point of view. Foremost, photography requires your eye. YOUR ability to see.”

Annenberg Space for Photography Gerd Ludwig food trucks
Different backgrounds

As part of the workshop, several food trucks were on hand like Woody’s Grill, so we could photograph our food, the trucks, and practice some of the tips Gerd shared about angles, interesting backgrounds for food, and reflections. One of the shots he captured for National Geographic took an hour and a half as he snapped through the glass of the food truck to show the worker in action on the grill. It was neat to see how Gerd photographed food behind graffiti remnants of the Berlin Wall up close, since this structure stands across the street from LACMA. I also liked how another food truck meal was perfectly placed on top of a bush with no plate.

Annenberg Space for Photography Gerd Ludwig food trucks

Some of Gerd Ludwig’s  photography tips that stood out to me were the following:

1) Get close. “People don’t go close enough when they take portraits. For instance, it is much more interesting to see the emotion of a child with their eyes.”

2) Be participatory. To take a participatory photo, you are part of the action. You are experiencing the picnic with your cultural guests, you are drinking with the subject in his bar, you are not an outsider. “The action doesn’t stop at the edge of the frame. Don’t be too shy to crop bodies off. Let the action wrap around you. Sometimes that means you have to be the last one at the bar. You will have better images if you become part of the scene. Let the situations wrap around you.”

3) Play around with exposures. Think outside the box to make interesting images.

4) Use color. “Specifically, 1 to 3 colors. Pick 1 to 3 colors that are dominant. Your eyes most often go to yellow and red first.

5) Don’t shoot into the sunset. The last of the sunshine makes great photos.

6) Images should show how you felt. The image doesn’t always have to explain everything. Sometimes interesting images ask questions.

6) Play with depth of field. The aperture determines how sharp an image is from front to back. Where you focus on an image is very important. Use a wide angle to get closer. You can consciously focus on a particular area or create and capture motion too.

7) Observe. Look for the unusual.

Annenberg Space for Photography Gerd Ludwig food trucks
Perspective (while I ate my lunch).


“A great photograph touches the soul and broadens the mind.” – Gerd Ludwig

FOOD TRUCK FACTS: Did you know that the Kogi food truck on Abott Kinney Friday nights can make around $7,000 a night? The Grilled Cheese Truck Company recently sold for $107 million dollars. Also, at LACMA around 8:45 AM is when the real food truck realities begin where everyone fights for a spot outside the museum.

All photos courtesy of Melissa Curtin.


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