In many photographic circles, working as a National Geographic photographer is considered a pinnacle of the profession. Working as a full-time Geographic photographer is perhaps even more of an elite position than most photographers imagine. The magazine employs only a small number of full-time staff photographers. Many, probably most, of the photo assignments are handled by freelancers. One of the magazine's staff photographers, Michael "Nick" Nichols, has a terrific web site, full of visual material, of course, and also containing interesting short essays about the work (hard) and the preparation (extensive). Nichols also provides plenty of photographic advice and opinion, a reading list, and links to other relevant web sites.
Nick Nichols has a photographic resume that includes work as an assistant to Life magazine photographer Charles Moore, a job and a contact that helped him to get magazine work. By odd chance--and something I discovered only after I knew of the work of Nick Nichols--his first course in photography was at the University of Montevallo, which is 1) a small, public university south of Birmingham, and 2) also my undergraduate alma mater. Small world.
Probably the photograph most identified with Nichols is one he made of Jane Goodall. He is pictured with a print of it below (first photo by Christy Pepper, Alabama Public Radio).
Take some time to enjoy his web site, and you will be well rewarded. Find it by clicking here.
Also, Nichols comments on the making of the photograph and other aspects of his career in an audio interview that you can find here.
Nichols is motivated by the mission of making photographs that "can speak for things that can't speak for themselves." Viewing his work, and reading and hearing his words, you'll encounter a photographer who has achieved a balance between the world inside the camera's rectangular viewfinder and the larger world outside that frame.