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The Magician Behind National Geographic’s Images: Kenji Yamaguchi

By Justin Heyes on December 11th 2014

Deep within the bowels of National Geographic, there is a man who is behind some of the most iconic  images. He is not one of the photographers whose pictures graces the cover though. For 32 years, Kenji Yamaguchi has been modifying and tweaking camera gear to help photographers get that decisive moment.


[REWIND:National Geographic Was Once Disgusted With Wildlife Photography]

His workshop is littered with lens element, broken shutters, robotic motors and Frankenstein-like contraptions; with the flick of a switch and a turn of his lathe,  Yamaguchi can create magic. Anything that he can imagine (or is requested of him), he can conjure up, like his beloved motion-detecting flash traps or a wide angle macro lens. “Sometimes photographers come to me and sometimes ideas just pop up in my head, so I just try to do whatever I can do to create,” Kenji says.

The Magic Starts Here: Kenji’s Workshop of Camera Wizardry

Thought he doesn’t receive any awards for the images he helps create, he cherishes the ‘Thank You’s’ from the staff photographers that he works with. “It’s not really a certificate or things like that, but ‘Kenji thank you very much for your help’ is the best thing I’ve ever got.”  Yamaguchi has help create breathtaking images for over three decades with no signs of stopping.

[Via National Geographic / Images via screen captures]

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Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. John Cavan

    Wow… showed up to teach, stayed to do it. That’s a great story to watch, we’ve seen so much amazing imagery come from National Geographic and it’s really quite cool to meet some of those who help make it happen.

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  2. Daniel Thullen

    Fascinating! Kenji rocks!

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  3. Rui Pinto

    What a beautiful person.

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  4. Dre Rolle

    Such a humble guy. Great video.

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