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In the Lab With National Geographic's Camera Hacker

Without him, many of the magazine's finest shots wouldn't exist.


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Nestled deep within National Geographic's basement in Washington D.C. is a very special workshop. It's where bespoke camera accessories come to life, and they all spring from the skillful hands of one master tinkerer.

Kenji Yamaguchi, National Geographic's in-house photographic engineer, is the lone soul responsible for taking care of the needs of the magazine's renowned wildlife photographers. Originally an employee of Nikon USA, which has a close relationship with National Geographic, he has been working at the magazine for the past 32 years.

Kenji's bench looks like a camera geek's worst nightmare—cameras and lenses cracked open, with their innards on full display.

In his workshop, Kenji has all the tools he needs to create custom equipment on demand. Drill presses, saws, and tool chests line the walls, along with the corpses and leftover bits of donor gear. Indeed, his workbench looks like a camera geek's worst nightmare—a myriad of cameras and lenses, gorily cracked open with their innards on full display.

Amazing National Geographic photos like this one simply aren't possible without the work of Kenji Yamaguchi. [Image credit: National Geographic, Steve Winter]

Even though he's not a pro photographer himself, Kenji has been an enthusiast since high school. His obsession has made him a whiz at building rigs to support shooters out in the field. Remote flash traps for wild animals are one of his specialties, enabling otherwise impossible photos like this stunning set of big cat shots from Steve Winters.

"To accomplish a photograph that’s never been done before—I think that’s the bottom line."

For others, he's crafted custom lenses that can focus down to just a few millimeters, and specially designed infrared cameras. In his words, "To accomplish a photograph that’s never been done before—I think that’s the bottom line."

For more on Kenji and his impressive accomplishments, check out National Geographic's in-depth profile, and check out the video below for an interview with the man himself.

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Source: National Geographic

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