Alumni Spotlight Arts & Humanities Society & Culture

Maura Friedman: The Big Picture

In her current job as photo editor for National Geographic, Maura Friedman's not behind the camera as often, but she focuses instead on using the photos of others to tell elaborate, visual stories. (Photo by Sean Kelly)

While traveling the globe on assignment, National Geographic photographers take thousands of photographs, but only a small fraction of those photos make it into the world-renowned magazine.

As a senior photo editor, Maura Friedman ABJ ’13, AB ’13 helps select what makes the cut. “I’m keeping the 10,000-foot view of the story in mind,” she says.

Originally from Marietta, Friedman edited her first magazine while studying journalism and political science at UGA. As the managing editor of the student-run Ampersand magazine, she wanted to learn more about visual journalism to help the other staff members. And she found that photojournalism classes didn’t really feel like work.

In a spring workshop, Friedman and her classmates spent a weekend working on projects in Hart County. Friedman photographed the owners of an art gallery, who also invited her into their home with her camera in hand. She felt an immense privilege, being trusted by these near strangers.

“Reporting has always satisfied my drive to learn more about the people and the world around me,” Friedman says. “It also feels incredibly satisfying, personally, when I’m able to make those human connections where people trust me, and there’s that additional layer when there’s a camera involved.”

Maura Friedman became passionate about photojournalism during her time at UGA, and through experience, she has found her specialty in the editing process. (Photo by Rebecca Hale/National Geographic)

Friedman’s photography has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Chattanooga Times Free Press, among other publications where she’s worked or freelanced. However, while working as a staff multimedia producer for the Free Press after graduation, Friedman realized what she really enjoyed was looking back through and editing her pictures after being out in the field.

“And not just my pictures—especially other people’s pictures,” she says. “It took me a while to realize that other people didn’t enjoy that as much.”

After working as a photo editor at the Urban Institute think tank in Washington, D.C., Friedman joined National Geographic. Now, Friedman inspects thousands of travel photographs since National Geographic photojournalists, per magazine policy, can’t delete any of their images.

Friedman helps put together the puzzle of a photo story. Which variety of images conveys the right information about a historical city or a natural wonder? She’ll send dozens of emails a day, researching locations, organizing photo assignments, and reviewing the work of photographers in the field.

“I really like working on a team,” Friedman says. “As a freelance photographer, especially, I was on my own.”

Recently, with photographer Andrea Frazzetta, Friedman planned and edited a National Geographic print story on the revitalization of an ancient Italian highway, the Appian Way.

“We wanted to make this story feel like a hero’s epic,” Friedman says. “We had these big spreads with photos that would kind of take you to the next region and really give a feeling of traveling along the road.”

Friedman’s work earned her the John E. Drewry Young Alumni Award from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in April 2023. When she traveled to Athens to receive the honor, Friedman spent a day reviewing portfolios of current UGA photojournalism students, offering advice with her editor’s eye, and she reconnected with faculty whose support has been instrumental in her career growth.

“I stay in touch with [professor] Mark Johnson. He has been an excellent mentor and cheerleader,” Friedman says. “And I answer student emails and offer advice there.”

About the author

Cassidy Hettesheimer