Catherine Karnow on assignment in Transylvania.

Bio & Testimonials


Born and raised in Hong Kong, the daughter of an American journalist, San Francisco-based photographer National Geographic photographer Catherine Karnow seems destined to have travel and photo-journalism at the center of her life. She studied photography in high school, and graduated Brown University with honors degrees in Comparative Literature and Semiotics. After a brief career as a filmmaker – her film Brooklyn Bridge premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 1984 – she turned her attention to photography full time in 1986.

Catherine has covered Australian Aborigines; Bombay film stars; victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam; Russian “Old Believers” in Alaska; Greenwich, Connecticut high society; and an Albanian farm family. In 1994, she was the only non-Vietnamese photo-journalist to accompany General Giap on his historic first return to the forest encampment in the northern Vietnam highlands from which he plotted the battle of Dien Bien Phu. She also gained unprecedented access to Prince Charles for her 2006 National Geographic feature, “Not Your Typical Radical.”

Her work appears in National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, French & German GEO and other international publications. She has also participated in several Day in the Life series, Passage to Vietnam, and Women in the Material World. Catherine Karnow is known for her vibrant, emotional and sensitive style of photographing people.

Catherine has been teaching photography since 1995; and has taught at Maine Photo Workshops; Santa Fe Photo Workshops; and many others. For National Geographic, she currently teaches Weekend Workshops in San Francisco, at Miraval in Tucson; and the National Geographic Traveler Seminar in cities all over the US. She also gives private workshops and teaching seminars all over the world, for a myriad of private, corporate and editorial clients.

In Catherine's words, "I have been in a love affair with photography from day one, back in high school. Everything I know about photography has been from my own personal experience. I live and breathe photography. It is a beautiful way to see the world and connect with people. Discovering how much I love to teach is an extension of that joy. It is my job as a teacher to help my students express what is inside them, to help them express the beauty they see and feel.


  • "With Catherine Karnow, there is that special "something more" which she is able to capture in those short moments which she has with her subjects. She struck a chord with me in how she captures not just the images, but people in her photos. Clearly, she tries to relate to her subjects even if it is for just a few short moments. She steps outside herself and puts herself in their shoes. Not everyone can do that. As she spoke of how she tries to get photos of people, the uncertainty of their reactions ... I too have been there in my travels and my photography. Catherine truly has a gift. I was feeling down about photography and considering giving it up. Now I am wanting to pick up my camera again. And I have done so! I think her perspective is also extremely important for people to hear and learn about."
  • It was an absolute privilege meeting Catherine. [She is] an artist of the highest order. [She has] inspired me beyond words.
  • If I were to describe [Catherine] in two words, I would say that [she is] a "Spiritual Photographer." And I don't mean that in a religious way. I mean that in a universal way. [Her] intuitive nature, warmth, kindness and respect for [her] subjects and the impact [her] images have on the viewer go beyond art and beyond being an assignment. [Her] work is infused with love and depth. [Her] work is a reflection of [her] soul and it transforms those who come in contact with [her]."
  • I learned more about photography and the essence of capturing a photographic narrative in three days of listening and watching [Catherine] than I had over my 4 years of college.  I also gained a new perspective on not only viewing the world through the lens of travel photography and photo journalism, but the ability to see the emotional connections of human interaction that makes each and every photograph speak to the audience.  It has been an experience of a lifetime for me.
  • "...last weekend at Miraval... my learning curve was straight up, so I feel like the world of photography will now open up to me."
  • " the comraderie...was wonderful; it didnt feel competitive at all, it felt like we all supported each other..."
  • "I connected with my camera again. Now I can go off and continue to take pictures...[Catherine was] so kind and caring and gentle and there was no pressure at all.."
  • I was very impressed by the energy and time that [Catherine] put into the workshop in San Francisco, and [her] delight in sharing [her] experience of photography ... that enthusiasm was evident throughout the time we spent with [her.]"
  • "During my one month private workshop traveling throughout Southeast Asia with Catherine, she really opened up the world of photography to me. I think she is extremely creative and terrific as a coach and as a person. I made huge strides and she gave me a wonderful sense of confidence. It was a truly a transformative month."

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