The short story

Martin Edström. Photo by Katja Adolphson
Photo by Katja Adolphson

Award-winning National Geographic Explorer Martin Edström uses interactive and immersive techniques—including 360-degree photography and virtual reality—to tell the important stories of our time in moving and inspiring ways.

Through numerous expeditions and exploration projects, Martin has brought audiences inside the wild and forgotten corners of the world—from threatened heritage sites like Socotra in Yemen to the mammoth caverns of the largest cave in the world, Son Doong in Vietnam. In 2019, Martin was in charge of VR production on two large National Geographic expeditions to Mount Everest and along the river Ganges in India.

Martin and his team at IVAR Studios created the first-ever 360-video documentary from within a pride of wild lions in 2016: Gibson the Lion. Working at the intersection of journalism, photography, and technology, Martin is intent on letting people step into the story, to feel like they’re actually there.

Martin Edström holding a camera in Nepal.
Martin at work in rural Nepal. Photo by Emil Wesolowski.

Martin also regularly works on still photo assignments for outlets like National Geographic, New York Times and the Guardian, and organizations like the UNDP and Plan International. He has won multiple awards for his innovative work.

Martin Edström’s background

The Dragon's Blood Tree has drawn people to Socotra for millenia. This island in the middle of the Arabian Sea has been a trading post since the Greeks described the world - and has been touched by most civilizations since. Throughout ancient times the red resin - the Dragon's Blood - of these trees has been harvested and traded, and it still is today.
Martin Edström’s photograph of a Dragon’s Blood Tree on the island of Socotra, Yemen, for a story for National Geographic.

An explorer and visual storyteller, Martin Edström is spearheading the field of immersive journalism and interactive storytelling. His cameras and notepads have brought home rich and interactive narratives from the wild and forgotten corners of the world, from inside the tents of refugee families in the Middle East to expeditions to the threatened caves of Vietnam. Always attempting to inspire people to not only to experience the wonders of the world, Martin wants to enable the kind of deeper understanding that can only be achieved by exploring a subject on your own, in an interactive way.

Still photography and social issues

Portrait of a woman locked up in Ta’Kandja detention center in Malta, from one of Martin’s stories about the European refugee crisis.
Portrait of a woman locked up in Ta’Kandja detention center in Malta, from one of Martin’s stories about the European refugee crisis.

Growing up in Stockholm, Sweden, Martin picked up his grandfather’s camera at the age of 12. During one of his first assignments at the age of 21, covering the refugee crisis in Malta, he started developing the passion for telling the stories of unheard voices that has continued to grow. Meeting men and women his own age in the refugee camps, Martin got a rude awakening to the fact that his sheltered life in Sweden was far from average in the world. Ever since, he has always kept returning to tell stories from the refugee crisis, visiting and living in over 10 refugee camps in the Middle East/North Africa and sub-saharan Africa.

Smoke rising above the Western Sahara refugee camp of Layoon in Tindouf, Algeria.
Smoke rising above the Western Sahara refugee camp of Layoon in Tindouf, Algeria.

Growing impatient with the indifference shown by people at home to these important issues, Martin soon started exploring new ways to tell stories. Bringing home still images wasn’t enough. In 2013, Martin published a first prototype of a virtual refugee camp, photographed in 360 degrees, where people could explore the Syrian refugee camp called Zaatari for themselves. Realizing the potential, he started developing several stories in this interactive way. The response was fantastic, leading Martin into a new branch of storytelling – using interactive, immersive techniques to put the user in the middle of the story.

Interactive stories in 360 degrees

Martin Edström while on assignment in Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal. Photo by Katja Adolphson
Martin Edström while on assignment in Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal. Photo by Katja Adolphson

Since then, Martin has been working non-stop to explore this new field of interactive 360° photography and video, as well as interactive Virtual Reality stories. No matter the technique or format, Martin always has one goal: letting the user try on someone else’s shoes for a while. By giving people the chance to explore a story, or an issue, for themselves inside a VR headset he creates new ways to truly immerse yourself within a narrative and experience the story as if you were actually there.

Some of Martin Edström's largest projects to date include creating an interactive 360° story from the largest cave in the world - Son Doong in Vietnam - published by National Geographic and later showcased at Facebook F8 in 2018.
A view from inside the interactive story about Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, for National Geographic.

Since 2013, Martin has led teams and projects to create interactive 360/VR stories for media like National Geographic and The Guardian as well as organisations like the United Nations Development Programme and Plan International. One of the largest projects to date was creating an interactive 360° story from the largest cave in the world – Son Doong in Vietnam – published by National Geographic. This project entailed a 50-man expedition to the remote cave, and several months in editing, to be published in 2015.

Plastics and waste management

Horses grazing through trash with Mt Everest visible in the background. This image won 2nd prize in Pictures of the Year International in 2019.
Horses grazing through trash with Mt Everest visible in the background. This image won 2nd prize in Pictures of the Year International in 2019.

Another big subject for Martin has been documenting stories of waste management and plastic. Apart from several stories on plastic for National Geographic, Martin has kept coming back to Nepal and the Khumbu valley close to Mount Everest for over ten years to document the increased pressure from tourism and its effects on the region and Sagarmatha National Park. This work has led to several large media stories, and together with IVAR Studios Martin has helped the local non-profit Sagarmatha Next tell the story of the waste problem – and possible solutions to it – at a local level.

One of the significant visuals from the Uncharted Caves of Kyrgyzstan project, featured as one of the 3D-scanned locations.
One of the significant visuals from the Uncharted Caves of Kyrgyzstan project, featured as one of the 3D-scanned locations.

Innovation in 3D-modeling and photogrammetry

Martin Edström’s most recent projects include Uncharted Caves of Kyrgyzstan, an innovative survey and conservation effort funded by the National Geographic Society and several sponsors. Together with a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and storytellers, Martin and his team helped to 3D-scan a large area of the Tian Shan mountains of southeastern Kyrgyzstan in search for caves and better understanding of the geology – with the ultimate goal of trying to protect the region for coming generations.

Martin has been awarded 1st prize in international competitions including the Picture of the Year International, International Photography Awards, Travel Photographer of the Year and the Swedish Picture of the Year.