Born in Medford, Oregon, Johns began his career in photojournalism when he joined the Topeka Capital-Journal as a staff photographer in 1975; in 1979 he was named NPPA Newspaper Photographer of the Year. In 1983, after three years at the Seattle Times as a staff member, he embarked on a freelance career and worked for Life, Time and National Geographic magazines.
Johns became a National Geographic contract photographer in 1985 and joined the magazine staff in 1995. Before taking over as Editor-in-Chief, Johns served as Senior Editor for illustrations and as Associate Editor. As a photographer, he produced more than 20 articles for National Geographic, eight of which were cover stories. His defining images are of Africa. He has taken readers down the Zambezi River, examined the Bushmen’s ongoing struggle for cultural survival and provided important documentation of Africa’s endangered wildlife. He was named one of the world’s 25 most important photographers by American Photo magazine in 2003.
Johns’ books include “Wild at Heart: Man and Beast in Southern Africa” (Forward by Nelson Mandela, 2002), “Valley of Life: Africa’s Great Rift” (Forward by Patrick Hemingway, 1991), and “Hawaii’s Hidden Treasures” (1993).
Johns was awarded an honorary doctorate from Indiana University in 2010. He studied photojournalism at the University of Minnesota and holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism with a minor in agriculture from Oregon State University.