Michael Yamashita was born in San Francisco, California, and grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, in suburban New York City. He graduated from Connecticut’s Wesleyan University in 1971 with a degree in Asian studies and went on to spend seven years in Asia. While he had no formal instruction in photography, Yamashita managed to turn what began as a hobby into a career that combined his two passions—photography and travel.

A regular contributor to National Geographic Magazine since 1979, his assignments have focused on Asia, but he has covered such wide-ranging locations as Somalia and Sudan, England and Ireland, New Guinea and New Jersey. Fluent in Japanese, he has covered the length of Japan, the country of his parents.

Yamashita’s particular specialty has been following the “paths” of both man and landscape, resulting in stories on Marco Polo, the Japanese poet Basho, the Chinese explorer Zheng He, the Mekong River, the Great Wall and most recently the Tea Horse Road of China.

The Ghost Fleet, a feature film narrated by Yamashita and based on his article on the world’s largest wooden armada and its admiral Zheng He, won the Best Historical Documentary prize at the New York International Film Festival.

Yamashita’s sister was an accomplished amateur photographer who sparked his own interest in the craft. He counts Ernst Haas and Henri Cartier-Bresson among his other inspirations, along with photographers of the storytelling tradition at National Geographic Magazine.

A frequent lecturer and teacher at workshops around the world, Yamashita has received several industry awards, including those from the National Press Photographers Association Pictures of the Year, the New York Art Directors Club, and the Asian-American Journalists Association.  Major exhibits of his work have opened throughout Asia, in Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as in Rome, Frankfurt, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. His images of Korea's DMZ were featured in an exhibit at the Visa Pour L'Images photojournalism festival at Perpignan, France.

Yamashita has published nine photographic books, most of which originated as National Geographic articles: The Great Wall From Beginning to End; New York: Flying High, an aerial portrait of Manhattan; Zheng He: Tracing the Epic Voyages of China’s Greatest Explorer; Japan: The Soul of a Nation; Marco Polo, A Photographer’s Journey;

A Journey on the Mother of Waters: Mekong; In the Japanese Garden; the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; Lakes Peaks and Prairies: Discovering the U.S. Canadian Boarder.

While not traveling, Michael Yamashita lives with his family in rural New Jersey, where he maintains a studio and is an active volunteer fireman.