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Assignment

Ask a Local

This assignment ran from Jun 22 to Jul 6, 2016.

“A traveler who looks at things with an impartial eye may see what the oldest inhabitant has not observed.”—Henry David Thoreau

I’m often asked how to become a professional photographer. I imagine a lot of people outside this community think that to be a photographer or even a Nat Geo photographer is pretty simple and mostly about catching the right break. They may think that if you travel to remote and exotic places with the right gear, the pictures pretty much make themselves. After working at Nat Geo for five years, I’ve found that good photographs are made with luck, but great photographs are made by challenging yourself and asking questions.

For this assignment I want to see FIVE photos that embody a rarely seen part of a location—a slice of local life. (The photos do not have to be from the same location or on the same theme.) If a location has been widely seen, show it to me in a new light.  You don't need to travel to far away or exotic locations. When I look at the photo I want to feel as though I’m being transported there. I want to feel the life in the frame. Please also include a descriptive caption.

  • -Five submissions (photos will be judged together as a portfolio)
  • -The final story published online may not include all five photos submitted
  • -Assignment closes on July 6
  • -Archive photos are allowed (no older than five years)
  • -If you delete a photo, you will not be able to resubmit past the five photo quota

Curated by:

Jeanne M Modderman
National Geographic Photo Producer
Assignment Status
  • Open

    Everyone’s welcome to contribute their best shot to open assignments. Learn more.
  • Closed

    Completed assignments—with our favorite photos included—will be published online. Learn more.
  • Published

    Once the submission period is over, we'll review all contributions and select our favorite images to be included in the story. Learn more.
Published Jul 16, 2016.
Thank you for your contributions!

Light Is Everything

Posted jul 1, 2016

As we approach the close of this assignment (July 6 at 12 p.m. ET), I am delighted by the submissions so far. Based on the dialogue happening on the discussion board, the community is taking this assignment seriously and asking a lot of great questions. I’ve seen many of you jumping in and advising fellow members, and that makes me beam with pride.

As I’ve been going through your submissions, I’ve found that everyone is adept at finding the moment and capturing it most of the time. I’m also happy to see so many of you exploring your own backyards. I’m going to go back to photography 101 here, but light is everything. I know you all know this however I’m surprised to see so many photos with poor light or no sense of where the light should be in the frame. I’m seeing blown-out backgrounds and unintentional spotty lighting. Photography is so much about the action and thinking you need to move to get the shot. I’ve found that some of my best photos come from waiting. Find the light and wait. Commit to the scene. So much can unfold with just a little patience.

Captions are vital to a good portfolio. Please be descriptive and clear.

Good luck and happy photographing!

Find the Genuine

Posted jun 28, 2016

I did not expect to find so much humor in this assignment. I found myself smiling, and even laughing out loud, at my desk while editing. Humor is an underrated yet important element in photography. Also important are scenes of daily life and locals interacting with their environment.

As many of you know, I edit the Daily Dozen. It’s hard not to pick those photos because you can’t deny their beauty. But I am grateful to have seen so many long exposure starry night pics and photos of the mountains from above because I now know what visually I prefer and don’t prefer as an editor. You as photographers will develop your own style and preference.

But beautiful landscapes are not what I’m looking for in this assignment. I am drawn to the genuine and real in capturing the moment more than set-up scenes. Be careful of clichés in your photography. The reason I was so adamant about photographing people and talking to strangers is because landscapes are more prone to the snapshot cliché type of photo we’ve all seen before.

This is not to say that I won’t pick a finalist who has landscapes in their portfolio. As I said on the discussion board, I’m looking for visual variety and diverse content. I noticed some of you are waiting to submit all five photos at once, which I applaud. I hope that means you’re getting second and third opinions about what portfolio to submit. It’s essential to not only look at great photography every day but also to have someone else look at your photography. Even if they’re not photography professionals, their opinion still matters. Ask them what they think of the photos as a group, not only as individual images. I think you’ll find their opinions change when viewing the portfolio.

A few of you have asked what the selection process will be for the story and winning contributors. When the assignment closes on July 6, I’ll use our back-end system called MediaGrid to filter the photos by contributor. This means I’ll see all of your submitted photos together and will then be able to edit based on your portfolio. Please make sure you actually submit five photos. Right now, while favoriting, I am not using this system. Instead, I am going through the submissions on the site and so I don’t know for sure if you have submitted all five or what your other images look like together. The Editor’s Favorites should just be used as a guide.

I’ll publish one more Editor’s Update this week. Keep up the wonderful work, and thanks for making this such an enjoyable assignment!

Talk to Strangers

Posted jun 22, 2016

Traveling is something that does not come naturally to me. From being herded through security to the permanent smell that is blue toilet water and greasy burgers in terminals, I despise it all. I constantly ask my husband in all seriousness why scientists haven’t figured out this whole teleportation deal. He has stopped responding to me.

For a lot of people, including myself, it’s all about the destination. This is why we endure the long lines, the uncomfortable flights, and the awkward small talk with strangers. When you climb that mountain at sunrise and see the sun kiss the granite or slurp that bowl of ramen surrounded by businessmen in suits, that’s what it’s all about. You see into a place beyond the guidebook and you experience the culture.

So embrace your inner extrovert and talk to locals. You may even be able to photograph them and their friends and family. (I will be on the lookout for photos of people in your portfolio) Where do they get their favorite soft serve? Where do they stay up late and gaze at the full moon? What hiking trail leads to the secret lagoon? This also extends to those who can’t go to faraway places. Look to your own backyard. Like me, I bet you take for granted what’s close to you. As Thoreau said, “It takes a man of genius to travel in his own country, in his native village; to make any progress between his door and his gate.”

Jeanne M Modderman

Jeanne M Modderman

National Geographic Photo Producer
Jeanne photo edits and produces top performing features Photo of the Day and the Daily Dozen. With a degree in photojournalism, she has worked as a photographer in D.C. and S. Korea with former positions at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Dept of Interior. @jeannemodd