Assignment

Nature in Black and White

This assignment ran from Apr 7 to Apr 28, 2014.

Recently, I discovered Ansel Adams’s book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, which showcases the stunning wilderness of California’s Sierra Nevada. Adams’s photos immediately struck me as simple yet elegant compositions; his straightforward black-and-white approach perfectly complements the purity of the mountains. These images left an indelible impression on me.

Like Adams, I am a native Californian familiar with the High Sierra, and some of my first successful photos were of this wilderness area. After much research, I proposed a story to National Geographic magazine on shooting the Ansel Adams Wilderness area in black and white. I wanted to pay homage to the master but not duplicate his work. The result was a magazine story published in October 2011 and a book entitled The Ansel Adams Wilderness published in April 2014. More

Curated by:

Peter Essick
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • Closed

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  • Published

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Published May 6, 2014.
Thank you for your contributions!

Garden of Eden

Posted apr 22, 2014

Nature as a subject matter has been present since the beginning of photography. William Henry Jackson and Carleton Watkins carried huge cameras out into the wilderness as part survey expeditions. They depicted nature as a Garden of Eden, and their photographs were used as tools to protect extraordinary landscapes as national parks for future generations.

In the 1920s and '30s, Ansel Adams expanded nature photography by infusing a personal point of view into his images of the Sierra Nevada. He called this approach an “extract” of nature, the result of making a photograph that contained all that he saw and felt about the scene. Adams still depicted nature as primarily a Garden of Eden, even as development started to take hold in the American West.

Today we have a different view of nature than the early photographers, and it by necessity requires a different approach. We now know that all aspects of nature are interconnected and that humans can impact nature in a detrimental way. Also, lesser known natural areas like a park in a city or a reclaimed industrial area can be ecologically important and beautiful in their own way. The field of nature photography can now be expanded to include all of Earth, an exciting prospect to discover and enjoy.

The Digital Darkroom

Posted apr 18, 2014

I wanted to pass along some general thoughts after looking at the submissions of the last couple of days. I have seen many excellent images, but I am looking particularly for nature images that work better in black and white than in color. Or at least are dramatic depictions of nature in black and white. Usually this means subjects where the form, light and design are the dominant elements. One tip I could suggest is to set your LCD display on your camera to monochrome so that you can see how the photo will look in black and white as you are shooting.

Many of the photographs that I have seen could have benefited by better toning in photoshop or another image management program before submitting. The controls available in the digital darkroom are very powerful and will make all the difference in turning a standard photograph into one that is really stunning and special. If possible, I would recommend shooting in RAW format and then converting the image to black and white. At the time of the conversion, it is possible to adjust the red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and yellow pixels into darker or lighter shades of grey. This is the equivalent to using a yellow or red filter, as Ansel Adams did with black and white film, only we now have much more subtle and powerful controls available. Then use the controls of burning and dodging to darken elements that are not as important and lighten those elements where you want the path of the eye to focus. Small adjustments in the digital darkroom can go a long way.

The final aspect to remember is to make sure that the cropping includes exactly what is necessary, and nothing more. This is the same in black and white or color, but is very important nonetheless. Bright or distracting elements are most evident along the edges of your rectangular frame. Make a final check of all four sides and see if you notice anything that detracts from the main subject. If you take a little extra time, it is possible to have beautiful print quality of all your digital submissions.

If you'd like to learn more about photography through a hands-on experience, join me for a Yosemite National Park Photo Expedition or check out these other National Geographic Yosemite trips.

Extracts

Posted apr 7, 2014

This month’s Your Shot assignment is a chance to channel your inner Ansel Adams and shoot nature in black and white. Many of his photographs of nature are beautiful compositions that elevate form by reducing a scene to its elemental components. Adams called this method extracts, a way to turn landscape photography into an avenue for personal expression.

The universe can speak clearly in its pure and natural state, conveying both the spirit of the past and the wonderment of the new. Black-and-white photography strips away the distractions and lets that message ring loud and clear. Show us the sacred spaces you’ve found in nature.

Peter Essick

Peter Essick

National Geographic Photographer
Recently named one of the 40 most influential nature photographers in the world by Outdoor Photographer, Peter Essick has spent the last two decades photographing natural areas around the world, revealing in careful compositions the spiritual and emotional aspects of nature. A frequent contributor to National Geographic, his work has been featured in 40 articles on topics like the American wilderness, global warming, and Greenland, for which he shot a June 2010 cover story. He lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia, with his wife, Jackie, and son, Jalen.
540 comments
James Blosser
James Blosser

Can anyone tell me what month this assignment will be published. Thank you!

Nuna  T
Nuna T

Hi Michael,

Thank you for explaining NG position on messages. However your statement that a member of staff was personally attacked by it is misleading.

The comment can not be identified as a personal attack even in a courtroom. The statement was an opinion. In Bobo's opinion there was a lack of judgement that should have been associated with shame.

Now, this brings me to my next point. Bobo must not feel bullied out of this discussion due to the rule of large numbers. You must and should encourage open debate. In life ,people won't always tap us on the back and tell us how great we are. Sometimes we will be criticised. If every person / leader etc in life would consider criticism a personal attack then life would not function.

Kind regards,

Nuna

Nuna  T
Nuna T

I am interested to know why Bobo's comment about flashing owls was deleted. I understand that if a comment was offensive then it must be deleted. Did you find it offensive? And why? If it is a matter of placing the comment in the wrong discussion group then that is easy. It can be rewritten and sent all over again. But please do explain your position on deleting comments.

Christopher Palmer
Christopher Palmer

This was a great assignment that was given to us, I enjoyed looking at all the great photos.

 I would like to ask a question to all..

 Would anyone like to see a assignment that the photos had to be taken in the time frame that the assignment given opposed to posting a photo you had in stock? I think that would be a great.

Lucy Flatman
Lucy Flatman

 Good luck everyone on the assignment, a truly great collection of images :)


They, as always, have their work cut out for them. 


On a personal note, I loved the idea for this assignment, it took me back to learning about the history of photography and hearing stories of Ansel Adams etc taking portable darkrooms into the national parks with them. Stripping an image of colour is, I believe, such a great exercise in composition. 


Looking forward to seeing the selection. 

Carlo Navarra
Carlo Navarra

Dear editors, I just discovered that my participation to this forum has been made invisible to the other members.

Is there a why? Something in what I wrote that was upsetting somebody?

Please let me know.

Kind regards

angad achappa
angad achappa

Hello everyone,


this asignment has really changed my way of thinking about black & white photography, the few times I went out to photograph in the jungles, I actually photographed a few images with a final black & white conversion in mind. Thank the editors for choosing an image of mine as their favorites: http://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/3383678/

All the best to the participants!
Angad Achappa

Victoria Zengo
Victoria Zengo

oh no I thought I still had time to submit tonight bc it was through the 28! whoops... 

Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

Wow! 21,442 photos! Mr. Essick, you have your work cut out for you. I hope you find it enjoyable! :) So many nice ones!

Jason Schack
Jason Schack

@adrian Laszkiewicz..Every picture has a submission date on it.

Jason Schack
Jason Schack

I have noticed that as well nature is nature. But I have also noticed that there are photos in the top 68 that are outside the dates of the assignment.

Adrian Laszkiewicz
Adrian Laszkiewicz

Is it just me or are A LOT of these submissions NOT nature? Maybe I've misread something, but I thought nature was not man made, of course there are some exceptions given the context of certain photos but there are some which I find to be a little strange for the assignment, such as pictures of people or concrete jungles. Thoughts?

Chao Cui
Chao Cui

I've been away for ages, some really good stuff in the previous two assignments, and would just like to say a big well done to everyone. Just scraped in my submissions for this assignment, apologies they're not new photos but it was really too late to start from scratch.

I do feel however my entries aren't really very authentic, when I'm shooting digital I find it hard to be thinking in black and white, in the same way I do when working with film. When using digital, much of the thought process happens after the fact when processing the image on the computer, for me at least I find that I am not contemplating each shot as much as I would on film.


Edwin Peña
Edwin Peña

Hello everyone, I'm new to photography and entered my first three B&W pictures. I find myself taking my camera everywhere I go and taking pictures of anything & everything I come across, then using Photoshop to enhance or manipulate them. I find that taking random pictures helps clear my mind from the everyday mundane.

Jessica Lake-Stewart
Jessica Lake-Stewart

Happy Sunday Everyone! Just wanted to say WOW to all of these B&W pictures! They are all amazing!! :)

Rena N.
Rena N.

@James Blosser  This assignment (Nature in B&W) was published yesterday. Click on "View Published Story" above. Happy viewing!

Nuna  T
Nuna T

I meant to address my comment to Robert Michael Murray. But could not edit the name.

Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

@Nuna T  Yes, interesting. I saw the comment yesterday, and it's not there now. I "liked" the comment, since I agreed with it. 

I, too, do not understand why a photo so obviously disruptive to its wild subject would be considered for the DD. The parent owl was compelled by the photographer's intrusion to fly AWAY from its nest of babies with food in its mouth. The babies and parent were subjected to a bright flash, all for a photo of a bird fleeing in fear, with its terrified babies looking on.

When I see a photo like this a small part of me appreciates the beauty of the owls it shows, but a bigger part of me sees the disruption. It makes for an unpleasant viewing experience for me.

I wonder if this comment will be deleted?

Thank you, Bobo Bird for pointing this photo out and speaking up.

K_ S.
K_ S.

@Bobo Bird I missed your comment, but I read your comments on the picture and I know what you mean and I'm sharing your point.

Thank you that you pointed it out, I didn't mentioned it, when I saw the thumbnail of this picture...

I left a comment on Nuna T.'s above....

Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

@Bobo Bird  I saw the comment yesterday, and it's not there now. I "liked" the comment, since I agreed with it. Please see my comment to Nuna T. just above this one.

Thank you, Bobo Bird for pointing the owl photo out and speaking up.


Jessie Mesirov
Jessie Mesirov moderator expert

@Carlo Navarra  

Hi Carlo,

Jessie here from the Community Team. Thank you for reaching out. It looks like our system held your comments for moderator review. It's meant to help protect the community from spammers and advertisers, but occasionally a legitimate comment gets picked up in the queue. I went ahead and approved yours, so you should be able to see them just fine now. Please email us if you have any further questions at hello@ngs.org. Thanks!

Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

@Victoria Zengo  It ended at 5:00 PM today, Washington DC time, which is Eastern Standard Time, US. They used to end them at noon Eastern Time, but this assignment and the next (selfies) are ending at 5:00 PM. 

So, wherever you are in the world, figure out what time that is for you. For me in California, US, it's 2:00 PM.

I got messed up on that a few months ago, and have learned my lesson!

Karri N.
Karri N.

@Ginger Parish He has a big challenge to pare it down to those final images. I don't know how he's going to do it. Good Luck to everyone and to Mr. Essick in going through all of those images over the next 7 days. There are many upon many outstanding photos that were submitted.

Adrian Laszkiewicz
Adrian Laszkiewicz

@Jason Schack Those are dates uploaded to the site, unless the editor specifies a certain time line for the photo, such as it has to be taken in 2014, etc then you can submit any photo

Adrian Laszkiewicz
Adrian Laszkiewicz

@Jason Schack Where does it mention dates on this assignment? I havent seen any in Editor Updates, if I'm mistaken please let me know :)


Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

@Adrian Laszkiewicz  Yeah, it seems this way in all of the assignments - some people just don't read it or perhaps understand what is being asked for. I've seen a lot of shots that aren't nature shots too (not even a loose definition...), and several with color. 

For my own part, I have noticed that as I am getting excited about the possibilities with Black & White, I keep forgetting to just be thinking about nature shots, and have had to remind myself a few times. Maybe people are getting caught up in exploring B&W and forgetting it's supposed to be about nature?

I think that when it comes to choosing for the final story, photos that did not meet the criteria are not considered. 

It does seem like it makes more work for the editors to slog through a bunch of stuff that doesn't meet the requirements...

Mireia Garcia
Mireia Garcia

@Adrian Laszkiewicz I understand nature as oposition to human or human creations, anyway, it was suposed to be black and white and some pictures have colour, so...

bill elder
bill elder

@Adrian Laszkiewicz  


You are correct Adrian. I googled ... nature definition. the 1st one was well written to me. check it out. 

bill elder
bill elder

@Chao Cui  


You don't need NEW photos Chao. My 3 posts were from 1977 to 1981 with a SLR using slides. One was on the main page  " slide show"  for many hours.  take care. 

James Blosser
James Blosser

@Rena N. @James Blosser  So i see these assignments are nothing more than an on line publication where only members can view. Sorry - i thought is was more than that. 

K_ S.
K_ S.

@Ginger Parish @Nuna T


As far as I know is it an endless discussion about using speedlights in wildlife photography! 

I'm neither a professional photographer (and far away from being a wildlife photographer) nor a militant environmentalist, but I'm not into using speedlights in Nature, because I don't like the light they spend. 


But this does not mean that I begrudge anyone's success when he takes a different approach, as long as we can be sure, that their isn't arising sustainable harm (for animals and Nature) or a bad role model for others through his acting.

I'm confused about the fact, that we avoid a reasonable discussion instead of spreading professionally founded statements and perhaps prevent future errors in the sense of high-class photography and regardless of the nature in the same way.

We all, who want to discover the world as it is, should be grateful
someone like Bobo Bird takes up such a point, instead of instead of uncritically swallow everything that is presented to us on a golden tablet. National Geographic has access to the knowledge of hundrets of sientists and photographers.


Why loosing the chance of a fertile discussion about this topic by deleting comments like the one from Bobo Bird?

So, let's consider. It would be a good topic for a blog post!

Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

@Adrian Laszkiewicz @Jason Schack  HI There, Jason, you're right that every picture has a submission date on it, but some photos were submitted to Your Shot and were already in people's galleries before this assignment came up. The submission date on a photo is when it first was put on the site, and not necessarily when it was submitted to an assignment. Some folks already had B & W pics they just pulled from their galleries.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy moderator expert

Hi @Ginger Parish - First of all, my apologies for the delay in chiming in here. We often have issues of wildlife photography ethics come up in various ways in our community. The editors often address these issues on the blog post, and they regularly confer with other experts and do their best to make sure we're making information available and keeping the conversation open. Meanwhile, the community team, including Robert and I, are responsible for making sure that Your Shot stays a safe place where people who love photography can connect, share and learn from each other without personal attack. When we see a pattern of this type of behavior, we have a policy of warning and taking action as necessary to keep these standards in place. I hope this helps explain a little more of what's happening here behind the scenes. And please do keep an eye out for more information on wildlife photography on the blog.

Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

@Robert Michael Murray  Thank you, Robert. I appreciate what you're saying about keeping the comments respectful. I understand and agree. I hope that the point of the comment doesn't get lost though, even though it was brought in the way it was.

Since Bobo Bird's comment did attempt to bring light to an important discussion, would you mind addressing that topic? 

I would love to hear what the National Geographic policy might be on photos like yesterday's DD photo of the terrified owls. The photo seems so invasive to me, and I feel that giving it an honor such as the DD is encouraging this type of invasive photography on wildlife.

Thanks in advance for considering a response.


Robert Michael Murray
Robert Michael Murray moderator expert

@Kai Schenke @Ginger Parish @Nuna T  thank you all for your comments. I lead the community team here at National Geographic and wanted to respond to the questions about the deleted comment. Unfortunately while the comment attempted to bring to light an important discussion–which we encourage, as we have done elsewhere on Your Shot website–it was done so in a manner that personally attacked another member of our community. Our Community Guidelines are clear that we will not tolerate personal attacks on any members of the Your Shot community, including staff. In this case the poster has been repeatedly warned so we took action. While we encourage healthy debate and realize people will not agree, we do ask that it be done in a respectful and civil manner. If anyone would like to discuss this situation further please don't hesitate to email me at hello@ngs.org.

Ginger Parish
Ginger Parish

@kalpana chatterjee @Ginger Parish @Adrian Laszkiewicz @Jason Schack  No, the popularity is not a factor. I have seen the editors choose photos with very few hearts on them. They are supposedly looking at each one and evaluating it in their own way, and not based on what other members think. But with this many entries, and the fact that they only choose maybe 20 for the final story, most will not be chosen. Even some stunning and amazing ones. There are just so many!