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First Light

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Published Jan 26, 2015 | View the Assignment | Features Photos From 19 Contributors

    19 photos selected by

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Female recruits start their first training obstacle as the sun begins to rise over the trees. The...

    #crucible #marines

    It was a privilege to be invited to create this assignment and judge your photography. I enjoyed every minute of it. Thanks to all of you who created new work specifically for this assignment, braving the early-morning alarms and handling all the inclement weather that Mother Nature might have thrown at you.

    My final 19 favorites selected from more than a hundred include a wide range of people, places, cityscapes, landscapes, and wildlife, which reflects the diversity of the photographic interests of the Your Shot community. We had the third highest entry total of all the assignments so far. Thanks for your interest!

    Jim Richardson, a long-time National Geographic magazine photographer once said, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff!” He said it half jokingly, but there is truth to it. As this assignment may have taught you, light is important and can make a huge difference in your photography, but it does not transcend the subject matter. If you have a boring subject, you’ll make a boring picture. Everything has to line up just right—lighting, subject matter, and the capturing of the decisive moment—and that’s what makes photography so difficult.

    If you can find a mentor whose photography you like, show them your pictures for feedback. And when you do, show them the entire take, not just your favorites. You can learn a lot by seeing how you shoot from one frame to the next. Sometimes a bad picture can teach you a lot. As I wrote in one of my comments, photography is like walking up a series of steps. In the beginning you improve quickly and take many steps, then you get to a point where you stay on the same level for a while until you have a breakthrough. This never ends.

    The first light of dawn illuminates a butte in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

    Editor's Note

    National Geographic landscape photographers will undoubtedly tell you they love inclement weather. With it comes surprising light, clouds, lightning, etc. This is a perfect example. The cold, dark,... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    A play of sun rays, morning fog and dust in the exotic scenery of the mountains of Myanmar, gave ...

    #village #cattle #morning #myanmar #sunrisethismorning #children #burma #asia #yourshotbook

    Editor's Note

    Alexandros captured such a sweet moment. The kids seem to be in their own worlds as they move together along the bumpy road. The backlight illuminating the photograph is lovely. The framing could b... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Very special morning observing the AM rituals of these peaceful creatures. These two were chewin...

    #manatee #ambiant #manateemorning #manatee_underwater #manateesprings #morning_light

    Editor's Note

    The diversity of photography exemplified in this assignment is wonderful. Bathed in early morning light, these feeding manatees take us back in time. The light is separated into shafts by the sedim... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Early morning sunlight - Such a beautiful scene to begin the day ! Early morning, I was headi...

    #sun #ngmadventure #ngmcreate #abstract #water #sunrisethismorning #followme #nature

    Editor's Note

    This is another smart solution to this assignment. What makes the photograph is the silhouette of the telephone pole and power lines along with jagged edges of the tree. The pattern of the ice is g... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    reflections in the window of Ferry in Istanbul

    #reflections #istanbul #ferry

    Editor's Note

    This is a very sophisticated composition framing the silhouettes of the passengers through the windows of the ferry. There are three “windows” to look at: the foreground with people on the ferry; t... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    When the horizon lights up for sunrise, Mesa Arch reflects a stunning glow from it's sandstone ed...

    #sunrise #utah #canyonlandsnationalpark #landscapephotography #mesaarch

    Editor's Note

    There were many images of Mesa Arch and other western rock formations. This was my favorite. The soft glow of the rising sun washes over the landscape to shape its character and structure. The comp... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    First light in the Asian suburban market isn't the early sunlight but it's a electric bulbs from ...

    #community #outdoor #market #lifestyle #firstlight #people #asian

    Editor's Note

    This colorful scene is fun to look at. The balance between the natural and artificial light was just about perfect. My eye travels from face to face as I dance across the image. This was a chaotic ... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    During the winter, this refuge is home to thousands of migratory birds. Sometime around dawn eve...

    #sunrise #bosque #moon #wetland #fog

    Editor's Note

    Liana caught such a peaceful scene. The quiet of the water and the fog that obscures the horizon softens the scene. But what makes the photograph is the sharp edge of the moon that’s about to disap... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Sunrise at Yosemite valley, Yosemite National Park. Unexpected change in traveling plan brought u...

    #landscape #yosemite #sunrise #elcapitan #tunnelview #firstlight #halfdome #dawn

    Editor's Note

    Patience is a virtue and not staying with the pack is another. Mr. Dao correctly points out how the light can change at a moment's notice to create an entirely different look and feel to a photogra... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Just before dawn, at the end of his working day of the Li River, this Cormorant Fisherman prepare...

    #guilin #cormorant #fisherman #xingping #guangxi #china #cormorant_fishing

    Editor's Note

    This well-composed portrait actually has three sources of light. Overall, first-light illuminates the background captured by a very slow shutter speed to give the photograph a sense of place. In ad... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Windmills emerging from a sea of clouds, at the crack of dawn in a dark, winter day. View from my...

    #plane #windmill #firstlight

    Editor's Note

    It’s interesting to note how the camera makes us more attentive to the world around us. As others prepared for landing, Mr. Ruggeri had another idea on his mind. I have seen many wind turbine image... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Dawn at the Canyonlands National Park. Just a few moments from sunrise the La Sal range burned w...

    #white_rim #sunrise #shafer_trail #la_sal_mountains #canyonlands_national_park

    Editor's Note

    The road that is lit like a rope on fire makes this photograph. I understand where the photographer’s wife is coming from. Sometimes the camera can be a barrier to living in the present and taking ... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    writing at night lately, on a deadline. my desk pov, westward across dtla as the first sunbeams c...

    #dtla #daybreak #nocturne #la #writing #workspace

    Editor's Note

    This is a smart solution to the assignment. There is so much going on within the photo that the last thing you notice is the early morning light bathing the cityscape beyond the window. The lamp, c... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    A solitary beaver pauses at dawn on its way home after a night of chewing on tree branches that w...

    #beaver_montana_

    Editor's Note

    This was made by a dedicated photographer! The blue tone of the early morning light adds to the chill the photograph evokes. The composition works nicely, framing the beaver at the water’s edge. Th... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    A very Special moment for a girl during his Nikah (Wedding).

    #wedding

    Editor's Note

    The nice light coming across the bride’s face is beautiful and gives texture and detail to the image. In addition, I included this photograph because unlike most of the entries, the photographer go... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Early morning through the mist and fog. I had come upon this lake, a bit by accident. My origi...

    #landscape #sunrise #diffused #water #yellow #lake #trees #first_light #fog #dawn

    Editor's Note

    The fog and light together create a beautiful scene that a painter would be jealous of. This is another example where the photographer’s patience (and hard-earned luck) paid off. The sweet morning ... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Hunting on the prairies is a way of life for many in Canada. Filling their freezers with game me...

    #hunting #deer #guns #canada #outdoors #food #alberta

    Editor's Note

    Hunting is a lot of waiting. The photographer captured such a peaceful moment during a lull in the action. The light is really nice, allowing the hunter’s clothing to blend with the landscape and h... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    One of recent gorgeous sunrises

    #sunrise #lakemichigan #chicago

    Editor's Note

    There were a lot of sunrise images, mostly over the ocean. What I liked about this one was that the photographer wasn’t so literal by just showing a hint of the sun as it begins to paint the world ... More

    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine

    Beyond this assignment, I wanted to point out some things to consider as you advance your photography:

    1. Oversaturated color. If the color in your photographs is too oversaturated it looks unnatural. For example, if your color begins to take on a neon look, you’ve gone too far.
    2. White borders. The eye goes to the edge of the frame instead of looking at the photographic content you want the viewer to see. Do away with framing your entries with white borders—or when viewing them in a computer.
    3. Silhouettes. They are a tough sell. You’re better off working the camera angle where the light illuminates your subjects’ faces.
    4. Name stamps. Images with big name stamps on them are just too distracting.

    So, what’s the secret to making great pictures? Keep at it. The more you shoot, the better you get.

    About the Editor
    Kurt Mutchler
    Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic Magazine
    Kurt Mutchler has worked at National Geographic magazine since 1994 producing more than 130 stories, including 27 cover stories. During this time he has held many positions—photo editor, deputy director of photography and director of photography. Currently, he is the senior photo editor for science. He is a former adjunct ...

    Photographers Published In the Story