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Cities in Black and White

This assignment ran from Apr 24 to May 15, 2017.

I clearly remember the first time I developed film, early in my photography days. The small darkroom was filled with some enlargers for printing, old negatives that cluttered the floor, and the smell of developer chemicals in the air. I held a couple rolls of Tri-X black-and-white film, ready to begin my quest. That moment is stressful—you really have no idea what kind of photographs are on those rolls of film. Did I expose correctly? Was the focus sharp? Are any of these photos even interesting enough to make a large print? I remember watching the paper shift in Dektol developer chemicals, and then, gradually, prints started to emerge. It felt like magic, watching a scene I had documented earlier in the day slowly appear on the white piece of paper.

Of course, the world of photography has evolved since those days. Darkrooms have become history, and digital photography is the future. I’ve read that it’s very likely that there will be more photographs taken this year than there were in the entire history of film photography combined. That is amazing to think about! These days, I don’t use film as much as I would like, but I still love black-and-white photography, whether it’s shot using Tri-X film or created in a digital darkroom via Photoshop or Lightroom. You’ve probably noticed during my edits that I favorite a lot of black-and-white images. I can’t help it! It’s in my DNA as the way I learned how to read light and its effect on a landscape or portrait.

That brings us to our new assignment, called “Cities in Black and White.” I’m looking for images of street scenes, architecture, people, transit, food cart vendors—everything that makes a city interesting—but I want to see it in black and white. While photographing, you’ll have to pause to think about lights and shadows, so that they dominate the frame.

My challenge for you is to see images with a new viewpoint. Sure, the images can work in color, but what happens when you edit the photo in black and white tones? Does the light still work? Is the contrast too dark? Don’t be afraid to experiment with this assignment! As you walk down the street, look for new angles, climb to a high vantage point, or put your camera on the ground. Find a spot in the city where the light is just right, and wait patiently for a captivating subject to come by. Experimenting will pay off when the perfect moment appears in front of you, and you’re able to capture an unforgettable photograph.

Think you’re up for this challenge? You have three submissions—so make them count! Don’t be afraid to share potential submissions on the discussion board with your fellow Your Shot photographers. I’ll also be watching. Good luck!

SUBMISSION Deadline is May 15, 2017 at 12PM EST.

Curated by:

Matt Adams
Senior Producer, Nat Geo Your Shot
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • Closed

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  • Published

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Published May 22, 2017.
Thank you for your contributions!

One More Submission

Posted may 11, 2017

With only four days left in this assignment, I wanted to share some of my favorite images so far, along with what I think makes them unique.

Towering. Photograph by Christopher Michel.

This image taken by Christopher Michel is a nice play off of a traditional cityscape image. Instead of just showing the city, he adds a layer by photographing from inside a room, with his subject gazing at the city through the window. The window also brings some soft light onto the subject. Finally, this is a great example of a properly toned image. Sometimes black-and-white images can be too gray, or too much contrast has been added—but this one has a nice mix of dark and light tones.

Iron. Photograph by Jason Matias.

The Flat Iron building is a highly-documented building in New York City. I have seen many photographs of this building, but loved how this one was composed. By using a long exposure, photographer Jason Matias was able to capture the movement of the clouds behind the building, giving them a ghostly effect. The dark tones in the sky complement the light gray tones of the bricks.

One in a Million. Photograph by Stefano Spezi.

This is a common sight in cities: people waiting for their trains so that they can continue their daily commutes. The stand-out part of this image, captured by Stefano Spezi, is the man standing alone in the light. Everyone else seems to be standing in the shadows, and it’s as though the subject steps out into the light to be seen. I love this moment, but if it were shown in color, I don’t think it would have the same visual impact that it does as a black-and-white image. This is one of those times where you thank the photo gods for giving you this quick, picturesque scene. Fortunately, Stefano was smart to have his camera in hand, waiting for the right moment to press the shutter button.

These images are just 3 out of more than 8,000 submissions we’ve received so far; there are many more that have stood out to me. We only have a few days left, and I want to see if we can get to 10,000 submissions—so I’m opening this up for a fourth submission. If you’ve already submitted three images, you get one more chance to show us a great black-and-white image of your city. Make it count!

First Week

Posted may 3, 2017

Wow! Only a week in and we’re already at 5,000 submissions? It’s amazing to see the grid of submitted photos and the mix of black-and-white toning you’re using. On the discussion boards, I’ve seen the same question a few times: “What does the Editor mean when he favorites certain images?” I understand that this may be confusing. If I favorite a lot of nighttime images, you might think that’s all that I’m looking for. But I think the best way to explain my favorites is this: when I’m looking through your submissions, the first thing that stands out to me are moments. That could be a street scene with some nice light on a street vender opening his shop for the day. It could be a beautiful cityscape captured as the morning sun rises or the evening sun sets. I want to see photos that put me right in the midst of it all, where I can practically hear the sounds of a busy street corner. Show me how your city is living and breathing.

As you’re photographing these moments, keep a few things in mind. First, while you’re seeing the moment in color, remember that the final image will need to be edited in black and white. It can be challenging to ensure that the toning isn’t too light, causing the photo to come off as a dull gray. Second, don’t be afraid to move closer. Zoom with your feet, not with your lens. I’ve seen a lot of submissions taken from faraway angles of people, and I’m not able to connect with any of the subjects. Finally, be sure to name the city in your caption! I’m looking forward to the final story—it’s sure to be a beautiful collection of powerful images from cities across the world.

Matt Adams

Matt Adams

Senior Producer, Nat Geo Your Shot
Matt is a Senior Producer on the Your Shot team. He curates and produces the Daily Dozen gallery as well as monthly assignments. Before Nat Geo, Matt was a photography instructor and freelance photographer working for publications such as Wired, Spin, and Pittsburgh Magazine.