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Create It

This assignment ran from Mar 15 to Apr 5, 2015.

"Art is made by ordinary people.” –Art and Fear

For this assignment, I want you to become artists. Yes, you’re all photographers, but the term artist is not always synonymous with photographer.

The assignment is simple. Create.

Take an idea, sketch it out in your mind, on paper, on the napkin beside you, on your hand and make a photograph. Visualize it, and then photograph it. Without the tricks of Photoshop.

Something I’ve learned as I’ve worked with photographers and artists is that practice does make perfect. Some of the most beautiful mind-blowing art I’ve ever seen was not made by superheroes or saints, but by ordinary people. Do you think that Henri Cartier-Bresson came out of the womb the father of photojournalism or that Vermeer was a genius at seeing light? They worked hard at their craft, always trying out different techniques and making the same thing over and over and over again until they were satisfied (Are artists ever actually satisfied? That’s another discussion for later).

Try different techniques, multiple exposures, artificial lighting (make sure to let me know what you’ve done in the caption). Look not only at photographers like Dan Winters, Mitch Feinberg, Sandy Skoglund and Brock Davis, but artists such as Miró, Dalí, and O’Keefe. Don’t forget you’re also a storyteller. Just because these photos will be created from preconceived ideas doesn’t mean I’m a mind reader. A caption will be weighted almost equally to the photograph. A key building block I learned from four years at art school was that art requires intent. There must be a reason for the work you create; every element in the image must have a place. Be prepared for the why.

This is a difficult assignment. I know many of you probably don’t fully understand this theme, but you will. I know that some of you, perhaps many of you, have already left the page based on the title alone. But for those of you still reading, I hope this theme will keep you engaged and, in the end, a serious contender in the ring. And this will be a fight. You will doubt yourself. More often than not, you’re not doing it right unless you are banging your head against the wall at two in the morning. This is part of the process. And I promise, you will be a better photographer for it in the end.

Take note: 4 submissions, captions are a must, old photos allowed-new photos highly encouraged, read the Editor's Update for a big surprise!

Curated by:

Jeanne M Modderman
Former 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 Apr 14, 2015.
Thank you for your contributions!

Story Editing at National Geographic

Posted apr 15, 2015

As guest editors, Mike and Ivan were invited to National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to edit the Create It assignment with me. (Unfortunately Liz could not be with us, but she was surely missed) Before we came together, we edited all 11,745 submitted photos separately and then came together with our favorites. Many of our favorites overlapped and on day one we had about 700 photos in total. Over the course of two days, we culled down to our final 25 selects for the story. Watch the video to see us edit the assignment and to hear from us as we reflect on the experience.

Live Facebook Chat with the Editors

Posted apr 6, 2015

Join Jeanne, Ivan, and Mike for a live Facebook Chat on Tuesday, April 7 at 12:30pm EDT. They'll answer your questions about editing and photographing for the assignment on the NGM Facebook page

Final Thoughts from Liz, Ivan, and Mike

Posted apr 3, 2015


One of the things that has made this assignment so enjoyable has been seeing the tremendous effort put forth by the Your Shot community. So many of the images made me feel as if I was right there with you composing, lighting, arranging, and generally trying to imagine what you went through to make the shot. The calories burned in creating have been very apparent. I’m especially grateful to those who felt this area of photography was uncomfortable. I’m thrilled you gave it a try.

If you’ve ever felt that your YS gallery was not the place for artistic/creative images, I hope you’ve gained a new perspective from this experience. This is the place to try things out and garner feedback. Explore your ideas and see what becomes of them. You may realize you’re better than you ever thought you could be. Thank you for all that you’ve shared, and I’m so very grateful to be a part of this experience.


First of all I would like to congratulate you all on your job well done and your enthusiasm to create. I will admit that entering this assignment as a guest editor I was very nervous, but now I can honestly say I am having a blast! There are two reasons why. One is simply because I love photography. The other is the warm welcomes I have received from you. Thank you.

Here is one last final thought, with a "gift" of an additional fourth submission. I would like to encourage you to push your boundaries and, from everything that you have seen and learned during this amazing journey, create your ultimate-best Create It photograph!  


I have looked through all the images several times and I am proud of and humbled by all the wonderful pictures that have been submitted to the assignment. Many many creative people and great ideas; I get inspired from all of you in this wonderful world of photography. And hopefully you got some inspiration from us too. Continue with the wonderful work, and I think we can all agree that with this assignment, we all have been challenged. And it has forced us to think differently. 

We have detected that there is a big difference between snapping a picture of a beautiful sunset or a cute little kitten and having an idea and executing it in a creative way. My final tip and advice is: Do not submit images to the assignment that do not fit the criteria. Look back at the updates and the blog posts for inspiration, but also for valuable information. Good luck! 

The assignment closes on Sunday, April 5, 12pm EDT. 

One More!

Posted apr 1, 2015

We hear you! Today we are allowing one additional submission to the "Create It" assignment. Many of you have overhauled your life for your art—enduring sleepless nights, missing quality time with your families, and living in messy, art supply-covered houses. 

There will be one more update from us before the assignment ends this Sunday, April 5 at 12pm EDT, so no need to rush. In total you have four submissions for this assignment now, so choose carefully. As always, we are grateful for your efforts and beyond excited to see your photos! 

-Jeanne, Liz, Ivan, and Mike

Read Liz’s post on Finding Your Inner Child and see the team’s photos here

Don't Forget the Photograph

Posted mar 28, 2015

Note: I made this update short, so why not read this AND go to the Editors’ Spotlight blog to see Ivan’s micro-theme on Creating Symbolism. You won’t want to miss the team’s photos!

I am blown away. Liz, Ivan, Mike, and I have weekly morning Skype sessions and we talk about just how good some of these photos are. Most of the time as I’m looking through the photos I‘m saying, “Wow, this member gets it.” They know exactly what we’re looking for and sometimes they go beyond what even we could imagine. Often times, I only wish I had thought of the idea first! From what I can tell, you all have no problems with unlocking your creativity and making art. So now it’s time to think about the photograph. This is still a photography assignment, so really consider the technical aspects of your image. Are there elements in your photo that are distracting from the concept? Have you positioned everyone and everything correctly so that it makes sense? Does the caption aptly explain what is happening or what you're trying to say? Does the photo make your eyes dance? Ask a friend or family member or stranger what they think. The basics of image making are still the same in this case; composition, color, mood, and lighting. You’ve spent all this time and effort making a scene, why not take the same amount if not more on photographing it? As the artist and photographer, you’re walking a thin line-everything must be in perfect balance and harmony. It should appear effortless.

Failure and Self-Doubt as a Creative Catalyst

Posted mar 22, 2015

Note: If you don’t read the entire update, at the very least go to the Editors’ Spotlight to see how guest member editors Ivan, Mike and Liz were inspired to use ordinary objects to make their photographs extraordinary.

It has been a dream of mine to run this assignment for almost a year now. Mostly it was self-doubt that kept me from pushing for it sooner. I asked myself: Would the community get it or like it? Did people care about other types of photography past wildlife and landscapes? Would they be willing to try? Many of you have been open about your own doubt and I applaud your honesty. It’s part of the process. When I first came on the Your Shot team I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy the work or even be good at it. Working on a photography community wasn’t something I was familiar with and had only known it from my editing for the Daily Dozen where I had the prestigious, but rather insular job of picking the best photos everyday. My previous position as the photo editor for the Departments section was where I was really able to hone my conceptual photo skills. My mission: Make the non-visual, visual. From telling stories about why we get brain freeze to taxes on sodas to new technology in hearing I had to MAKE a photograph. It was difficult, all consuming work, but I loved it.

From a few years of editing in the community I always came back to the work of our guest member editors, Liz, Ivan, and Mike. They were doing exactly what I had done for the magazine not for a job, but for the love of it. They were able to be their most creative and clever selves when producing their photography. We knew from the beginning that this was not going to be the most popular assignment in terms of submissions. This is a specialized and multi-step type of photography that is not for everyone. I likened it to the Self-Portrait assignment, which I still think is one of the strongest and complete stories we’ve ever published if not one with the most submissions. An assignment should push you beyond your comfort zone and as a result teach you new ways of seeing. So I encourage you, whether you DO this photography or not, to give it a try. What have you got to lose?

Here are a couple things that roll around in my head when I work:

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)-Let your imagination run wild when it comes to the idea, but when the actual photography comes in, best to keep it simple with the backgrounds and lighting. (Think I’m wrong? Prove it with your submission!)
Failure is a good thing. Tag your photos with the #CreateIt hashtag to show not only your successes, but also your failures. You and your fellow photographers will learn a lot just from the process of trying and seeing where you’ve come from.
Take inspiration from everything. (Mike said it best in the last update)
Does the image live up to the idea? Is this really what you envisioned? You have to hook the viewer with the visual and then keep them engaged with the story and caption.

This is all to say that I know what you’re going through. Work it every way you can and always ask yourself, how can I make it better?

Go to the Editors’ Spotlight blog to see how Liz photographed a cheese cutter in the most unique way, how Mike was inspired by a single black pushpin and how Ivan continues to find new uses for his kitchen sink.

Guest Editors: Liz, Ivan and Mike

Posted mar 15, 2015

For a long time my colleagues and I have talked about what a gold mine of talent we have in the community. Everyday, you take our breaths away.

As I was thinking about my assignment, I knew I needed to involve our photographers. Not only because this is a difficult assignment and I often think editors can lose touch with their audience, but because we have photographers in the community already creating work on this theme. For these reasons, I am honored to have Your Shot members Liz Andersen, Ivan Lesica and Mike Melnotte join me as guest editors for this assignment. They will not only take on the duties of an editor with me but they’ll set themes for each other each week and photograph alongside you to highlight their successes, but also their failures (follow along on the blog). Hopefully this will inspire you, but also show you that we’re in this challenge together. They will elevate your voices because no one knows better than them just how hard this assignment is. We will edit the final story together and their images will also not be admissible for selection. Hear from your fellow members and guest editors Liz, Ivan and Mike below:

Less is more is my favorite expression when it comes to art and photography. Take an ordinary everyday object, look at it for a while, and put it away again. Ask yourself, What can I do with this? Can I create something exciting, something new? Or do as I, take a trip out into the countryside and find a place where you can sit down and listen to the silence. Let your mind wander and let ideas come.

Conceptual photography can arouse big feelings, but the most successful conceptual art photographers are the ones who can create a message by using few elements and keep it simple. Throw yourself into the world of creating and be bold about it. –Liz 

I absolutely love creating my own images from scratch, it’s my favorite kind of photography! How do I start? Usually the idea is born in my thoughts way in advance: while riding the train to work, or while laying in bed before I go to sleep or when I am walking the streets of New York, shooting. However, there are times when I pick up a subject for other reasons (like a fork while washing dishes or a vegetable while cooking) and when I look at it I think it would make for an interesting subject to photograph. 

When photographing I always try to make sure that the image makes sense, I want the viewer not to just look at the image but to be moved by it in some way. Personally I love when I see something extraordinary created from something ordinary. When I look at your submissions I want to say “Man, this is so cool-why didn’t I think of this?!” –Ivan 

“So… you want to make a picture of what, exactly?” I get this question a lot. Don’t worry if the photo idea you’re describing sounds a wee bit odd to others. It’s O.K.  People are trying to understand what you’re trying to create and they may not grasp it until they see the final product. For me, the camera is a means to exercise these creative demons that have, for whatever reason, become planted somewhere deep in my skull. 

So, how do you get started? Well, that’s the hard part, isn’t it? Perhaps you’re able to draw inspiration from just a word, a phrase, or an old saying. Maybe there’s an emotion you’d like to build around. Try starting with an interesting title and see what comes to mind. What are you passionate about? There’s no wrong way to go about it and like anything else it simply requires the desire to make it happen. When an image works out like you hoped, you realize that taking your ideas from inception to execution is an amazing thing. Some of the strongest reactions I’ve received have been to my conceptual pieces. Good or bad, I hope you get a response as well. It probably means you’ve done something right. –Mike 

Jeanne M Modderman

Jeanne M Modderman

Former National Geographic Photo Producer
As the former Your Shot photo producer, Jeanne would edit and produce the 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