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Light and Shadow

This assignment ran from Jun 11 to Jul 2, 2019.

From its humble beginnings, photography has been simply the study of light—the way by which light waves strike a surface and are redirected back through glass to make an image. It’s the examination of how light and shadows paint a composition, forming a scene to share that transcends a place and time, telling a story, and making the viewer feel something.

I recently came across this photograph by Magnum photographer Harry Gruyaert. While this photograph is quiet and not much is happening, the light and shadows make the moment compelling. They force you to stop and examine the frame detail by detail. The peach-colored building perfectly frames the man on the sidewalk while a figure in the street emerges from the shadows.

For this assignment, I want you to slow down and truly study the light around you. Ask yourself, where is the light coming from? How can you arrange yourself to best utilize the light to show the highlights and shadows and make a dynamic photograph? I want to see you experimenting, pushing your creative limits, and finding photographs in the light and shadows around you.

You can pull from your archives, but I prefer to see you follow the light around you to make fresh photographs with the keen eye you have practiced developing since you made the photos in your archive. Have fun with this! Use this assignment as inspiration to experiment with the light shining through your window to construct a still life or the light peeking through buildings in your city or neighborhood to freeze a moment in time. Maybe you’ll be compelled to make a photograph to portray your own mood, too.

If you’ve made it this far into the introduction, you’ll learn my one rule for this assignment: Do not overwork your images in post-processing.

Have fun and follow the light!

Curated by:

Kristen McNicholas
Associate Photo Editor, Nat Geo Your Shot
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • Closed

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  • Published

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Published Jul 19, 2019.
Thank you for your contributions!

One last Editor's Update

Posted jun 28, 2019

Good morning from EDT, everyone!

I wanted to drop a note to say you all are doing an astounding job on this assignment, I'm very proud of each and every one of you who has submitted to the assignment and used it as a motivator to make photographs. For the final four days of the assignment, I wanted to drop a few more links of inspiration and leave you a small gift to get you inspired to make images this weekend: a fourth submission

I encourage you to study these photographs. Look at how the photographer was observing the light, identify where they were standing to make the picture. What time of the day do you think they made the picture to see the light the way they did? Ask yourself what could they have done better. Use your fourth submission as an opportunity to observe the light the weekend and make a new photograph with what you have learned in the last three weeks. 

I wish you all luck and joy in photographing! Keep what you learned in this assignment with you and keep coming back to it. We're all always learning so use your tools to keep becoming a better photographer and story-teller. 

Carmody Baker
Anil Kumar
Geoff Livingston
Rui IrieShooting
Ivan Lesica
Madison Huntsman
Nina Mingioni
Dana C.
Mona Pamsari
Amanda Jane Dalby
Sofia Gorman
Gloria Salgado Gispert

Good luck and have a wonderful weekend, all!

Editor's Update #02: A Quick Tip

Posted jun 25, 2019

Think about how light moves and the time of day it behaves a certain way (like long shadows at golden hour). I remember reading somewhere how Pete Souza learned the way the light moved around the Oval Office during the Obama Administration. He knew what time the light would be coming from where, what color it would cast during which season, and where it would fall in the room to prepare to make a photograph. 

That's a lot of studying but you probably know about that light around your home or neighborhood already without realizing!

Keep up the good work and keep following the light!


Editor's Update #01

Posted jun 18, 2019

Y'all are rocking out these submissions! I'm getting lost in the ~ light and shadow ~. 

If you're still looking for more inspiration, take a look at these Photos Page search results!

I'm also seeing a lot of silhouettes. They definitely fit into this assignment but I want to see the other side of the silhouette, too. I want to see the light as it's casting on a scene and how it plays with the shadows all in one frame. 

Keep up the good work, there's a lot of strong submissions to this assignment. 

Follow the light!


Kristen McNicholas

Kristen McNicholas

Associate Photo Editor, Nat Geo Your Shot
Kristen is an Associate Photo Editor with the Your Shot team. She interned at the White House Photo Office under the Obama Administration as well as Education Week. A proud RIT alumna, dessert enthusiast and Finger Lakes, NY native, Kristen is excited to guide your photographic journey!