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Not Just A Face

This assignment ran from Jul 2 to Jul 23, 2018.

William Shakespeare wrote, “God has given you one face, and you make yourself another.” I like this line from Hamlet because truly, our lives are written across our faces. That’s why the portrait is so important. It’s a chance to capture not only the face, but the whole story of a person.

This Your Shot assignment is about re-thinking portraiture, and especially about seeing past the face to get to a person’s larger story. It’s about finding the true self. For this assignment, I encourage you to go out of your comfort zone and learn to listen and collaborate with someone, going beyond the headshot and instead finding a deeper depiction of someone.

I love collaborating with a subject because they can tell you a heck of a lot more about themselves! Sometimes I found they had better ideas than I did. Think about photographing people in their private spaces: their homes, bedrooms, kitchens or studios, inside their cars, their gardens, or workplaces. Pose them with things or people or animals that mean something to them. You can try to make a portrait that also speaks to memory, to the past, to the future, how people see themselves or the in-between moments.

Above all, be inventive—don’t settle for a studio portrait like we see hanging in everyone’s homes. Go beyond the face! You can make portraits of hands, feet, hair, clothing, anything that can someone can use to express themselves. You can put photographs together to create the layers of someone or their lives.

Try to show me something I’ve not seen before. Remember that portraits are more than just a face—tell us the whole story.

Curated by:

Maggie Steber
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • Closed

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  • 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 Aug 14, 2018.
Thank you for your contributions!

Maggie's Facebook Live

Posted aug 15, 2018

Hi everyone, today at 1pm EST, Maggie will be on NatGeo Facebook Live talking about her magazine story about Katie and mentioning her time with Your Shot! Tune in here if you can! 

Also stay tuned for a special assignment launching next week by yours truly...


Editor's Update #03

Posted jul 19, 2018

Hello everyone and again, thanks for all the submissions which I am reviewing. We are in the home stretch of this assignment! As we approach the final days of the assignment I have some final thoughts. I’m seeing many similar portraits posted repeatedly. Let’s go a bit wild. A portrait does not have to be a face. It could be a room, perhaps a kitchen table where many fond memories are shared with your family. You can photograph people in their favorite spaces and mention why it is their favorite space. Locations and objects can be portraits in themselves given the right context and story (that you can include in your caption). Use the light and composition to structure a portrait that might not include a face to get us to the story. 

Here’s an idea to get you thinking outside the box: Imagine you are someone who has lost a limb, let's say it is a leg. You receive a prosthetic leg and over time you build up the strength to walk with your new leg without additional assistance. This new limb might be your treasure. Take the prosthetic, wind flowers around it and proudly display it for your portait. This would be a portrait of both the treasure—the limb—and the person whose life was changed by it. This is just an example as a way for you to think about portraiture differently. 

Show the larger story. It's not just about their face, the portrait shows a chapter of their story.

Now…your turn.


Editor's Update #02

Posted jul 12, 2018

Hello everyone. We are excited about your engagement with this assignment.
After seeing some comments, I want to clear up some confusion about what
“more than a face” means in terms of your submissions:

The photograph can be a portrait of the face. It can also be a photograph of a part of
the body that still tells us something about the person, as we have seen with an adult
hand holding a baby’s foot
. While I didn’t write about this at first, I see many
animal portraits and I’m liking them because, having opened up my own mind,
these are living creatures and they are gorgeous so why shouldn’t their portraits be
considered? And we want portraits that tell stories which means there can be
environment or objects or other things that give us more than a face.

I’m extremely open minded about your interpretation and have a lively imagination
myself because photographers should exercise their imaginations. Who wants to see
the same photo over and over? Picture editors don’t. But that doesn’t mean a beautifully
lit emotional portrait or a happy moment or a dark moment of someone’s face or body
can’t be appreciated.

I’m very happy to see how people are interpreting this assignment and I want to
encourage you to think about what a portrait means to you and then build on that.
Go further, take some risks, look at what I’m liking and commenting on.
Take the time to explore and learn. Make something original.

We have about ten more days so don’t be in a rush to upload all your
3 photographs at once.


Editor's Update #01

Posted jul 10, 2018

Hello everyone! I wanted to thank all the people who have been uploading their portrait submissions. There have been many remarkable photographs and it’s such a pleasure for me to see how many of you see one another and the world around you. I actually find it very moving as an experience.

While I can’t comment on everything, I’m trying to comment on photographs that I think we can all learn from. Photographs where the photographer took a risk, came up with a new idea, utilized light in an unusual manner, where the photographs move my heart or really tell me a story about someone. My comments are meant to be helpful to everyone so it’s worth reading them as I’ll try to make points that I think can inform all of us.

We are grateful for everyone who participates. This is YOUR SHOT, and YOUR opportunity to shine so don’t be shy. See you in submissions!


Maggie Steber

Maggie Steber

National Geographic Photographer
Maggie Steber has worked as a documentary photographer in 63 countries. Her photos are included in the Library of Congress collection and the African Diaspora collection at the University of Miami, where she serves as a visiting lecturer. A collection of Haiti photographs from her longtime work in the country was published in Dancing on Fire: Photographs from Haiti (Aperture). She is a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine and the recipient of multiple grants and awards, including the Leica Medal of Excellence.