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Parks & Wildlife

This assignment ran from May 20 to Jun 10, 2016.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service, we decided to try something new at Your Shot. Over the course of 2016, we will launch multiple assignments about parks—each one covering a different aspect of national parks all over the world. National Geographic photographer Erika Larsen was one of six contributors to our special Yellowstone issue of National Geographic magazine. His work focused on capturing the many different species of wildlife that reside in the park. Learn about the power of our parks on

Few places on Earth can match Yellowstone National Park’s incredible wildlife. It’s like the plains of Africa in North America, with huge herds of elk and bison roaming the plains. Everything about the wildlife and landscape is, well, just goddamned iconic. Yellowstone has everything a wildlife photographer could dream of: enormous grizzly bears, packs of wolves, stunning blue birds, even tiny hummingbirds.

Of course, it’s so wonderful that it causes a problem for the budding wildlife photographer—it’s all been photographed a million times before. So how can you take images of some of the most photographed places on Earth and do something different? That’s what this assignment is about. When we shot the May 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine, which was solely dedicated to Yellowstone, we had exactly that problem—how do we show the incredible wildlife in a completely new way? Of course, with wildlife photography there’s a lot of luck, but the eye and the mind are more important. To change the way you photograph you don’t change your camera, you change the way you look at the world. I have to say that it’s easier said than done, and often the images we shot for the magazine would take weeks to come to fruition. We don’t have that time with this assignment, so the pressure is on—and besides, where’s the fun in an assignment without pressure?

This Your Shot assignment is to photograph National Parks and its wildlife in new and exciting ways. To take a new, fresh look at the place by taking a new and fresh approach to image making. Change things up in your head a little. Take a deeper look at what the wildlife and the landscape means to people and try and express that through your images. Look at how animals fit into their world, their ecosystem. Try to express that through your images. Get emotional. Good wildlife photographers realize a truth: They are foremost photographers, and the wildlife bit comes second. Too often they get stuck in ruts, taking or chasing the same images. So I want to see you change your mindset. Think differently. Swap your lenses out, too; try using lenses you don’t normally use. This forces you to change the way you work—whether you like it or not—and that is always a good thing.

Most of all, though, enjoy. Enjoy the place and enjoy stretching your brain and creativity, taking it to the next level.

Curated by:

Charlie Hamilton James
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • Closed

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  • Published

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Published Jun 20, 2016.
Thank you for your contributions!

Facebook Live

Posted aug 5, 2016

Back in May, the Your Shot team along with photographer Charlie Hamilton James led several photowalks through Yellowstone National Park. While we were there, Charlie appeared in a few Facebook Live videos in which he gave great tips on how to capture amazing wildlife images. Check out the video below and hopefully these tips will help you on your next adventure photographing wildlife in National Parks. 

Standing Out

Posted jun 6, 2016

I am finally starting to see some out-of-the-ordinary images coming in. I’m still struggling to identify where some of the really nice ones were taken, as people are not giving me enough location data sometimes. I need images taken in national parks (although I am accepting locations that are not strictly national parks but are officially recognized protected areas that are serviced by the National Park Service). In some cases, I am having to Google locations to see if they are in national parks, which to be honest is too time consuming. So please say which parks the images are taken in. If they are not taken in national parks or protected areas, please don’t submit them, as I won’t and can’t accept them.

I’m still on the lookout for the extraordinary—images where the photographer has really considered light, composition, and content in unusual ways and approached the technical side of the image with innovation and creativity—rather than just straight portraits of animals. I have seen portraits of some very rare animals (plus lots of tigers), but I’m only selecting images that really stand out.

I hope that helps!

Wildlife and Captions

Posted may 30, 2016

National Parks are key to this assignment, however I am seeing hundreds of photographs of animals and landscapes with no reference to the park in which they are found. I'm sure many of the images are taken in National Parks, but with no information in the metadata, I can't include them.

I am also seeing a lot of images of captive animals, domestic farm animals, and pets-which we can't use. Since this assignment is about wild animals and landscapes within National Parks, images of anything else may be really good, but they are not getting noticed if they don’t fit the brief. So please submit images with specific descriptions that include the National Park in which the pictures were taken otherwise I must disregard. Sorry, I’m being tough on this one! Thanks, Charlie

Here are reference images that are great examples for this assignment:

Charlie Hamilton James

Charlie Hamilton James

National Geographic Photographer
Charlie Hamilton James is a National Geographic Photographer who is constantly staggered and inspired by nature both in its design and its beauty; it's led to a life long obsession to understand, document and save it. This obsession led to him studying and documenting kingfishers since he was a teenager. His love for photographing and studying these birds gave me the chance to be published in National Geographic magazine. For the recent issue on Yellowstone, he was tasked with photographing the beauty of the Grand Tetons.