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Primary Colors

This assignment ran from Nov 30 to Dec 21, 2015.

The most beautiful and complicated things in this world can be broken down into something more simple than we can sometimes imagine. The human body, in its simplest form, is a big bag of elements—protons, neutrons, and electrons. Every painting or photograph that stops us in our tracks with its layers of beauty and brilliant colors can be broken down into three simple elements: red, yellow, and blue. These primary colors can combine to make secondary colors, and black and white can be added to make an incredible number of tertiary mixtures. But red, yellow, and blue are colors in their purest form.

For this assignment I want to see photographs that celebrate these three colors. There are no specific rules as far as how much of the color should fill the frame, and I will not be using an eyedropper to test the purity of the color. But when someone looks at the photo, his or her first thought should be of the color. I would avoid having secondary or complementary colors in the photo, but as long as the red, yellow, or blue is dominant, that is fine.

In a world where things can become so complicated, deeply and mind-blowingly complicated, I look forward to boiling things down to basics and celebrating the pure elements.

This assignment will close on December 21 at 5 pm EST

In return for the Sponsor's, Kodak's, support of this Assignment, National Geographic may provide images from the Assignment to the Sponsor for its use on its website, social media platforms, and other outlets to promote and publicize the Assignment.

Curated by:

Marie McGrory
Producer, Nat Geo Travel
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 Dec 28, 2015.
Thank you for your contributions!

Post Story Update

Posted jan 22, 2016

Hi everyone,


My apologies for the radio silence but I was out of the country for a few weeks and missed the launch of this story. Thank you for the overwhelmingly kind comments on the selections and presentation in the final story. As I mentioned in the story text, as so often happens, the submissions led me down a path I did not think we would take when the assignment launched. A creative and wonderful path. I think the story represents a great balance of the primary colors found in nature, but also the realization that these three pigments are so pure, it can be difficult to find them in nature, especially to find them isolated from secondary and tertiary colors. Even in scenes that were found, like Romeo’s ferris wheel, the wall and the ferris wheel are made and painted by humans. That is why I enjoyed the photos that celebrated and created scenes from these colors like Heather’s balloon or Doina’s butterfly.


There seemed to be two main concerns-- photoshopping and food waste. Double exposures are allowed, using paint on your hands, feet, or an apple, is allowed. I understand how it may appear that these created scenes were photoshopped, but that is what makes them wonderful. They are real and dreamed up by the photographer in real life. Food waste also happens in photography. I understand how even the waste of a single apple can be a concern, but the waste of thousands of pounds of food from farms and supermarkets each month is a greater concern. For me, this photo reminded me of all the food we eat today that we cannot even recognize. Stores sell purple ketchup or crackers shaped like fish. To me this apple symbolized how unrecognizable our food is becoming, and inspired me to want to eat more home grown snacks I can recognize.  Now, I only serve to explain my subjective thoughts on the matter, each person is still rightfully entitled to their opinion on it as well. Regardless of my opinion, this image does not violate our guidelines.


Thanks again for being a part of such an engaging and fun assignment. I’m very proud of the story we made. There were dozens of photos I cherished that did not make the final story, you can head over to the Editor’s Spotlight and read my Behind the Edit for more on those.



One More!

Posted dec 19, 2015

So I don't have a true update, there has been so much great discussion on the board, I suggest you go there for thoughts and inspiration. Why am I writing then?

To be honest, I really did not plan on doing this. But from what I have seen this past week, so many of you are creating fantastic new images for this assignment. Things that really were not in play in the beginning. I have seen many of you get inspired by each other and shoot new work and for me, that is a thrill! So you have earned it for sure. One more submission! My holiday gift for you! Choose wisely. And please, don't submit at 4:58pm EST on Monday. Thanks!


Posted dec 14, 2015

First things first. Not much to say but I must get it out of the way-- no selective coloring, please! Selective coloring is making a photo black and white and selecting one object or color throughout to remain in color. It violates our guidelines and will not be accepted in the assignment. Thanks!

Now another question that many are, rightfully, asking: shades. In the introduction I wrote “There are no specific rules as far as how much of the color should fill the frame, and I will not be using an eyedropper to test the purity of the color. “ I meant that and still do. There are photos I have favorited that I would not consider a pure, primary color. For example, Sonny’s blue photo is a little light, Jennifer’s blue photo is a little dark. What is important to me is that when I looked at each I thought, “wow, that blue!”. Now will they make the final story? That is a call that will have to be made once the group is narrowed down. If you are trying to decide between a photo with a yellow that is not so pure, but you really love the image, and a photo that is pure yellow, but is not as great of a photo; always choose with the better photo!

I ask for your patience in this process. This happens with stories for National Geographic Magazine all the time, you begin with a vision, an objective, and along the way something surprises you, and things shift. Sometimes that is a wonderful thing! There are always exceptions to the rule, and things that break rules well. This photo from Saul, for example, is one I am considering. It breaks the only rule of the assignment, it is not predominantly red, yellow and blue. But the essence of the photo, tells the story of the assignment so well. The painter’s palette of red, yellow and blue creates a masterpiece. Will it fit in the final story? We’ll see. But it is a great example of breaking a rule well.

I use the Editor’s Favorites to show you things that have peaked my interest, things I hope will inspire you, but as always I allow for flexibility, creativity and great photography. Thank you all for your incredible enthusiasm and for helping to shape these three colors into a story I cannot wait to see!

Go Beyond the Rule

Posted dec 4, 2015

First of all, wow! Over 5,000 submissions in the first 5 days and a highly active and engaged discussion board. It is a thrill to have something to look forward to throughout the day.

I know what many of you love about this assignment is its simplicity. I know we often have assignments that strive to push you further as a photographer, to get you out of your comfort zone, to challenge you. Compared to many of those assignments this one is easy as pie. But that is also what makes it so hard. The options are endless. In a short walk you might pass by some red apples, a yellow wall, and clear blue skies. Then you might get to work and see red shirts, yellow post its, blue flowers. Following the one rule won’t be enough to get published.

Think of it this way, I want to see a great photograph; of any subject you’d like, anything in the world. It should make me feel something, ask something or teach me something.  It should be a great photograph. The constraint is that it also be dominant in red, yellow and/or blue. Take your time deciding. By the end of this month, you may have a dozen great options but can only submit three.

I hope you are inspired and excited by these colors, I hope they let you see the world around you in a new way. I hope that you continue to have as much fun as I am having with this new frame of reference. But I also hope you don’t forget, following the one rule isn’t all it takes to be published. Go beyond. Show me something great. 

Marie McGrory

Marie McGrory

Producer, Nat Geo Travel
Marie McGrory is a Producer with National Geographic Travel. She believes photography can help us find the moments, feelings, and stories that transcend cultural boundaries.