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Strange Terrains

This assignment ran from Oct 3 to Oct 24, 2016.

If I was a Martian, I would see the diverse landscapes of Earth as incredibly strange: the goblin-like rock deserts, the deep ocean floors with sulfur-spewing mini volcanos, the patterns of cracked granite up mountain spires, even the concrete jungles of the biggest cities. They would be fascinating sites to behold. Part of the magic of photography is the wonder of capturing the infinite nooks and crannies of the planet with an endless sense of alien excitement. Unexpected approaches, like looking at things from a slightly different angle or putting our cameras in a position that’s not easy to get into, allow us to see things in a way that reveals their sheer strangeness.

For me, photography was largely borne out of my fascination with landscape. I vividly remember the first time I saw the red rock of a desert in the Southwest and the wonder that entailed. I immediately gave away all my belongings and moved to the Canyonlands in Utah to pursue landscape art and climbing and to attempt to understand such vast beauty. As time went on, I continued to dedicate my life to exploring the far reaches of the planet that fascinated me: the jungles of Borneo, the high Himalaya, the violent ocean off the tip of Antarctica. Art, filmmaking, and photography became a vehicle to put a personal spin and interpretation on these wild places as they interact with light, weather, wildlife, and humanity.

For this assignment, I’d like you to see the “strange terrains” of your life, however big or small. It could be a fresh perspective on a commonly photographed national park, a miniature detail in your backyard, or even man-made structures like windmills or a city skyline. There could be figures or animals in the frame to give a sense of scale, or the terrain could remain an abstract artistic mystery. I encourage you to look with the excitement of a child (or alien!) at the micro and macro parts of this Earth using your eye and lenses, bringing out unexpected beauty.

Anyone is welcome to participate in this sponsored assignment, however in order to be eligible for the contest prize associated with this assignment participants and submissions must adhere to the Official Rules. Only U.S. residents are eligible for the grand prize.  The prize is a two day/one night trip to Utah to accompany National Geographic photographer Renan Ozturk on a one day photo shoot.  

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

Curated by:

Renan Ozturk
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • Closed

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  • Published

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Published Nov 9, 2016.
Thank you for your contributions!

Final Words of Wisdom

Posted oct 23, 2016

During this assignment I’ve been in the remote eastern Nepalese jungles on assignment for National Geographic magazine covering a culture of people who harvest hallucinogenic honey off cliffs using handmade bamboo ropes.  I’m not allowed to share my magazine assignment images on Your Shot yet, but here is a photo taken by National Geographic Senior Photo Editor Sadie Quarrier of us operating a drone.  I really appreciate the huge creative response to this assignment.  I’ve learned a lot about editing my first Your Shot piece from this very creative community, featuring photographers from all around the world.  For my final words of wisdom on this last day of the assignment I would encourage you to continue to look for subjects that are complex and unexpected.  

Personally I’m not as drawn to landscapes that I commonly see when scrolling through popular Instagram feeds and more towards creative perspectives of commonplace things (Connecting by Henrik Vene), more fascinating macro terrains  (‘Life’ by Marcio Barboza) or places that are truly strange and out there (“In A Mighty Crab Land" by Akvile Norkute).  Also I wanted to call attention to a few submissions that worked well as creative interpretations to the assignment such as the human strange terrain of a hand macro’s of Elizabeth Paoletti’s “Digits” and as well as the use of infrared by Adolfo Arman.  Happy shooting in the final day, thanks again for this enriching experience. Its been incredible to see strange terrains through all of your lenses!  

Assignment Evolution

Posted oct 19, 2016

I’ve been really enjoying the evolution of this assignment since the last update. There have been some incredible unexpected submissions, such as Leigh Ayres’s  “Frozen Bubble” and Melissa Breyer’s “The Mist.” For the sake of having concrete examples I think both these shots helped me continue to look at this rather abstract assignment with fresh eyes. Even though the macro shot of the bubble had no subject, it could be interpreted in many ways and the planetary feel made it stand out.

As far the “The Mist,” this shot reminded me that even in the most expected everyday locations there could be a moment of mysterious light as otherworldly as some of the vast far-off places I’ve seen submitted. So what I’m saying is in the final days of this assignment, truly keep your mind open to the multitude of ways it could be interpreted—big, small, remote, or close to home. Thanks for all your creativity so far!  

Through the Eyes of a Martian

Posted oct 12, 2016

Thanks so much to everyone who has submitted images for the Strange Terrains assignment so far. I’ve been blown away by the talent and creativity going into it! Overall, I love the mix of traditional landscapes as well as macro photography. When I look through all of them I continue to ask myself: If I was a Martian looking at Earth for the first time, what would fascinate me? 

The photos I gravitate toward are not the typical abstract macro pattern shots with no subject or the Instagram-style little figure on a giant landscape. Instead they are the unexpected images that are mesmerizing to figure out what exactly we are looking at right off the bat; images that can be interpreted in more than one way. Something that elicits a bit more than a quick look. A few examples are "Tiny Ballerina,” which is a magical macro shot with both a subject as well as a wild world the subject is interacting with, or “City of Lights,” which is an unexpected urban scene combining the patterns of the city with the patterns of the stars. In the final days of the submission process I would encourage you all to find images that are complex in such ways.

Thanks again. It’s been an incredible process to be a part of so far with you all!  

Renan Ozturk

Renan Ozturk

National Geographic Photographer
Renan Ozturk is a National Geographic Photographer, team climber for The North Face, Camp 4 Collective founding filmmaker and landscape artist at heart. Renan has been published in National Geographic Magazine for capturing images of expedition climbing adventures as well as covering assignments involving cultural immersion.