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Voices of the Parks

This assignment ran from Jun 1 to Jun 24, 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. Her portraits captured the people who live there and their connection to the land. Learn about the power of our parks on

When you think of national parks, what normally comes to mind?

Perhaps visions of wilderness, mountains, forests, lakes, great rivers, waterfalls, pristine beaches, or myriad other magnificent vistas. Perhaps you envision historic trails or preserved structures. In any of these cases, whether natural or man-made, all of these parks contain a rich, storied history. A history that speaks of and to people.

For this next assignment that is exactly were we will be turning our lenses: to the people. I think many of us go to national parks to get a respite from our daily lives and, perhaps, some much needed solitude in the vastness of nature. However, for this assignment I am asking you to see where we as people fit into these parks. I want you to explore the people whose livelihoods and cultures are shaped by the parks. This can include park employees, volunteers, service providers, or surrounding businesspeople who rely upon and assist the parks. But I want you to think even beyond this. What about scientists, politicians, educators, and artists? Push your boundaries to help us all realize the expansive reach these parks have in a large ecosystem of participants.

Perhaps the most obvious but not the most simple by any means is to capture the tourists. Tourism is integral and essential to the existence of national parks. Show me what that looks like to you. Use this as an opportunity to portray our deep connection to the national park experience. I challenge you to make it personal as well by turning the camera to your own individual or family experience in the park. Show me history. Find the voices of the past. See if there is a way to bring previous generations to life through your images. I’m looking for anything that can evoke people and our presence in the landscape.

For my last assignment for National Geographic, I was part of a large team sent to cover the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Yellowstone National Park. As part of this team, it was my job to find and collect the voices that make up the GYE and reveal what connects these people to the landscape. The thing that amazed me the most was the hold that Yellowstone has on residents and visitors alike. The connection went deep and was far-reaching.

I want you to bring me to your park. Go beyond the obvious. Make amazing, breathtaking images but also educate yourself and, in turn, the rest of us on the power that these parks hold in all our lives.

Curated by:

Erika Larsen
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • 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 Jun 30, 2016.
Thank you for your contributions!

Visual Storytelling

Posted jun 20, 2016

I have two exciting announcements. We will be extending the assignment for a few more days, accepting work through June 24. And, for those who are inclined, we will be accepting a fourth submission.

Please be mindful of the extension and use it as an opportunity to review comments on the discussion boards and my editor’s notes to make your final submission meaningful.

I have been really impressed this past week. Since my last update the quality of submissions has improved and they have some meaning behind them. You are not only looking for beautiful moments, you are thinking about why these moments exist. You are revealing to me unique connections between people and these wild spaces, addressing exactly the main challenge of this assignment. Many of the captions hold personal revelations and factual information, and many begin to bridge into the realm of conservation and concern for these spaces. Keep this going! This is exactly what we need to see happening to make these images relevant in a forum like National Geographic Your Shot.

Another role that we take on as National Geographic photographers is lecturing about our stories. Of course, the images have to be technically and aesthetically superb, but we also need to be well-informed speakers about the topics that infuse the images. Many times we need to be both visual storytellers and oral storytellers. All the information you are gathering will enhance your conversations and present food for thought.

Thank you for challenging yourselves and helping us learn about new places, issues, and voices around the world.

Approaching Your Subjects

Posted jun 14, 2016

The first thing I want to say to everyone is simply, thank you! Since my last update the captions for your images have improved tremendously. Not only are the pictures striking, but now there are meaningful stories and voices behind them, which adds to their depth. I hope this exercise has helped push you beyond aesthetics to delve into your content. 

I really can appreciate the effort. When I was working on our Yellowstone issue, I had to constantly push myself to engage with the people and the landscape. For instance, I saw one couple that had set up a hammock on the outskirts of Yellowstone Lake. I was so impressed that they had made this intimate space for themselves in the park. I was a little hesitant to approach them, but I felt it was a picture I had to take and I also wanted to understand why they were visiting the park. I approached them and we began talking. They told me they were moving across the country to start new jobs and wanted to visit Yellowstone on the way. It was a personal landmark for them. We talked for some time and I took their picture later, when they became lost again in their own moment. I may have been able to take the same image from a distance, but learning more about their story and stepping into their space gave me a greater appreciation for why these natural spaces are so potent to us. 

With that in mind, please continue to delve into this assignment. Push yourself to move out of your comfort zone and talk to the people in the parks. Show me what you have learned through your images. We only have a little more than a week left to go. If you have questions, please communicate with me on the discussion board. I am on there at least once a day.

Providing a Complete Package

Posted jun 9, 2016

I have been going through your images daily and just had the chance to look at every image submitted so far for the second time. We are starting to get a stunning variety of locations, themes, and people in some breathtaking photographs! This is encouraging and exciting.

However, I need to address the topic of captions. The biggest concern I have at this point is that the majority of images coming in are not properly captioned. More than half of them don’t mention the name, location, or even whether the image was taken in a national park. When I am working on an assignment for National Geographic, my editor will not accept my images until they have the basic caption information with who, what, where, and when.

Beyond that, I want to encourage you to give me more in the captions for this assignment than you might be used to writing. This is about voices. Although images can and should speak for themselves, for this project we have the chance to further educate viewers through our captioning. For example, don’t just show me the amazing image of your family in the park; tell me what you learned, how you felt, and why this experience was moving enough to make a picture. If you are showing me a picture of a park employee, tell me what you learned from them, why their position in the park is important from your perspective, or go even further and ask them why they believe their job is important. I encourage you to interact with the people in the landscapes and translate their voices.

For those who have already submitted images, take the time to go back over your captions and fill in the gaps if possible. For those who are in the process of shooting and submitting, please keep this in mind. There are so many beautiful images and I want to make sure you are pushing yourselves to provide a complete package!

Erika Larsen

Erika Larsen

National Geographic Photographer
Erika Larsen’s work uses photography, video and writing to learn
 intimately about cultures that maintain strong connections with nature. She has been working as a magazine photographer since 2000 specializing in 
human-interest stories and sensitive cultural issues and is a contributing photographer to National Geographic Magazine. Her work has been included in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery,
 National Geographic Society, The Swedish Museum of Ethnography and Ajtte Sámi Museum. Her first monograph, Sami-Walking With Reindeer, was released in 2013.