National Geographic
Your Shot monthly assignments

It was an honor to collaborate with the National Geographic Your Shot editing team on two monthly photography assignments, which involved critiquing, editing, and curating images submitted by the community of one million photographers representing 195 countries from around the world. During each assignment's run, I would review newly posted images daily, favoriting those that caught my eye and leaving comments of praise, critique, and encouragement. I also wrote accompanying blog posts for the Your Shot discussion forum and the final statements that ran with each curated slide show.

 

It was such a pleasure engaging with this vibrant, enthusiastic and talented community of photographers. Finally, I participated in the first-ever Your Shot portfolio review.

 

Unfortunately, today the Your Shot community only exists on Instagram, and the carefully curated content by team editors Matt Adams, David Lee, and Kristen McNicholas, National Geographic magazine photographers and editors, as well as guest curators no longer posted on the website.

 

The following are from each of my assignments.

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Current landing page for National Geographic Your Shot.

Producers - Matt Adams

                   David Lee

 

Associate Photo Editor - Kristen McNicholas

 

Guest Curator - Jenn Poggi                 

"Inspiring Experiences"

The "Inspiring Experiences," assignment was inspired by the "Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings" exhibition that premiered at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2018. The exhibit brought together some 110 photographs — many shown for the first time — created over 40 years of Mann’s career. The exhibition — the first major survey of the celebrated photographer to travel internationally — investigated how Mann’s relationship with her native land, the American South, shaped her work.

 

I attended the press preview for "Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings" as part of the Your Shot team, which coordinated with exhibit curator Sarah Greenough to organize an invitation-only meet-up for the community at the National Gallery of Art. Greenough led a private tour for the Your Shot guests, which set the stage for the announcement of the "Inspiring Experiences" assignment.

Your Shot editor David Lee and I invited members of the community to share photos and stories inspired by their own experiences. More than 8,800 images were submitted for this assignment, which ran from March 19 thru April 9, 2018. I co-edited and curated the work with David. Together, we selected over 1,000 as our editor's favorites. From this collection, we separately identified our favorites based on their visual strength, which brought us down to a combined wide edit of 117 photos.
Next, we met via video conference and each took turns, articulating why we favored a photo. For an image to advance, David and I both needed to agree that a photo deserved to be considered for the final story. This got us down to 46.


To curate our final story, we first started with the eight photos we both selected from the 117 picture first edit. One by one, as we edited down to our final story, one concept kept repeating itself in our discussion: "I feel..." There were a lot of beautiful photos with lovely light, fantastic composition, and intimate moments — but these 26 in our final story made us both feel something. We felt inspired by your experiences. Each of these 26 photos connected with us and evoked a reaction.

 

Then we carefully sequenced these 26 photos looking for an order that flowed well together. Each photo needed to compliment the next frame — visually or thematically. We looked at each picture full frame, one by one, as a slideshow. Immediately any frames that felt out of place presented themselves quickly, so we worked together to find a better organization of the final story.

 

Because this assignment was inspired by the Sally Mann exhibit, we decided to end with a photo by Your Shot photographer Laura Wood. When we shared with the museum publicist, she replied, “That photo is amazing, and definitely reminiscent of Sally Mann. It reminds me of Easter Dress! We will definitely share [the final story] with [Sally Mann], we already shared the assignment with her and her team!”

"Inspiring Experiences" final edit.

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Your Shot guests gather at the National Gallery of Art. (Photo by Kristen McNicholas)

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Your Shot editor Kristen McNicholas at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (Photo by David Lee)

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Senior Curator Sarah Greenough. (Photo by Kristen McNicholas)

"Rites of Passage"

Nearly every community on the planet has a rite of passage that signals a transition in the life of an individual. Some may easily come to mind - a coming-of-age ceremony, marriage, the arrival of your first child. Other transitional life moments may only be recognized within a particular region, village, neighborhood, or family.

 

For the "Rites of Passage" assignment, I was inspired by two posts from Your Shot photographers. The first was Corinne Isabelle Rinaldis’ 2016 picture “Quinceañera en Oaxaca” which represented a more broadly understood tradition. While Terra Fondriest wrote about her 2018 image, “Shooting a BB gun is like a childhood rite of passage here in the Ozarks.” For this assignment, I invited the Your Shot community to ponder the sacred customs of significant moments, big and small, that exist in their lives and the communities around them.

 

More than 5,000 images were submitted for this assignment, which ran from July 10 thru July 31, 2019. I edited and curated the final work that was published on August 14, 2019. 

While the assignment was open, I tagged any image that caught my attention. These were almost always pictures that were visually compelling for their creative and technical execution. However, some attracted my attention based more on the storytelling communicated in the caption.

 

From 5,000 plus images, I narrowed the wide edit to 300. However, I noticed several terrific images did not align with the assignment and quickly eliminated them. Next, I projected the 241 images as a slide show.

 

When crafting the assignment, I had anticipated it would net many submissions from moments surrounding birth, marriage, and death. Since they are important and universal rites of passage, I had no intention of ignoring these categories. But I had also challenged the community to think more broadly about smaller, but no less important, rites of passage. It was essential for my final edit to strike a balance between all of these types of pictures. With all of this in mind, I quickly recognized 137 as being the strongest.

 

At this point, I read each caption looking for what details and context were provided to support our understanding of the pictured. There were many wonderful images that offered little meaningful information in the caption. My wide edit was now down to 82 pictures and I started looking for redundancies. If there were five strong images from weddings, I began making tough decisions about which I would include. The goal of these assignments is to surprise and inform. So, I did my best to avoid the predictable. Happily, I found so many images from the Your Shot community that captured unexpected moments from the universal rites of passage. For example, Your Shot photographer Abir Choudhary‘s image showed the emotional moment a Bengali Hindu bride leaves her parent’s home to start her married life.

 

I also focused on criteria that would help me further cull my wide edit into a group of selects. For example, if there were too many images from the same region of the world, or a particular age group seemed overrepresented, I made some difficult choices. Once I narrowed my edit to under 40 images, I started to consider how I might sequence this disparate group of pictures so that they flowed from one to the next implying a thematic connection. I arranged and rearranged the pictures as I considered color, composition, quality of light, moment expressed, and subject matter, just to name a few. This process revealed a handful of additional images that didn’t make the cut. For me, this is the part of picture editing that is most challenging but also extremely rewarding.

 

In the end, images published in the final story act as a curated sample of a much larger group of successful images submitted for the assignment. The Your Shot platform offered a rich opportunity to look at all of the images an editor considers successful and an opportunity to hear why they feel the way they do. 

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"Rites of Passage" final edit.

"Rites of Passage" assignment page on National Geographic site.

"Rites of Passage" final edit.