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Light and Shadow

This assignment ran from Jun 11 to Jul 2, 2019.
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From its humble beginnings, photography has been simply the study of light—the way by which light waves strike a surface and are redirected back through glass to make an image. It’s the examination of how light and shadows paint a composition, forming a scene to share that transcends a place and time, telling a story, and making the viewer feel something.

I recently came across this photograph by Magnum photographer Harry Gruyaert. While this photograph is quiet and not much is happening, the light and shadows make the moment compelling. They force you to stop and examine the frame detail by detail. The peach-colored building perfectly frames the man on the sidewalk while a figure in the street emerges from the shadows.

For this assignment, I want you to slow down and truly study the light around you. Ask yourself, where is the light coming from? How can you arrange yourself to best utilize the light to show the highlights and shadows and make a dynamic photograph? I want to see you experimenting, pushing your creative limits, and finding photographs in the light and shadows around you.

You can pull from your archives, but I prefer to see you follow the light around you to make fresh photographs with the keen eye you have practiced developing since you made the photos in your archive. Have fun with this! Use this assignment as inspiration to experiment with the light shining through your window to construct a still life or the light peeking through buildings in your city or neighborhood to freeze a moment in time. Maybe you’ll be compelled to make a photograph to portray your own mood, too.

If you’ve made it this far into the introduction, you’ll learn my one rule for this assignment: Do not overwork your images in post-processing.

Have fun and follow the light!

Kristen McNicholas

Curated by:

Associate Photo Editor, Nat Geo Your Shot

Assignment Status

Published Jul 19, 2019.
Thanks for your contributions!
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