What are assignments and stories? How do they work?

What is an assignment?
Assignments are not contests. National Geographic operates two contests each year: the National Geographic Photo Contest and the Traveler Photo Contest, both of which have judges, winners, and rules. Your Shot assignments are built to be different.
 
Assignments are designed to mimic the process of being a photographer on assignment for National Geographic magazine. Here’s how magazine assignments work:
 
The editor(s) have an idea for a story they want to publish. They give the assignment to a photographer, who then goes out in the field and shoots. The photographer often brings back 10,000-plus images, only a handful of which go into the story. Throughout the experience, the editor and photographer are working together to make sure the images that come back are in line with what the editor has in mind for the story. The final selection that gets published may not include what were technically the best photos, nor the ones that the photographer or other editors liked the most. Rather, they are the ones that the editor decided worked together to best tell the story. Editors make a subjective choice based on a lot of elements, including the technical quality, how an image portrays one aspect of a larger story, and even the layout that’s available on the page.
 
When we created this community, we wanted to get as close to that experience as possible. That’s why editors post updates and notes to help guide the submissions. While we know every assignment isn’t right for every photographer, assignments are designed to challenge you and to make you step outside your comfort zone when you shoot. We encourage you to go out and shoot new images whenever possible, rather than relying on what’s already in your archive.
 
What is a story?
A story is a collection of images submitted by our community and curated by a National Geographic editor. The images come from a variety of members, but they fit together to make a cohesive story.
 
How do editors select the images that make the story?
Just as photographers do when shooting for National Geographic magazine, editors make choices based on which images best fit the story they’re trying to tell. Their choices may not include the top 10 or 15 most technically perfect photos, but they come together to tell a story.
 
Note that captions are invaluable to us when editing. They can elevate your image by shedding light on a scene and revealing the personal stories behind your pictures.
 
Some members of our community have noted that the process is subjective, and they’re absolutely right: It is up to that editor and that editor alone which images they include, just like in a National Geographic story.

The method our editors use to select photos for stories (and for the Daily Dozen, for that matter) is called a blind edit. This means they don’t see who submitted the photo until after the selection is made. A special back-end asset management system called Media Grid is used to review photos. Here’s a picture of what it looks like when they’re doing an edit:
 
http://help.nationalgeographic.com/customer/portal/attachments/349901
 
Using this system, editors only see images and captions, and they see every image in full, not in the thumbnail you see in galleries around the site. During a first round of edits, they flag images that they think might be good for the story in order to narrow down the selection pool. They then try out different combinations of photos until they find the set that works together best to tell the story they have in mind.
We don't recommend uploading images in bulk. Take your time and share your best shots. If you delete a shot from your gallery, it will still count towards your weekly upload limit and you won't be able to upload a new one for consideration in its place. We don't recommend deleting and uploading your photos over and over again for consideration. A descriptive caption will also give you a much better chance of being select. As always be mindful of the photo guidelines when it comes to processing your photos; less is more. Your Shot is a passionate, creative community ready to share feedback and start conversations about your images, and the more you engage with other members, the more you'll receive in inspiration.
Tip: Review past Daily Dozens to get a feel for the types of photos we select. You'll notice that they run the gamut in both style and content. Our photo editors like to be surprised and to see things from a different perspective. Be creative. Good luck!

 
But you don’t really look at every photo, do you?
Meet David and Matt. They are your Your Shot editors, and look at every single photo you upload. That’s about 7,000 per day, for those of you keeping count.
  
When editors lead assignments, they get a taste of what it’s like to be David and Matt. They edit on a rolling basis, as submissions come in, and can end up reviewing more than 10,000 images by the time the assignment is finished.
 
Does the number of favorites or comments contribute to the editor’s selection?
The editor can’t see the community’s feedback when they’re editing, so no, these do not influence the published story.
 
What are the rules for an assignment?
Remember, it’s not a contest! That said, you should start any assignment by carefully reading the description, editor’s updates, and the photo submission limit for the assignment. You can either submit from your gallery or upload a new photo, which will then also appear in your gallery and will count toward your weekly total upload quota of 15. You can see how many photos you have left to submit to an assignment when you click the "Submit" button (you may see, for example, 0/3 or 1/5). Pay close attention to this limit, because once you hit the limit of submissions to an assignment, you will not be able to delete a photo to replace an upload. Just as our editors have to narrow down their selections, we want you to self-edit carefully and choose the shots that you feel constitute your very best contribution to the assignment, so take your time. Some editors may set out specific guidelines for what they’re looking for as they edit, while some might want the community to guide the vision of the story.
 
What is an editor's update?
When National Geographic photographers are on assignment, they have periodic check-ins with their editor to make sure the direction their work is taking is what the editor expects or what will work best in the story. In a Your Shot assignment, an editor's update is published after he or she has reviewed some of the initial submissions. Updates are meant to reflect on what the editor is seeing from the community and to give more guidance. Since the update is based on what has been submitted so far, it may outline what an editor would like to see more of, give tips on how to avoid common issues that members are facing, or provide more clarity based on an interpretation of the assignment that the editor didn't originally anticipate. Since an editor's update may influence your own interpretation of the assignment and your submissions, we recommend submitting strategically. In other words, don't use all your submissions right away when the assignment launches. Look for inspiration in other people's submissions, discuss your process in the assignment comments, and listen for updates and feedback from the editors before finalizing all of your submissions.

What can I do to increase the chances of one of my images being chosen for a Your Shot story?
Because assignments are subjective, there’s no silver bullet to ensure your image will be chosen. Just as it is for a National Geographic photographer, being on assignment is an opportunity to push yourself, test your limits, and learn new skills. Be thoughtful in your submissions, and include thoughtful and detailed captions to help the editor understand what you’re showing.
 
And remember, the magic of Your Shot is in the incredible learning opportunities around every corner. We’re part of a community of people who love photography. Look to your fellow members for inspiration, advice, and feedback. The best way to get this is to give thoughtful feedback to others—not just generic, prewritten compliments, but specific, helpful advice. Suggest a new angle they may not have considered. Invite a member near you to get together to shoot or critique each other’s work. "Favorite" images that inspire you so you can try out a new idea.
 
How long are the submission periods?
An assignment is typically open for submissions for several weeks. Once the assignment submission phase closes, the assignment is curated by the assignment editor and published on the Your Shot website as a story. The deadline for the assignment is listed on the assignment page.
 
I’d like to know why the editor made the selections he/she did for a particular story. How can I hear more about the process behind a specific edit?
Our editors have a series on the blog called Behind the Edit. These posts usually publish shortly after a story comes out, and they give the editors a chance to discuss the stories they’ve published.
 
Keep an eye on the blog for more Behind the Edit posts, but here's a selection from our archives to get you started:

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