Your Shot Blog

This Is Your Shot Calling

February 17, 2014

Dan Stone is an editor and writer for National Geographic Magazine, including the Your Shot page. He is also one-half of the Onward team where he reports on the unexplored, often from the other side of the world.

The best part of my job is when I get to call the winners of Your Shot to share the news that their photo was chosen for publication. “Hi, this is Dan Stone with National Geographic,” I say. That’s usually enough for them to know what’s up. Then I’ll add, “I’m calling about the photo you submitted to Your Shot.” By then it’s obvious. You can often hear the person shushing the people nearby or trying to find a quiet spot to talk. One time a man literally dropped the phone. There’s a third and rare class of person who tries, very obviously, to play it cool. (“National Geographic?…oh yeah, I’ve heard of it.”).

Delivering good news would make anyone’s job great. What I particularly love comes after the initial formalities when I get to learn about the photo. In print, we aim to give photos context. It enhances an image to know what happened in the moments before and after the shutter snapped.

One of my favorite Your Shot photos ran in our November 2013 edition. The image of a man emerging from some very cold water is beautiful. The coloring, the emotion, the composition of the rectangle and the ice.


(Photograph by Emily Whitfield-Wicks)

But what you can’t see is that this is how the British Royal Marine trained before shipping off to Afghanistan. In Norway, teams of commandos train in intense cold to build up tolerance and psychological stamina.

For one exercise, a marine had to slide on a pair of skis into a hole cut in the ice, the photographer, a woman named Emily Whitfield-Wicks, told me. Once submerged, an officer would ask him a question. “If he got it wrong, he’d have to dunk his head. This would cause them to gasp when they came back up,” Emily said. To her, this made for a great photo opportunity. (Lest anyone accuse her of being stoic, keep in mind that in -4°F (-20°C)  her gloveless hands were about to fall off.)

When a marine finally nailed a correct answer—one hopes the questions become easier with time—he would be hoisted from the water, given a shot of whisky and sent to a nearby sauna. The story adds depth to the photo. It’s also made me wonder how I would fare as a British marine. It also made me grateful for journalism.

Another memorable Your Shot photo ran just a month before and might be classified in the “wait…what?” category of photos. It’s the type of image that confuses you for a moment and makes you lean closer to your screen.


(Photograph by Desmond Downs)

In this case, what you see is a bursting water balloon the moment after it burst. Contrary to most of the submissions we receive, it’s a very deliberate image, one that a photographer named Desmond Downs planned and experimented to make.

In his back yard, Downs set up a sound-activated flash for his camera. Then he shot a water balloon with an air rifle. He needed the flash to illuminate the exact moment the balloon burst, not a moment too early or late. So he experimented with how far to put the microphone for the flash from the air rifle. It took him 11 tries before he nailed it.

He said to me, “After the bright flash, the splash on the floor, and everything goes dark, there is a certain thrill involved in checking the display to see what you captured.” Sometimes, even better than a great photo, is the moment when we go back and learn exactly what happened.
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32 Notes

  1. thethennowalways reblogged this from natgeoyourshot
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  3. instante1 reblogged this from natgeoyourshot and added:
    A beautiful job
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  5. me-supernaturally reblogged this from natgeoyourshot and added:
    OMG can I be older so I can work here already????
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