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For Assignment: Inspiration, the three photographers selected from the @NatGeoYourShot Instagram #NatGeoMazdaContest were invited to California to compete in a series of on-location photography challenges. The photographers participated in three visual storytelling assignments, or Quests, under the mentorship of experts from National Geographic and Mazda. The ultimate winner will receive an official assignment for National Geographic Travel. Follow their journey to see who will become one of National Geographic’s next great storytellers.



The finalists’ three quests were inspired by David Guttenfelder’s experiences while on assignment in Hiroshima, Japan with Mazda.

Picture of an artisan


In Japan, a Takumi is a master craftsperson — an artisan who dedicates their life to mastering their skill. A Takumi puts their spirit and creative energy into their craft, infusing emotion through human touch. That creative energy is transferred to whomever experiences their work, whether it is a katana blade, calligraphy, or the body panel of a car.

In this challenge, our contestants were asked to use their own skill with the camera to capture The Spirit of Takumi. They must encounter a craftsperson and convey that person's passion, dedication, and skill in their images, revealing a deeper truth.


The word "reflect" has many meanings: to think deeply, to cast back an image in a mirror, to represent faithfully. Every day, we can encounter moments in which we witness our environment reflected in inspiring ways. Ultimately, a ‘reflection‘ is a moment in which we see the world differently and our perception is altered, however briefly.

In this challenge, our contestants were asked to seek out images of Unique Reflections where an otherwise dormant surface comes to life by reflecting the world around it.

Picture of cityscape
Picture of a person and pond


What does it mean to be Uplifted? To be empowered, inspired, and connected.

When traveling, we often encounter people whose kindness, drive, or ingenuity are inspirational. These are moments that enrich us and make us feel alive. We can be uplifted by much of what we discover: the sense of pride people feel in their work, the passing of knowledge and wisdom to the next generation, the human connection created through shared discovery, or the simple act of helping another person.

In this challenge, our contestants were asked to find moments of humans being UPLIFTED.


These three finalists competed to be National Geographic's Next Great Storyteller.

NINA MAYER RITCHIE@ninamayerritchie

SAM TIPPETTS@samtippetts

BETH MANCUSO@intothewild.wego


Our judging panel was comprised of these National Geographic and Mazda mentors.

Picture of Chad Hockerman


Chad is a brand storyteller with a knack for narrative. As the Director of Customer Strategy and Brand at Mazda North American Operations, Chad leads communications development for U.S. vehicle launches, brand partnerships, motorsports, and entertainment efforts. Chad first developed his passion for storytelling while obtaining his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Chad has spent his 20-year career developing creative and strategic marketing communications for a variety of brands. Prior to joining Mazda, he was the Global Brand Manager for Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

Picture of David Guttenfelder


David Guttenfelder is a National Geographic Photographer focusing on geopolitical conflict, conservation, and culture.

David has spent more than 20 years as a photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Japan, India, Israel, Ivory Coast, and Kenya covering world events in nearly 100 countries. He is an eight-time World Press Photo Award winner and a seven-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Pictures of the Year International and the NPPA have named him Photojournalist of the Year. In 2016, a photograph of his made in North Korea was named among TIME Magazine's "100 Most Influential Photographs Ever Taken." David is an influencer and industry leader in smartphone photography and social media. He was named inaugural Instagram Photographer of the Year by TIME magazine, received the Shorty Award for online photography, and the Online Journalism Award.

Picture of Anne Farrar


Anne Farrar, Director of Photography for National Geographic Travel, believes in the power of visual storytelling to serve as a catalyst for change within the travel and tourism industry. Anne has worked as a photo editor and designer at many of the best photojournalism newspapers in the U.S. before joining National Geographic, and has received numerous awards from the Society of Publication Designers, the North American Travel Journalists Association, and the National Press Photographers Association. Anne is actively involved in the international photo community and serves as a judge for photographic and journalism prizes, recently including LensCulture and Visura, among others. An avid trail runner, alpine climber, diver, and coffee drinker, Anne travels the world in pursuit of adrenaline rushes, epic views, and a good buzz.