Backstories of the 2018 Winning National Park Photos

Want to know how to get a winning shot? Read these behind-the-scenes stories on how our three first-place photographers captured award-winning photos for our 2018 National Parks Photography Contest sponsored by Tamron.
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Katmai National Park - Brown Bears in the Heat of the Battle

Wildlife at Eye-Level

To get an award-winning shot, you have to be willing to work for it. That’s how Lindsay Donald, grand prize winner of the “Wildlife” category in our 2018 National Park Photography Contest sponsored by Tamron, found himself thigh-deep in Brooks River in Katmai National Park with grizzly bears.

Photographing the grizzlies in Katmai had been on Donald’s bucket list for years, so when he got the opportunity to join a group headed to Brooks Falls, he jumped at the opportunity. They spent some time photographing the bears gorging themselves on the plentiful sockeye salmon run from the elevated lookout, but Donald wanted a different perspective.

“I wanted to shoot the bears at eye-level,” says Donald. “The real impact is in the animals’ eyes. That connection only comes at eye-level.”

Donald studied zoology in school and wrote his thesis on animal behavior. It’s how he got into photography – he realized he would need to either be excellent at sketching or need to take photos to refer to as he wrote his thesis. He borrowed a friend’s camera and became hooked. Today, he photographs wildlife all over the world, as well as teaches photography when he’s not at his day job as a toxicology consultant.

He watched as two bears, likely four-to-five-year-old siblings, play fought in the river. He was utilizing his knowledge of animal behavior, as well as the park’s recommended minimum distance of 25 feet, to ensure he was safe in his situation.

Suddenly, the wrestling bears started heading towards him.

“It was nerve-wracking,” admits Donald. “For one, there was the risk of dropping my expensive camera gear into the water, which was quite frightening. Then, you’re also in the water with 400-500-pound apex predators that could easily knock you over. It was quite concerning.”

Donald was as close as his lens could focus and managed to fire off a few shots as he made a hasty exit. His winning shot was the only one that came out in focus.

Donald’s tip for capturing your own wildlife photos?

“Photographs can freeze a moment in time. Make sure you’re shooting at a high enough shutter speed that the eyes come out in focus. The rest of your picture can be out of focus, but the eyes must be sharp for the photo to have impact.”

Yosemite National Park - Glowing Half Dome behind Yosemite Falls

Shooting a Winner for Landscape Category

If you’re dreaming about something, plan it and do it, says Max Foster. Don’t just talk about it.

The 34-year-old Minnesotan, grand prize winner of the landscape category, knows a thing or two about turning dreams into realities. Foster and his wife are currently on the adventure of a lifetime: 14-months on the road in an RV. The CFO of a manufacturing company, Foster is fortunate to be able to work remotely – though it doesn’t come without its challenges. He’ll often spend three days to a week without any kind of reception, so coming back to the grid can be stressful. Even so, for him, it’s more than worth it.

“It’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make,” he says matter-of-factly, referring to realizing your dreams.

Years ago, on his first trip abroad, Foster brought along a point-and-shoot camera. When he got home from his adventures, he was distressed to see that all his shots came out terribly. That trip was the catalyst for him becoming a photographer.

Foster captured his grand-prize shot on his first ever trip to Yosemite this past year. “I wanted to come away with something unique,” Foster admits. “Tons of people go to Yosemite and the classic shots will always be iconic.”

He scoped out a promising looking spot near Yosemite Falls from the valley floor. He spent an hour and a half scrambling to the location. When he got there, he lucked out and found a tiny patch of four-inch-tall Indian paintbrush; the only flowers he’d seen in the area. He took the head off his tripod and balanced it on a rock to get the perspective right. After waiting for two hours for the light, he snapped the photo.

Usually, Foster waits to process images. It can sometimes take him weeks. This photo was different, however. As soon as he got back to his RV, he edited it. He must have known it was a winner.

Arches National Park - Milky Way over Delicate Arch

Best Night Skies Shot

Nathan Dolin-Aubertin is a weekend warrior. A local of Park City, Utah, he spends his days working at a sushi restaurant and his nights shooting the cosmos. Dolin-Aubertin brings his camera everywhere he goes, but shooting the Milky Way is his specialty.

“I love the endless possibility of what’s out there.” says the grand prize winner. “I think people should spend more time looking up. It makes you realize that the stuff in your life doesn’t matter. We are so insignificant. I love the night sky because it helps me take a step back and reconsider my actions.”

After a pause, he admits, “I’m also a Star Trek nerd.”

Dolin-Aubertin won the grand prize in the “Night Skies” category of our 8th annual National Park Photography Contest with a stunning shot of Arches National Park. He wasn’t even supposed to be in Moab the night the photo was taken. He’d driven down from Park City to meet his dad and some friends for a day of mountain biking. The temperatures soared to 100°F with no clouds. On the way back to Park City, Dolin-Aubertin stopped at Arches on a whim. He slept in the parking lot, waiting for the Milky Way to rise.

Delicate Arch is a 45-minute hike from the parking lot, and when he set out, 40 pounds of camera gear in tow, it was still 80 degrees outside, despite it being 2 a.m. When Dolin-Aubertin arrived at the arch, there were several other photographers there. Below the arch, sits a steep amphitheater. As he was setting up, an older gentleman dropped some camera gear down into the amphitheater.

Not satisfied with the angle of the shots he was getting, Dolin-Aubertin offered to retrieve the dropped gear and brought his camera down with him to take some shots. The other photographers had their headlamps on as they adjusted their settings, serendipitously lighting up the arch. It was the shot Dolin-Aubertin had been waiting for.

Up next on Dolin-Aubertin’s photography bucket list? Iceland.

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To keep track of our winners’ latest adventures, follow them on Instagram. You can find Lindsay at @donaldphotography_com, Nathan at @nateda__ and Max at @maxfosterphotography