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Capturing a Winner

You don’t have to be a pro, but here’s what it takes to compete in WTA’s northwest Exposure photo contest.

From 2012 Photo Contest Winners: Mount Baker Milky Way by Lijuan Guo
See the slideshow of the 2012 Photo Contest Winners, including this Mount Baker Milky Way winner by Lijuan Guo
You don’t have to be a pro, and it’s not rocket science, but here’s what it takes to compete in WTA’s northwest Exposure photo contest.

by Paul Raymaker

Washington’s gorgeous landscapes are unnumbered, and so are the many photographers trying to capture that beauty. With the start of WTA’s Northwest Exposure photo contest, here are some pointers on how to improve your photography in order to make your photo stand out from the rest—and catch the critical eyes of the judges.


This one should be easy, right? Take a nice landscape, put a trail in it—boom! Not so fast. This category has the most submissions, and it will take a special image to pop for the judges. A trailscape that makes it to the finals starts with great light and a unique composition.

  • Look for a distinctive scene, one that countless other photographers haven’t already captured.
  • Utilize the trail in your trailscape; use it as a path for your eyes, a line that leads the viewer through the image.
  • Maybe even get a hiker on the trail in your image; however, you might want to check out the Hikers in Action category to see if your photo works better there.

Flora and Fauna

Washington has a plethora of flora and fauna along its trails, but if you’re going to enter this category, don’t just submit a snapshot with a pretty flower in it.

  • For close-ups of flowers, try to capture nature’s artful design by using a macro lens to get the fine details that the casual observer overlooks; on the other hand, go for a wide angle to capture the vastness of some of our alpine meadows.
  • For fauna, check out nearby national wildlife refuges or state wildlife areas with trails that are known to have interesting creatures to shoot (with a camera, of course!), and get out on the trail around sunrise or sunset, when wildlife is most active.

Hikers in Action

For this category, the judges will be looking for hikers doing what they do best—hiking!  Not hikers lounging trailside enjoying a mountain vista. Capturing an effective and impressive image for this category takes effort and quick thinking. All too often, photographers lag behind groups, taking photos along the trail, looking up from time to time to take a shot. This results in pretty scenics full of hikers’ backsides—not what the judges are looking for.

  • Instead, try getting ahead of the group; far enough ahead to plan their path, compose a shot, and capture their faces.
  • Also, a well-placed hiker in a photo can demonstrate scale in nature.

Families on Trail

This category is all about families having fun outdoors. The challenge is how to catch that joyous smile on your kids’ faces while they’re rambunctiously bouncing around the trail or camp. This is where your autofocus skills come into play.

  • Make sure you are using your camera’s continuous autofocus function, so that your kids stay in focus as they’re enjoying their time in nature.
  • Also, be warned: these photo judges don’t consider your four-legged companions as “family” subjects.


Anything goes with this category, so get creative.

  • There are so many interesting things that happen on the trail, you just have to be ready to catch that remarkable moment.
  • Or, as many have done in the past, create your own remarkable moment or scene.
  • Get away from the ordinary and expected—but remember to be safe and practice Leave No Trace.


Finally, the most important part of capturing a great photo on the trail is to actually get out and hike! Keep your camera accessible and ready; it doesn’t do you any good stashed away in your pack. That way you’re guaranteed not to miss a unique wildlife opportunity or a spectacular sunset. You can submit your photos under any of these five categories through October 20, 2013.

>> Enter your photo here.