More than 2,000 people entered National Park Trips Media’s annual photo contest this year, and choosing the winners was harder than ever. We gave three grand prizes—high-quality Tamron lenses and their photo published in our National Park Journal magazine. Forty-eight honorable mentions received certificates and are featured on our national park websites..
The three winners, Roger Twilley, Matt Meisenheimer, and Tony Prince, are all hobbyists—none is a professional photographer by trade—but their images were no accidents. They travel to national parks as often as possible for photography, and they spend countless hours each year honing their craft. We asked them to give us a behind-the-scenes look at how they captured these stunning photos.
Matt Meisenheimer from Janesville, Wisconsin
Olympic National Park – A beautiful night at Ruby Beach
Matt Meisenheimer, 27, of Janesville, Wis., shot his winning landscape photo at sunset from a cave on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park last spring. He spent the first couple of days of his trip shooting in the rainforest and made this photo on his last night in the park. That afternoon, the sea and sky were covered by a marine layer. There was no texture, and Meisenheimer thought the evening would be a bust. But when a few distinct clouds appeared just in time for sunset, he sprinted over to a cave he had spotted when hiking earlier in the day.
“I was setting up in this cave and framed this arch and got some really awesome clouds and awesome light,” he says. But toward the end, he was taking Hail Mary shots. “It was hard to shoot in there because the tide was coming up. It’s really hard to shoot with saltwater, if it gets on your lens.”
He shot as many frames as he could as the tide rolled in, wiping salty spray off his lens in between each shot, and hoped for the best.
“I was pretty worried. I noticed that there was some condensation forming on the lens, and I also noticed that I was getting some salt that was building up and flaring. To overcome that, I adjusted my camera and kept drying my lens,” he says. “The light was awesome. I knew the light was going to be there, but I was pretty nervous at the time.”
Roger Twilley from Tulsa Oklahoma
Lake Clark National Park – Brown Bear
For Roger Twilley, 60, this image marks an experience of a lifetime. His father is the one who instilled a strong love and respect for nature in him and his brothers, and he passed away a few months before his trip. Twilley was moved to get to see a grizzly up-close.
He was on a guided photography tour, on which he’d won a spot in a Lowepro photo contest. The guides knew where to look for bears, and they watched from a safe distance as a mother grizzly rested with two cubs nearby. Everyone else on the trip was focused on the cubs, Twilley said, and he shot the grizzly just as she started to get up.
“Most people picture grizzly bears as mean, but she looked more at ease and relaxed,” Twilley says. “She didn’t care who was around. In the moment, it looked like she was enjoying everything around her.”
Twilley lives in Tulsa, Okla., and often photographs wildlife, including the bald eagles that live near him. There are about nine nests within a 30-minute drive of his house, he says. But this was the first time he had ever seen a grizzly out in the wild.
“It was unbelievable,” Twilley says. “I was so happy.”
Grand Prize Night Skies
Tony Prince from Yucca Valley, California
Joshua Tree National Park – The Milky Way rises boldly over Arch Rock
Tony Prince, 59, of Yucca Valley, California, has loved astronomy and photography since being an aid for classes in both subjects in school. He’s now an insurance agent and has taken a few workshops over the years, including one of our night sky workshops in Zion National Park. He spent weeks waiting for the perfect night to shoot the Milky Way from Joshua Tree National Park.
“If it’s humid out or there are even some light clouds, the lights will get picked up from the cities and, boom, the stars will disappear,” Prince says. “It has to be crystal clear to get a picture like this.”
So Prince monitored atmospheric conditions daily and jumped at the chance to go out on perfectly clear night. He aimed a light on some rocks behind him, so it would bounce back at the sky rather than painting rock features in front of the camera, and he took 18 frames with a wide-angle lens. He stitched them together to create a panorama of the Milky Way.
“There’s no wide-angle lens that will get it all,” he says.
He recently moved within a few miles of Joshua Tree so he could go more often, and he visits constantly. He loves how the trees are as unique as snowflakes.
“I just love the Southwest’s deserts and canyons and super clear skies, and I can’t get enough of it,” he says.
2017 Landscape Honorable Mention
Glacier National Park – Lake McDonald sunset by Gregg Ohanian
Acadia National Park – Sunrise by Stan Dzugan
Grand Canyon National Park – Double rainbow at the north rim by Carolyn Derstine
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve – Hiker by Patrick Myers
Yosemite National Park – Valley View by Richard Glass
Glacier National Park – Rental boats docked for the evening on Lake McDonald in June by Debra Schwartznau
Grand Teton National Park – Tetons in the early morning May 28th, 2017 at Schwabachers Landing by Cecil Hicks
Mt. Rainier National Park – ‘Peak A Blue’ looking west over Sunrise by Pablo McLoud
North Cascades National Park – Serene wildfire smoke reflection at Ross Lake NRA by Shannon Mackey
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse by Sandeep Gali
Bryce Canyon National Park – Sunrise at the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater by Douglas Croft
Mount Rainier National Park – Wildflowers and sunset at Tipsoo Lake by Judi Kubes
Sequoia National Park – Among the giants on Congress Trail by Adriane Bean
Point Reyes National Seashore – A beautiful hike with this stunning view by Bachir Badaoui. At the bottom of the Sea Cliff are hundreds of sea lions undisturbed by human activity. This is also a great place to watch the whale migrations in the winter.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Kamokuna Lava Hose by Margaret Simms
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Mingus Mill by Randy Traynor
Olympic National Park – Lake Crescent by Renee Curcuru
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve – Windy Dunes by Michael Osborne. Earth Day weekend, I drove to Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park hoping to get some dramatic light and contrast of the dunes at first/last light. On my late afternoon hike, the wind really picked up and put my eyes and gear to the test as blowing sand filled everything not well covered. There was one other photographer at the top with me, everyone else went home or stayed low. Our reward was a front row seat to scenes like this.
Yosemite National Park – Tunnel View Winter by Charles Phillips
Yosemite National Park – Last Light on Half Dome by Dustin Penman
Canyonlands National Park – False Kiva by D B Young
Yellowstone National Park – Sunset at the Great Fountain Geyser by John Dicker
Yellowstone National Park – Majestic Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River by John Alexander Kay. It is an amazing place to sit and listen to the thunderous roar of the water. Bonus rainbow as well!
Yellowstone National Park – Mystic Falls by Dustin White
Yellowstone National Park – Mammoth Hot Springs Long in the Tooth by Richard Criddle
Yellowstone National Park – Great Fountain Geyser after a rainstorm by John Bowman
2017 Wildlife Honorable Mention
Grand Teton National Park – Kissing Moose by Kelley Marquart
Yellowstone National Park – Motherly Love by Eddie Parham
Grand Canyon National Park – Bighorn Family by Randy Traynor
Yellowstone National Park – Dueling Bison by Karisa Wallace
Grand Teton National Park – Curious Bear by Becky Smith
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Bluebird Ready for Take Off by Karol Cooper
Badlands National Park – Two Bighorn Sheep rams battling it out for breeding rights by John Alexander Kay
Yellowstone National Park – Osprey at Lewis Falls by Roger Bentler
Yellowstone National Park – Grizzly and her two cubs by Craig Jones
Grand Canyon National Park – A young fawn’s attempt at camouflage amid cactus by Robin Albright
Grand Teton National Park – Great horned owlets in a heart shaped cavity by Jon LeVasseur
Yellowstone National Park – Young Grizzly by Karolyn Berkiel
2017 Night Skies Honorable Mention
Mount Rainier National Park – Crescent moon rising over Mount Rainier by Judi Kubes
Grand Teton National Park – Lucas-Fabian Homestead by Dave McNamara
Voyageurs National Park – Aurora Borealis by John Alexander Kay. End of September camping alone on an island 18 miles from the boat landing in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, along the Canadian border, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) decided to put on an astounding show!
Glacier National Park – A beautiful clear night with perfect views of stars and the milky way over Lake McDonald by Kristopher Schoenleber
Joshua Tree National Park – Nature’s Night Light by Kinita Albertson
Glacier National Park – Milky Grinnell Way-Point by Richard Voskoboynikov
Canyonlands National Park – Night skies above my campsite in Elephant Canyon by Stephen Sebestyen
Yellowstone National Park – Old Faithful Geyser, against the backdrop of Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights, a rare phenomenon in Yellowstone by Ankit Gordhandas
Joshua Tree National Park – Arch Rock Star Trails by Tony Prince
Yosemite National Park – Half Dome under starlight, Merced River under headlight by Kasia Guthrie