What Makes A Winning National Park Photo?

Meet the top three winners of 2016.

More than 3,000 photographs were submitted to the 2016 National Park Trips Photo Contest, almost double the amount of the previous year’s entries. Of these submissions, three photos were chosen to be featured in four editions of the National Park Journal, and 56 photos received an honorable mention online.

“It’s always incredibly difficult to choose the winner,” says Rob Wood, publisher of National Park Trips Media. “This year was by far the hardest.”

Click on images to enlarge

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Photo by Kate Noll

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Photo by Kate Noll

The winner of the 2016 photo contest, Kathy Noll from Laureldale, Penn., captured an underwater encounter of a blacktip reef shark while a frigatebird soared overhead with a partially submerged lens at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

“The fact that she captured those two perspectives–that was the X factor. It was something we hadn’t seen before,” Wood says.

“I owe capturing the bird and shark together to good timing,” Noll says. “Animals rarely work with you when you’re photographing them. What you really need is luck, and a lot of patience.”

Noll got her start in photography as a child when she received her first disposable film camera but has become more passionate about it since she started traveling more frequently.

“When I’m not taking photos, my favorite thing to do is travel,” says Noll.

She was island-hopping and snorkeling in Hawaii when she managed to snap the incredible shot.

Noll will receive a Tamron SP 150-600mm Di VC USD camera lens for her work. This long telephoto lens is great for portraits of animals and birds.

“Many Tamron users are passionate about the outdoors and photographing national parks is one of their favorite subject matters,” says Stacie Errera, Tamron vice president of marketing and communications, “So it seemed a natural fit to host a contest for National Park Trips readers.”

Tamron has been partnered with National Park Trips Media for the annual photo contest since 2011 when the contest began.

That first year brought in just 100 submissions but since then the number of submissions has grown exponentially.

“It’s more than doubled every year,” Wood says. “We’re one of the premier photo contests out there in terms of outdoor photography, and people know about our credibility and quality content.”

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Photo by Phill Monson

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Photo by Phill Monson

First runner-up Phill Monson took his photo of lightning striking at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument after he was woken up by the sounds of thunder.

“As we were sleeping, probably around 3, 4 in the morning, we were woken up by this really intense thunderstorm that was right above us,” Monson says. “And [my friend and I] just looked at each other and said, ‘We’re here. We might as well go see what we can get.’”

Monson works in sales but became interested in photography in 2008 on a trip to Europe with his wife.

“I started getting out a bit more and buying more expensive stuff, and my wife was kind of scratching her head wondering what she got herself into here,” Monson says.

Tamron and National Park Trips Media awarded Monson with the Tamron SP 16-300mm DI II VC PZD Macro camera lens for capturing landscapes from wide to close up.

Moulton's Barn at Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Sandeep Gali

Moulton’s Barn at Grand Teton National Park. Photo by Sandeep Gali

Sandeep Gali was the second runner-up with his photo of T.A. Moulton’s Barn and Teton range in the background. Gali had attempted to photograph the barn on his first night camping at the Tetons.

“I couldn’t get mine because the sun was setting behind the barn, so I decided to go early the next morning at 5 o’clock,” Gali says.

An IT engineer for United Airlines during the day, this was his first visit to a national park with his DSLR camera. Gali has always been interested in photography but only recently got a DSLR.

Tamron and National Park Trips Media awarded Monson with the Tamron SP 70-300mm Di VC USD camera lens, a great choice for medium-to-long telephoto zoom ranges.

“I’ve talked to the winners in the past and most of them are amateurs,” says Wood. “They’re just people who go on vacation to the parks and enjoy shooting the national parks.”

And for mainly amateur photography, the submissions are impressive.

“The entrants in this contest are tremendously committed to photographing their vision of the national parks and their passion shows in the work,” says Errera. “The entries we see each year are stunning.”

The 2016 National Park Trips Photo Contest was the sixth year National Park Trips Media and Tamron have held a contest to recognize reader’s photographs. The next photo contest will be in 2017. Learn more and enter at www.nationalparktrips.com/photo-contest or see all 59 winning photos from the 2016 contest.


Portrait of Jade Lang.Jade Lang is a writer with National Park Trips Media and is in her senior year at CU-Boulder. She studies journalism, philosophy and Spanish, and loves music, animals, Corepower Yoga, and traveling.