Behind the Winning Image

Yesterday we announced the winners of the 2011 Traveler Photo Contest. The contest generated nearly 13,000 entries from around the world covering travel portraits, outdoor scenes, sense of place and spontaneous moments. Ben Canales dazzled the judges of this year’s contest with his first place image of a starry sky over Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

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Ben Canales, 2011 Traveler Photo Contest First Place Winner

How did he get the shot? Canales was just playing around when he flopped onto his back for a long exposure, his headlamp shining up towards the sky. Playfulness was the X-factor that helped the judges select all the winning images in this year’s contest. “I think we’ve seen so many pictures of beautiful places that we’re always trying to find that little bit of something extra that makes it a little more interesting, and sometimes that is a little subtle humor,” said contest judge and senior photo editor for Traveler, Dan Westergren to National Geographic News.

The winning photographer agrees. “I think it’s great that the picture of me being myself, just having fun, trying to experience the moment– that’s the one that makes the connection,” said Canales.

A transplant to Oregon from New Jersey, Canales became enamored with photographing the stars while on a camping trip. “When stars showed up on the preview screen, I was hooked!” He began honing his new-found passion and dreaming of photographing the stars over Crater Lake. Two years later, he got a last-minute invite to go on his dream trip, the timing of which serendipitously coincided with perfect weather and moon conditions. It was on this trip he snapped the winning shot.

Canales also experimented with time-lapse photography on the trip to Crater Lake and put together this video (above). It’s a glimpse into that snowy, starry night on which he took the winning shot. And it’s truly magical.

Ben has won a 14-day expedition for two to the British and Irish Isles aboard the National Geographic Explorer. To see a gallery of all the winning images, including the Viewers’ Choice award, click here.