How to Get That Prize-Winning Shot

05-14-2014 // NWF Staff

Four different winning photos – and four different winning approaches from the National Wildlife® Photo Contest. Here’s the story behind these winning photographs along with some tips for taking great animal and nature photos of your own.

Steve Perry: Timing is Key

Steve Perry took first place in the Landscape category in the 2013 Photo Contest for his photo of Eagle Harbor Lighthouse at dawn.

Stormy sunrise at Eagle Harbor Lighthouse 

While visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the fall, Perry took several photos of Eagle Harbor Lighthouse at sunset. He was pleased with the images, but he learned the wind was forecast to shift overnight, "making for better waves," he recalls.

To catch them, Perry decided to return to the exact same spot the following morning, which required a hazardous, two-hour drive over snowy and icy roads. Battling the cold and 40-mile-an-hour winds, he took this photo about 10 minutes after sunrise. "The sky lit up with this eerie-looking light,” Perry says. “It was over in just a few minutes."

Ajay Parmar: Patience and Persistence Pays Off

Ajay Parmar won our first-ever People’s Choice Award, and getting his prize-winning shot of a striped hyena trotting down the road in broad daylight in Velavadar National Park, India, was not easy.

Striped hyena 

In his effort to photograph hyenas, Parmar spent three consecutive Sundays waking at 3:30 a.m. and driving three and a half hours to Velavadar National Park in Gujarat, India—without even spotting one of the animals. On the fourth Sunday, he was in luck when a hyena emerged from the grass and came strolling straight toward him. Because hyenas are nocturnal, getting an image of one in broad daylight is unusual. "This was one of my best days in wildlife photography," Parmar says.

Jenaya Launstein: Just Keep Shooting

In an interview following her 2011 Youth Contest win, Jenaya Launstein offered some tips that any photographer could put to use.

Bull elk fighting in snow 

We headed out into the backcountry before dawn, and spotted these two bull elk bedded down in the deep snow, covered in frost from the cold night. We hiked out for a better angle to photograph them and got lots of great photos as the light began to break over the mountains.

Suddenly, they both got up and started battling! I had been shooting vertical portraits of the bigger bull with my camera and 300-mm lens with 1.4X teleconverter on my monopod, so I reached forward to switch to horizontal, but my fingers were too frozen to release the lens collar and the snow was too deep to back up quickly, so I just shot.

Robert Strickland: Create a Wildlife-Friendly Photo Zone

Photographer Robert Strickland won first place in our 2008 Photo Contest's Backyard Habitats category, with a charming image of a northern cardinal splashing in a birdbath. Here, the photographer and avid wildlife-watcher tells how he transformed a modest-sized yard into a haven for bird photography.

Cardinal in bird bath 

I set up a feeding and water station in the backyard next to my shed. It includes four feeders and a birdbath. I use a variety of seeds for the feeders. Most birds favor the sunflower seeds, but a variety of seeds will draw in many different species. I also hang out a suet feeder as well. This allows me to take full advantage of the bird situation I have right in my own backyard.

I position the feeders and birdbath so there is a good light, an attractive background and a perfect distance from my shed. My storage shed becomes my blind so that the birds and other wildlife are not alarmed when they come to feed or bathe. Inside the shed, I set up my camera equipment, then sit waiting patiently for birds to come in. At this point, patience is a virtue.

It is simple: The birds come for the food and water and I capture them with my camera.

Setting up a feeding/watering station, providing plants, bushes and trees and using my shed as a blind allowed me the opportunity to capture a prize-winning photograph.

The 44th annual National Wildlife Photo Contest is underway right now! Check out this year's entries, vote for your favorites and enter your own photos for your chance to win great prizes >>.

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