PHOTO CREDIT: © Per Breiehagen
Per Breiehagen's Grand Prize Winner.

How They Got Those Shots: Great Outdoors Winners


AUGUST 24, 2010

The winners in this year’s  Great Outdoors Photo Contest include outstanding images that made us ask: How did they do that?  The photographers selected as the top winners in each of the five categories describe the equipment they used, what light source they had, the techniques they employed and the logistical challenges they overcame to take their winning photos.

To see all the winners in the Great Outdoors Photo Contest, sponsored by PDN and National Geographic Traveler, visit our online winners gallery:

Per Breiehagen
Grand Prize Winner


Breiehagen took this photo “roughly 2,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by massive peaks and majestic scenery. The sun was setting late this clear June 26 evening, almost midnight sun this far north in Alaska, but no light was hitting this deep down into the glacier moraine.” He had explored Kennicott Glacier in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska on a shoot for Jeep. On the night after the shoot wrapped, he heard about caves deep inside the glacier.

“I was lucky to convince a guide to come along at 10 pm to charge down there and try to capture the magic before we had to leave the park early the next morning. This late night was our only chance.

“A steep hike/slide down the moraine scree fields and a massive rock filled world of rivers and caves appeared in the fading light. Water was dripping from the ceiling, rocks were falling around us and we worked fast to secure the image, thanks to immediate digital feedback I knew I had the shot...with film I might have stayed longer to try different exposure combinations.

“This where all the carving action is happening in the glacier, where the landscape is shaped by the massive moving glacier...not your usual blue pristine ice cave further up in a glacier.

“I dragged the shutter for two seconds to get the color of the blue ice(which was quite dark at 11 pm)...and trying not to blow out the exposure around our guide.

“The image came out well exposed, I did a few brackets, but ended up with this exposure which had the details in the dark areas and a nice glow from the outside and no water drips streaking across the frame...

It was processed in Photoshop raw converter and not many tweaks were needed other than opening up a few shadow areas.”

Chris McLennan
First Place: Outdoor Sports and Activities


McLennan photographed rider Levi Sherwood during training on a farm in Tokoroa in New Zealand. “I had the camera mounted on a custom-made bracket that I had made up specifically for this,” as seen in the photo that McLennan provided, taken while he was setting up for the shoot. He adds, “This was attached to the handlebars of the motorcycle and I fired the camera from the ground with a Hahnel Pro remote control. When the image was taken, Levi was approx 50 feet in the air – he also pulled several backflips with the camera on the bike!”

As McLennan notes, when taking a photo like this, “You have to be prepared for the very real likelihood that you could destroy your camera and lens.  The forces involved on landing are huge.  I used duct tape and cable ties for extra support for the mount but they broke every jump.  ýýý

“The camera I chose to use for this - due to its light weight - was the Canon EOS5D MarkII teamed up with the Canon 15mm fisheye lens. The settings were ISO 400. F8 at 1/1000 second.”ýýý

Chris Sisarich
First Place: Scenics of the Natural World


“You always need a plan, but some of my best images have come about from the things I hadn't planned, like the weather,” says Chris Sisarich, who photographed this sand storm after driving seven hours from Cairo to get a photo for “The White Desert” while he was on assignment for Tourism Egypt. In all, he spent about 3 hours in the area, having planned to shoot in the late afternoon, using available light.  He placed the person in the scene to show scale, he says.  About 15 minutes after he started shooting the figure he put into the scene, a sand storm came up. “It was a complete white out,” he says.

 “There are real issues shooting in a place like this, where the dust and sand is extremely fine. We were very careful to bag our equipment, ýýýkeeping as little as possible exposed to the elements. My assistant was very keen for me to be wrapping the shoot as the sand storm approached.” He notes,  “I shot the image on an 80mm lens. ISO200. 1/15sec f18. The camera was the a Leaf Body & Leaf AFi 2 10 56 MP Back. It's a huge file size, as a raw MOS file it's 112MB. As a processed 8 Bit RGB file it's 172 MB, so it has loads of detail.” He says the color was the result of the sand storm. “I do like to clean up and grade my landscapes. Especially when they have been shot on digital capture where RAW files have a flat curve. This particular image had very little done to it, pretty much just a color grade.”

Ryan Hellard
First Place: Beaches, Islands and Underwater


Hellard was free diving about 10 feet underwater when he photographed this pair of dolphins. The light source is from a slightly overcast sky. “The photograph was taken a couple hundred yards from the shore near Honokohau Harbor in Kona, Hawaii,” Hellard explains. “I was not in that particular spot for long before the scene presented itself but I had been on the boat for several hours looking for a pod of dolphins that were willing to allow us to swim with them.  Once I was in the water with the dolphins, I quickly saw the young dolphin swimming and interacting with the adult dolphin below me.”

“I used a Canon 5D with a Canon EF 35mm f/2 lens housed in an Ikelite housing.  I took the photograph at ISO 400, 1/320 seconds, and f/2.ýýý ýýý “I used Adobe Lightroom for the RAW processing.  I first adjusted the white balance to remove the blue hue caused by the water; I then converted the photograph to grayscale.  I also slightly adjusted the Blacks, and the Tone curve to add contrast and give the background the dark, rich black.”

Linda M. Chick
First Place: Plants, Animals, Insects and Gardens


Chick was just a couple of feet away from this intently staring pelican when she took this photo. On Marathon, in the Florida Keys, Chick was walking along the coast in the late afternoon when she noticed how many pelicans were flying in and out.

“I sat down on a log that was only about 10 feet off the ground and watched and observed for about 45 minutes,” she recalls. She thought of getting a photo of the birds in flight, “but this one just flew right up to me and landed on an old stump 2 feet away. He just stared at me! He was really, really close. That is when I moved the camera to my face slowly, added a little fill flash to catch his eyes and then I took the photo. I wanted to frame him so that I could get the boat and the green water of the keys in the background too. That was it....about 5 seconds and he was gone.”

She notes that the surrounding mangroves, “really cut down on the existing light. That is why I used the fill flash but I had to think fast about it.”ýýý

Chick says, “The camera I used was the Digital Nikon D70s with a Nikkor 18-200mm 1 3.5-5.6 lens. The photograph was taken at a focal length of 29mm, shutter speed 1/160sec. at f/11.0 with an ISO setting of 200. The camera white balance was set to ‘shade’ ýýýand I used the spot fill-in flash on ‘auto.’ýýýýýý“Once home, I used Photoshop to slightly improve the exposure and sharpening and to crop the photo as you see it. That is all that was done. It was taken as a JPEG and not Camera Raw.”

Chick credits the success of her photo to the element of luck that is in many great wildlife photos. “I just think I was in the right time at the right place for this one. It doesn't happen very often but when it does, you sense it.”


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