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Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results

We are pleased to announce the winners of our 2009 Reader Photo Contest!

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by Staff | 2009-11-24 00:00:00-07

We received 312 photo submissions and were overwhelmed by the popularity of this contest with our readers. We'd like to offer a sincere thanks for all photographers who submitted photos, but due to the high number of submissions, we are unable to publish them all!

Jury Process

Our contest jury was comprised of seven Backpacking Light staff and members of our peer review committee, and included: Brian Barnes, Alan Dixon, Rick Dreher, Ryan Faulkner, Ryan Jordan, Mike Martin, and Don Wilson.

Photos were sent to jurors at 800 pixels on their longest side (unless they were submitted smaller) and blinded with respect to both captions and photographer identity during the scoring process.

Each juror selected thirty photos out of an initial pool of 312 entries. Then, thirty-three entries (which comprised those photos that were selected by at least four of the seven jurors) were assigned a score in each of the following categories:

  • RELEVANCE – How well does this photo reflect the activities of hiking, backpacking, and camping, especially as it related to Backpacking Light's Mission (multi-day, backcountry, self-supported, and lightweight)?
  • ORIGINALITY – How well does this photograph reflect an original scene unlike anything else you've ever seen?
  • TECHNICAL – How well does the photographer employ the appropriate technical photography skills to capture the image (exposure, depth of field, shutter speed, focus)?
  • COLOR – How well does the photographer use color (or lack thereof) and natural lighting?
  • AESTHETIC – How well does this photograph balance all of the above to elicit a "Wow!" factor when you look at the image?

Photos were given 1 to 3 points in each category:

  • The photograph does not meet expectations for minimum criteria in this category.
  • The photograph meets expectations for minimum criteria in this category.
  • The photograph exceeds expectations for minimum criteria in this category.

Each juror also assigned what they believed to be the importance of each category with a relative weighting factor, and the final weighting scale resulted from an average of the individual weights assigned by all jurors. Thus, the categories were weighted as follows:

  • Relevance – 23%
  • Originality – 20%
  • Technical – 17%
  • Color – 13%
  • Aesthetic – 27%

Finally, all photo scores were normalized on a scale of 1 (lowest) and 100 (highest), and ranked accordingly.

Prizes are awarded to the top three photographs, and we also recognize the thirteen photos that were scored in the final round.

Click on an image to open a larger version in the image gallery.

Grand Prize: Sean Mahoney (81.7 points)

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 1
Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, UT (HDR). By Sean Mahoney. Canon 20D. Score: 81.7

Juror Comments:

  • There were many stunning landscape photos submitted, but this one stands out for its saturated color and flawless composition that gives a sense of depth and perspective. The only thing missing is something to tie it more specifically to the activity of backpacking.
  • Beautiful colors and exposure of a frequently photographed location. My only quibble is I would have like to see more of the landscape and sunset. Own a wider lens?
  • HDR is a very appropriate technique for this scene – it brings out the color of the foreground nicely, but foreground saturation could be toned down ever so slightly to allow the viewer to focus on the rest of the image, which is beautiful.

Sean wins a lifetime membership to and a $100 gift certificate to the store.

Second Place: David Johnston (75.9 points).

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 2
Old Rag Boulders by Moonlight, Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, VA. By David Johnston. Canon Xti. Score: 75.9

Juror Comments:

  • The sky is surreal and the photo is exposed very well (given the time of day). I like the panoramic crop but would trim both sides to the edges of the largest rocks to increase the emphasis of the focal points (granite and sky).
  • Great use of long exposure to get the wispy clouds, but too much is competing as the primary subject, so a little cropping or reframing to minimize foreground and maximize the sky might be in order. I would have preferred more pronounced and darker sky, since the stars reveal that this is a night scene.

David wins a lifetime membership to and a $50 gift certificate to the store.

Third Place (tie): Casey Cardwell and Ed Huesers (75.0 points)

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 3
Me and my tarp, night shot near the South Sister, OR. By Casey Cardwell. Canon 450D. Score: 75.0

Juror Comments:

  • Who doesn’t love slow shutter speeds and starry nights? The addition of an illuminated tent can only make it that much more pleasing. I like the soft glowing colors in the photo but to me it lacks sharpness and the shutter speed could have been lengthened. Additionally, inclusion of the North Star with the others rotating around it would enhance the sense of motion often felt by these types of photographs.
  • This image skillfully captures the appeal of camping out at twilight with high technical marks for its long exposure. It might benefit from less contrast to show more detail.
  • The exposure on the tent is too hot and I would have preferred either full star trails, or none at all (just stars), and a wider lens or walking a bit further back could have put a little useful space between the tent and right edge to prevent crowding, but the sky color is gorgeous and the mountain peak is illuminated effectively.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 4
An early start on a climb over Thatchtop Mtn. in RMNP found us at Zone Lake for sunrise. The fresh air, fresh snow and new day gave a very profound start to the trip. By Ed Huesers. Pentax istDS. Score: 75.0.

Juror Comments:

  • A stunning landscape. The lighting and subdued foreground colors effectively set a tranquil mood. I'd prefer it to be a bit less dark to bring out more foreground detail, but not at the expense of altering the mood.
  • Lovely colors, but this certainly is a difficult situation to get an ideal exposure. Improving the overall exposure (this one is a little too dark for my taste) and selectively brightening the mid-section of the photograph would do wonders for this magnificent scene. I would suggest stepping to the left to avoid inclusion of the bush in the bottom right, which in my opinion doesn’t add significantly to the photo.
  • Increasing the exposure and bumping up global contrast and blacks during the digital development phase would brighten the scene, prevent the bush detail from busying up the image, and reveal the depth of color available.

Both Casey and Ed win a lifetime membership to

Honorable Mentions

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 5
Cumberland Island, GA, taken about a mile north up the beach from Seacamp. By Charles Hill. Olympus C-740. Score: 73.7

Juror Comments:

  • I enjoy the juxtaposition between the ship and the overloaded hiker with a metal framed pack – both which are slowly trudging along. The subtle tones of grays, blues, and tans are pleasing, but the tight cropping near the ship is a distraction.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 6
Two hikers stop for a brief break atop 12,000-ft Frigid Air Pass high in the Maroon Bells Wilderness of Colorado. By Lawton Grinter. Nikon D40. Score: 73.0

Juror Comments:

  • This may be the best image of our pool showing lightweight backpackers with lightweight gear in a beautiful setting. But the camera could have stepped back a few feet to avoid crowding the lower part of the frame, and reframed the scene so the remnant clouds weren't confounding the composition. I like how the girl is gazing at the guy, while the guy is gazing at the mountain in the distance. Classic!

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 7
South Fork Eagle River, Chugach Range, AK. By Luke Osborne. Canon Powershot A60. Score: 71.7

Juror Comments:

  • Classic composition and use of black and white capture the essence of a stark Winter hike.
  • This B&W's tonality could be improved by increasing local contrast (clarity) just a bit to add some depth and separate the mountain horizon from the sky, and the two mountain ridges that cross each other. Composition is wonderful, with pleasing balance. I like how the hikers are walking up into the mountains.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 8
Canyonlands National Park (UT). By Rog Wilmers. Canon 20D. Score: 70.9

Juror Comments:

  • The foreground silhouette and vast pastel background work well to convey the the appeal of a hike in the Southwest. I don't think the camera tilt adds to the composition.
  • The creative use of a slanted horizon augments the sense of height and unbalance in this photograph. I equally enjoy the silhouette of the hiker, but find the illuminated rocks in the top left to be distracting. Cropping the left 20% off of this photo might improve it.
  • I love the pastel look here, the contrast and color are reminiscent of great film instead of everything-looks-the-same-digital images. Tilted horizon is a great touch that reveals a sense of precariousness to the hiker's position.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 9
Mosquito on wet silnylon - the inside of my homemade 10x12 tarp with beaks and a catenary ridgeline. Cuba Gulch trailhead, Lake City, CO. by Jeremy Cleaveland. Pentax Optio WP. Score: 70.2

Juror Comments:

  • I enjoyed this macro shot of a mosquito, especially the translucence of the silnylon and insect wings. I would have preferred the silhouette of the bug to be a bit more pronounced. Some visual interest is lost by placement of the subject dead center within the frame.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 10
Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario. By Rog Wilmers. Canon G9. Score: 69.1

Juror Comments:

  • A cold, tired hiker in front of a roaring camp fire speaks to a basic camping experience. The dramatic yellow color of the fire adds visual interest to the photo.
  • Nice use of color, interesting framing, crop, and subject, but the overexposed sky behind the subject is a significant distracter. The use of HDR or a ND filter would improve this photo. In the absence of such tools (tripods, filters, etc) in the backcountry, repositioning the camera angle or exposing the image at sunset might improve this photo.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 11
Near Balanced Rock in Arches National Park, UT after an intense rainstorm. I was incredibly lucky to catch this rainbow and the brooding clouds shortly before sunset. By Sean Mahoney. Canon 20D. Score: 68.1

Juror Comments:

  • Nice colors and subject matter but the image would be improved by a sharper focus and stepping beyond the bush on the left.
  • This photo is a little busy and I'm glad for the contrasty film look of the image. Some days, I just get tired of tack sharp photos from digital cameras viewed on a computer screen. This one makes me feel good.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 12
Cascade on a tributary of Red Creek, Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV. By David Johnston. Canon Xti. Score: 64.6

Juror Comments:

  • Pleasing exposure and use of a slow shutter speed to augment the waterfall motion. I would have liked to have seen a bit more contrast and saturation in this image. A slightly tighter crop on the top would increase the focus on the waterfalls.
  • Pretty colors, but the tonality seems a artificially warm. There's nice greens in here, I would have liked to have seen them stand out a little. Waterfalls are generally boring, so this is a nice take, and the positioning of the foreground waterfall, the direction of its water flow, and where it lands, is just about perfect.

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results - 13
Cooking lightweight hot lunch on the Pacific Crest Trail. In the vicinity of the Suiattle River, Glacier Peak Wilderness, WA. By Andrew Wilson. Olympus Stylus 790SW. Score: 59.6

Juror Comments:

  • I like the "story" that the photograph is telling, but the scattering of gear distracts the viewer from the main themes (campfire and subject). I’d prefer an even lower camera position, shooting up at the subject's face rather than straight on. Technically this image could be improved by removing these optical distracters and improving the focus, saturation, and contrast.
  • The framing of the scene might have been improved by walking a step here or there, fore or aft. I'm a little confused about what the subject is: the pot of food, or the hiker? In spite of the appearance that this is a LNT mess in the making, I like the girl's bare feet and calm demeanor. It's what hiking is all about. More smoke would have been cool. Contrast is nice, and I think this image's simplicity could be enhanced by converting to B&W.

Closing Comments

The number of outstanding images we received was extremely high. As you can see from the jurors' selections above, the highest rated photos included those that offered a range of attributes that may or may not have included technical brilliance or perfect color. In fact, most jurors ranked overall aesthetic, originality, and relevance as higher criteria. Telling is the fact that these photos, which we felt possessed the most character, were taken with a wide variety of cameras from a high end DSLR to a compact and inferior quality waterproof camera. This reinforces the old adage that a bad camera in the hands of a good photographer will produce better pictures than a good camera in the hands of a bad photographer.

Happy snapping, on or off the trail!


"Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results," by Staff. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-11-24 00:00:00-07.


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Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results on 11/24/2009 18:20:34 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results

Congratulations, winners! I'll be in touch tomorrow to set up your lifetime memberships and gift certificates. Thanks to everyone who submitted!

Edited by addiebedford on 11/24/2009 18:21:39 MST.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results on 11/24/2009 18:41:20 MST Print View

Awesome shots.

Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Re: Re: Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results on 11/24/2009 18:59:08 MST Print View

Truly fantastic.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results on 11/24/2009 20:30:49 MST Print View

Nice to see some familiar names in there!

Patrick Starich
(pjstarich) - MLife

Locale: N. Rocky Mountains
Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Calendar? on 11/24/2009 20:51:31 MST Print View

Wow! Could there a BPL photo contest calendar in the future?

Mark McLauchlin
(markmclauchlin) - MLife

Locale: Western Australia
Re: Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Calendar? on 11/24/2009 21:20:15 MST Print View

Well done to all the winners and those that got a mention, awesome photos.

Calendar is a great thought

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results on 11/24/2009 23:55:22 MST Print View

Great stuff from the entrants. Also I loved the constructive criticism. It will help me fix similar issues in my photos.

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Woo Hoo! on 11/25/2009 12:32:27 MST Print View

What can be better than a lifetime membership as retirement gets closer.
Thanks for the comments on the picture too, my next camera gear addition is in the plans... A ND filter, I see the need/use in a large percentage of my photos.
Thanks Folks,

Casey Cardwell
(Niles) - MLife

Locale: On the Dirt in Oregon
Thank you! on 11/25/2009 12:55:46 MST Print View

Thanks to the judges for their kind remarks and apt criticism! Considering the entries, I feel very lucky!

Thanks again!

David Johnston
(dsjtecserv) - MLife
Almost as much fun as taking them! on 11/25/2009 16:12:22 MST Print View

Thank you to the judges for their comments and suggestions, and congratulations to Sean and the other honorees.


Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Re: Backpacking Light 2009 Reader Photo Contest Results on 11/25/2009 17:25:32 MST Print View

Since the entire lot of pictures were submitted electronically, why not post them ALL? I would imagine even the least rated picture would be inspiring and welcomed by all.

Sean Mahoney
(cutlassdude70) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Thanks!!! on 11/25/2009 20:37:29 MST Print View

What an awesome surprise! With all those amazing entries, I feel really lucky. :D There are some truly talented photographers in this community. :)


Patricia Combee
(Trailfrog) - F

Locale: Northeast/Southeast your call
RE: BPL photo contest on 11/26/2009 13:11:49 MST Print View

Very Sweet! Made me want to shoulder my pack, pick a scene and start walking into the photo.
Congrats to all.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
good, bad, ugly on 11/27/2009 21:43:56 MST Print View

First of all, awesome work! The finalists represent such a diverse body of work. Very inspiring.

Second, I enjoyed the article format enormously. As a complete hack photographer myself, the learning aspect was most welcome.

I do take issue with the winner (and I want to do this without any disrespect to you Sean, or your excellent work). Mesa Arch is 1/2 mile from the road, and at sunrise it's been photographed to death many times over. That would seem to disqualify it, given the stated criteria (emphasis added).

Keep up the good work BPL and fellow forum members.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Woo Hoo! on 11/27/2009 22:21:17 MST Print View

Ed, your photo is beautiful.

Ed Huesers
(iglooed) - MLife
Re: Re: Woo Hoo! on 11/30/2009 15:29:35 MST Print View

Thanks Craig. I've taken a lot of pictures over the years but I do believe this is my best one. I do keep looking for a better one though.

Sean Mahoney
(cutlassdude70) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Re: Woo Hoo! on 12/03/2009 12:00:17 MST Print View

I agree with Craig. Ed, that photo is absolutely stunning. While it's dominated by dark tones, it works incredibly well and almost feels like a painting. I love it! :)

John Brochu
(JohnnyBgood4) - F

Locale: New Hampshire
Re: Re: Re: Re: Woo Hoo! on 12/03/2009 12:08:54 MST Print View

Wow, all of those photos are great and some of them are absolutely stunning. I first saw the article a few days ago and when I got home from work that night I pulled out my camera system and started thinking about how I could lighten it up so I would bring it along again!

(Figuring out how to capture shots like these would also provide extra motivation.)

Juston Taul

Locale: Atlanta, GA
Photos on 12/10/2009 10:03:04 MST Print View

Awesome pics guys/gals! Just makes me want to be outdoors even more.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Ask & Receive on 12/18/2009 16:06:07 MST Print View

I'm glad when I am able to finagle a little receiving back at ya when ya do some askin' about a really neat community project for us this year!

Click here to Sign up for a Stock Alert for the BPL 2010 Calendar that will ship January 11!

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Ask & Receive on 12/18/2009 17:18:13 MST Print View

Looks like Patrick Starich idea back in 11-24 for the BPL photo contest calendar has become a reality. It’s nice of BPL to compensate the contributors of the photos for their skill and artistry.

Charles Hill
(chuckster) - F

Locale: Georgia
BPL calendar on 01/19/2010 11:56:15 MST Print View

Just received my calendar today. Thanks BPL for including my photo (Dec. 2010). It's really an honor to be included along with all these great photos.

Edited by chuckster on 01/19/2010 11:57:15 MST.