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.

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.


  1. Roberta Adair-denham
    Denison Ks US
    March 30, 2014, 2:42 am

    I cannot stop thinking on the exquisite work of Ben Canales photographer I have heard it said that the best things in life happen by accident if that is so then I look forward to a lot of his insightful accidents!

  2. Roberta Adair-denham
    Denison Kansas U.S.
    March 30, 2014, 2:37 am

    If you want to be touched to the very roots of your being look at the work of Ben Canales and it will restore your faith in mankind.

  3. Roberta Adair-denham
    United States
    March 30, 2014, 2:35 am

    I have only just discovered Ben Canales his work epitomises the things in life that are both whimsical and beautiful and I look forward to getting to know him through his future work

  4. dion
    January 30, 2014, 3:30 am

    congrates,breath taken.

  5. Amy
    Minneapolis, MN
    April 10, 2013, 9:44 pm

    Loved the photo so clicked on the video. I’m sure there’s some profound analogy along the line of, “get out of the tent to see the stars,” but it’s not coming to me. However I am moved enough to go out, lie on the ground, and watch tonight’s snowfall.

  6. zanero
    China, Shanghai
    October 23, 2012, 12:35 pm

    I salute you behalf of China vast outdoor sports enthusiasts.

  7. saravuth sangsatra
    June 20, 2012, 7:07 pm

    great pix !!!tnxx

  8. Sydney
    Nashville, TN
    May 17, 2012, 8:24 am

    Can someone explain how he made the video? What kind of camera? And what sort of equipment was used to get that slow pan effect? Thanks!

    The pic is awesome by the way!

  9. Barbara Dougherty
    St. George, NB
    May 6, 2012, 6:15 am

    This is just so amazing, everyone should experience a trip like this, with just you and the moon, stars and elements in the middle of the night. Reflections over a lake, I have seen these myself but wasn’t into photograpy then, I am now.
    So thank you for that great time lapse photo. I love it.

  10. Irka
    April 15, 2012, 8:13 am

    With such a beautiful sky I think I wouldn’t mind living in a tent… :D :))

  11. Carlos delgado
    Newar California usa.
    April 8, 2012, 12:08 am

    awesome,perfect shot very well deserved win.

  12. Cloudy Day Photography
    Medford, Oregon
    February 28, 2012, 3:25 pm

    Great shot, totally deserves the win!

  13. M. Banks
    Kelowna, Canada
    September 6, 2011, 11:23 am

    Absolutely stunning! A work of art with a camera. Well deserved win. Congratulations!

  14. ana
    August 30, 2011, 9:00 pm

    OMG it made me cry, congrats! What an excellent work! :D

  15. Christian Meyn
    August 24, 2011, 5:09 am

    Superb work! The entire sequence is awesome, congratulations !

  16. Ashley and Devin Lusk
    West Virginia
    August 14, 2011, 5:51 pm

    That is the most AMAZING view that I have ever seen…… Would love to experience that once in this life.

  17. anam arora
    August 13, 2011, 12:36 pm

    awsome shooot..tooo gud..keep it up…

  18. astho
    August 13, 2011, 12:29 pm

    this is wowW!!…

  19. Qingqing Deng
    Corvallis, OR
    August 13, 2011, 3:39 am

    I love Crater Lake when it’s snowy. So beautiful! I love Oregon!

  20. ruchi sharma
    August 12, 2011, 3:29 am

    wow!!!!!! what!!!! a spectacular idea to shoot a photo!!!!!!!!!!!!
    awesome !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Mahesh
    August 10, 2011, 2:15 am

    This shows that you must not have to a great photographer but must have the different idea to shoot the photo.
    excellent photo.
    Best luck for further contest to NAT GEO.
    Thanks & Reagrds
    Mahesh (India)

  22. surojit
    August 9, 2011, 11:03 pm

    a superb breathtaking, splendid video….
    I wanted to know what equipments were used.. please let me know the equipments….

  23. nimish
    Mumbai, India
    August 9, 2011, 12:02 pm

    wish I were there!!
    deserves to be a winning photo.

  24. Noralip .H
    August 9, 2011, 6:32 am


  25. Richard Harrison
    United States
    August 8, 2011, 10:18 am

    It has to be tough trying to select “the” best among a field of 13,000, especially when the selection criteria are as varied as the backgrounds fo the judges. In addition to ‘playfulness’ this one could have also included ‘camping best practices’: It’s a good tutorial on how to set up in a snow bank for the night. Congratulations to Ben and to the other 12,999 photogs who shared their adventures with us!

  26. Patrick Campbell
    Sherwood, OR
    August 5, 2011, 2:14 pm

    Well-deserved, congrats Ben!

  27. Carolyn Brajkovich
    Temecula, CA
    August 3, 2011, 8:44 pm

    I seriously LOVE this shot! Sleeping under a starry blanket – must have been a great experience. Congrats Ben because you deserve it.

  28. Nickole
    Oro Valley Az
    August 3, 2011, 8:35 pm

    Absolutly breath-taking!A well deserved win!enjoyed the video too!

  29. Nancy H
    Colorado, US
    August 3, 2011, 9:26 am

    Not only beautiful, but if I look at it long enough it feels like I could fall right in. Love that!

  30. Patrick Koh
    Honolulu, HI, United States
    August 3, 2011, 5:10 am

    Three words: Beautiful, Breathtaking, Bravo! The best pics are created when you’re not planning on taking the best pic.