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Northwest Exposure Photo Tips: Kristin Elwell Talks Inspiration, Alpenglow and What Makes a Great Shot

Posted by Erika Haugen-Goodman at Aug 13, 2015 02:10 PM |
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We talk photography tips with the 2013 Northwest Exposure Photo Contest grand prize winner, Kristin Elwell.

The 2015 Northwest Exposure Photo Contest begins next week on August 17, and we’re excited to see the photos you’ve taken while out on Washington’s trails. Leading up to the contest we’ll be sitting down with some of last year’s winners to talk all things photography and how you can hone your skills.

If you're looking for quality photography without spendy equipment, there's nobody better to turn to than the 2013 grand prize winner, Kristin Elwell. Capturing incredible nature and landscape photos can be challenging, but she makes it looks easy.

Goat vs Rock - Kristin Elwell NWX 2013 Winner
Kristin Elwell's 2013 grand prize winning photo.

Thanks for sitting down with us, Kristin. We love your winning image from 2013. How did you get started with photography and what drew you to it?

A trip to Europe armed with a new camera sparked my love of photography, and that love grew exponentially when my husband and I started climbing in the Cascades. My camera became my 11th essential. It was important for me to capture the breathtaking images I was seeing not only for my own memory's sake, but also for the sake of friends and loved ones.

My mother will never see the sunset glinting off the city of Bellingham from the slopes below Mount Baker's summit, and my grandfather will never cross the Blue Glacier to reach the top of Mount Olympus; photography made it possible for those I love to experience a kind of secret beauty that not everyone gets to experience.

What tips do you have for hikers looking to capture images on trails?

I don't hike solo, so I've found it to be helpful to always hike with patient people. On a beautiful hike, your senses are flooded with constant beauty, and you don't want to pass by spectacular scenes without snapping a few photos simply because you are afraid of extra foot-tapping or heavy sighing.

Many of my favorite images have been taken as the sun is rising or just before it sets. Long shadows, golden light, tranquil water, brilliant alpenglow, curious critters ... the list could go on forever. There is something magical that happens in the outdoors when the world is fresh and new, or when it is sleepy and still. If you can plan an early hike or a sunset hike, I guarantee you'll be richly rewarded.

You snapped the winning photo in 2013 with a point and shoot camera. Do you have advice for photographers with similar setups so they can make the most of their equipment?

As much as I love my mirrorless ILC (interchangeable lens camera), I firmly believe you don't need an expensive camera to get a beautiful photo. "What kind of camera do you have?" is not necessarily a bad question, but it can imply that the camera is what made the image beautiful, not the camera operator. Sure, DSLRs and ILCs allow you to manipulate a variety of factors to get gorgeous shots, but a camera is really a tool. The photographer is the artist.

Point and shoots are not designed for constant aperture and shutter speed adjustments, but composition, lighting, and editing can definitely be used and manipulated with a point and shoot (or smartphone) in order to create frameable art.

I know some people shy away from editing, but I believe a little editing often enhances a stellar photograph. If you really think about it, your point and shoot naturally "edits" the image for you. It chooses the white balance, exposure, and sometimes even the color saturation. Why not have a say in these variables after the picture is taken?

Editing has two separate purposes for me. The first is to make my image look as close to "the real thing" as possible. Did my camera pick up the pinks that I saw in that fiery sunset? If not, I will bring up the pinks until it matches what my eyes experienced. Sometimes I am just fine not having my image look like "the real thing". When this is the case, I lean towards my second purpose -- to make my image match a certain mood, perhaps the one I experienced as I saw the scene and snapped the photo. Is a particular photo begging to be turned into black and white, showcasing an event, an emotion, or interaction?

Some photos make me think beyond the photograph, and editing can help lead me into that "beyond". So don't shy away from taking pictures because you "only" have a point and shoot. Magic can be created with the simplest images, or the most basic cameras.

Do you have any advice for photographers entering the contest this year?

Pick a photo that evokes a strong feeling for you. If it means something to you, it will likely inspire another nature lover. Photos are stories begging to be told, so choose one that doesn't allow you to simply flip past it without pausing to think, feel, or lean back in your chair and heave a contented sigh.


This year’s contest kicks off on August 17 and will run until October 19. Get more info on the contest or visit the FAQ if you have any questions. Before it launches, check out the categories and the awesome prizes you can win.