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Northwest Exposure Photo Contest Tips

Tips for entering our annual photo contest.

Whether you've entered the Northwest Exposure Photo Contest in previous years or if this is your first time, it always helps to have some tips for capturing a winning photo. Pictures are powerful, and we want to ensure that the photos we feature show hiking and camping practices that set good examples for everyone who enjoys the outdoors. Below you'll find advice from Northwest Exposure judges, including some guidelines that will ensure your shots can be considered for prizes. 

Stay on the trail

Standing in a meadow in front of a craggy peak might look cool, but we don't want to encourage trampling delicate flora to get a nice shot. As a general rule, the Northwest Exposure judges will only advance a photo to the finalist round if it depicts hikers staying on the trail or durable surface (like snow or rock) and practicing good Leave No Trace principles

Photo by Joseph Tobiason
Hikers climb the Winchester Mountain Trail. Photo by Joseph Tobiason.

Dogs must be on leash

It's good etiquette to keep your dog on leash when hiking, and on some trails it's the law. Please keep dogs on leash for photos that are entered in the photo contest.

campfires and camps

For our Camp Life category, we ask that any campfires depicted in photos are legal and in contained fire rings. Tents should be placed on a durable surface and camps should be Leave No Trace compliant. We want to show off your beautiful campsites and promote good backpacking and camping practices. 


Taking a dip in a lake after a hike is a refreshing way to unwind. We ask that when choosing a swimming hole to be sure that it large enough to handle the impact and has an outflow. This helps keep the ecosystem in pristine condition for the local flora and fauna, and for future hikers.

photographing wildlife

To ensure that photos demonstrate the best practices of Leave No Trace ethics, we ask that you never feed wildlife or bait them with food to get a better picture. There are many reasons why feeding wildlife can be detrimental to them, so we ask that all photos showing wildlife be 100 percent natural and shot from a safe and respectful distance.

Owls by Larry Baxter
Not only is this a unique shot of the two owls, but the photographer also captured the scene from a distance using a 400mm lens. If you do take a photo of wildlife, let us know in the caption how far away you were! Photo by Larry Baxter.


Lookouts are incredibly popular destinations, and for good reason. They're scenic and can make incredible focal points for catching sunrises and sunsets. When you visit or camp in a lookout, please ensure that the lookout in question is legally open for a visit or for camping. Also be sure to follow any rules that are posted at the lookout for the duration of your stay and leave the lookout in the same condition (or better) than you found it. 

what we love to see

Washington is an incredible state for hiking. We have it all, from lush rainforest to arid desert, craggy peaks to rolling hills and everything in between. To show off the beauty of the entire state we encourage you to consider entering photos from the rich diversity of our trails. Iconic spots like Mount Rainier or Mount Baker are pretty spectacular, but the incredible geology of Eastern Washington or a backyard trail close to home can be equally as stunning. Don't hesitate to submit photos from trails that aren't as well known or are from local parks!

  • In the Trailscapes category, we love to see a trail in the shot. Stunning landscapes are nice to look at, but we'd love to see how you got there. Consider working the trail into the story of your photograph to give it some added context. 
  • The Trail Family category is all about your hiking crew. Close-ups, group shots and fun are the keys to winning this category. Instead of facing away from the camera overlooking a mountainous vista, consider capturing a moment where we can see face(s) to show who makes up the trail community. 
  • Flora and Fauna can be one of the more challenging categories to enter because it sometimes relies entirely on luck. Goats can be entertaining subjects, but sometimes the small things can go unnoticed that would otherwise be a unique photography opportunity. Insects, unique leaf arrangements and stunning wildflowers are all fair game.
  • The Hikers in Action category looks to feature unique shots both from camp and on the trail. Depicting action is a good way to make it to the next round of judging, whether that's moving along the trail, cooking a good meal in camp, or setting up a tent.  
  • Returning this year, we're offering an Instagram category. This is a fun way to get your photos entered in the contest using social media. This is an open category, so anything goes, so long as its from your hiking, camping or backpacking experiences. To enter, follow @washingtontrails and use the tag #nwexposure2019. Photos must be uploaded to Instagram and tagged between August 17 and October 20 to be eligible. 

Trail Family by Kara Hollenbeck
A great example of a Trail Family entry. Being able to see the faces of the hikers is key for this category. Photo by Kara Hollenbeck.

Looking for more info on the contest? Check out the FAQ to get answers to some common questions.