Craig Goodwin focused on photography to take his mind off his illness, now in remission.

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A lover of night skies, Craig Goodwin drove his Subaru on a lonely country road through wheat fields on a night last March, chasing stars and cosmic lights over Eastern Washington’s Columbia Plateau.

Craig Goodwin, of Spokane, shot the grand-prize photo chosen in Seattle Times Reader Photos of the Year judging. (Noel Goodwin)
Craig Goodwin, of Spokane, shot the grand-prize photo chosen in Seattle Times Reader Photos of the Year judging. (Noel Goodwin)

And what do you know? There, ahead, at 1 a.m., was the aurora borealis beaming around an isolated little church near Davenport, Lincoln County. He grabbed his Nikon from the passenger seat and a tripod to set up the shot.

“I got there just in time. I had about 15 minutes, and it was gone,” said the pastor from Spokane.

The result was an ethereal photo, a barren tree contrasting with that otherworldly sky, accentuated by the darkened house of worship.

For his efforts, Goodwin is the grand-prize winner in The Seattle Times’ Reader Photos of the Year judging for 2015.

A cancer survivor, diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in October 2013, Goodwin spent the last two years more focused on his photography to get his mind off the chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

He lost his hair. His energy was sapped. Still, Goodwin took his camera and traversed the canyon walls at Palouse Falls to get away from “all the crazy questions about my health … I probably shouldn’t have been out there. It felt defiant in some ways — ‘I am going to be out there.’ It was a way not to sit and wallow in my fear of cancer. It was a hopeful thing to do in the midst of things.”

With his cancer in remission, the self-taught photographer spends his free time snapping shots of night skies, landscapes and wildlife. (You can find his work, and also buy a copy of his winning photo, at craiggoodwinphoto.com.)

For his winning photo, Goodwin receives a $250 gift certificate from Kenmore Camera, courtesy of The Seattle Times. He plans to buy a tripod with that money.

Goodwin, 46, grew up in what is now Black Diamond, where his father still lives. The son taught his dad how to shoot, and last year his father — also named Craig Goodwin — was among the honorable-mention winners in this same contest, for a nighttime shot of Mount Rainier under a star-spangled sky.

The younger Goodwin now lives in Spokane with his wife, Nancy, and their two teenage daughters, and serves as pastor at Millwood Community Presbyterian Church.

He loves to travel, but thinks some of his best works have been shot around Spokane.

“It’s not about finding exotic places. It’s about paying attention,” he said. “A lot of my best pictures were taken a couple miles from my house. I’m aware of the rhythm of the day, and the lights and the seasons, and the frost that will be on the trees in the morning.”