Here’s the Grand Prize-winning photo and 9 other images we’ve chosen as best of the year from our Reader’s Lens feature.

Share story

It’s not IMAX. It’s not 3D. It’s plain old still photography, showing no signs of going out of style. One teensy evolutionary benchmark: This year one of our weekly photo picks was shot with a selfie stick.

Seattle Times readers sent hundreds of entries throughout 2015 to our Reader’s Lens feature, wowing photo fans with images of our region’s mountains, water, wildlife and cityscapes.

At year’s end, we’ve chosen 10 favorites to be our Seattle Times Reader Photos of the Year — a grand-prize winner and nine Honorable Mention winners.

The grand prize — a $250 gift certificate to Kenmore Camera — goes to Craig Goodwin, of Spokane, for his colorful image (above) of the Northern Lights behind a lonely Eastern Washington church. Learn how he got the shot. 

Honorable Mention recipients each get a $25 Starbucks card.

Judging was by Angela Gottschalk, Seattle Times photo editor; photo specialist Katie G. Cotterill, who critiques the weekly choices; and Brian J. Cantwell, Seattle Times outdoors editor.

Thanks to all who sent in so many images of places to see and things to do around the Northwest. Please keep sharing your best recent photos from the region at Maybe you’ll be our winner next December.

— Brian J. Cantwell, Seattle Times outdoors editor


What we like about the grand-prize photo

Wow! This image is both simple and complex; loud yet quiet; dreamlike and realistic. Anytime one photograph captures all these elements, it makes a powerful statement. The more I look at this picture the deeper I’m drawn in by the vibrant color of the lights, the simplicity of the sparse landscape and the charm of the church. Patience and preplanning paid off as photographer Craig Goodwin sought out a distinctive foreground subject (the church) to anchor the frame and offset the color and contrast of the lights. He did some research and waited, recognizing that timing is everything, not only for the aurora borealis but for the length of his exposure. Without the 20-second exposure the colors wouldn’t be this intense, the stars wouldn’t be as visible and the church wouldn’t pop as it does. Gives me goose bumps every time I look at it.

— Angela Gottschalk, Seattle Times photo editor


Honorable Mention winners: Northwest scenics

Judge’s comments by Katie G. Cotterill of the Seattle Times photo staff 

Photographer: Aaron Frank, from Roy, Pierce County

Photo taken: April 7, 2015, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

Photographer’s description: “On a trip back from Shi Shi Beach we decided to catch the sunset at Ruby Beach. This pure natural beauty was taken with my Nikon D5100, with 14mm ultrawide Rokinon lens.”

Judge’s comment: “Great job framing the sun so it bursts through that archway. I love the added element of the person on top of the rock; this photo wouldn’t be as great without him or her.”


Photographer: Patrick Sloan, Renton

Photo taken: April 16, 2015, Wild Horse Monument, Vantage, Grant County

Photographer’s description: “The aurora index was marginal throughout the day, but I decided to give it a shot and drove out to the Wild Horse Monument to see if I could capture the Northern Lights. I was just about to give up when the color started to show. I was able to capture this image after hiking up to the monument in the dark. I used a Sony RX100M3 with a 25-second exposure at F1.8, ISO 1000.”

Judge’s comment: “Gorgeous colors! I love how they fade across the sky and the frame. Awesome choice of foreground. What stands out to me is that the photographer planned. Yes, the Photo Gods shine down on us once in a while, but most of the time a lot of planning goes into a frame.”


Photographer: Tom Schonhoff, Seattle

Photo taken: Dec. 14, 2014 (published January 2015). Taken from Magnolia, looking toward the downtown skyline.

Photographer’s description: “On foggy winter mornings, early light mixes with rapidly shifting fog to reveal Seattle in surprising ways. I gave up the iconic Space Needle and ferryboats to give focus to the tree shadows slicing through the fog. Black and white lets the viewer concentrate on the textures and contrasts, which are really the subject of the image.”

Judge’s comment: “I very much enjoy a good black and white photograph and this is one of them. I love how the light ‘slices’ through the fog and the trees. We definitely get to concentrate on the softness of the fog and the crisp, rigid darkness of the trees and industrial buildings. And that bird’s silhouette is perfect.”


Honorable Mention winners: Flora and Fauna

Photographer: Shun Takano, Renton

Photo taken: July 18, 2015, Renton Highlands

Photographer’s description: “My daughter brought my wife some sunflowers, so I decided to take some macro photos of them. Taken with a Sony A7M2 with Sony FE 90mm macro lens.”

Judge’s comment: “I love the use of the macro lens to create an abstract photograph. Being able to see the detail of the fuzzies on the green petals is great, and that shallow depth of field where we are still able to make out the sunflower petals is wonderful. Beautiful photo.”


Photographer: Dale Johnson, Seattle

Photo taken: Sept. 14, 2015, San Juan Islands

Photographer’s description: “I was on a whale-watching tour out of Friday Harbor. We had just come across a pod of transient orcas when, all of a sudden, this orca came shooting out of the water with a harbor porpoise in its mouth. It all happened in just over a second and I was lucky to have my camera at the ready to be able to catch this once-in-a-lifetime shot. Taken with a Nikon D800E, 300mm lens, f6.3, 1/1600 second.”

Judge’s comment: “Wow! A fabulous moment captured. My immediate reaction is that I want to crop in and see that moment big in the frame but as I look at this photo longer I really appreciate having that Pacific Northwest landscape in the background. I think either option would work great. Very cool sight to see, and the photographer captured it perfectly.”


Photographer: Steve Okimoto, Mill Creek

Photo taken: July 27, 2015, in his backyard

Photographer’s description: “I heard the oddest noises coming from a tree. I thought the squirrel was severely injured. No, it was just curled up on a branch with its tail curled overhead. Then it started to stretch. And stretch. And then it stretched out its paw. It’s amazing how flexible they are! Taken with a Sony Alpha 77, Tamron lens at 280mm.”

Judge’s comment: “A hilarious moment captured. Great job. I love how the big branches go through the frame and in turn frame the squirrel.”


Honorable Mention winners: Fun and adventure

Photographer: Radka Chapin, Redmond

Photo taken: Jan. 31, 2015, Hidden Lake Peaks, North Cascades

Photographer’s description: “In a low-snow year we set out to search for skiable snow in the North Cascades. Even though the skiing was challenging, the views made up for it. We watched this onion-shaped cloud form above Mount Baker in the distance as we skied down from Hidden Lake Peaks. Shot with a Nikon D600, 16-35 mm lens.”

Judge’s comment: “Kudos to the photographer for getting out there in the right place at the right time, which can sometimes make a great photo. The ‘onion-shaped cloud,’ with swirls pointing directly at Mount Baker, make this photo stand out. I love the choice of a wide-angle lens to get the surrounding peaks and the small skier in the frame.”


Photographer: Karen Dohr, Seattle

Photo taken: May 31, 2015, Post Falls, Idaho

Photographer’s description: “This photo was taken at the Spokane Lantern Festival where thousands of people came to light lanterns and watch their golden light float away into the night sky. Don’t worry! Ninety percent of the lanterns are recovered after the event and they are 100-percent biodegradable. The photo was taken with a Canon 6D.”

Judge’s comment: “I love the foreground where we’re able to see what the lantern looks like and where people are about to send theirs off, arms extended. And the small dots of lanterns in the sky are really cool, like a little galaxy of stars and planets. The contrast of blue and orange is great.”


Photographers: Tayden MacDonald and Luke Wicks, 17-year-old students at King’s High School, Shoreline

Photo taken: Oct. 31, 2015, Kerry Park, Seattle

Photographers’ description: “Our photography teacher lent us a 200-LED Pixelstick to get some great nighttime photography. The photo was shot with a Canon T6i, with Tokina 11-20mm f2.8 lens.”

Judge’s comment: “I love the changing colors from the Pixelstick that create ribbons of light through the frame. It turns what probably would have been a dreary night photo into a colorful show. I really enjoy the softness of the clouds from the long exposure against the hardness of the sculpture. Great job, and keep shooting!”


Gallery: A full selection of 2015 Reader’s Lens picks