Tom Schonhoff, of Seattle, visited Katmai National Park via float plane and brought home the winning image in The Seattle Times’ national-park photo contest.

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We celebrate special things in America’s national parks: wedding anniversaries, birthdays, reunions with friends, father-daughter backpacking retreats. All such occasions took Seattle Times readers to the great outdoors to bring home this collection of images of nature’s wonders.

In a gallery here are 10 favorite entries from our national-parks photo contest, selected by Times editors and photojournalists from more than 850 submissions. (Thanks to all of you; the choices were tough.)

The grand prize — a $100 REI gift card — goes to Tom Schonhoff, of Seattle, for his photo of a bear fishing in a park in Alaska. Keep reading to learn how he got the shot.

Honorable Mention winners, included in this gallery, each get a $25 Starbucks card.

Because we celebrate so many of life’s milestones in parks, these images seem an appropriate commemoration of the Aug. 25 centennial of the National Park Service, whose men and women work to keep these places special.

How he got that winning shot

It’s hard to look away: A mammoth brown bear, splashing in a cold Alaska stream, is poised to swat at blush-red migrating salmon visible just beneath the surface.

Your eyes are drawn to the bear’s claws, in perfect focus, like steak knives waving from dinner-plate-sized paws.

“I had some shots with fish above water, but those claws kind of made it for me!” said Schonhoff,  explaining why he entered this particular photo in The Seattle Times’ national-park photo contest.

He captured the image in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Schonhoff, 57, a program manager for Microsoft, took the photo Aug. 9, 2012, after he and about 20 other visitors flew into Katmai on two float planes with a guide service from Homer, Alaska.

“It’s a tourist thing; there are so many float planes they have to look around for a pond to land on,” he said. (Such day tours typically cost in the range of $600-$650.)

Once there, it was a marathon photo session.

“We sat on a gravel bar in the middle of Funnel Creek for about three hours with sometimes as many as a dozen bears around us, some with cubs. And the fish were everywhere.”

Happily, the coastal brown bears — Ursus arctos, a close cousin to the grizzly bear, Ursus arctos horribilis — were more interested in munching on salmon than on tourists.

“We minded our business and they minded theirs,” Schonhoff said.

His camera was a Nikon D800E on a tripod, with a Nikon 200-400mm lens. The image was shot at 1/1,000th of a second at f/7.1.

With the bear only about 25 yards away, Schonhoff said, at times it was too close for the focus of his long lens — an unexpected problem in nature photography. He told why he was pleased with the photo.

“First and foremost I enjoy that you see his claws in the sunshine, and it’s very clear he’s about to hit those fish. You see his gaze down into the water. It is a moment. That’s what I like to catch: a moment of transition.”

Schonhoff is no stranger to national parks, though he says he has spent more time photographing wildlife in national parks overseas. He temporarily retired at age 50 and traveled the globe photographing wildlife, from leopards in the Serengeti to emperor penguins in Antarctica. See more of his photos at

Here’s a look at all the honorable mentions:

More on national parks: