See the Winning Photo from the “Unplanned Photo” Contest

The “Unplanned Photo” contest was a huge success.  We had hundreds of entries from photographers who went out and took an unplanned photo this week.  By “unplanned” we simply mean that it wasn’t a shoot you were planning, but by keeping your camera with you and looking for opportunities, you found things to shoot.

And the Winner Is…

There were many great entries, but we chose Andrew Hale’s photo of a brother and sister on a hammock as the winner.  From a technical standpoint, this is not a flawless photo.  The green is far too saturated for my taste, and Dustin wasn’t a fan of the blown out areas in the photo; however, the overall impact of the photo was enough for us to look past the technical things that only photographers notice and enjoy the mood of the photo.

Andrew said this about the photo: “At a family gathering this last week my mother requested that we try to get an action jump shot together. So after many takes (due to poor jump timing as a group), my brother and sister crashed on the hammock to take a break.  With the sun setting behind it trees, it added an almost surreal feel to the backyard. Took this with my Nikon D3100 and a 35mm lens and did some minor raw file post processing (Manual mode, f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/160 shutter).”

Andrew won the grand prize of a Tamron 18-270mm lens!  Andrew, email us at to let us know what mount you want (Canon, Nikon, or Sony) and also your mailing address.

From a technical perspective, this photo isn't perfect; however, it has enough of an emotional impact that it stuck out from the crowd of photos.

From a technical perspective, this photo isn’t perfect; however, it has enough of an emotional impact that it stuck out from the crowd of photos.

There were many other excellent photos submitted to the contest, and we want to share some of those as well.

Second Place Goes to Kati Toy

At first look, we had a hard time believing that this photo was unplanned, but we read the full story from the photographer and it really convinced us that this was definitely one of the top photos from the contest.  This photo was taken during a night fire that Kati witnessed. The firefighter is being illuminated by headlights from a vehicle. The firefighter didn’t even know the photo was taken.

If you look at the photo large, it does look a bit soft especially around the feet, but for an unplanned photo… this is fantastic work.

Kati has won a free online photography class from us at  Kati, email us at and let us know which one you’d like to take.

Second place winner - Kati Toy.  This photo was taken during a night fire that Kati witnessed.  The firefighter is being illuminated by headlights from a vehicle.  The firefighter didn't know the photo was taken.

Second place winner – Kati Toy.

Third Place Goes to Michelle Salsman

We really loved the lighting in this photo, coupled with the expression and fun of a little girl.  Photos of random things you see on the street make for great photography, but photos of little moments with family make memories… and photos.

Michelle had this to say about how she took the shot: “My daughters and I had just gotten home from dinner out.  I decided to run our sprinkler to water the grass.  My daughter asked if she could run through the sprinkler.  I sighed and answered fine.  Then I saw a great opportunity, especially with the direction of the sun hitting the drops of water.  This photo was taken with my Nikon D7000, ISO 100, 190mm, f/4.8, 1/400sec.”

Third place winner was Michelle Salsman with her fantastic and fun shot of her daughter.

Third place winner was Michelle Salsman with her fantastic and fun shot of her daughter.

Michelle has won a free online photography class from us at  Michelle, email us at and let us know which one you’d like to take.

Honorable Mentions

In the running for the finals was April Jasmine Turco (see her photo here), David Nguyen (see his photo here), Deb Harmon (see her photo here), and Shane Hintze (See his photo of the wheat field here).

Thank you!  To all who participated in the contest, to Tamron for supporting the Improve Photography community by giving away the lens as a prize, and for those of you who put up with the Google+ interface to submit your photo.  We’ll be doing our next contest through Flickr instead.

About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.


  1. These (including the honorable mentions) make me want to take my camera everywhere! Wonderful work and a great idea for a contest.

  2. Congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions! All the photos are beautiful!

  3. Congrats to all the winners! Wish it was me, but I kind figured I wouldn’t win…seeing as though there are way more better photographers out there!

  4. Maybe its just my taste, but I think you put these photos in reverse order. I think the third one is best, the second stays the same and the first is last.

    But that is the advantage to being the judge… you all get to decide!
    Great contest. I wish I had entered.

  5. Third place should have been first place in my opinion. Great picture! The are all good but I love third place the best!

  6. Hi Guys, I really enjoyed the idea of this challenge and in the taking part. Looking at the results though, and it is only a personal opinion, I agree with a few others here in that third place photo should have won.

    That being said I now actually feel disappointed and slightly cheated as I, like many others, have most likely spent a whole week, taking my camera to work looking for unplanned opportunities only to find the majority of the shots that made it onto the final short list were not taken during the competition week! (20th to 27th right?) Did you guys not check that when you were scoring or did I just misunderstand the rules of the competition?

    I made a note of my findings as if this is the case it seems mighty unfair on the rest of us and surely takes away from the whole point of the challenge?

    Here’s what I noticed:

    *Top three*
    Andrew Hale – winner
    Date taken – 12/05/2013 18:08

    Kati Toy – second place
    Date taken – 27/04/2013 08:22

    Michelle Salsman – third place
    Date taken – 22/05/2013 17:38

    *Runners Up*

    Aprile Jasmine Turco
    Date taken – 16/01/2012 08:20

    david nguyen
    No date in Exif

    Deb Harmon
    No date in Exif

    Shane Hintze
    Date taken – 19/05/2013 17:34

    Anyway – thanks for the experience guys, keep up the good work on the podcasts 🙂

  7. Author

    @Jay – Go on a photowalk and check 20 photographers cameras to see if they have the correct date and time set. I’ll bet only half of the bunch set it correctly.

    The winner said he took the photo just last week and I’m not going to accuse anyone of anything–it’s poor sportsmanship. We mentioned that this contest was coming up two weeks ago so some people may have started early, and the rules of the contest mention nothing that prohibited that.

  8. This contest must have been a tricky one for the two of you to judge. So many possible interpretations, the definition of ‘unplanned’ just to start with. At the end: I enjoyed participating and I enjoyed watching the input of the other participators. And if I say ‘Enjoyed’ I actually mean ‘loved’. Thanks guys. Just met your site and I’m allready a big fan.

  9. I had such a great time doing this. It was really exciting toting my camera around with me and noticing things I normally ignore! This contest really helped train my eye. Thanks Improve Photography!!!

  10. Michelle’s was my favorite from those I saw on the Google group, so I was very happy to see it win!

    I agree that the winning photo has a wonderful emotional quality.

  11. I have to agree with some of the others! You got it all wrong with the judging…while the first place photo is a beautiful scene, it absolutely looks staged…in my opinion the third place winner should most definitely have walked away with First place!!

  12. I would have to agree with some of the others about the third photo being the best in the group. For all the reasons you listed is why the first photo wouldn’t have made the cut at all in my opinion. Nice contest hope you do another in the future.

  13. Personally I agree with A. Tatum BUT I remember the first local photo contest I ever entered. It was judged by an AP photographer who dismissed some of the best photos I had ever seen in the area because they were not “newsworthy”. ‘IT’ is in the eye of the beholder. Love the contest for the objective and effort it requires and the results you get to see.

  14. Thanks Everyone. I am actually a very new photographer and this was the second time I had taken my camera along on ride. I did have to darken out the gravel at his feet and my editing skills are worse than any other! I appreciate this honor more than you would ever believe.. I will gladly take second.

  15. These are all great photos! And they all capture the moment so perfectly even when they are unplanned. Congrats to the winners!

  16. I just love learning from you site, and want to continue to receive your emails, but I need to change my email due to we our cancelling Verizon. So if you really do read these comments I need to change my email to Please I can’t find a link to do it on your website. Thanks Suzi Owen.

    PS who won the photo restoration?

    1. Author

      @Suzi Owen – The winner of the restoration contest has been announced. You can find a link on the homepage.

      I updated your email address for you.

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