Wash. teen's photo wows National Geographic for grand prize

VANCOUVER, Wash. - A 17-year-old aspiring photographer from Vancouver, Wash., was the top place finisher in a National Geographic photo contest and he'll be heading to London this summer for the experience of a lifetime.

Lijah Hanley took the grand prize in the National Geographic student photo competition, which earned him a 12-day trip to London with National Geographic Photographer Stephen Alvarez. The trip is coming up in July.

Hanley told us he started taking photos around age 11 or 12 and fell in love with the camera.

"He's always taking us on crazy adventures," his mother, Jenifer Hanley, told us. "It's definitely his passion and we are all for it."

Lijah Hanley (pictured at right in a photo from his website) said this particular photo, which he calls No Boundaries, was taken in The Dalles while he and his mother were stargazing. He set the timer on his camera, joined her on top of the Jeep and got the shot he wanted.

"I do a lot of shooting out in The Dalles since the stars are so awesome out there," he said.

This isn't the first time that Hanley has caught the attention of National Geographic. Last year he entered the same contest and won second place. He said he's spent the entire year since then thinking about what he could shoot for this year's competition.

And in 2007, he won a 14-day trip to Peru with National Geographic photographers when he and 10 other kids were picked in a National Geographic Hands on Explorer contest.

Hanley has also won several other photo contests and has been selling his photos online and at local markets, like the Vancouver Farmers Market, for a couple of years now. He uses a Canon 5D Mark II camera and is completely self taught.

We asked him what's next and he said he wants to get into underwater photography. As far his college plans, he said he's a little torn right now. He said if does go to college, he'll probably study business and marketing, which can help with a photography business.

And what advice does he have for other kids/teens who love photography? It's simple - submit your work because you never know what could happen until you try.

"I wasn't at all expecting to win and you just never know unless you enter," he said. "And it's kind of fun trying to get the shot. It brings you on all these different adventures."