With mother brown bear in attack mode and running toward him, Barrett Hedges froze to take the photo that would change his life.
"I wasn't looking at my camera screen," said the 24-year-old from Tullahoma, Tenn. "I was more worried about distancing myself."
Next month, Hedges' photo will appear in National Geographic magazine after beating out more than 14,000 other entries in the 2010 Energizer Ultimate Photo Contest.
Judge Jim Richardson, a National Geographic photographer, said he was drawn to the bear "charging straight at us with all the energy of a freight train."
"The image [is] at once frightening and magnificent," Richardson said.
Hedges said he took the winning shot last year at Katmai National Park in Alaska.
A 2004 graduate of Tullahoma High School and 2008 graduate of Carson-Newman College, Hedges said he was asleep Thursday morning when his sister called to tell him he had won the contest.
Hedges said he got his start with a disposable camera his parents gave him on a family trip when he was a teenager.
"After we got our pictures back, mine were better on a throwaway than they could get on a 35 millimeter [camera]," he said.
When Hedges' family visited the Great Smoky Mountains, he constantly would look for bears, he said. In 2009, he nabbed a summer job as a tour bus driver at Katmai.
Besides having his photo published, Hedges won a nine-day sailing trip to the Greek Isles. Hedges said he'll take a college chum along.
"I told him beforehand that if I won, he was first in line," he said. "When I called him this morning, he didn't really believe me."
Hedges' goal is eventually to land a wildlife photography job for a nature magazine.
But for now, Hedges said, he's looking forward to shooting photos of Yellowstone National Park in the winter. Next week he'll travel to Montana to start his new job at a nearby ski resort, driving a tour bus.