Melissa Stevens’ incredible photo goes viral with National Geographic

Wildlife is abundant around the Southern Moccasin Mountains and Lewistown where Melissa Stevens lives. “




Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? The hair on the back of your neck starts to stand on end, you’re checking your surroundings, you look up to see the glorious mountain beast and stare into the soul of this amazing creature while he’s carefully analyzing your every move…
Photo by Melissa Stevens

By Angel Wyrwas

Wildlife is abundant around the Southern Moccasin Mountains and Lewistown where Melissa Stevens lives. “My boyfriend and I love nature and the outdoors,” said Melissa. “We’re on some adventure every chance we get.” It was one of those adventures that gave Melissa the photo op of a lifetime.

“Last December, the trees were so snowy,” she continued. “It was a perfect winter day so we went for a hike and I grabbed my camera.”

While hiking, they came upon a large mountain lion ‘hiding’ out in a tree. “He just let me take his picture,” laughed Melissa. The photo of the tan lion peaking out of the snow-covered tree was an instant hit with friends and family.

“My mom kept telling me to do something with the photo, like entering it in a contest,” said Melissa, “but I just didn’t know if it was good enough. I am more comfortable shooting people than nature. Eventually, I did listen to my mom and it was a good thing I did.”

Melissa entered her photo in the Nature Photographer of the Year contest sponsored by National Geographic magazine. The contest began September 5 and ends November 17.

Thousands of photos from all over the world are submitted every single day to National Geographic’s Your Shot page for consideration in the Daily Dozen. Each weekday their editors showcase their top 12 submissions. Fans vote on their favorites, and the winners appear in the Editors’ Spotlight. Those photos are featured on the @natgeoyourshot Instagram account.

Melissa’s photo made it to the Daily Dozen November 8. “When I submitted it, I remember going to bed that night thinking how great it was to have 40 likes on it,” she said. “When I looked the next morning, there were over 300. I was so excited!”

The next day fans voted to have Melissa’s photo in the Editor’s Spotlight. Because her photo was voted a Top Shot it was featured on Instagram where it quickly soared to 20,000 likes. “The exposure is incredible…it’s a photographer’s dream,” said Melissa.

Judging for the contest consists of two rounds of evaluation. In round one, a panel of judges select up to ten entries from among all eligible submissions based on the following criteria: (1) Creativity 35%; (2) Photographic quality 35% and (3) Composition 30%. Only submissions selected in round one proceed to round two. In round two, the judges select a winner for each prize level based on the Judging Criteria.

Most recently, Melissa’s photo won Editor’s Top Pick for week nine of the contest. “I did not think this would happen,” she said. “I’m so impressed and excited about this accomplishment.”

Melissa graduated from Baker High School in 2011. She went on to cosmetology school in Billings for hair design. After completing the program, Melissa attended Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula. Today she works at Studio Milan Salon and operates Melissa Kelly Photography, a professional photography service. “The two jobs work well together,” explained Melissa. “I am my own boss which leaves plenty of time for weekend adventures.”

The grand-prize winner will receive $7,500. Their winning image will be published in an upcoming issue of National Geographic magazine and featured on the @NatGeo Instagram account.

One first-place winner will be selected from each of the four categories: wildlife, landscapes, aerials, and underwater. Each winner will receive $2,500. “I never thought I would get as far as I have in the contest but it would be incredible to have my photo published in the National Geographic magazine,” said Melissa.

Fans will vote for their favorite photos from December 1-11. Images with the most votes will be named the Peoples’ Choice winner. “If you like this photo, you can return daily to vote for your top pick,” said Melissa. She will post a link to the voting site on her Facebook page Melissa Kelly Photography.

Melissa is the daughter of Tom and Teresa Stevens of Baker.