30 Winning Photos Of The 2021 Nature Photographer Of The Year Awards
Whether it be scientists or artists, or just about anyone else, nature is the source of most wonders, and wonders ought to be appreciated. The photographers, who are just as much scientists that capture important data as they are artists, are probably among the most important pillars that bolster our curiosity and interest in nature. Because of this, they deserve appreciation and acknowledgement for what they do, and it's good to know that they actually get it. The annual Nature Photographer of the Year award, to which we owe thanks for letting us share the amazing images of these talented finalists, does exactly that. But let's not keep it away any longer, and let's take a look at what this year has brought for us in terms of nature photography.
Winner, Fred Hazelhoff Portfolio Award: "Emotional Range" By Lea Lee Inoue
"Emotional Range: A Photographic Portfolio of a Round Tailed Ground Squirrel Family
Several years back, when moved out to the base of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, I noticed a round-tailed ground squirrel family.
I decided to photograph them, hoping to show that these animals think, feel and have emotions too. Often people think that dogs and cats are the only animals that have feelings. Could it be that people think this because observation is easier with a pet?
My hope is that through photography I can show all animals think and feel emotion. With this understanding, love and respect is developed for the natural world. Conservation is the natural effect of this endearment. This is a paradigm shift in thought – that conservation can begin early, at a ground level – with each person awakening to the natural world. With this realization comes animal respect, conservation and welfare."
The overall winner Terje Kolaas and Ruben Perez, the winner of Other Animals have both given an exclusive interview to Bored Panda, commenting on their wins at the awards and the photos themselves. Let's start with Terje:
"I live in Levanger close to Trondheim, so the photo is shot only a few hundred meters from my house. I have worked with the idea for years, and when I saw this particular shot I knew that I had made it. I love the way the birds have equally spread around in the picture without overlapping each other too much and without clumping together. That makes the balance in the photo work."
Highly Commended, Birds: "Sundance" By Christian Spencer
"It is a great honor to have work acknowledged by a highly competent jury like the NPOTY. I had never applied to contests until recently, so this is very motivating. I also get a lot of inspiration from other awarded photos and photographers in the competitions.
I grew up close to a park where nature and in particular birds were all around me. My cousin, good friend and great photographer Christian Tiller, who sadly passed away due to cancer earlier this year, was the person that got me into birding and bird photography when I was 12 years old and he has been a great field companion and inspiration since then. He is deeply missed and is always with me in my mind when photographing."
Winner, Black And White: "White Wedding" By Roie Galitz
"Polar bears in courtship, during a whiteout in Svalbard. The wind was so strong and the snow was blown so strongly, I almost couldn’t keep my camera steady to frame the bears. We were lost in this whiteout for hours, with no point of reference around us. The white polar bears in the white surrounding blended perfectly and I thought about the song by Billy Idol “White Wedding” as the white surrounded me."
Here's what Ruben Perez had to say about the photo and the awards.
"Every year I spend the summer in Ares-La Coruña, Spain. I take advantage of my time here to go out from time to time to do macro photography in its surroundings. Many times I go out without having anything planned, I just look for interesting reasons and I stop to photograph them, this is what happened with this caterpillar.
When I see that a subject has the potential to take a good photo, I usually do many tests, composition, light, color, until I find something worthwhile. Sometimes I'm only left with a couple of photos from a fifty-odd shoot. This time this photo met all my criteria to be a good photo, the composition and the light is something that I try to take great care of in my photos."
Winner, Animal Portraits: "Black Leopard" By William Burrard-Lucas
"Black panthers have fascinated me since childhood and it had always been my dream to photograph one in Africa – but they are so rare and elusive that I never expected to achieve it. Then I heard about a melanistic leopard that had been seen in Kenya’s Laikipia County and I knew this could be the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I had been waiting for. In early 2019, I spoke to the people who had seen the leopard and with their help I selected locations for my camera traps. For me, the ultimate photo would show the black leopard under the stars in a single exposure. It took several months of perseverance and many near misses before I achieved this image. For the image to work, many elements needed to come together. Firstly, it had to be a cloudless night which wasn’t common at this time of year. The only way to expose the dim stars was to use a long exposure time and therefore there could be no moon which would otherwise cause ghosting. And of course, the leopard himself had to appear."
"Receiving an award of this level is always a great recognition of your work. This type of contest has a large participation of photographers from all over the world where thousands of photos of a very high level of quality are presented. That an expert jury decides that your photo is the best among both levels is a great recognition, and this time not only the winner in the category "other animals" but also as second classified with another photo. I have been awarded in many other high-level international competitions, and I always give more value to these recognitions, since the quality of photographers in the world is increasing and it is therefore increasingly difficult to be among those chosen.
I am very clear about where my fascination for nature comes from, I grew up in a house surrounded by it, when I was a child I played with ants, spiders, moles, lizards, worms or any type of animal that fell in my hands. What you do in your childhood marks you, and that fascination for nature was marked to me," said Ruben Perez.
Winner, Landscape: "Dragon's Lair" By Denis Budkov
"The photo shows the eruption of the highest and most active volcano in the natural park Kamchatka “Klyuchevskoy”. The park is near the seismic station “Apakhonchich”. The lenticular cloud above the top of the volcano, illuminated by hot lava, creates the impression that a fire-breathing dragon is sitting on the top under the clouds.
For 10 years now I have been photographing the eruptions of this volcano and for the first time I have filmed it from this angle. This place is amazing because here you can see 3 volcanoes standing side by side like the great pyramids of Giza. On the right is the highest volcano “Klyuchevskoy” (height 4750 meters). In the middle is the volcano “Kamen” (height 4585 meters) and on the left is the volcano “Bezymyanny” (height 2882 meters). Unfortunately on this day it was covered with clouds.
When we went to the shooting, I already knew exactly which picture I would like to take. I had to catch the right moment in the twilight. When it is too light, the volcano is clearly visible, but the incandescent lava is not visible, and vice versa, when it is too dark, the outlines of the volcano were not visible, but the lava was clearly visible. Therefore, the main task was to capture the moment when the volcano was still visible, and lava was already glowing on its slope. Therefore, I used the continuous shooting of about 100 frames and it turned out to be the very frame that I wanted!!!"
Runner-Up, Birds: "Fishing Trip At Sunrise" By Miquel Angel Artús Illana
"A group of Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) head out to sea in the early morning, just as the sun rises over the horizon. They will spend the whole day fishing and eating in the sea. When they return they will have to feed their hungry young, that will wait for them on the beach.
The image was taken in The Nec – Saunders Islands – Islas Malvinas, where for five days I was isolated with a small group of photographers, only with the company of penguins and oysters, species of birds and mammals.
Since the best light was at sunrise, I stood on a small hill at five in the morning and waited for the penguins to appear in groups as they usually do. The light and the surroundings did the rest."
Winner, Plants And Fungi: "Heat Of Hoar" By Rupert Kogler
Close to my hometown of Linz, Austria, there’s a hill partially covered with some nice forests. And since in late autumn, there’s quite often heavy fog in Linz, I often go up this hill hoping for some sun above the layer of clouds. Especially the areas where sun and fog merge in the woods, are the ones I’m looking for. Even more when the temperatures are below zero and the fog creates mesmerizing patterns of hoar frost on the branches of the trees. This particular day I was lucky enough to experience these conditions, but not enough of that, the sun was already very low and the light was warm. The most fascinating thing to me actually was, that the sun melted the hoar frost in the tree tops and these particles of ice finally fell down as a glittering curtain from time to time. So I just tried to find an appealing composition hoping for the rays not to disappear and some ice coming down in front of me, backlit by the sun, while I used a wide aperture to enlarge and blur the glittering dots. Again nature’s magic delivered a memorable and enriching moment.
Winner, Other Animals: "Walking Along Fennels" By Ruben Perez Novo
"The machaon butterfly is one of the most beautiful diurnal butterflies in Europe. They have a large wingspan in relation to other butterflies within Europe. Unfortunately, a consequence of its beauty is that the species is very popular with collectors.
The caterpillar of this butterfly, the one that appears in the photo, is also very striking because of its color in green and yellow with black stripes and orange points. These caterpillars are very common to be found among fennels (Foeniculum vulgare) and they love to feed on this plant.
When I found this little machaon caterpillar it was already a little late and the sun was beginning to set. On the horizon were a few trees where the sunlight was shining through, creating a beautiful background between their leaves. To illuminate and give volume to the caterpillar I used a small LED panel and with combining natural and artificial light I created this image. The photo was taken on a hot summer afternoon in mid-August in Ares – Coruña – Spain."
Winner, Nature Art: "Ice Cell" By Gheorghe Popa
"Ice cell is one of the images from my 2021 Ice Anatomy project photo series. Ice Anatomy is an aerial series of photos of the Cuejdel Lake in Romania during the winter when it is completely frozen. The fresh snow and the ice cracks created these shapes that resemble neurons or just cells. My project Ice Anatomy follows the transformations of the ice on the lake over several winters. This is a subject that I have been pursuing for more than two years and I came up with the idea during winter, when I observed the shapes and cracks appear on the surface of the lake after the process of frosting and defrosting."
Highly Commended, Mammals: "Twilight Hunters" By Norbert Kovács
1. lesser horseshoe bat
2. greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)
Runner-Up, Other Animals: "Slow But Safe" By Ruben Perez Novo
Highly Commended, Animal Portraits: "Leafy Night" By Scot Portelli
"In a Covid year, it has been difficult for many nature photographers to get out in the environment and continue their work. Australia is an amazing place and I think Covid has taught me that I live in one of the most incredible natural places in the world. As a nature photographer, Australia’s coast, deserts, reefs, and rainforests hold a plethora of subject matter to photograph and discover, not to mention the diversity of wildlife above and below the surface. I am passionate about the ocean and its inhabitants, and a lot of my work is centred around conservation and protection of various marine species. But I am a little obsessed with seadragons. With this image of the endemic leafy seadragon, I wanted to create something that really captured the essence of these delicate vulnerable species which are found only in the southern parts of Australia. The more we understand the ocean and its inhabitants the more people will feel connected and take action to protect our ocean creatures.
It was just after Covid was announced in March 2020, our year long journey around Australia was interrupted and my wife and I were forced into lockdown for 6 weeks in a small campground on the Fleurieu peninsula in South Australia. Because we had no fixed address, we were considered refugees and the campground owner allowed us to stay in the campground, which had only one other family for the duration of the lockdown. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, we could still exercise, and diving was allowed. I had the opportunity to dive regularly, becoming familiar with the terrain, and getting to know the dive site, I explored more and more each dive and managed to spot a few individual seadragons that I could easily identify. After several encounters with one specific seadragon, it appeared to be unperturbed by my presence. I was able to compose a shot that tightly captured its eyes, features and appendages. In the end I took only one frame when the seadragon turned towards me for just a moment. All the elements aligned and it culminated in the portrait of this beautiful creature.
This photo was taken at dusk and shot with strobes to light the subject, as the afternoon light turning into night. The image was shot with a wide fisheye lens with close focus."
Highly Commended, Underwater: "Water Lilies Marvelous World" By Gaël Modrak
Nymphaea alba) Nuphar lutea)
Overall Winner, Birds: "Winter Migration" By Terje Kolaas
"I’m privileged enough to have thousands of pink-footed geese literally in my garden several months a year. More than 80,000 make a stopover here in the Trondheim fjord wetland system on their way between the wintering grounds in Denmark and Netherlands and the breeding grounds in Spitsbergen every spring and autumn and the whole scenario is simply spectacular. I have been photographing them for more than 20 years, and at one point I kind of ran out of ideas and got the feeling that «everything» with geese was already done. So what now?!
Thanks to the amazing drone technology the element of air opened up a few years ago, and the wet dream of photographing the geese as being one of them, a part of the flock, up in the air actually became possible. Dozens of failed attempts during the last years, partly because of fragmented landscapes, disturbing buildings, human artifacts, and messy backgrounds. But during the strange and rare events of blizzards and heavy snowfalls in late April 2020, I realized that the photos of my dreams were within reach; photographing the geese from the air against a pure and clean snowy landscape.
I positioned myself close to a field where I knew that the geese would feed regularly and waited for them there. As soon as I heard incoming geese, I took off with the drone and waited for them in the air. Most of the shots did as always have something imperfect to them; like being too far away, being unbalanced, having a wing or a head cut, or some birds overlapping wrong. But this particular one I`m very happy with. And I`m very happy that the jury of the NPOTY 2021 liked it too!"
Winner, Nature Of "De Lage Landen:" "Fox Crossing The Bridge" By Andius Teijgeler
"During the spring period I went for many evenings to the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen to look for foxes and cubs. Due to the frequent visits we knew a bit more about the behavior of some of the foxes.
This fox has crossed this bridge regularly in the spring. To try to find the right angle for the image I had in mind, we decided to go to a higher point. We had to wait quite long, but decided to stay longer. Light and atmosphere with the ducks in the background were great. At last we saw the fox on the right side checking if it was safe to cross the bridge. Suddenly she decided to go and I was able to take this shot."
Runner-Up, Plants And Fungi: "Nature's Eatable Arctic Gold" By Audun Rikardsen
"Cloudberries are a circumpolar boreal plant, occurring naturally throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In Europe, they grow mostly in the Nordic countries where they are a highly regarded delicacy, often termed the eatable Arctic gold. In earlier times people were protecting their berries in every possible way on their properties and always kept it a secret where they could find them. This is still the case today, but usually in a more civilized way than in previous times…
Despite great demand as a delicacy in the Nordic countries, the cloudberry is not widely cultivated and is primarily a wild plant. In the inland they are usually found up in the mountains and highlands, but at the coast of Northern Norway you can find them all the way down to sea level, as here, on a remote island in the Vestfjord close to Lofoten. Because of the light summer nights in the north, you may pick them also at night, like in this picture. I personally love the taste of these berries, my absolute favorite, and they were all eaten after this picture was taken!
There is no other special relevant information about the photo, rather than using two plaches and a macro wide angle lens."
Winner, Underwater: "Red In Red" By Georg Nies
"Photographing pygmy seahorses is an extremely difficult business. They are very small; rarely larger than 2 centimeter. But above all, they are very well camouflaged and difficult to find in the gorgonians in which they live. Even if you know that a seahorse is living in a gorgonian, does not guarantee that you will find them. Thanks to years of experience and a local dive guide who knows where to find the animals it could be possible. Usually such an image is created as a joint production. The local dive guide shows the seahorse to the underwater photographer. Because the animals are so tiny and we are talking about image scales of 2:1 or less, the usual way of working is as follows: The dive guide points to the animal with a small metal rod pointer stick. The photographer first looks at the hand of the dive guide and finds the seahorse using the pointer stick as a pathfinder. This requires a good interaction between the photographer and the dive guide.
Unfortunately, however, many pictures of pygmy seahorses and other curious animals underwater are not taken in a species-appropriate and environmentally friendly way. Tampering with animals and the environment to get a good picture is common practice. For example, to find the seahorses easier, the gorgonians are touched over a large area. This causes the individual polyps to withdraw so that the pygmies can be found more easily. Such manipulations can be recognized by the fact that all the polyps around the seahorse are closed and other polyps are still open a bit further away.
Moreover, the seahorse likes to turn away from the photographer. Using the pointer stick, they are turned “gently” by the dive guide towards the photographer, so that a front portrait is possible. Most importantly, the seahorses do not tolerate too much flashlight. Because they don’t have eyelids, they must endure the amount of light from the flashes. In areas where there are many underwater photographers, these animals go blind within a very short time and do not survive long. Therefore, the number of photos should be reduced to 6 to 8 per photographer.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the jury of this photo competition very much. By awarding this photo they show that it is also possible to be awarded with a species-appropriate and environmentally friendly underwater photograph."
Winner, Human And Nature: "The King Of The Ocean" By Javier Murcia
"The image shows a juvenile swordfish (Xiphias gladius) inside the labyrinth that forms “the Almadraba”, an ancient fishing art (used since the times of the Romans and Phoenicians) that is currently used to catch large pelagic fish, such as tuna. La Almadraba is located on the southern coast of Spain, in a small fishing village called “La Azohía”. It is the last of the “The Almadrabas” in the Spanish Mediterranean.”The Almadraba” is formed by a labyrinth of large nets placed in strategic places where the large fish of the “Scombinados” family pass to reproduce.
It is a very selective and harmless fishing gear where fishermen fight hand in hand with large fish. Every year a diver in fishing gear is able to capture the work of man with nature. I really like conservation and fish photography.
The swordfish swam tirelessly and, felt cornered, accelerated at high speed and made sharp turns. It is a potentially dangerous species due to its “sword” and its size. I could only take about 20 pictures because the animal was very nervous and in danger."
Runner-Up, Animal Portraits: "Last Embrace" By Roie Galitz
Runner-Up, Nature Of "De Lage Landen:" "Flying Over A Pastel 'Rainbow'" By Ronald Zimmerman
Highly Commended, Other Animals: "We Are Hanging On The Web" By Csaba Daróczi
Winner, Youth: "Beautiful World" By Levi Fitze
Runner-Up, Underwater: "Dolphins Home" By Dmitry Kokh
"Sataya Reef (or: Dolphins' home) in the Red Sea – is one of the best places in the world to swim with wild dolphins. I spent all day with them in the water, and that was for sure one of the best days in my life. You can create thousands of frames at the time of a great encounter. You can shoot an animal from one side, on the other side, on each side. Sometimes you’re so thrilled and hold your finger on a trigger while your camera bursts like a machine gun that makes 20 frames per second. But you always feel that exact moment when you make a very special shot, the one you dreamed of. When everything comes together: the animal’s mood, the light, the color, the depth and all the rest. And a bit of nature’s magic maybe. So, this is the one!"
Highly Commended, Plants And Fungi: "Inside A Sequoia" By Uge Fuertes
"The photo was taken at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, in Santa Cruz County, California (USA). This park is the oldest in California, protected since 1902. It is a Sequoia sempervirens forest, with trees that are around 100 meters high and 2000 years old. We were amazed to see it. The tree in the photo is a dry tree attached to the ground by four claws. Numerous fires burned it inside, leaving everything inside it hollow. I visited the place during the day to check the shot from the bottom up. At night we returned to the place, and opiliones and coyotes entertained and scared us while I took the images. The exposure of this photo is difficult. The part closest to the camera lights up very quickly but the farthest part (up to 60-80 meters high) stays dark. The use of two color temperatures in the lighting was decisive for the final result. To be able to frame and illuminate correctly, I took 70 pictures. Only one was perfect. My wife Marta helped me to illuminate the outside of the large trees. It is a very big stage, bigger than it might seem."
Runner-Up, Mammals: "Young Wolf (Canis Lupus)" By Aare Udras
Highly Commended, Human And Nature: "The Hand That Feeds" By Andrew Upton
"Down a busy side street in Harajuku, Tokyo, you will find Japan’s most popular otter cafe. Here, three Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus) are kept on display in a small glass tank. In this image a staff member feeds one of the otters a snack of dry pet food. These snacks are high in salt content, and unsuited for this species whose natural diet consists of invertebrates like crabs or shellfish, supplemented by fish. According to the IUCN guidelines for the husbandry of Asian small-clawed otters in captivity, the otter’s feed times should be varied as it helps prevent the development of begging or other stereotypic behavior. Hiding food around the enclosure as scatter feeding is also recommended as it promotes the otter’s natural foraging instincts. The limited space and high concentration of otters at Japan’s otter cafés makes adequate enrichment difficult, and the constant feeding and pampering by guests and staff members has made these otters dependent on human interaction.
I did not feed or handle the animals and I spent a long time habituating them to my presence. Once the otters no longer paid attention to me I was able to become a fly on the wall, documenting the reality of life in this cafe. It was important to me that I let the otters tell their story in their own time and that my presence did not induce them to “perform” for the camera. Asian small-clawed otters are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List."
Highly Commended, Nature Of “De Lage Landen:” "Bluebells And Beeches" By Richard Verroen
"The Bluebells in the Hallerbos in Belgium are my favorite to capture in springtime. Very early on a morning in April, well it is more like night, I drive from the Netherlands to Belgium and walk into the forest before sunrise. It is still very quiet and the first birds are already singing. When the sun rises, all the flowers of the Bluebells and the first green leaves of the beech trees will become magical. That is a moment I love very much, every single year!"
Runner-Up, Black And White: "Yin And Yang" By Gheorghe Popa
Runner-Up, Landscape: "The Prow" By Andrea Pozzi
"The Puna is a high desert plateau, where some of the most surreal desert scenery of the planet is found. Here’s the “Campo de Piedra Poméz”, a massive white pumice stone labyrinth, result of a volcanic explosion that spread ashes and debris that were immediately crystallized. Many years of erosion have carved these porous rocks into surreal formations surrounded by an ocean of black sand. That morning I got lost in a labyrinth of forms captured by a whirlwind of inspiration. In these places I found artists and writers of the past hidden in every detail… It was a dreamlike morning that I will never forget. The shape of these wind-sculpted stones reminded me of the prow of a ship."
Highly Commended, Black And White: "Shortness Of Breath" By Csaba Daróczi
"At the end of the summer, I photographed birds in a lake. I went into the hide in the dark, and at 8:00 I’m usually finished taking pictures. When I was on my way home, I heard strange noises near a sluice. When I got closer I saw these brown bullhead. Because of the heat, the water ran out of oxygen, so these fish tried to survive it."
Note: this post originally had 37 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.