Free-to-use mobile app Agora launched the #BestPhotoOf2020 contest on March 30th, inviting photographers from all over the world to participate in the biggest photo contest of the year.
Over the past 8 months, +35k submissions from over 135 countries participated in the global contest, from which 50 finalist photos were selected for the final voting rounds on the Agora app.
The 50 finalist photos are now competing for the grand prize of $25,000, which will be awarded to the image that gathers the highest number of votes from the Agora user base and global community, revealed on December 28th.
In 2019, Ghanaian self-taught photographer Michael Aboya won Agora's #BestPhotoOfTheYear award and $25,000 with his powerful image 'Songs of Freedom,' visualizing an unspoken struggle for freedom and belonging. Who will succeed this year?
Let us know in the comments which photo you think should win the $25,000 top prize!
A Polar Bear Swimming In The High Arctic
Location: Baffin Island, Canada
"As climate change touches the globe over, bears will be stranded on land for longer periods of time, and swimming longer distances. The shoot aimed to shine a light on the front lines and last line of climate change. Droning animals can be controversial, I had spent a few days tracking this bear, who displayed curious and brazen behaviors towards snowmobiles and people. When I saw him jump into the ocean from the ice through my telephoto, I popped my drone up and hoped he'd be curious enough to swim by to take a look. Once he swam by I did not pursue further. If I win, I would donate 20% of this money directly to Polar Bears International, and purchase a 600mm prime to create more impactful images of our wild world."
The #BestPhotoOf2020 competition was launched on March 30th on Agora, the 3.5-million-user mobile app responsible for some of the most exciting photo competitions since 2017.
Photographers had until October 1st to participate with their best photos on the app for the chance to be selected in the Top 50 finalists and make it to the voting rounds. In total, more than 35,000 submissions were sent from over 135 countries.
I Saw A Storm Coming Up The Coast
Location: Fraser Island (K'Gari), Australia
"Taken during storm season, a storm cell moves up the coast dropping some CG (cloud to ground) lightning. I had never really shot lightning before and saw this storm cell approaching so thought I'd use long exposure to try and capture a bolt or two. When out in nature it is always my intention to capture the epic and effortless beauty of our natural world. Cloud to ground lightning is the least common but best understood of all types of lightning. It predominantly starts in the cloud and ends on the earth, but can also occur in the reverse direction from the ground to the cloud. If I win, I will celebrate and find some land to buy and to live simply from."
Black Is Beautiful
Location: Landmark University, Omu-Aran, Kwara State, Nigeria
"The increased activity in racism and racial profiling has pushed the narrative that being black is more of a curse than a blessing. This picture is a reminder that being black is beautiful. The picture was taken with a budget setup with the absence of any speed light equipment or studio setup. If I win, I would put the money towards furthering my education, in doing a master's degree."
On Agora, people worldwide submit their photos and humanity votes to decide the Best Image of 2020. Unlike any other contest, the #BestPhotoOf2020 award recognizes the single most-voted-for photo of the year, without any photography genres or categories. The #BestPhotoof2020 winning image will therefore be chosen by the votes of the Global Community through Agora’s app voting system.
Location: Estarreja, Aveiro, Portugal
"This Portuguese shepherd carefully transports the newborn goatling into the corral. This moment of affection between the shepherd and the animal shows respect and the careful way how animals are treated. The animal seeks protection and the shepherd takes care of it with love. I am a veterinarian and with my photography, I try to record moments of affection and to show the respect that farmers have for their animals. It is a way of honoring my farmers, who work from sunrise to sunset and whose work is unfortunately underpaid. I have been witnessing the respect and the affectionate way these small farmers treat their animals for many years. If I win, I would use the money to renovate an old house of mine, converting it into a museum for my daughter’s paintings and for my photographic work. My daughter died in January this year. This would help me to honor her memory and honor the farmers with whom I work."
Afghan Girl In 2020
Location: Nyiregyhaza, Hungary
"I took this shot of my wife as part of a project in my photography school, where I got a task to reproduce a well-known photo or artwork. My first thought was Steve McCurry's well known Afghan girl, but I wanted to change it up and add a contemporary twist. I wanted to add our sad actual reality and make a symbol of the year 2020. So I decided to give the 'Afghan girl' a mask. Perhaps this is one of the best expressions of this sad situation that has weighed on humanity this year. It was a difficult task to recreate but my wife’s beautiful expressive eyes were given made it easier. If my photo wins the top prize, I would take my wife on an exotic journey because she deserves it. It goes without saying that we'd go somewhere where I could take a lot of brilliant photos."
"We've been overwhelmed by the quality of the +35k photos we've received in the #BestPhotoOf2020 Awards. We'd like to thank all the photographers around the world who shared their best images. We now invite everyone, everywhere to join our global democratic system and cast their votes on the Agora app to decide which finalist photo should be voted #BestPhotoOf2020 and win the $25,000 prize. Everyone's point of view is important and contributes to a global result that decides the World’s Best Photo of 2020. Together, humanity chooses the best images of the world, the images that represent all of us, making the voting process a deeply meaningful and beautiful practice for all. Power to the people!" said Octavi Royo, Agora's CEO & co-founder.
Taking A Camel Ride Through The Desert At Sunset
Location: Dubai Desert, UAE
"I was in Dubai on my own and booked a desert safari as I had wanted to experience it for myself and take some photographs if conditions were suitable. As luck would have it, I was the only one booked for the late time slot, so when I got on my camel, I just knew that an aerial shot would look interesting given both the lighting conditions so close to sunset and the riderless camels. If you look closely, I’m in the second camel from the front, simultaneously trying to get the shot and stay upright on the camel! I hope this photo conveys the sense of wonder and adventure I felt at the time. This was my first time on a camel! So trying to take a photo with my drone while also making sure I didn’t fall off was quite the experience. If I win, I would (after celebrating) use some of the money to get better photography gear and fund a trip to Mongolia - a place I have always wanted to visit. I would also buy a few surprise gifts for friends and family that have remained unwavering in their support. Finally, as I am also currently at the University of Oxford, I would use whatever was left to help with my living costs here!"
My Friend Jane, The Real Soldier
Location: Zaporizhia, Ukraine
"This photo was taken in my apartment, right before my model and dear friend Alyona's surgery. Alyona is 27 years old and is fighting aggressive cancer. It was the hardest photoshoot in both of our lives. During this shoot, I tried to pull myself together and support my friend. It is very difficult for a girl to open and show the whole world her vulnerability. But during processing, I cried a lot. This photo moved me. The beauty of a young girl and the horror of the disease. Alyona has 5 brothers and her family could not support her financially with this operation, so these photos helped to partially raise funds. If I get to win the top prize, I will support cancer fighters and first of all my friend and model. I believe she will make it!"
Location: Mikurajima Island, Japan
"Mikurajima Island is famous for the habitat of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Currently, more than 160 dolphins live there, and last year 20 babies were born. The dolphins of Mikura Island are given names from the characteristics of each body. They are completely wild dolphins, but they are called by their name and loved by many people. They make various shapes and group formations; however, at the moment of this photo, they swam in a line side by side. I have wanted to swim with them for some time and was so happy to feel their welcome. I heard that dolphins rest only on one side of the brain when they sleep, and at that time, they line up side by side for safety confirmation. My dream is to photograph the Antarctic sea, so I would like to win the prize money to travel and shoot there."
Location: Etosha Pan, Namibia
"This moment of a male lion playing with his cub was definitely the most exciting moment during several safaris I have done between 2011 and 2014. I love observing animals and their interactions and my goal through animal photography isn't just capturing these beautiful creatures, but also framing a moment to show how much animals are similar to humans in their behavior. I wish this image would help to raise awareness on the topic of wilderness conservation: we as humans cannot thrive if we don't protect biodiversity. Normally, during safaris, you end up being surrounded by several tourists, especially when you look for big creatures. What I found surprising about this moment was the random decision of going, right after sunrise, to a more quiet part of the park. Who would have expected to be surrounded by a pride of around 40 lions (male, female, and cubs)? Seeing them playing and, right after, walking around our car, made me relive my childhood memories of watching "The Lion King". It was exciting, but also a bit scary. The current pandemic has affected the lives of many; I included seeing has it resulted in me recently losing my job. Even though I am lucky enough to be eligible for government help, this money is not enough to finance the start of my own photography business. For this reason, I would use part of the prize for that and another part I will use as a donation for causes that support wildlife and biodiversity conservation."
"On a road trip, I saw this elderly man in a shop. Although he was a stranger to me, I thought he would be an interesting subject for some portrait shots so I asked him if I could take his photo. During the shoot, he just stared at me, not bothered at all by my shooting. His attire was so traditional, a pure village guy. The shop was empty and dark, but I believe that photographers can transform something ordinary, extraordinary so I placed my subject at the door of the shop to get a dark background. This way, I could make the most of both the natural light that was bouncing in from the roadside and the dark background behind him, enhanced with my flashgun to give this shot a dramatic portrait feel. If I win, I will upgrade my photography equipment and plan a trip to capture the beauty of Europe."
Elders Take Great Care Of Young Kids
Location: Omo Valley, Ethiopia
"I visited the Suri village to photograph the tribe's portraits and culture. For the last 20 years, the traditions of the Suri tribe have been in disarray. The arrival of guns has created an increasingly volatile, unregulated situation in a very unstable region. In the past, the role of the chief was to uphold values of restraint and non-violence and to provide a reconciliation between clashing groups and clans. Disputes were resolved by strict rules, debates, and rituals - for instance, sacrificing cows, verbal pledges, or firing of guns at rocks to signify that bullets must hit the earth and not people. Today, those rituals are being rejected in favor of immediate and bloody retribution. The Suri exist at the margins of the Ethiopian state. The government in Addis Ababa regards them as trouble makers. They feel neglected and discriminated against. They say that the government has unfairly targeted them for disarmament, despite the fact that their neighbors continue to attack them. The state has also tried to ban ‘harmful customs’, such as cattle-raiding and lip plates. To maintain the Suri culture and tradition, elders take great care of young kids who are the hope and inheritors of the Suri culture. I have created this photo to convey the message that Suri kids are the future of Suri culture and tradition which should be protected by elders in order to become the heirs of the Suri tribes. I asked and explained my planned shot to local guides and villagers actively participated to create this shot. I'm satisfied with their pose in this shot even though I didn't have good communication with them as I don't understand their language. If I were to become the Hero, I would like to go back to Ethiopia to donate necessities for the Suri tribe."
When The Muddy River Meets The Ocean
Location: Dili, Timor-Leste
"The first rains of the year in Timor-Leste make the rivers start flowing again, bringing mud and trash from the mountains to the ocean. This water can be seen separated in two: the brownish muddy river water and the deep blue ocean water, however nowhere near as clearly at sea level than as from the air. The fishes are attracted and get closer to the shore. After taking off the drone and facing the camera downwards, I was stunned by what I was seeing: the thick texture and brownish color of the river contrasting with the soft texture and deep blue color of the ocean was not something that I have ever seen in my life! This project was not planned, at least not in the same way as I imagined it. I borrowed a drone from a friend to continue a project of mine on Timorese fishermen that use the apnea technique to fish. I already had underwater photos as well as photos “on the sea level”, so aerial photos were the last step of the project. I asked my friend for the drone on that day because I knew that there were more fishermen fishing during the first rains of the year, but I had no idea that seen from above the scenery would be so spectacular! If I win, I would fly back to Timor-Leste and finish the projects that I left open-ended, such as the apnea fishermen, who are living heroes that deep dive for over 5 minutes, without any equipment, to fish and survive. There are not many places where people fish this way and some studies even prove that their lungs and body have developed to allow them to stay longer underwater without breathing."
Location: Quảng Ngãi, Vietnam
"In my photo, a Vietnamese girl is seen wearing an Ao Dai, the national dress of Vietnam which is highly valued by Vietnamese women. I'd like to invite everyone to honor and show respect for the unique cultural traditions of each country and the role of women today. Ao Dai portraits are usually only taken with a terrestrial camera, but using a drone for this photo showed a different, broader, and wider view with the scenery of the vast meadows. I would love to use the prize money to contribute to supporting the current climate change relief work in my country."
Location: Menorca, Spain
"The day I took this photo the sea was very flat and calm. When I went inside the cave, there was this kind of fog or cloud which, mixed with the sun rays, changed the colors, the texture, and the ambiance of the cave. After setting my camera down and starting the continuous shooting I went to the surface through the sun rays and managed to get the right shot. In my photos, I want to transmit those moments in which I freedive alone, calm in a beautiful and special place with rare and unique conditions. To go to this cave you need to walk close to high cliffs, walk between big rocks, swim a bit, and then dive around 30meters inside the cave, in the dark, wait for the sunrays to set the camera at the right place and swim to the place, wait then repeat the process to get the right shot. My passion is underwater photography, so this prize would allow me to keep doing what I love full time."
Location: Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire, UK
"Gannets will rub beaks to strengthen the bond between breeding pairs. After a few days at these cliffs on the Yorkshire coast, I was lucky enough to capture 2 pairs of gannets rubbing beaks simultaneously. If I win, I would donate part to help protect our beautiful British wildlife and use part to help me with my dream of becoming a wildlife filmmaker."
Praying COVID-19 Virus Go Away From The World
"Meditation is peaceful, calm, and healthy for all people. These monks can meditate for a long time, and even without eating dinner. We can learn a lot and be inspired by their way of life. If I win, I would like to donate the money to meditation and COVID-19 centres."
Standing Before Giants
Location: Cadini di Misurina, Auronzo di Cadore, Italy
"Through this shot, I wanted to show how massive these peaks are. I asked a friend to stand in that spot in order to give an idea of the scale. This is one of those places in the Italian Dolomites that I’ve always wanted to see with my own eyes. We woke up at 2 am and drove a couple of hours to make sure to get to this spot for sunrise. Sunrise itself was a bit disappointing, however as the sun was getting higher in the sky some huge, low clouds started dancing around the peaks, creating this eerie atmosphere. I quickly asked my friend to stand on that spot and as soon as the peaks were out again I took this photo. If I win, I would definitely invest the prize in what I love doing the most, which is photography. The photographic gear I’m currently using is quite basic and for a long time now I’ve been dreaming about upgrading my camera body and buying some prime lenses, and as every photographer knows, they’re ridiculously expensive. This would allow me not to take better photos since I strongly believe you don’t need expensive gear to do that, but to pursue a career as a photographer, which has always been my biggest dream."
Location: Moscow, Russia
"I have been fascinated by water drops for a long time. One day, when it was raining, I looked at the drops and it seemed to me that they were falling in a special way. That was the first time I saw crowns instead of drops. I came home and decided to experiment with the "fall" of water and to shoot this exciting process. After a while, I got so fascinated by it that I have now read a lot of literature on the topic of water, its forms, and states. I even began to dream about the drops. Sometimes, instead of the drops, I saw various silhouettes and other fantastic water sculptures and I wanted to create them in reality. To do so, I had to create my own nozzles. Later, I started to add other elements into my works, such as fire, gold powder, smoke, etc. Many people still think that I use photoshop in my work. I do not, but I am glad that my photos do not leave people indifferent. The size of the water sculpture (jellyfish) in the picture is about 40cm. In order to receive the fire, I had to burn the brake parts cleaner. The nozzle was designed by myself. If I win, I would invest this prize money I knew more technically advanced photo equipment."
Location: Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida, Indonesia
"That day, I took my scooter to go to Kelingking Beach to watch the sunset. When I got there, I was impressed by the height of the cliff from which you can look down on the beach. Even when looking down from high up, I felt that the waves on the beach were huge. There was only one person walking close to the shoreline. When I saw this scene I couldn't help but think of the unequal powers that met face to face in this particular moment. I really wanted to emphasize the feeling of a fragile human, being so close to an uncontrollable powerful part of nature. Many friends asked me if I used my drone to take this photo but in reality, I was standing at the edge of the cliff and took the photo with a telephoto lens on my regular camera. It would mean the world to me as it would give me the opportunity and financial freedom to really focus on pursuing the dream of becoming a full-time photographer and videographer. It would also take a great weight off my shoulders, which would help me to have a healthier mind and a more fulfilled life in pursuing what I love."
Location: San Francisco, USA
"An early start in March 2020 saw me on location at least thirty minutes before sunrise to shoot from this famous angle, looking down California Street. As I patiently waited, I couldn’t believe my luck as everything started to fall in place. The perfect light, the iconic tram, the famous hilly road of California street, the Oakland bay bridge, AND eventually, the famous “Karl the Fog” started to roll in. I didn’t post this photo until a few months later - the time when the pandemic was in full swing, forcing the entire world into lockdown. As this image was taken during the early hours of the morning with little traffic, it gives the sense of emptiness and would have been a very common sight throughout this year. With the lack of travel this year, I've spent the majority of my spare time investing in myself and setting up a photography business. If I was lucky enough to win, I would, first of all, donate 10% of the winnings to those in need. I feel it's important to help give back to those that aren't as fortunate as us. The remainder I will use to expand my photography business, with a large portion of it invested in teaching and inspiring others."
@leemumford8, Hong Kong
Sleepy Polar Bear
Location: Svalbard, Norway
"We were on my boat, cruising to a big glacier as the plan was to see the glacier calve. Once we got closer, we saw a polar bear walking in front of it. As we were floating, the bear decided to take a nap. Once it got to sleep I wanted to create a peaceful yet powerful image, because polar bears are afraid of loud unfamiliar sounds. I also wanted to contrast his snow-less bed with the snowy mountains behind him that reflect the global warming crisis. Luckily, there was a small breeze which allowed us to very slowly get a little closer for the shot. Due to the world's situation with Covid-19 and non-essential travel not permitted, I would use some of the money to catch up traveling once it is allowed again. I would also invest in new equipment."
Historia De Venezuela
Location: Caracas, Venezuela
"The subjects of this photo are two soldiers who were part of the Venezuelan government's containment group in charge of dissipating the 2017 protests against Nicolás Maduro and his administration, and a Nun named Esperanza. In 2017 I tried to document in the best way the social chaos that was being experienced in Venezuela. On that day, there was a lot of repression on the part of the security forces; it got aggressive. When the protest died down, I saw a nun walking towards me who asked for help to get to the highway where these two men were. When she reached the military, she told them: "My name is Esperanza, and hope this is the last thing you lose." It had been a terrible day, but I feel that Sister Esperanza's words reached the hearts of the military. My intention was to convey hope for a country that is full of problems; a country submerged in a very deep social, political, and economic crisis. Photography has been my means of communication and creation, and through art, I seek to inspire and motivate, especially Venezuelans who are without hope. I'm still in Venezuela trying. Being the best possible citizen. Making art. Communicating. Behind that photo is an entire country that continues to suffer today. I would use this money to inspire more photographers to keep taking photos and never lose hope of being seen and valued. Winning this award, living in a country like Venezuela, would be a direct light of the universe."
My Wife, My Pearl
Location: Koyashskoe Salt Lake, Crimea, Russia
"I shot this picture of my wife wearing a dress we made ourselves from fabric that reflects all the colors of the rainbow. In the summer, this lake turns pink due to the special plankton - one of the most unusual places I've been to. This lake has a depth of just 3-4 centimeters so when you walk on it, it feels as if you are walking across the sky, as the water reflects it. Through this shot, I wanted to achieve a minimalistic picture, with no human structures, that transmits tranquility and unity with nature. The dress, which looks more like a pearl, does not have its own color but reflects the environment, thus it fits perfectly in harmony with the rest of the picture. We got a nasty surprise on this shoot given that the salt on this lake sinks underfoot, scratches the skin, and causes pain, meaning we also had to throw out the shoes which we were wearing. Then when the dress dried out, it turned to stone, like wet clothes in a severe frost. If I were to win, I'd use the money to pay off our mortgage and go on a new trip for new adventurous photos with my wife."
Location: Yen province, Vietnam
"My photo represents the farmers harvesting the sedge which will be later used to weave mats. I associate these mats with my childhood, as every family in Vietnam uses this kind of mat to sleep on. If I win, I will take my wife on a trip and donate a part of the prize to charities."
A United Struggle
Location: Achimota, Accra, Ghana
"This photo depicts warrior-looking young men united in chorus of affirming the belief in themselves as a group. This photo has become increasingly meaningful to me for many reasons. Due to the global pandemic and the implementation of social distancing, it occurred to me that such gathering of people will be a rare sight for a while. Coupled with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and mass demonstrations all over the world that have been a major part of 2020, I found this photo symbolic and meaningful to the fight for racial equality and unity. The photo conveys unity, strength, and determination. Furthermore it now also illustrates the furor of the #EndSars demonstrations in Nigeria. If I win, I would invest in my photography to travel and meet new people, landscapes, and stories of as many places as I can."
Garbage Disposal Area
Location: Karanganyar, Indonesia
"This landfill catches fire almost every year during the dry season on this 17-hectare area, due to methane gas contained in the garbage. It amazes yet saddens me that there are people who, despite the health hazards, tirelessly look for scraps or items they want to go on to sell in order to be able to provide for their families. I would use the prize to donate and build a place of worship near my hometown, and to develop my business in photography."
Location: Kelitsadi Lake, Kazbegi, Georgia
"The emotion I try to convey through this photo is a feeling of peace, achieved from being alone and finding oneself. This photo was taken 3080 meters above sea level, which makes the weather so cold and difficult to enter in the volcanic lake, despite what the conditions of the day and garments of the model might suggest."
Smile Of Mom
Location: Khanh Vinh District, Khanh Ho, Vietnam
"The photo captures an old person cooking, from the Raglai ethnic minority of Khanh Vinh mountainous district. I took it as part of the Help-Portrait Programme, which is a community of photographers and volunteers from around the world who voluntarily devote their time, equipment, and expertise to photographing people in need. With the idea that photographers take pictures, print and send them to people, and more importantly, give them a belief and joy in life. This woman was thrilled to be photographed for the first time, if not also a little embarrassed, it was a special moment for me as it is for her. Through the pictures we know, happiness often comes from very simple things. Everyone's happiness is different. If I were to become the Hero and win the prize of 25,000 dollars, I will first fund travel to places far from the city where there are still difficulties, using my passion for photography to capture beautiful moments, spread the message to help people share and love each other more."
The Wreck Of An Illegal Fishing Vessel
Location: Pangandaran beach, Indonesia
"There are those who say that the border between legal and illegal is somewhere between being caught or not. And it was among those seas that the infamous fishing vessel sailed for years, being wanted by 13 different nations for fish poaching. Now, its wreckage rests in this fine border between sea and land as a display of Indonesian maritime power, as a symbol of the fate that awaits those who try to do the exact same. It took me 3 hours to take this photo because I waited until the shadows were exactly where I wanted them to be. If I win, I would love to donate a part of this prize, buy new equipment and invest another part of it to travel again and focus on humanitarian photography."
Location: Daecheong Lake, South Korea
"Autumn is an exceptionally beautiful season here, and a blessing for photographers. This beautiful scenery, enhanced on this occasion by a small boat when the fog rises in the early morning hours of the morning, is the reason why I go to this lake with my camera. The long rainy season of 40 consecutive days made Daecheong Lake full of water. The small trees submerged in the water show fragility as the water level begins to go down again, but the water mist covered it beautifully. I wore boots that come almost up to my chest, and I took a picture by lowering it closer to the surface. If I win, I will donate half of it to neighbours in need, update some of my old photography equipment, and put the rest away for my family."
@pqiiiipq, South Korea
Note: this post originally had 50 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.