As the disappearance of sea ice due to climate change becomes more evident, polar bears are rapidly losing their habitat. At dusk, this lucky male settled down on a small iceberg—a refuge for the night.
Who doesn’t snap a shot of their cutest pets while they’re sleeping or a colorful butterfly when they’re at the park? We like to have a physical memory of what we thought was beautiful or interesting. But there are people who take photos for a whole different purpose.
People who submit their work to the BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition go above and beyond to catch the right picture at the right time. And though there is a monetary prize to the winner, the competition hopes that these breath-taking images from all around the world will inspire others to protect and conserve our planet.
#1 Aquatic Life, Finalist: ‘Treasure On Ice’ By marek Jackowski, Svalbard, Norway
It’s the eighth year that the California Academy of Sciences has held the competition and the entries don’t stop amazing us. These images originally appeared on bioGraphic, an online magazine about science and sustainability and the official media sponsor for the California Academy of Sciences’ BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition. If you would like to see what bioGraphic is up to, you can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
The photographers were invited to send pictures that showcase Earth’s biodiversity and show some of the mounting threats to the natural world.
If this is your first time hearing about this competition and you are interested to see the best shots from last year‘s competition, Bored Panda gathered them in this article.
#2 Terrestrial Wildlife, Finalist: ‘Tough Negotiation’ By Ayala Fishaimer, Judean Foothills, Israel
An Arabian red fox cub emerging from its den sniffed a shrew out of the sand and began playing with it. For a brief moment, the hapless shrew appeared to be asking the fox to spare its life.
#3 Terrestrial Wildlife, Finalist: ‘Felis Silvestris’ By Vladimir Cech Jr., Doupov Mountains, Czech Republic
The European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) is rare, elusive, and difficult to photograph. After studying the area for several months, the photographer caught this image with a homemade DSLR camera trap, built in his photo studio in the forest.
The contestants could send their entries from December 1, 2020 to March 7, 2021 and then the jury, consisting of photographers and photo editors, chose their winners.
BigPicture Co-founder Rhonda Rubinstein explained to us how the judges pick a winner, “The judges vote on each image, using a 1-5 scale that takes into consideration originality, technical excellence, composition, overall impact and artistic merit. The votes are tallied, and the Grand Prize winner is the image that received the highest score overall, regardless of category.”
The Grand Prize winner was awarded $5,000 and the categories that Rhonda Rubinstein mentioned are: Art of Nature, Aquatic Life, Winged Life, Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora, Terrestrial Wildlife, Human/Nature and Photo Story: Out of the Ordinary.
#4 Grand Prize: ‘Hope In A Burned Plantation’ By Jo-Anne Mcarthur, Mallacoota, Australia
Iconic Australia is captured in this particular moment as a resilient kangaroo pauses in a burned eucalyptus plantation. Nearly three billion animals perished or were displaced in the cataclysmic Australian bushfires of 2019 and 2020. This eastern grey kangaroo and her joey represent the lucky survivors, escaping from an area that had been transformed by humans for farming and then devastated by fire.
#5 Terrestrial Wildlife, Winner: ‘Boss’ By Michelle Valberg, Great Bear Rainforest, Canada
This spirit bear, one of only a few hundred white bears in this subspecies of black bears in the coastal rainforests of British Columbia, is known by the name “Boss.” After lowering his head into the river in search of salmon roe, he pulled his head up and shook, droplets spiraling around his head, looked at the photographer for a split second, and then plunged back into the water for his meal.
#6 Human/Nature, Finalist: ‘Why Did The Sloth Cross The Road?’ By Andrew Whitworth, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Getting to the other side of a vehicular road is a challenge, especially for a slow-moving sloth. Due to speed up is the movement to create arboreal bridges for animal crossings in biodiversity hotspots like Osa. Here, amidst stormy conditions, this beautiful moss-covered, three-toed sloth survived.
The winner this year is Jo-Anne McArthur, who is a Canadian photojournalist. Her photo, titled “Hope Amidst the Ashes,” depicts a female eastern grey kangaroo with a baby kangaroo in her pouch standing surrounded by burnt trees.
McArthur is also an animal rights activist and she took this photo while accompanying Vets for Compassion as the organization searched for koalas injured in the Australian bushfires.
bioGraphic wrote, “For McArthur, it was a powerful moment: two of Australia’s most iconic species—the kangaroo and the eucalyptus tree—standing at a worrisome crossroads in their history. But the individuals in her frame were also symbols of hope, that life can persist against all odds.”
#7 Art Of Nature, Winner: ‘The Goblet Of Fire’ By Sarang Naik, Toplepada, India
This mushroom, illuminated by a simple flashlight, was one of many fungi growing around the photographer’s house in the countryside. During the monsoon season, the mushrooms released thick, yellow-brown spores throughout the day for almost a month—a common but often ignored phenomenon.
#8 Aquatic Life, Finalist: ‘Orcas Under The Arctic Sun’ By andy Schmid, Skjervøy, Norway
Drawn to the fjord in search of herring that shelter from the open ocean each winter, this curious but protective orca mother allowed the photographer to swim nearby during the single hour that the sun shines through the fjord and into the water in mid-November.
When remembering what photographs the competition received the previous years and comparing them to this year’s submissions, Rhonda Rubinstein admits that “The biggest trend was how many photographers discovered life and beauty in their own backyards or nearby environments! It is unusual to see so many photo locations match that of the photographers’ home base.”
That is understandable as everyone was traveling less and exploring their local areas. When asked about the challenges that the pandemic posed, BigPicture Jury Chair Suzi Eszterhas answered, “Rather than having challenges this year due to the pandemic, our judges had a major advantage in the fact that they weren’t traveling! Since most of our judges are professional nature photographers they have busy travel schedules and it can be a challenge for them to find the time (and a stable internet connection) if they are traveling during the judging period. But because most of us were stuck at home, we had more time to put into the judging this year.”
#9 Aquatic Life, Winner: ‘Barracuda’ By Yung-Sen Wu, Koror, Palau
The photographer swam with this battery of barracuda in the Blue Corner for four days, looking for the perfect angle. At the end of a 50-minute dive on his fifth day, the fish allowed him to swim among them as part of the school and he captured this fisheye view. On the sixth day, he joined the fish without his camera.
#10 Aquatic Life, Finalist: ‘Facing Reality’ By Amos Nachoum, Pleneau Island, Antarctic Peninsula
The young gentoo penguin jumped into the lagoon to play during low tide, and was ambushed by the leopard seal, which had been lying in wait.
So the organizers and the judges found that the pandemic actually allowed them to spend more time evaluating the pictures. But how about the photographers? Well, it seems that this year the competition had an abundance of entries, “This year we received the highest number of images ever! 8,390 submissions—an increase of more than 30% compared to 2020,” Rubinstein said.
She also had a few guesses what could have been the reasons for it, “Perhaps it was because photographers were at home and had time to look through their images and submit, perhaps it was because we encouraged more female photographers to enter by promoting a discount during the last month, or perhaps it was because we extended the deadline by a week. Likely answer: all of the above.”
#11 Aquatic Life, Finalist: ‘Private Moment Of Milk Feeding’ By mike Korostelev, Indian Ocean
A pod of sperm whales tolerated the photographer’s proximity long enough for him to catch one of the mothers nursing her baby, almost at the water’s surface. Not so easy to hold your breath and drink at the same time—for the baby whale, that is.
#12 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora: Finalist: ‘Beautiful Water’ By Kazuaki Koseki, Inawashiro, Japan
Ten years ago, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami struck the Pacific coast and triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The photographer took this photo in Fukushima Prefecture, an inland area now covered with virgin forest.
What do you think of these pictures? Which would you pick as the winner? Put your opinions in the comments and upvote the photos that are the most impressive in your eyes!
#13 Winged Life, Finalist: ‘Ropewalker’ By nicolas Reusens, Papallacta, Ecuador
After six days of shooting, the photographer caught a speckled hummingbird balancing on the beak of a sword-billed hummingbird—a behavior that he had not previously seen in ten years of observing hummingbirds. This stunning feat was his most extraordinary photographic moment.
#14 Human/Nature, Finalist: ‘Foxfence’ By Peter Mather, Whitehorse, Canada
A fox kit at its den in downtown Whitehorse, surrounded by other playful fox kits, photographed using a flash and patience. Urban foxes often den in fenced off areas, where they can quickly escape from coyotes and dogs.
#15 Art Of Nature, Finalist: ‘Vortex’ By angel Fitor, Mar Menor, Spain
This unusual perspective of a barrel jellyfish—looking up through the tentacles and into the mouth, may be as close as we get to the fish-eye view as it is about to be eaten.
#16 Human/Nature, Finalist: ‘A Daring Rescue’ By Ami Vitale, Ruko Community Conservancy, Kenya
Eight Rothschild giraffes were marooned as rising lake waters in Lake Baringo turned a rocky lava pinnacle into an island. During the ambitious rescue, the giraffes were hooded and transported on a makeshift raft across the lake to Ruko Community Conservancy. Saving the animals on an allegorical ark illustrates the extreme efforts required to keep endangered species alive.
#17 Photo Story: Out Of The Ordinary: ‘Klukshu Ice Bears 4/6’ By peter Mather, Yukon Territory, Canada
A small grizzly who ventures out in the less ideal daytime (to avoid bigger bears) is rewarded with a freshly caught salmon.
#18 Winged Life, Winner: ‘Beak To Beak’ By Shane Kalyn, Mount Seymour Provincial Park, Canada
After preening each other’s feathers, the ravens took turns inspecting every nook and cranny in each other’s beaks—talking to one another throughout the process. In three winters of observing the gift-sharing, grooming, and singing courtship behaviors of ravens on the mountain, the photographer had never witnessed anything like this.
#19 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora: Winner: ‘Another Planet’ By Fran Rubia, Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Iceland
What looked to be mountains from the ground turned out to be extinct volcanoes as captured by this drone shot taken on a cloudy day in June, at the time of the midnight sun. The unusual perspective of an inhospitable landscape stained by traces of iron oxide creates an otherworldly atmosphere.
#20 Terrestrial Wildlife, Finalist: ‘Microspur1’ By Lung-Tsai Wang, Unspecified Mountains, Taiwan
The birth of dozens of lynx spiders is followed by two days of cannibalism until only one spider remains. This mesmerizing spectacle of the ultimate sibling rivalry can be observed annually in the mountains of Taiwan.
#21 Terrestrial Wildlife, Finalist: ‘Come High Water’ By mac Stone, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, United States
“Come hell or high water” is a common southeastern saying that implies perseverance in the face of difficulties. This mother raccoon appears to be rescuing her baby from a flooded nest after a heavy rain in late October, in one of the handful of remaining old growth swamps in the southeastern United States.
#22 Terrestrial Wildlife, Finalist: ‘Jumbo Roadblock’ By Jagdeep Rajput, Corbett National Park, India
This herd of Asian elephants had just arrived from an adjoining national park. Demonstrating both their right of way and their social behavior, the elephants marched slowly in formation, creating a protective front row that kept the young ones safe in the middle.
#23 Winged Life, Finalist: ‘Stages Of Life’ By kurt Bertels, Nicosia, Cyprus
This camera trap image caught three young barn owls as they practiced flying from the top of an ancient well—while their parents were out catching rodents.
#24 Human/Nature, Finalist: ‘Mon Cheri’ By Guido Villani, Naples, Italy
After a light storm drew a swarm of jellyfish and released a sizable amount of litter into the port of Bacoli, this mauve stinger carried off a discarded plastic chocolate wrapper in its tentacles. These beautiful little jellyfish, which phosphoresce when disturbed, are much feared for their painful stings.
#25 Photo Story: Out Of The Ordinary: ‘Klukshu Ice Bears 2/6’ By peter Mather, Yukon Territory, Canada
An ice bear known to the locals as “The Mayor”— because he is the dominant male in the area—uses a fallen tree to cross Klukshu Creek.
#26 Human/Nature, Finalist: ‘Dolphin’s Hug’ By Jaime Rojo, Puerto Nariño, Colombia
To document the first-ever tagging event of an Amazon River Dolphin, the photographer joined the scientific team on a weeklong pursuit. After six days in pouring rain, they found one—and en route to the veterinary station for tagging, a concerned team member soothes the dolphin.
#27 Winged Life, Finalist: ‘Flamingo Flying Over Lake Magadi’ By yang Jiao, Magadi, Kenya
These greater flamingos were photographed from a helicopter over Lake Magadi, a salt lake in the Great Rift Valley of southern Kenya whose mineral deposits reflect light in ever-changing patterns.
#28 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora: Finalist: ‘Tree Of Life’ By anette Mossbacher, Ruacana Falls, Namibia
Light from the quickly setting sun highlights this cliff-dwelling baobab tree as shadows move up the valley. The waterfall is a surprising backdrop for this ancient tree, which has adapted to extremely arid conditions.
#29 Art Of Nature, Finalist: ‘Little Comets’ By Alexey Korolyov, Kremyonki, Russia
Snowflakes become comets flying through the air, and the dark trunks of birch trees sway lightly in the twilight of this painterly image. The enchanting illusion was achieved by combining an on-camera flash, high aperture, and intentional camera movement.
#30 Photo Story: Out Of The Ordinary: ‘Klukshu Ice Bears 5/6’ By peter Mather, Yukon Territory, Canada
“The Mayor”—recognizable by his large size and unique blonde claws—finishes a salmon meal near the photographer’s remote camera.