30 Winning Photos Of The 2021 Nature Photographer Of The Year Awards

11. Runner-Up, Other Animals: “Slow But Safe” By Ruben Perez Novo

nature photographer

“It occurred to me to take this photo when I found this little snail walking through some dry leaves on the ground. As soon as I saw the semi-transparent shell of the snail I knew that I wanted a strong backlight, the also translucent dry leaves were perfect to help the composition.

I took three leaves from the ground and arranged them with an interesting composition with a flexible clamp. Behind them I arranged two backlit flashes mounted with a diffuser each. After closing the diaphragm and adjusting the ISO and speed, I adjusted the power and the distance from flashes for good lighting. Finally, I waited until the snail passed in an interesting place for the composition.

The photo was taken on a summer morning in a shady area between some trees. This helped me to be able to use only the light of the flashes for the exposure. In this case the lighting for this photo is exclusively artificial, coming from two flashes which allows you to have total control over the light. I took this photo in Ares – Coruña – Spain.”

12. 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.”

13. Highly Commended, Underwater: “Water Lilies Marvelous World” By Gaël Modrak

nature photographer

“Water lilies are a classic source of inspiration for painters and photographers. Discovering them under the surface was a revelation of a few years ago, and it is always a pleasure to go back every summer to that peaceful lake located in the south-east of France. A place where I’m pretty sure to find good conditions to photograph them. There are two species of those land-based flower plants, of which the ancestors returned to the underwater world, present in that area: the European white waterlily (Nymphaea alba) and yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea). They are not so easy to distinguish, except by the color of their flower floating at the water surface.

Finding the right balance between light, angle of view and framing depending on the sun position, plant density and water clarity, generally allows a wide variety of images. I approach them by snorkeling and moving very gently, not to create particles from the bottom that would spoil the image quality, and not to get any waves or air bubbles on the surface.

This time I found the right vertical sunlight to get sufficient light, and to observe shadows of the water lilies on the white bottom of the lake, while the light of the flashes restored intense red colors of the lower face of the leaves. The angle of view made the scenic reflection look symmetrical to the surface. And the final touch was obtained thanks to those small freshwater fishes, called red-eyes (Scardinius erythrophtalmus), swimming in front of me while I was holding my breath, waiting for the perfect time to shoot.”

14. 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!”

15. Winner, Nature Of “De Lage Landen:” “Fox Crossing The Bridge” By Andius Teijgeler

nature photographer

“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.”

16. 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.”

17. Winner, Underwater: “Red In Red” By Georg Nies

nature photographer

“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.”

18. 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.”

19. Runner-Up, Animal Portraits: “Last Embrace” By Roie Galitz

nature photographer

“A female African elephant has died of natural causes, mainly old age. A pride of lions have found her and enjoyed the big feast. Suddenly, a young lioness, only 7 months old, came to the elephant and started working her way around her, moving between the elephant’s front legs, in a way that resembles a hug.

One of the things I like about the image, besides the composition and lighting, is the viewer’s experience with the image, which is a bipolar one. I like to watch people’s reaction to this, when they first respond with “awww, they are hugging” and after a few seconds they realize that something else is going on. This kind of engagement creates an interesting relationship with the frame.

This image was taken in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.”

20. Runner-Up, Nature Of “De Lage Landen:” “Flying Over A Pastel ‘Rainbow'” By Ronald Zimmerman

“During the autumn migration, many common buzzards (Buteo buteo) can be seen soaring on thermals. In autumn local common buzzards stay in the country. Common buzzards from Norway and Sweden migrate to the south and south-west of Europe, and also to the Netherlands.

Wildlife that allows me to have many photo opportunities are ideal subjects for a creative approach. In 2019 I wanted to move in a different direction. I wanted to add more creativity and more storytelling to my photography. For inspiration, I started reading books about wildlife photography. During the global pandemic, I spent a lot of time experimenting in Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland. This national park is my local “laboratory” in the Netherlands to experiment.

In-camera multiple exposure was one of the new techniques I wanted to experiment with. This started with playing and evolved into fresh ideas. In order to create this photo I had to photograph the buzzard, followed by a second, long exposure, of the surrounding autumn-coloured trees. This different kind of common buzzard image is the result of a yearlong process.”