Photographer of the Year, Winner
As a photographer who strives to show people the value of wilderness, I have always enjoyed seeing and creating more subtle and personal photographs that portray nature in a realistic manner. As these kinds of images tend to have a quieter impact, they often end up being largely ignored in most photography competitions. This is why I have not entered many competitions in the past, since I felt my artwork would be judged based on factors that I do not value myself.
However, I decided to submit my photographs for the Natural Landscape Awards because I liked that the competition was focused on awarding images based on composition, lighting, and originality as opposed to post-processing techniques or outlandish compositing. I had no idea that I would end up receiving the Photographer of the Year Award, as the intent behind entering was only to show my support.
To be given this award by such a prestigious and well respected group of photographers whom I have always looked up to is a great honor for me. I hope that the Natural Landscape Awards can continue for many years to come, remain true to its values, and also inspire other photography competitions to award photographers based on similar principles of artistry.
Photographer of the Year, Runner Up
We’re surrounded by beauty in nature, but it’s only when we slow down, release our expectations, and truly observe our surroundings that we become more aware of the opportunity that surrounds us. My heart is filled with tremendous joy to be recognized for this work, and for the ability to showcase the quiet and natural beauty that surrounds us all.
Photograph of the Year, Winner
Landscapes come in many sizes. Sometimes the best images are literally at your feet! Fellsfjara is the black sand beach opposite the famous glacial lagoon in southeastern Iceland. As icebergs from the lagoon wash out to sea, many of them are stranded on the beach, destined to melt away. Early one morning, I encountered a small, fairly flat, iceberg close to the ocean. Small waves occasionally broke over it and disappeared into the black sand. After watching this particular scene for a few minutes, I noticed that the early morning sun sparkled on the small pebbles on the beach and that the tip of the iceberg, coupled with the small orange rock and the pebbles, created a stunning graphic. Maneuvering the tripod and camera into a position to capture the scene was a bit of a challenge, but happily, in the end, it worked out nicely.
Grand Landscape, Winner
I’ve lived in or near Yosemite for over 35 years, so I know the park intimately, and have photographed it in every season, in almost every conceivable weather.
After so many years, it can be challenging to find fresh ways of photographing this place. I’m often photographing more intimate views of Yosemite, because there’s an infinite variety of subject matter to work with. I’ve also made many photographs of Yosemite at night.
But I’ve also tried to photograph grand landscapes of Yosemite Valley from different perspectives. The classic views are classic for a reason – they work. But I thought that surely there must be some other spots that would also work, where the landforms would fit together in a pleasing way – and where the view wouldn’t be blocked by trees!
I’ve spent many hours, and made some steep ascents, searching for those alternate locations, and found a few. I had visited this view of El Capitan on perhaps a dozen occasions, hoping for some exceptional light. Usually I had gone home disappointed. But on this March afternoon, after a small snow squall moved through the valley, I was treated to some of the most beautiful light and mist I’ve ever seen on El Cap.
Intimate & Abstract, Winner
Every autumn I make several trips to the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains to photograph the change of seasons. The mountain pass I use to drive there is usually open until the end of October – when it closes for the season. The weather plays an important role and influences how fall colors develop, so the vegetation looks slightly different every year.
One of my favorite scenes to photograph is when aspen trees are almost bare – their fair bark glows, and the surrounding vegetation has a chance to show off its subtle hues. On this crisp autumn morning, I was drawn to this quiet scene, observing nature preparing for rest. I was alone, at dawn, waiting for light to become bright enough to capture subtle colors and textures. There was just a tiny amount of yellow foliage left on the aspen trees, adding a discrete splash of warm color, contrasting mostly cool hues of the Sierra willow brush.
The scene made me feel melancholic – that’s why I titled the photograph “Autumn Blues.”
The 30 minutes spent taking this image was like no other time with a camera.
Setting up my tripod as thunder boomed around me, hopes of getting an image turned to excitement as the storm moved over the Matterhorn.
I was briefly frustrated trying to nail focus and settings in the dark. Occasional flashes of nearby lightning helped me recompose, refine focus and adjust settings. But I cursed each of them as a missed opportunity to get a shot. Once happy with the camera set up, I could take time to fire off numerous 10 second exposures and just watch the show.
Each lightning strike gave me the shivers. When these two hit the summit, I knew I had something special in the camera.
Excitement, awe, relief, pride. All in 30 minutes. This range of emotion is rare when taking a landscape image. I’m very lucky to have both witnessed the event and captured it with a camera.
Nightscape, Runner Up
There’s something about taking to wing and leaving the normal plane you travel on that allows you to create a whole new perspective and relationship with the landscape around you, particularly in the vast desert areas of Australia where this image was taken. It is the flattest continent on earth and from the ground it can stretch into an almost featureless plane. As you rise into the sky all its remarkable structures and hidden intricacies begin to reveal themselves in greater complexity and depth. The true immensity of the landscape, interconnectivity of nature and perhaps even an echo of the dreamtime stories of its creation are brought to light.
By taking the horizon away and any sense of scale, as I’ve done here, the viewer is invited to move away from their more literal mind into more figurative paths of interpretation. Positioning a fixed wing aircraft into just the right angle over your chosen subject can be a difficult task at times, with many factors coming into play, but that makes it all the more satisfying when all the elements come into place. The image presented here as you see it, is basically straight out of camera.
I took this picture in Joshua Tree National Park in May 2021. Among a group of Joshua trees, I spotted one of them was missing a branch which made for a perfect place to align the moon. In my photo, the tree appeared to hold the moon like a lantern, using its ghostly light to reveal the landscape. The silhouettes of background Joshua trees seemed to subtly lean in toward the moon as though they desired to hold it themselves.
ASH by Matt Palmer
ASH documents unprecedented fires in Tasmania from 2019. Areas photographed include Hartz Mountains National Park, Franklin Gordon River National Park, Great Lakes, and Tasmania’s East Coast. The project documents the destruction of these fires, the thin line between survival and destruction, and the re-emergence of life, albeit affected by a habitat that has lost many fire vulnerable species.
Project, Runner Up
The Drakensberg by Carl Smorenburg
The 10 photos that form my panel showcase the majestic Drakensberg mountains, from north to south. All were taken over the last decade and offers a glimpse into the beauty to be found in these mountains.
These photos were taken during long, arduous hikes in the Drakensberg mountains, with elevation gains of more than 1500 meters in a single day not being uncommon. It is very remote, isolated from the real world with little mobile phone reception. Most of the photographs were taken on the escarpment edge at around 3000 meters above sea level. Even though each hike was hard, it was always an adventure and so rewarding.
The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I really hope my photos can showcase the raw beauty and splendour of the Drakensberg to those who have not yet seen it for themselves.
In recognition of the incredible variety of high-quality images submitted, the founders wanted to recognise some of the highest rated images in a range of different subject categories.