The 2021 BigPicture Natural World Photography Contest Reveals The Best Shots Of Mother Nature (49 Pics)

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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.

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#1 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.

Image credits: ‍Angel Fitor

It’s the eighth year that the California Academy of Sciences has held the competition and the entries don’t stop amazing us. The pictures first appeared in bioGraphic, a non-profit magazine shedding light on environmental issues and trying to find solutions to them.

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 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.

Image credits: Mike Korostelev

#3 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.

Image credits: Andrew Whitworth

#4 Aquatic Life, Finalist: ‘Treasure On Ice’ By ‍marek Jackowski, Svalbard, Norway

‍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.

Image credits: ‍Marek Jackowski

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.

There were a few prizes, as the photographs were divided into seven categories: Art of Nature, Aquatic Life, Winged Life, Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora, Terrestrial Wildlife, Human/Nature and Photo Story: Out of the Ordinary.

But of course, a single picture was also picked as the overall Grand Prize winner, who was awarded $5,000.

#5 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.

Image credits: ‍Kurt Bertels

#6 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.

Image credits: Vladimir Cech Jr.

#7 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.

Image credits: Ayala Fishaimer

#8 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.

Image credits: Peter Mather

The winner 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.

#9 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.

Image credits: Guido Villani

#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.

Image credits: Amos Nachoum

#11 Human/Nature, Winner: ‘Sign Of The Tides’ By Ralph Pace, Monterey, United States

In this perfectly composed photograph, a discarded face mask in the shape of a sea turtle attracts a notoriously curious California sea lion. Shot in November 2020, this was the first time the photographer saw a mask underwater, but unfortunately he has seen many since. The effects of the pandemic will likely linger on our oceans for years to come.

Image credits: Ralph Pace

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.”

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!

#12 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.

Image credits: Ami Vitale

#13 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.

Image credits: Shane Kalyn

#14 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.

Image credits: Michelle Valberg

#15 Human/Nature, Finalist: ‘Snipe Hawking’ By Jen Guyton, Midlands, Ireland

After the Irish red setter locates a snipe in the bog and points out its position, the unhooded peregrine falcon circles at the ready until the dog flushes the bird out of hiding. This form of falconry is a use of endangered Irish peat bogs that is more sustainable than the destruction wrought by harvesting peat for fuel, though hunting is a complicated approach to conservation.

Image credits: Jen Guyton

#16 Art Of Nature, Finalist: ‘Frozen’ By Petra Draškovič Pelc, Cerknica, Slovenia

Lake Cerknica, the largest lake in Slovenia when full, disappears entirely during the dry season, which is typical of karst lakes (formed when caves collapse). As the lake begins to melt and ice skating gives way to hay mowing, the macro scale is revealed only by small bubbles in the ice.

Image credits: Petra Draškovič Pelc

#17 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.

Image credits: Jaime Rojo

#18 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.

Image credits: ‍Peter Mather

#19 Winged Life, Finalist: ‘Red Knots, Red Knots And More Red Knots…’ By Anja Brouwer, Ameland, Netherlands

Thousands of red knots were packed together in a high-tide refuge on the edge of the Wadden Sea, one of the most important stops along their migration route. The photographer captured the moment after a young peregrine falcon came to hunt and the sandpipers took to the air en masse.

Image credits: Anja Brouwer

#20 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.

Image credits: Alexey Korolyov

#21 Terrestrial Wildlife, Finalist: ‘Running Atta’ By Petr Bambousek, Boca Tapada, Costa Rica

Leafcutter ants (genus Atta) carry leaves and other plant parts to nourish the fungus gardens in their underground nests—which they harvest to feed themselves and their young. The dance-like movement is highlighted by skillful exposure techniques on the ant delivering its unusually colored leaf.

Image credits: Petr Bambousek

#22 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.

Image credits: Lung-Tsai Wang

#23 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.

Image credits: Peter Mather

#24 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.

Image credits: Andy Schmid

#25 Aquatic Life, Finalist: ‘Jelly Smack’ By ‍joseph Platko, Monterey, United States

This smack of jellyfish was one of the largest and densest the photographer had ever encountered. To get this photo without disturbing them, the photographer freedove and took advantage of unusually clear waters devoid of summer algal blooms—which typically coincide with the invasion of Monterey Bay by Pacific sea nettles.

Image credits: Joseph Platko

#26 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.

Image credits: Jo-Anne McArthur

#27 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.

Image credits: Sarang Naik

#28 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.

Image credits: Fran Rubia

#29 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.

Image credits: Yung-Sen Wu

#30 Photo Story: Out Of The Ordinary: ‘Klukshu Ice Bears 6/6’ By ‍peter Mather, Yukon Territory, Canada

‍Late December under the Northern lights, after the fish are finished, the bears move to the high mountains to dig their snow dens and begin hibernation.

Image credits: Peter Mather

#31 Art Of Nature, Finalist: ‘Melting Ice Cap’ By Florian Ledoux, Svalbard, Norway

This drone shot reveals the alarming rate at which the Austfonna ice cap is melting due to climate change. A few weeks before this photo was taken in the summer of 2020, the temperature in Svalbard reached almost 70º Fahrenheit—its hottest day on record.

Image credits: Florian Ledoux

#32 Art Of Nature, Finalist: ‘The Beauty Hidden By Malic Acid’ By ‍peter Juzak, Springe, Germany

This unique moment was captured during the crystallization of malic acid, an organic compound that makes fruit sour. The malic acid, sprinkled on a slide, melted on a hotplate, and then cooled, was photographed under a microscope with polarized light. The fantastic patterns continually change as the crystallization progresses.

Image credits: ‍Peter Juzak

#33 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.

Image credits: Peter Mather

#34 Photo Story: Out Of The Ordinary: ‘Klukshu Ice Bears 3/6’ By ‍peter Mather, Yukon Territory, Canada

‍The bears often hunt at night when the fish can’t see them, but the bears can sniff out the salmon spawning beds.

Image credits: Peter Mather

#35 Art Of Nature, Finalist: ‘The Sands Of Time’ By ‍manuel Ismael Gómez, Höfn, Iceland

Near the tongue of a glacier, several days of snow and ice had melted into puddles over very fine sand. The slow drainage of meltwater filtering through different levels of sand created fractal configurations similar to the flow of meltwater creating rivers over mountain terrain. But here it’s on a surprisingly small scale: only 2–3 square yards.

Image credits: ‍Manuel Ismael Gómez

#36 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora: Finalist: ‘Difference’ By Ivan Pedretti, Stokksnes Beach, Iceland

A colorless Iceland sky over the snow-covered Vestrahorn mountain helped create a startling contrast to the black sand and dry yellow grass of Stokksnes Beach.

Image credits: Ivan Pedretti

#37 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora: Finalist: ‘Snared’ By ‍nick Kanakis, Brunswick County, United States

In this macro shot, the detailed structure of the Venus flytrap is beautifully apparent, as is its technique—with a captured hoverfly. This plant species is endemic to a small stretch of wet longleaf pine habitat in the sandhills and coastal plains of the Carolinas.

Image credits: ‍Nick Kanakis

#38 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora: Finalist: ‘Fight Of A Light-Time In The Kelp Cathedral’ By Patrick Webster, Carmel Bay State Marine Conservation Area, United States

The bull kelp streams towards the rays of sun that penetrate the kelp forest in a unique convergence of kelp species in Monterey on a rare sunny day. This thriving scene may also become increasingly rare as the kelp is being decimated by sea urchins whose population is no longer being held in check by their predators—due to sea star wasting syndrome.

Image credits: Patrick Webster

#39 Landscapes, Waterscapes, And Flora: Finalist: ‘Ghost Fungi’ By Justin Gilligan, Lord Howe Island, Australia

Ghost fungi grow in wet forests of endemic kentia palms in the southern mountains on this tiny volcanic island. At night, the luminescence attracts snails and slugs, which might eat the fungus or brush against it and carry the spores elsewhere.

Image credits: Justin Gilligan

#40 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.

Image credits: ‍Anette Mossbacher

#41 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.

Image credits: Kazuaki Koseki

#42 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.

Image credits: ‍Yang Jiao

#43 Winged Life, Finalist: ‘Fly Underwater’ By ‍keding Zhu, Port Saint Johns, South Africa

Every August, millions of sardines migrate north along the South African coastline, and are herded by dolphins into bait balls to become mouthfuls of prey. As the fish try to escape to the surface, cape gannets dive bomb into the water to feed—the air released from their feathers creating dense trails of bubbles.

Image credits: ‍Keding Zhu

#44 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.

Image credits: ‍Nicolas Reusens

#45 Winged Life, Finalist: ‘Orange Tint’ By Ashane Marasinghe, Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan junglefowl, the national bird of Sri Lanka, is a flightless bird with colorful feathers whose ancestor is closely related to domestic chickens. Not to be upstaged, the blood-sucking batfly has evolved to maneuver through such feathers.

Image credits: Ashane Marasinghe

#46 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.

Image credits: Jagdeep Rajput

#47 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.

Image credits: ‍Mac Stone

#48 Aquatic Life, Finalist: ‘Crabeater Ice Palace’ By Cristina Mittermeier, Antarctic Peninsula

Crabeater seals lounged on an Antarctic iceberg as the photographer passed by on an inflatable boat. This expedition photograph was created as an argument for the protection of the Antarctic Peninsula—where billions of tons of sea ice have been lost—as the largest sanctuary on Earth.

Image credits: Cristina Mittermeier

#49 Photo Story: Out Of The Ordinary: ‘Klukshu Ice Bears’ By Peter Mather, Yukon Territory, Canada

Each winter, grizzly bears go fishing near Klukshu and other First Nations villages of the Yukon, delaying their hibernation to catch some of the late spawning salmon runs. Fishing in subzero temperatures, when the creek water freezes to their fur, the bears are covered in icicles that dangle as they walk, tinkling like chandeliers. But with winter arriving later each year, and rivers—which carry the salmon—disappearing due to receding glaciers, this extraordinary ice bear phenomenon may melt away.

Image credits: Peter Mather



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