National Wildlife’s 2019 Photo Contest Winners
Displaying an uncanny calm, woodland caribou on the frozen tundra of Manitoba, Canada, stare dead-on at photographer Daniel D’Auria, who had crept up an icy lake embankment to observe the stately herd. “They saw me and didn’t run,” he recalls, still amazed. “Wildlife photography is my respite, my grab at sanity and making sense of the world. I want to show what the world is like outside humanity.” D’Auria’s patience won him a honorable mention in this year’s photo contest.
WHY TAKE PICTURES? For most of us, it’s a way to log our memories and share our lives. For wildlife photographers, it’s a passionate mission—to reveal what’s often unseen and ignite human compassion for the natural world we’re all bound to protect. You’ll feel that bond when you gaze at these glorious images, standouts from the more than 23,000 we received in our 2019 photo contest. From frozen tundra to African forest, deep sea currents to backyard blooms, these photographs capture the power and pure grace of nature. And, perhaps, they’ll inspire all of us to commit to its salvation.
Behold the face of bliss — as seen through the eyes of photographer Anup Shah. During a two-month trek documenting a family of western lowland gorillas in the dense forests of the Central African Republic’s Dzanga Sangha Reserve, Shah one day saw the group pass through a patch of open meadow into a swarm of spread-wing skipper butterflies. All the gorillas ignored or batted away the insects, except this female called Malui. “She deliberately walked through the cloud and let the butterflies envelop her, seeming to relish the rush of wings,” recalls Shah, who had never witnessed such behavior before. “I love this image because I can see ecstasy on her face.” He hopes others feel such a tender connection. If so, perhaps these critically endangered primates will survive to mesmerize future generations.
AMPHIBIANS & REPTILES
On a hot afternoon in Jiaxing, China, Yong Miao paused from his work at a hospital to gaze out his window, where he spotted this tree frog glistening in the spray of a sprinkler spinning on the grounds below. An avid amateur photographer, Miao grabbed his camera and caught the moment. “Every creature has a soul,” he says. “Without them, our world would not only be dull but lifeless.”
AMPHIBIANS & REPTILES
Undulating curves and shadows add an eerie tone to this Arabian horned viper’s nighttime dash across the sand in northern Kuwait. Communications engineer Mohammad Murad works at a site that’s surrounded by fence, protecting the dunes from intrusions by people or cars—so it’s an area where wildlife thrive. An avid amateur photographer, Murad goes out in the evening to see what’s stirring, and on this October night spotted the viper. He placed his flashlight on the ground, and to his surprise, the snake raced toward the light. “She was following the light, not running from it,” he recalls. “And she was fast”—making this action shot in the desert all the more special.
The unblinking golden stare of a short-eared owl adds warmth to a winter palette in Idaho’s Camas National Wildlife Refuge, where heavy frost coats a field of rabbitbrush. Spending hours in the subzero temperatures of an early December morning, Kirk Geisler watched as about 15 of the owls circled the area, hunting. “They’d land in the brush and look at me, and I could see the frost on their faces and beaks,” he recalls. “It was an amazing experience.”
The definition of delicacy, a female ruby-throated hummingbird stands atop a fading hibiscus bloom to probe for nectar, wings outstretched as if frozen in time. “I truly believe hummingbirds are the most spectacular birds, with their aerial acrobatics and breathtaking colors,” says Corina Voicu, who, with her husband, built a pollinator garden at their home as a safe haven for wildlife and a refuge from work. Each year, Corina eagerly anticipates the arrival of the hummingbirds and spends hours photographing and enjoying them. “I can’t imagine the world without these miracles of nature,” she says.
INSECTS & OTHER INVERTEBRATES
Essex Junction, Vermont
With graphic grace, two pairs of slender bluet damselflies cast perfect reflections on still waters, where the females deposit their eggs below the surface as the males grip them from above. “I’d never seen water so calm in my life,” says Peter Riley, who visits this spot near his Vermont home nearly every day — proof that nature, even at its smallest scale, can surprise us with profound beauty.
INSECTS & OTHER INVERTEBRATES
“I call this ‘Caterpillar Toes,’” says Leigh Ayres — a man with an eye for intimate detail. To attract wildlife to his yard, Ayres planted dill, a host plant for black swallowtail caterpillars. Spotting this one, he set up a tripod and patiently took 23 macro frames, stacking them to create this portrait. “There’s a new world to see when you look up close,” he says.
LANDSCAPES & PLANTS
Nature burned with fierce beauty on this night two years ago, when lava from Hawai‘i’s Kīlauea Volcano tumbled into the ocean, shooting a hot plume of gases and steam skyward toward the Milky Way as Venus gleamed on the horizon. “I’ve been to Hawai‘i many times,” says photographer Richard Hebhardt, “but I had never felt the awe factor I felt that night.” Not long after he made this shot, the ledge where he was sitting collapsed into the sea. “We all should respect the power of natural forces,” he says.
LANDSCAPES & PLANTS
On a bitter morning in January, a lone American bison wanders a quiet corner of Yellowstone National Park, where frost, snow and fog paint a timeless portrait. “This scene just entranced me,” says photographer Joanne Matson. “The light was just beautiful, and the cold, foggy mist made it look like a wonderland.” She hopes that when others view this timeless scene, they’ll “feel solitude and peace and see magic.”
When Florian Ledoux awoke on a boat in an icy fjord in Antarctica, he saw scores of crabeater seals lying on ice floes, resting between feedings. To gain perspective on one of nature’s harshest realms, he flew a photographic drone 1,300 feet above the scene, revealing the vital importance of ice as platforms for hunting and resting. “I hope such photography can contribute to conservation,” he says.
A baby’s reluctance and a mother’s gentle nudge render a tender scene in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. After their herd left the ice for the sea, only these two walrus remained, bathed in the endless light of an Arctic summer. “The baby looked hesitant to make his dive while the mom appeared to be patiently coaxing,” says Amy Perlman. “He then did a perfect little cannonball and she soon followed — a moment conveying that “wildlife is not only precious but fragile.”
PEOPLE IN NATURE
“When I’m outside shooting, I look for terrible weather,” says Chet Hicks. Nature obliged one January day as Hicks crossed through Missouri’s Bennett Spring State Park, a spot renowned for trout fishing. Despite a heavy blizzard, a lone fisherman stood in the spring pursuing his passion. For Hicks, this “ethereal” scene conveys how humans “still have a drive to connect to nature and the elements.”
PEOPLE IN NATURE
Signal Mountain, Tennessee
On a rare snowy day at her Tennessee home, photographer and self-proclaimed “nature nerd” Kathleen Greeson and her daughter, Madeline Ray, headed outside to enjoy the show. “There were these perfect snowflakes falling,” Kathleen recalls. “Huge, magnificent, and totally intact.” When one crystalline flake fell in her daughter’s hair, she caught the moment — now a favorite memory. “You can experience amazing nature without ever leaving home.”
Charlotte, North Carolina
In the western Bahamas, Glenn Ostle caught the comical passage of a hammerhead shark and its entourage: tiny fish out front, remoras holding tight for a meal and silver bar jacks swarming like bodyguards. Dive masters used fish as bait to lure these sharks, a common practice that, if done ethically with the sharks’ welfare in mind, helps people see and appreciate the majestic creatures that need our protection.
In the black nighttime depths of the Philippines’ Tañon Strait, photographer Laura Storm hung tethered to a boat and swung in a strong current, hoping for magic. Suddenly, this pulsing, luminescent jellyfish dotted with stinging cells flew into view then quickly passed — a wish granted. “I love the edginess and anticipation of diving at night,” Storm says. “Floating around in inner space feels like you’re amongst the stars.”
With regal poise a male lion pauses after making his territorial rounds near South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Aspiring wildlife photographer Nicolas Petersik, age 17, and his guide spotted this lion in the brush. As darkness fell, the lion began to trot, marking its territory then periodically lying down to rest. During one of those quiet moments, Petersik used infrared lighting to cast a gentle glow, and applied a monochrome filter to make this timeless portrait. “I want people to be struck by the noble nature of the lion,” he says. “It is a creature that demands respect.”
With the eye of an artist beyond her years, 14-year-old Raphaelle Thomet used a macro lens to capture the intricate shapes and reflections of water droplets on spires of fountain grass outside her Maryland home. “It had just rained, so I went outside with my camera and shot from many angles,” says Thomet, a homeschooler teaching herself photography by studying books. “I really like plants and insects,” she says, “and the little things you don’t usually see.”
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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.