2013 National Wildlife Photo Contest Winners

Find out how these photographers captured their amazing images

11-15-2013 // Laura Tangley

WHEN NATIONAL WILDLIFE INAUGURATED ITS ANNUAL PHOTO CONTEST 43 YEARS AGO, contestants submitted just a few hundred images, all of them documenting the harmful impact of pollution on wildlife. That year’s Grand Prize winner portrayed a dead, oil-soaked cormorant. This year the editors received more than 32,000 entries in seven categories ranging from Backyard Habitats to Baby Animals. Yet despite their greater diversity, many entries still mirror NWF’s conservation priorities. This year’s Grand Prize winner, for instance, features a polar bear, a species severely threatened by climate change. On the day this bear was photographed, the temperature on northern Canada’s Hudson Bay soared above 90 degrees F during a record-breaking heat wave.

See a slideshow of all of 2013’s winners >>


Polar Bear (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Paul Souders

Seattle, Washington
Grand Prize

As the midnight sun sets in July, a polar bear peers up from beneath the water in Hudson Bay north of Churchill, Manitoba. Though Churchill is famous for easy polar bear viewing on solid ice during fall, Souders says he “wanted to find a new way of seeing and photographing the bears in their element.” Thirty miles offshore in a Zodiac, he spotted this bear during a two-week expedition. He spent nearly an hour following the animal, “allowing her to relax while I photographed her from a distance. Slowly, her curiosity kicked in, and I was able to bring the boat closer.” When the bear came up from under this chunk of ice, Souders was near enough to hang his camera on a 7-foot pole at the edge. “I thought I had a pretty cool shot when she poked her head up less than 3 feet from the camera,” he says. Only a week later, when he had time to review his images, did he discover that “I had a couple frames of her actually lurking under the water’s surface staring up at me.”


Water Buffalo and Lion (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Tommy Rodgers

Dallas, Texas
First Place, Mammals

“I thought for sure this lion was a goner,” Rodgers recalls. Visiting Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, the photographer had come upon a pride of lions feasting on a freshly killed Cape buffalo. When 30 or more of the buffalo came back “to aid their fallen comrade,” he says all but this young male left to seek shelter from the stampeding herd. As the circle of buffalo tightened around him, “the lion suddenly made a dash for a small opening,” says Rodgers, who took this photo at that exact moment. “To my surprise, he escaped, perhaps having learned a good lesson.”


Bengal tiger cubs in India

Baiju Patil

Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
Second Place, Mammals 

In India's Tadoba National Reserve, also known as the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Patil was photographing a female tiger and her three cubs. "Every evening, the tigers came to the same water hole," he recalls. On this particular evening, one of the cubs was in the mood to play while its sibling was not. "When the one tiger started playing with the other, he charged him, and I got this shot," Patil says.


Great Blue Heron (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

David Everette

Richmond, Virginia
First Place, Birds

As it passes through downtown Richmond, the James River harbors a large wading-bird rookery on an island near shore. With 60 to 70 great blue heron and great egret nests each summer, the location “provides numerous opportunities for close encounters with the birds as they fish to feed their young,” says Everette, who spent more than a half hour taking some 300 frames of this fishing great blue heron. “It took more than 30 years to get this shot,” he says. “I have thousands of frames of these birds, but none as special as this image.”


Brown Pellican (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Brian Tang

Plainfield, Illinois
Second Place, Birds

A brown pelican taking flight at sunset? Tang’s image is not what it appears: On a ferry to Galveston, Texas, the Illinois resident decided to photograph this bird. “As I was panning with the shutter held down, the background suddenly went pure orange just as the pelican was in profile,” Tang says. “I looked up from my camera and saw that the bird had passed in front of a bright orange ship.” 


Lion Cub (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Michel Hagege

Magny-les-Hameaux, France
First Place, Baby Animals

Returning to camp on safari to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, Hagege and his companions spotted a group of lionesses and cubs that had just finished feasting on a zebra carcass. As the adults napped, their cubs played—this one chasing mom’s tail, which wiggled and writhed like a snake. When Hagege was leaving, “the cub finally caught the tail and looked at me, providing this last photo of the day,” he says.


Baby Elephant (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Martin Grosnick

McKinley Village, Alaska
Second Place, Baby Animals

Grosnick was on a photo safari in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve when he encountered this baby elephant nestled under its mother. Both mom and the other adults, mainly family, “were quite aware of the baby underfoot, and I didn’t see any instances of it nearly being stepped on,” he recalls. In contrast to her offspring’s pure gray color, the mother’s skin displays a reddish tint from the mud adults wallow in to protect themselves from sun.


Whale Sharks (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Adriana Basques

San Rafael, California
First Place, Other Wildlife

Though whale sharks can be spotted at certain times of the year in many places around the world, they are permanent residents of Indonesia’s Cenderawasih Bay, where Basques made this image of fishermen feeding the huge sea creatures. Several years ago, the sharks, primarily juvenile males, learned how to get easy meals by snagging bait fish from nets. Now the fishermen deliberately feed the sharks because they consider the animals good luck.


Tree Frog (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Cristóbal Serrano

Alicante, Spain
Second Place, Other Wildlife

Named for the distinctive pattern on its back, the hourglass tree frog can change skin color depending on variables such as time of day. Most active at night after a rainfall, the amphibian lays its eggs on leaves overhanging water. Using flash both above and below a leaf, Serrano photographed this frog and tadpoles in Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park.


Eagle Harbor Lighthouse (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Steve Perry

Sylvania, Ohio
First Place, Landscapes and Plant Life

Visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during fall, Perry took several photos of Eagle Harbor Lighthouse at sunset. While pleased with the images, he learned the wind was forecast to shift overnight, “making for better waves,” he recalls. To catch them, Perry decided to return to the exact same spot the following morning, which required a hazardous, two-hour drive over snowy and icy roads. Battling the cold and 40-mile-an-hour winds, he took this photo about 10 minutes after sunrise. “The sky lit up with this eerie-looking light,” Perry says. “It was over in just a few minutes.”


Manatees (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Chris Gug

Fort Lauderdale, Florida
First Place, Connecting People and Nature

Observing all state rules for interacting with endangered manatees, Gug entered the water in Florida’s Homosassa River before dawn on a February morning and waited until the curious animals approached him. The dozen or so marine mammals “found me to be the most interesting toy of the day,” says Gug, who spent 16 straight hours in the water. He took this self-portrait holding his underwater camera in front of him. Snorkeling with manatees, he says, “is the greatest wildlife experience on Earth!”


Porter Wasp (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Natasha Mhatre

Bristol, United Kingdom
First Place, Backyard Habitats

While she was a student in Bangalore, India, Mhatre noticed this potter wasp building a nest on her balcony. The insect ferried in balls of wet mud to shape into a pot where she’d eventually lay an egg and provide insect prey. “It took me many, many days and attempts to get the timing and lighting just perfect,” Mhatre says. Our judges agreed that her image, indeed, turned out just perfect.


 ‚ÄčA squirrel explores a toy car used as a backyard feeder

Tammi Elbert

Washington, Missouri 
Second Place, Backyard Habitats

This jeep inspired nature photographer Tammi Elbert to build a “squirrel playground” in her 3-acre NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat® site near Washington, Missouri. “I wasn’t sure they would get in it,” she says, “but I put sunflower seeds on the dash, and they hopped right in.” She jokes that “this guy was trying to avoid hitting humans.” Her backyard photography set features such creative feeders as tree limbs hollowed out to hold seeds and several toys.


Northern Cardinals (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Sven Halling

Lewisville, North Carolina
Honorable Mention, Backyard Habitats

In his North Carolina backyard, Halling placed sunflower seeds on a plate of glass, then he waited to see what birds would show up. Two visitors were these northern cardinals engaged in social feeding, during which the male (right) fed seeds to the female. To get this unusual photo, Halling attached his camera to a tripod beneath the glass and used a flash mounted to the side above it. “The birds seemed unaffected by the photography and continued this behavior for some time,” he says.


European Bee Eater (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Mateusz Piesiak

Wroclaw, Poland
First Place, Youth

True to their name, European bee-eaters primarily eat insects, particularly bees, wasps and hornets they catch on the wing. Breeding in southern Europe and parts of North Africa and western Asia, the migratory species is declining in some regions, in part due to widespread use of insecticides that kill its prey. Piesiak photographed this bird just as it flung a bee into the air before devouring it.


Lion (www.nwf.org/photocontest)

Jennifer Kohlman

Maplewood, Minnesota
People’s Choice Award

Congratulations to our 2013 People’s Choice Award winner, whose portrait of a captive male lion received more public votes than any other entry in this year’s contest. Working on a documentary book for a photography class, Kohlman decided to focus on cats of the Como Park Zoo and Conservancy in St. Paul, Minnesota. To make this image, she stood above the animal “watching and waiting until he saw me,” she says. “When our eyes locked, it was as if no one else was around and time had just stopped.”


Help NWF protect wildlife and wild places

Get a full year of amazing nature photography and conservation articles with National Wildlife® magazine! Donate today >>


Related PhotoZone Resources