Nature’s Best Photography 2007 Winners
Makgadikgadi Pans, Kalahari Desert, Botswana
Grand Prize: Burchell’s Zebras
“The Kalahari Desert covers most of southwestern Africa and is part of the largest sand basin in the world. On the eastern fringe of the Kalahari lie the Makgadikgadi Pans, which in turn are among the world’s biggest saltpans.
For most of the year the Kalahari Desert remains a desolate region of dust, skeletons, and mirages, and it only comes alive after the rains. The rainfall attracts an annual influx of roaming herds, which move in and through, leaving massive numbers of footprints on the grey mudflats.
On the night of my arrival a thunderstorm rolled across the land, dropping several centimeters of welcome rain.
“Burchell’s zebras, also known as plains zebras, undertake localized migrations in Botswana to find good feeding areas. My timing was good; during the next few days herds of blue wildebeest and zebra arrived, and I got to do some low-level flying, which is really one of the best ways to appreciate the raw beauty of Africa. Aerial photography tests your skills and requires quick reflexes. One has to think and shoot instinctively before a fleeting moment in the viewfinder has passed forever. Sometimes as I peer down from a helicopter an unexpected scene appears, such as this group of 14 zebras as they made their way across the grey mudflats. – Richard du Toit
Gentoo Penguins, Falkland Islands
Highly Honored: Animal Antics
“Gentoo penguins, a common species among the five penguin species inhabiting the Falkland Islands, gather in groups to cross the surf zone as they return from the sea to feed their chicks. Their high speed helps them avoid predation by orcas and leopard seals lurking close to shore.
“I spent six weeks with the penguins of the Falkland Islands to get an insight into their activities around and in the colonies. It was always great fun to watch these little guys turn into such excellent surfers as soon as they are in the water. Understanding their habits enabled me to get this shot.” - Solvin Zankl
Red Fox, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Winner: Animal Antics
“It was February and nearly zero degrees Fahrenheit in Yellowstone National Park when I spotted this red fox hunting for mice. Prepared for the extreme temperatures, I was bundled from head to toe to stay warm. It never ceases to amaze me how wildlife survives in such harsh conditions.
“Foxes can easily be seen in the winter when the landscape is covered in snow. At first, this fox was digging through the deep snow after detecting prey beneath the surface. As it closed in, it stopped and listened intently for the rodent to move again. It then jumped several feet into the air and dove head first into the snow, attempting to catch its prey. It was lodged vertically for several seconds, its tail swaying as it tried to snatch the meal before resurfacing. This particular attempt was unsuccessful. The fox popped back up, shook off the snow, and moved on.” – Steve Hinch
Bull Bison, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
“While working for one of the hotels in Yellowstone, I took a winter trip through Hayden Valley to photograph wildlife. Bison usually migrate to lower elevations in the winter, where it is easier to forage. However, some bison endure the cold temperatures and deep snow of the park’s interior all winter, congregating in the thermal areas, where the warmer ground keeps the snow pack from being as deep as in other areas. Forage, though meager, is easier to find and the additional heat helps them stay warm during the coldest of nights on the Yellowstone Plateau.
“The three bison in this photo are very healthy. Their thick winter coats help insulate them from the winter cold. They were using the road where I happened to be, so as they neared, I ducked down behind my snowmobile and took this image. Bison may often appear docile, but, as with any wild animal, they can be very unpredictable and very dangerous.” – Steve Hinch
Dewy Feather on Sycamore Leaf, Stoney Creek Metro Park, Mich.
Highly Honored: Art in Nature
“I was out looking for subjects to photograph and found some frosty sycamore leaves. As I continued to walk around, I came across this feather. It, too, had been covered with ice. As the sun rose, the dark color of the feather collected the heat and melted the frost into water drops. The play between frost and water, leaf and feather, and warm and cool colors complemented the composition.” – Mike Moats
Acadia Grasses and Reflection, Acadia National Park, Maine
Highly Honored: Plant Life
“My photography partner, Tony Sweet, and I were visiting one of our favorite locations, Acadia National Park. We were driving through the park when I spotted green trees from a nearby mountainside reflecting in a lake. The trees were in the sun and the lake was in the shade, perfect conditions for photographing reflections. I envisioned a panoramic composition that would work for our landscape camera. I looked for a nice pattern in the grasses to blend with the soft tones of the scene.” – Susan Milestone
Rainbow and Clear-cut Siuslaw Resource Area, Veneta, Oregon
Highly Honored: Environmental
“As a seasonal wildlife researcher, I use my photography to educate the public and create an awareness of wild places and animals. While working on an owl study in the Coast Range of Oregon, I came across this vibrant rainbow as rain clouds were dispersing. I had to work quickly, as the rainbow faded and re-emerged multiple times before I was able to finally capture it at its brightest.
“I decided to emphasize the contrast between the denuded landscape and the beautiful, bold colors of the rainbow. I found it ironic that the loss of habitat through deforestation should be found at the end of the rainbow.” – Patrick Kolar
Kayaker in Gore Canyon, Tunnel Falls, Colorado River, Colo.
Highly Honored: People in Nature
“Gore Canyon, a remote wilderness canyon along the Colorado River, drops an astounding 120 feet per mile and is considered one of the most difficult descents in Colorado. Each year kayaking and rafting enthusiasts organize an advanced and highly dangerous whitewater race known as the Gore Canyon Race. In order to capture this particular image, I hiked three miles up-river along a precarious rocky trail to a Class V rapid known as Tunnel Falls. The image conveys the raw power of the falls and narrow canyon to create ultimate tunnel vision for both kayaker and photographer. Photographing these daring kayakers and experiencing nature’s liquid fury is something I will never forget.” – Robbie George
Two-Toed Sloth, VolcTenorio National Park, Costa Rica
Highly Honored: Wildlife
“During the day, the two-toed sloth is usually asleep high in the tree tops and is therefore rarely seen up close in the wild. Luckily enough, on the way back from a hike in the VolcTenorio National Park in Costa Rica, I spotted a female two-toed sloth crossing the highway. Rain and low visibility made the situation more troubling. We pulled over and signaled to the approaching cars to slow down as we watched the sloths progress. Trying not to disturb the animal, I quickly took photos without a flash. More agile in the trees than on pavement, the sloth took several minutes to reach the other side and disappear into the safety of the forest.” – Alexander Vasiljev
Polar Bear Mother and Cubs, Wapusk National Park, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Winner: Conservation Photographer of the Year
“One of the reasons polar bears are so beloved by humans is because of the special bond between mother and cub. While the mother bear is a fierce predator and protector, she is very patient and nurturing with her cub.
“Polar bears communicate with each other through a combination of body language and vocalization. In order to survive, this cub must quickly learn to observe and listen to his mother. She will often scold her cub with a low growl or a ‘chuffing’ noise. If a male bear approaches them, she will growl deeply and rush at him with a lowered head, which means ‘stay away!’” – Howard Ruby
Snowy Egrets, Sanibel Island, Fla.
“Living in Florida provides excellent opportunities for watching and photographing birds. Snowy egrets are one of my favorites because of their elegant appearance and behavior. While I was shooting with a group of photographers on a fishing pier on Sanibel Island, several snowy egrets appeared, flying back and forth looking for an easy meal. At one point they discovered a bucket full of bait. As one was eating, another one came to steal the food. Of course, the first confronted the newcomer and they continued the fight in the air, abandoning the bait bucket altogether. The cloudy day made for an excellent background, highlighting the acrobatic display.
“Snowy egrets are easily identified by their yellow feet, which contrast with their black legs and soft white plumage. They feed mainly on fish that they find in shallow waters.” – Fabiola del Alcazar
Mandarin Duck, Sterne Park, Littleton, Colo.
Winner: Art in Nature
“The stunning beauty of the mandarin has made it among the most popular of all ducks. A source of wonderment and inspiration to the peoples of China and Japan for centuries, it has been portrayed in countless art forms and literary works. In full plumage, the male is both striking and unmistakable. It has a red bill, purple breast, and a pair of ‘sail’ feathers that are raised vertically above its back. It has a crest of orange and cream feathers and a broad, white eye-stripe bounded above and below by darker feathers. The female is duller in color and has an overall gray appearance.” – Russ Burden
Dwarf Mink Whale, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
“When I chose to assist a week-long research and diving trip to study minke whales in the Northern Great Barrier Reef, I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. Dwarf minke whales come to the tropics from Antarctica to breed and socialize during the Australian winter months of June, July, and August. We observed the whales as we clung to a line attached to a boat drifting along the Great Barrier Reef.
The whales came to us and interacted with us for hours. Not usually more than 20 feet long, dwarf minkes are highly maneuverable and can jump from the water like dolphins. This one came within about two feet of my lens while still maintaining enough body control to avoid touching me. It was an unforgettable experience to be so close to these highly intelligent marine mammals. She looked straight into my soul.” – Jurgen Freund
Sea Lion and Pup, Espanola Island, Galapagos Islands
“The playful nature of the Galapagos sea lion was clearly exhibited in this young pup. I had been crawling around in the sand (almost acting like a sea lion myself) trying to find a good background and position when the scene fell into place. The constant changing of the light conditions and sea lions’ positions made the photo tricky to capture.
“Although clumsy on land, Galapagos sea lions can swim effortlessly in the water. Their swimming ability is key when it comes to catching fish and squid to eat. They are social animals that live in colonies controlled by a head male sea lion, referred to as the bull.” – Eddie Schermerhorn (Age:15)
Iguana Eyes, Green Iguana, Saint Cloud, Fla.
Winner: Creative Digital
“The abstract beauty of the green iguana’s scale pattern and the eye color intensifies as the image is mirrored upon itself. I duplicated the original image of one eye, reversed it, and merged the two into a single image, giving the appearance of a face-on view of a beautiful, exotic, and mystical creature. Basic Adobe Photoshop manipulations I used include cropping, levels, curves, saturation, and corner darkening adjustments.” – Michael Kern
Fly Geyser, Fly Ranch, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA
“Fly Geyser is perhaps one of the few truly rare places where man goofed and Mother Nature has given us something marvelous in return. Taking its name from Fly Ranch in the Black Rock Desert of northwestern Nevada, this remote geyser began as a well drilled in 1916 to access hot water in order to drive a steam turbine and produce power. When it failed to be hot enough, the well was capped. Eventually pressure and minerals ate away the cap and hot plumes of water began spewing into the air. This formed the calcite travertine cones and the cascading terraces that make up one of the most stunningly beautiful places on Earth.
“The evening I went to photograph it turned out to have a cloudy sunset. But my patience paid off, and at the last minute the sun broke through, offering this dramatic scene.” – Rodney Lough
These photos are from the winter issue of Natures Best Magazine it represents only a fraction of the photography in the magazine; and if you’re in Washington, DC between now and April 2008, be sure to see the full exhibit on the second floor of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Take a look at some more of the pictures I managed to source.
You can also subscribe to the Natures Best Magazine.
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