Nature Images to the Rescue: 2021 Showcase Top 250

It’s not hard to find a stressor these days—a global pandemic, new work conditions, virtual school, socialization restrictions, economic uncertainty, raging wildfires, and election drama, just to name a few. Fortunately—and no surprise to nature photographers—research suggests that being in nature dramatically reduces feelings of anger, fear, and stress.

But nature photographers may have another edge in these complex times. Scientists also say that you don’t have to be in nature to reap its benefits. Simply looking at images of open spaces with natural elements such as vegetation can not only relieve anxiety, improve mood, and boost feelings of happiness but also reduce our physical response to stress—lower heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and sweat production, for example.

So perhaps now more than ever, the world needs nature photos. We can help.

The NANPA Showcase is an annual photo competition that recognizes the best nature images produced by NANPA members, including both hobbyists and professional photographers, in six distinct categories. More than 3,750 images were submitted to the 2021 competition earlier this fall. Winners placing in the Top 250 are presented below by category.

Winners in the Top 100 and Top 24, including the Best in Show awards, will be published next month.

2021 Showcase Top 250, Scapes

The “Scapes” category encompasses landscapes, plantscapes, seascapes, atmosphere, weather, and more.

  • Clouds Reflecting on Lake Surface as Seen from a Kayak image by Debbie Tubridy
  • Dramatic Flowerscape of English Poppies, image by Scott Wilson
  • Sunrise with Saharan Dust in the Air, image by Tim Timmis
  • Ancient Camel Thorn "Ghost Trees" and Fog, image by Wendy Kaveney
  • Celestial Dance above a Silent Tower in the Desert, Utah, image by Peter Nestler
  • Blue Ridge Parkway Sunset After Storm, image by Susanna Euston
  • Long Exposure Lightning Shot, image by Steven Long
  • Summer Stream below the Blue Ridge Parkway, image by Mark Hoyle
  • Thor's Well beneath a Dramatic Red Sunset in Orego, image by Scott Wilson
  • Bull Moose Stare Down in Grand Teton National Park, image by Deena Sveinsson
  • Wildflowers Cover Hillsides During 2017 Super Bloom, image by Rob Badger
  • A 45 Image, Multi-Row Panorama of the Alaskan Coastal Mountain Range, by Peter Nestler
  • Sunset over the Channel Islands, Ventura State Beach, image by Russ Bishop
  • Waves and surf during a king tide, Cape Disappointment State Park, image by William Sutton
  • Black and white image of Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite, by Michael Shane
  • Solar eclipse, image by Mark Hayward
  • sunlight streams through opening in rocks, image by Kathryn Cubert
  • Valley Oak Tree Silhouetted against Spring Leaves, by Judy Kramer
  • Starry sky in Grand Canyon National Park, image by Irene Reti
  • Backlit Sonoran Desert, image by Geoffrey Schmid
  • Foggy Morning Sunrise at Lake Mulwala, image by Garry Everett
  • Clearing Storm on Combers Beach, image by Robert Nowak
  • Olympic Sunrise, Olympic National Park, image by Don Larkin
  • Early Morning Fog Surrounding Cypress Trees, image by David Hammond
  • Sunrise through fog on beach with runner and birds in distance, image by Curt Tipton
  • A Meteorological Phenomenon Called Virga, image by Charlotte Caldwell
  • Sunrise Through the Old Tree, image by Barbara Houston
  • Valley View Panorama in Yosemite National Park, image by Alice Cahill

2021 Showcase Top 250, Birds

Birds have long been a favorite subject for nature photographers, and Showcase is rich with examples why. From birds-in-flight and feeding behavior to courtship rituals, nesting, and family vignettes, the winning images prove both beautiful and informative.

  • Snowy Egret Thrashing Around Chasing Prey, image by Peter Ismert
  • Graceful Arctic Tern, photo by Linda Burek
  • Common Gallinules in Courtship Allopreening, photo by Teri Franzen
  • Threatened Least Terns, Adult Bird feeding Chick, image by Mary Lundeberg
  • American Goldfinch Picking Thistledown, image by Don Larkin
  • Two Male Baltimore Orioles Squabble, image by Sandra Rothenberg
  • Greater Sage Grouse Breeding Display, image by Peter Ismert
  • Roseate Spoonbill in Flight with Nesting Material, image by Peter Brannon
  • Blue-Footed Booby Taking off from Water, image by Patrick Pevey
  • Least Tern Fledgling in Flight, image by Michael J. Cohen
  • Common Loon Diving in search of Food for two chicks, image by Marie Read
  • Family of birds on water, image by Laurie Anderson
  • An Acorn Woodpecker Greets New Arrivals, image by Kevin Lohman
  • Bluejay and Baltimore Oriole Surprise Each Other, image by Sandra Rothenberg
  • Monogamous Tropicbird Pair's Ritualized Courtship Flight, photo by Kathy West
  • Royal Tern Lands in the Mouth of Another Royal Tern, image by Judylynn Malloch
  • A Fiery-Throated and a Talamanca Hummingbird feed on a Ericaceae Flower, image by Cindy Jones
  • Short-Eared Owl in Flight, image by Alice Cahill
  • Pied-Billed Grebe on the Run in Water, image by Michael J Cohen
  • Greater Roadrunner Catching a Butterfly, image by Hector D. Astorga
  • Majestic Bald Eagle in the Sky in Search of Prey, photo by Hans Arnold
  • American Bittern Crossing the Road, image by Eleanor Briccetti
  • Two Great Kiskadees in Aerial Ballet, image by E Darrell Crisp
  • Western Grebes Rush across the Surface of a Lake Aglow from California Wildfires, image by Donald Quintana
  • Great Gray Owl in Flight, image by David Armer
  • Two White-Fronted Woodpeckers Fighting on Cactus, image by Corey Raffel
  • Anhinga with fish in beak, image by Cissy Beasley
  • Western Grebe Returns to Nest and Enters by Leaping, image by Carol Grenier
  • Sharp-Shinned Hawk Takes a Northern Bobwhite, image by Brian E. Small
  • Little green bee-eater landing on a log, image by Barbara White
  • Western Bluebird Mid-Air Courting Ritual, image by Jodi Frediani
  • Harpy Eagle mother shelters young chick under wing, image by Barbara Fleming
  • Black-Browed Albatross in High Key by Amy Marques
  • Mother bird feeding baby, image by Alice Cahill
  • Sandhill Crane and Snow Geese Migration, image by Adriana Greisman

2021 Showcase Top 250, Mammals

This category includes all types of mammals, including marine mammals.

  • Perfect Daybreak Conditions for This Juvenile Red Fox, image by Ron Day
  • Fierce Coyote with Open Mouth Inches from Field Rat, image by Tim Timmis
  • Alaska Coastal Brown Bear Nursing Spring Cub, image by Peter Hartlove
  • Humpback Whale Breaching, image by Dee Langevin
  • American Mink Mom Brings a Fish to Her Young, image by Jane Scott Norris
  • A Grizzly Sow Traveling through the Snow, image by Savannah Burgess
  • Two Young Kudu Bulls at Sunset, image by Kevin Dooley
  • Southern Elephant Seal Pups Huddle against Mothers, image by Vicki Santello
  • Long-Tailed Weasel Running Towards Camera, image by Sarah Killingsworth Photography
  • Grizzly 399 Walking with 4 Cubs in Snow Storm, image by Tom Ingram
  • Young Leopard Carrying a Monitor Lizard, image by Patrick Pevey
  • Yellow-Bellied Marmot Running, image by Peter Hartlove
  • Lamb jumping over wood fence, image by Patricia Bauchman
  • Red Fox on hind legs ready to pounce in snow, image by Melissa Anne Usrey
  • Young Female Bengal Tiger on the Prowl, image by Christopher Ciccone
  • Tiny Brown Bear Cub with Mother, image by Marv Binegar
  • A Bobcat Kitten, Image by Luciane Coletti
  • A Leopard Stalks a Young Zebra Beneath Him on Tree Limb, image by Kevin Dooley
  • Female Gorilla Screaming, image by Kathleen Reeder
  • Jaguar Under the Roots, image by Jorge Cazenave
  • Humpback Whale Mother and Calf, image by Jodi Frediani
  • Polar Bear Cubs Play at Sunset, image by Jennifer Smith
  • Wildebeest, Newborn Calf and Golden Jackal, image by James Ramakka
  • Subadult Brown Bear Catches a Salmon, images by James Picardi
  • Brown Bear Walking Coastline at Sunset, image by Kevin Dooley
  • Mother Cheetah and Cubs Warming Themselves Atop a Termite Mound, image by James Heupel
  • Plains Zebra with Young, image by Hector D. Astorga
  • American Red Squirrel Getting a Drink in a Beaver Pond, image by George Sanker
  • Humpback Whales Bubble Net Feeding in Icy Strait, image by Frank Zurey
  • Bobcat Hunting along the Madison River, Yellowstone National Park, image by Carol Grenier
  • Three Baboons Huddle Together, image by Donna Eaton
  • Impala Herd on the Run, image by Don Kellett
  • Leopard Cub Looking up at His Mom (off camera) up in a Tree, image by Anita Ross
  • Black Bear Mother is Playing with Her Yearling Cub on tree branch, image by Gero Heine Photography LLC
  • Four Red Foxes Gathered Close Together, image by Donald Quintana
  • Killer Whale Bull and Cow Feeding on Herring, image by David Rein
  • Female Cheetah Surveying the Landscape from an Acacia Tree, image by Secret Sea Visions
  • Japanese Macaque: Mother and infant hands, image by Ann Gillis
  • Lioness with Tiny Cubs Hiding, image by Anita Ross
  • Red Fox Vixen Bringing Home Dinner, image by Donald Quintana

2021 Showcase Top 250, Altered Reality

The unconventional “Altered Reality” category may be confusing to some. All images in this category are designated as “photo illustrations,” indicating that they display a change in natural color, form, shape or any combination of these that deny the photographic process. The images haven been enhanced or transformed beyond the way the subjects appear in nature.

  • Altered reality image of snow goose by Ron Day
  • Altered image of cover crop species photographed on a light table by Elijah Goodwin
  • Altered image of a tri-colored heron and a skimmer by Cheryl Medow
  • Ross geese taking off at dusk near tree, image by Rob Badger
  • Tulip image layered with swimming pool image, created by Melissa Fraser
  • Altered image of snowy egret near water by Cheryl Medow
  • Young elephant in Kruger National Park, South Africa by Marty Purdy
  • Altered reality image of a pelican by Ron Day
  • Orb of a Coastal Wood Fern, image by Judy Kramer
  • Altered reality image of three Burchell's zebras at watering hole in Etosha National Park, Africa, by Marty Purdy
  • Sepia-toned altered photograph of lion pair in Tanzania by Jennifer O'Donnell
  • Altered image of doe in springtime flowers by Jan Lightfoot
  • Altered reality image of a juvenile roseate spoonbill by Marty Purdy
  • Altered photograph with multiple exposure of standing wave at top of waterfall by Elijah Goodwin
  • Painterly High Key Image of a Great Egret Displaying Breeding Colors by Ron Day

2021 Showcase Top 250, Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife

This category includes images of non-bird, non-mammal wildlife as well as close-ups of any subject. Close-ups are intimate views, tightly framed, or close examinations of subjects in nature.

  • Succulent Abstract, image by Wendy Kaveney
  • Blue Ribbon Eel, image by Tony Frank
  • Freshly Emerged Cicada, image by Steven Long
  • Ventral Scales of a Desert Spiny Lizard at 5x Magnification, image by Scott Trageser
  • Colorful Clownfish or Damselfish in an Anemone, image by Roger Johnson
  • Mating Lantern Bugs on a Leaf, image by Robert Ferguson
  • Small Ecosystem with insect on flower, image by Richard Pelroy
  • A Blue Dasher Dragonfly Perches Cooperatively, image by Peter Brannon
  • Relaxed Lizard Eating Large Mouthfuls of Juicy Cactus, image by Kathy West
  • Pre-Dawn Light Highlights Artistic Ice, image by Karen Vail
  • Halictua ligatus Female on a Blanketflower, image by Joseph Ferraro
  • Red-Eyed Tree Frog, image by Jim Burns
  • Painted Lady Butterfly Feeding on Desert Blooms, image by Jim Mohler
  • Green Phase Eyelash Viper, image by Jim Ramakka
  • Gerbera Daisy Bloom Reflecting in Water Droplets, image by Cynthia Lockwood
  • Jagged Ambush Bug Nymph on Blanketflower, image by Joseph Ferraro
  • Hanging Flower Shot with Lensbaby Optic, image by Jackie Kramer
  • Shape-Shifting Blue-Ringed Octopus Displaying it's Pulsating Rings, image by Cameron Azad
  • Goldenrod Crab Spider Shedding Skin, image by Anne Grimes
  • Two Cuttle Fish Mating, image by Tony Frank

2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation

The conservation category was added to Showcase in 2020 and recognizes images that illustrate a conservation issue—positive or negative—and the value of conserving a species, place, or ecosystem for the benefit of wild and/or human communities. Entries in this category cannot be designated as photo illustrations—nothing added, removed, or altered.

  • Tiny Natural Area in the Midst of Warehouses and Industrial Development in London, image by Thomas Simpson
  • Bird stands over litter in its habitat, image by Shane Morrison
  • Tibetan Macaque Behind Bars at a 'Rescue' Facility in China, image by Scott Trageser
  • Wild Pelican Unable to Eat a Pleco, image by Robert Ferguson
  • Free-Roaming Domestic Cat with young rabbit in mouth, image by Nicollet Overby
  • Blue Whale Fetus Expelled from Mother, image by Jodi Frediani
  • Inquisitive Nestling Burrowing Owls, image by Jim Shane
  • Tule Elk with Glass Bottle in Mouth, image by Jane Scott Norris
  • A Manatee near Motorboat, image by James Beissel
  • A Shark Finning camp with Hundreds of Fins Laying out to Dry, image by Bill Klipp
  • Poacher found with head of with head of western bushbuck, image by Alison M. Jones

About Showcase

NANPA’s annual Showcase competition began in 2005. In 16 years, the competition has recognized more than 800 of North America’s most accomplished nature photographers. Nearly 2,500 photographers have entered the competition during that time.

Winning images are published each year in NANPA Expressions, a full-color journal that also includes articles on a wide variety of topics within nature photography, written by nature photographers for nature photographers. NANPA members can access free digital editions of Expressions dating back to 2011 in the Members Area of nanpa.org.

Past digital and print editions of Expressions are also available for sale. The new 2021 edition will be released in late winter.

Collage of Expressions journal cover images

Come back to nanpa.org on December 2 to see the 2021 Showcase Top 100 images.