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.
North American Porcupine; Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory, Canada
Story and Photographs by Jenaya Launstein
If you’ve been wondering about photography contests and whether they’re worth your time and effort, the answer is yes! I have really enjoyed and benefited from the competitions I’ve entered over the past few years, and would like to share some of the benefits, along with the considerations you should be aware of.
Entering photography competitions is a great way to develop your skills, and should you be successful, build a name for yourself along the way. There are many popular international competitions out there; Windland Smith Rice International Awards by Nature’s Best Photography, BBC/NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year, NWF’s National Wildlife Photo Contest and Audubon Magazine Photography Awards, just to name a few.
Many competitions publish the winners’ and finalists’ images in magazines, offering even further exposure. The people who see these images could be potential print customers or even editors looking for talented photographers. Beyond getting your name out there, many photographers enter competitions for the great prizes! Some competitions offer cash awards or gift cards for photo gear, even photography adventures. I have a great collection of camera bags and other accessories now, thanks to these competitions!
There’s no question that winning a big competition will get your name out to many new people and possibilities, however don’t pass up the national and regional competitions. Although smaller, they are a great place to start! You are still getting your name out there, and in many cases you will receive beneficial feedback on your images.
By placing in the youth category of the annual Canadian Geographic Wildlife Photography of the Year competitions, I’ve had several of my images displayed in Canada’s Museum of Nature the past three years. They were also included in a traveling exhibition throughout the country that has resulted in print sales and additional exposure for my photography.
Rocky Mountain Elk; Banff, Alberta, Canada
In 2011, I won the youth category in the popular NWF National Wildlife Photo Contest. To say I was excited is an understatement! Three years after the contest, I was contacted last month by someone, who had looked through the winner’s gallery, interested in purchasing several of my prints! In 2013, I was named the Youth Photographer of the Year in the Windland Smith Rice International Awards by Nature’s Best Photography. The exposure that is generating for me is nothing short of incredible.
Don’t just stick with your favorite subjects! I’m almost exclusively a wildlife photographer, but in 2012, I entered and won the Grand Prize in the Western Heritage Values photo contest with a picture I took of my dad and brother. The prize included airfare for two to the destination of my choice! I knew immediately where I would go, and a few months later I was photographing bears, moose and more in Alaska and the Yukon Territories. It was an amazing experience and the images I captured there are among my all-time favorites. One of the images I captured was the image chosen as the winner in the Windland Smith Rice Awards.
One of the most important things you must do before entering any competition, however, is to read the terms and conditions thoroughly, and understand what image rights you are giving to the organizers. Even though the contest may have great prizes, the rights they demand may not make it a wise decision for you to enter. The conditions attached to any competition, is the number one factor in my decision of whether I submit any images.
You should also pay close attention to the rules and guidelines of the competition. What type of images are allowed? What are the limitations on processing, cropping, etc? Be sure to follow their instructions for file size, naming, EXIF info and color settings.
If you agree with the terms and understand the rules, I encourage you to enter! You never know what doors it could open up for you. Placing and winning in photo competitions has really helped my career to lift off, even at age 16!
Bohemian Waxwing eating berries; Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada
Now, some of you may still be reluctant. You might think that you’re not good enough yet, or don’t have the best camera or lenses. Don’t let that keep you from choosing a good competition to start with and submitting your best! And if you really don’t think you’re ready yet, keep practicing! Go to a nearby park or natural area and find something to photograph so you can develop your eye. It’s also a great idea to ask other photographers for feedback on your images. Their advice can really help you improve your work. So get out there and create some award-winning images of your own!
16 year old Jenaya Launstein, was one of ten selected for NANPA’s 2013 High School Scholarship Program. You can follow her on Twitter.