Top 24 Nature Images Revealed

2021 Showcase winners take home $6,000 in prizes plus publicity opps


Every year NANPA’s Showcase competition recognizes the most stunning images created by nature photographers who live and/or work in North America—including both hobbyists and professional photographers. In recent weeks, we revealed portions of the Top 250 and Top 100 images in the 2021 Showcase. Today we’re excited to reveal the prize-winning Top 24.

Best in Show

Showcase recognizes images in six distinct categories: mammals, birds, scapes, macro/micro/all other wildlife, altered reality, and conservation. Best in Show prize packages include a combination of cash and opportunities for publicity.

The mammals category includes marine mammals like the sea lion in Alex Rose’s prize-winning image.

Sea Lion Swimming, Surrounded by Fish, Image by Alex Rose
Startled California Sea Lion, Los Islotes, Baja California Sur, Mexico © Alex Rose

Birds are a popular subject among nature photographers, and Showcase is often filled not only with birds-in-flight images but also images that highlight habitats, courtship, and feeding behaviors—like Tom Ingram’s Great Kiskadee eating berries.

Great Kiskadee Eating Wild Pyracantha Berries, image by Tom Ingram
Great Kiskadee Eating Wild Pyracantha Berries, Alamo, Texas © Tom Ingram

The scapes category includes a variety of scenic images such as landscapes, seascapes, moonscapes, atmosphere, and weather—including images like Scott Reither’s Best in Category winner that checks more than one of those boxes.

Double rainbows stretch across a foggy beachscape with rugged rocks
An Ethereal Island Scene, Maui, Hawaii © Scott Reither

The macro/micro/all other wildlife category features 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—like Samantha Stephens’ best in show image of a carnivorous plant with its meal.

Carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant with Captured Juvenile Spotted Salamanders, image by Samantha Stephens
Carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant with Captured Juvenile Spotted Salamanders, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada © Samantha Stephens

The unconventional altered reality category features images 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—like Ron Day’s Eastern bluebird presented here as a pencil sketch.

Eastern Bluebird Male Posed on Teasel, styled as a Pencil Sketch, image by Ron Day
Eastern Bluebird Male Posed on Teasel: A Pencil Sketch, Cherokee County, Oklahoma © Ron Day

The conservation category, added in 2020, 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. Alice Cahill’s prize-winning image illuminates California’s struggle with overpopulation of domestic cats.

California Thrasher in the Mouth of a Domestic Cat, image by Alice Cahill
California Thrasher in the Mouth of a Domestic Cat, San Luis Obispo County, California © Alice Cahill

Runners-Up

A runner-up is recognized for each category as well. This year’s runners-up include images by Ian S. Frazier, Lea Lee-Inoue, Jan Lightfoot, Steven Long, Diana Rebman, and Dawn Wilson. Click on an image to see a larger version of it.

  • Bio-Luminescence along the Southern California Coast, image by Ian S. Frazier
  • Adult prairie dog surrounded by young ones emerging from ground, image by Lea Lee-Inoue
  • Squawking Female Common Merganser Vigorously Defending Her Log, image by Diana Rebman
  • Zebra Longwing Caterpillar on Passionflower Vine with Empty Egg Case, image by Steven Long
  • Processed Legs of a Bison Sit in a Cart after Being Slaughtered, image by Dawn Wilson Photography
  • Guardian of the City, Dubai and Death Valley, Altered Reality image by Jan Lightfoot


Judges’ Choice

Judges select two additional images per category to complete the Top 24 tier. Judges Choice winners in the 2021 Showcase include Hector D. Astorga, Savannah Burgess, Jeremy Burnham, Lea Foster, Melissa Fraser, Kyle Moon, Mary Louise Ravese, Marie Read, Anita Ross, Karen Gordon Schulman, Naona Wallin, and Scott Wilson.

  • Black Skimmer Carrying a Fish, image by Marie Read
  • Burrowing Owls, One Levitating, image by Anita Ross
  • Chasing the Dragon, landscape image by Scott Wilson
  • Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancements, image by Naona Wallin
  • Silverback Mountain Gorilla Portrait, image by Hector D. Astorga
  • Mountain Lion Leaps down a Cliff Chasing Magpies off Her Kill, image by Savannah Rose Wildlife
  • Lotus Blossom Seed Pod Resembles an Alien Landscape, image by Mary Louise Ravese
  • Ant Feasting on a Nectar Bubble, image by Lea Foster
  • Black-Capped Chickadee Stuck in Burdock, image by Kyle Moon
  • Pelican swimming with beer can, image by Jeremy Burnham
  • Palm Trees Morphed into a Nature Mandala, altered reality image by Melissa Fraser
  • Morning Grasses, altered reality image by Karen Gordon Schulman

About the Showcase competition

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.

During the annual competition, a panel of industry professionals selects the Top 250 nature images from thousands of submissions—3,760 images from 393 photographers in the 2021 competition.

“NANPA members include some of the finest photographers in the world. They don’t all have recognizable names, but their images deserve recognition, and Showcase provides an opportunity for that,” said Wendy Shattil, who has served as Showcase coordinator since the competition began almost two decades ago. Shattil fully understands how winning a prestigious photo competition can impact a photographer’s career. She was the first woman to win a grand prize in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 1990.

But Shattil is quick to note that her experience on both sides of photo contests underscores that winning isn’t everything. “Close behind the Top 24 prize winners are plenty of other great photos, which is why we recognize the highest scoring 250,” she added. “Whether you win or lose a particular competition isn’t the only point. It’s an opportunity to study what judges determine to be the best—the characteristics that make photos a cut above. Looking at successful images can inspire us in future shoots to consider new perspectives, styles, and techniques. You can’t duplicate a photo you see, but you can learn from it.”

How are Showcase winning images honored?

Seven photos from the Showcase Top 100 are selected each week to appear on the front page of NANPA’s website. Additionally, the Top 250 images are visible throughout the calendar year in a Showcase Gallery.

Winning images are also published in Expressionsa full-color photo journal that includes articles on a wide variety of topics within nature photography, written by nature photographers for nature photographers. Expressions is available in a print, perfect-bound edition or as a digital, downloadable PDF. NANPA members can access free digital editions dating back to 2011 in the Members Area of nanpa.org. Past digital and print editions are also available for sale. The new 2021 edition will be released in late winter.

Top 24 winners enjoy cash prizes and additional publicity, including features and portfolios published on NANPA’s website and opportunities to host week-long takeovers of the NANPA Instagram account.

Learn more about winning images

Find out how these 24 photographers got the winning shots, hear some of their favorite locations and subjects to photograph, and see more of their work throughout 2021 by subscribing to NANPA News—a weekly e-newsletter—or visiting NANPA’s blog on Mondays beginning in January.

NANPA reminds readers to review all contest rules and permissions before entering any photo competition to protect your rights to your own images. Find out what to watch for—and get other insider secrets from prize-winning photographers—in our free handbook. DOWNLOAD NOW >

Prize-winning photo by Karen Schuenemann plus a selection of pages from free handbook titled CONTEST SECRETS: WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU ENTER A PHOTO