In photographs: the beauty of planet Earth

From a flower on a balcony in Manchester to a herd of elephants in South Africa, the winning images from the 2016 Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition celebrate the beauty of nature

After sifting through more than 17,000 entries from photographers in 50 countries, the judges of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition have announced eight winners. The annual competition is designed to showcase the ‘outstanding beauty of planet Earth’.

The winning photos ranged from Christopher Roche’s raw portrait of Ukuku people descending the Peruvian Andes to a close up of a bright violet anemone captured on Justin Garner’s balcony in Manchester. Other entries, such as Alice van Kempen’s photograph of elephants in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, captured meaning beyond pleasing aesthetics, said judges, in van Kempen’s case, drawing attention to poaching.

An overall winner will be announced at The Photography Show in Birmingham on 18 March. The winning photographer will be sent on assignment to the Arctic to document the Fjällräven polar dog sled expedition, a 300km journey across the Scandinavian Arctic in April.

Frame by frame: the winning entries

Spirit of travel category: Christopher Roche (UK)
Sinakara, Peru

Roche says: “Around 80,000 pilgrims descend upon the Sinakara Valley in the Peruvian Andes to celebrate the festival of Qoyllur Rit’i – a mixture of Inca and Catholic traditions. During the final night, bands of Ukukus head up to the holy glaciers at an altitude of 5,600m to perform initiation rituals. At dawn they descend back into the valley, carrying large crosses on their backs.”

Under exposed category: Johan Sundelin (Sweden)
Santa Fe Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

“While snorkelling with a colony of California sea lions I quickly noticed two particular photography challenges,” says Sundelin. “The first was how to avoid the attention of the large, aggressive and protective alpha male. The second was the enormous speed of the animals in the water. Lying very still in the water and using high ISO [image sensor sensitivity] solved the issues. That allowed me to freeze this moment of tenderness using only natural light.”

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Light on the land category: Stian Nesoy (Norway)
Hardangervidda National Park, Norway

“After days of frigid snowstorms, a break in the weather revealed an otherworldly landscape near these hunters’ cabins,” explains Norwegian photographer Nesoy. “The little footprints were left behind by a lone Arctic fox during its relentless search for food in this barren wilderness. After scouting this frozen scene before sunrise, I discovered a spot with a snowdrift leading into the light.

“The placement of the hill to the left and the tracks made for a balanced image. The image is captured in a wide panoramic format to convey the vastness of the surroundings. I captured the image just before the sun broke the horizon, making for a softly lit scene that helps the textures come alive.”

Small world category: Justin Garner (UK)
Manchester, England

“We grow flowers on our balcony at home, which offer many photographic opportunities,” says Garner. “I noticed the rich textures in the blue anemone’s petals, and I waited for the flower’s textures to be at their best. Choosing to shoot on an overcast day prevented harsh shadows from the sun affecting the image. I used a plant clip to steady the flower, enabling me to take 15 shots that I then photo stacked in post-processing.”

Wildlife insight category: Alice van Kempen (Netherlands)
Lower Sabie, Kruger National Park, South Africa

“In Africa, poachers slaughter an elephant every 15 minutes to supply the demand for ivory – that’s 96 beautiful creatures a day,” explains van Kempen. “In 2016, as of the middle of September, there had been 36 elephants killed by poachers in the Kruger National Park alone – the highest number since 1982. With this in mind, I wanted to create a photograph to reflect the situation the elephants are in. I chose to capture the sad look of one of the elephants; a dark image that lets you focus on the tusks.”

Live the adventure category: Kirsten Quist (Canada)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

“On one of the coldest days last winter, I was inspired to capture the luminous structure of this frozen fire pit,” says Canadian photographer Kirsten Quist. “I loved the contrast of fire and ice, as well as the way both the blue light and ash-covered icicles framed my subject Halley Coxson. A big challenge was the near -30°C temperature, which caused my camera to malfunction and halted shooting until I was able to warm things up with some body heat.”

Young Outdoor Photographer of the Year category: David Rosenzweig (US)
Timbavati Game Reserve, Mpumalanga, South Africa

“The eternal bond between a mother and child is one that transcends the animal kingdom,” says 18-year-old David Rosenzweig. “One early morning in the Timbavati Game Reserve, we came across this female leopard. She was clearly searching for something and continued calling until she reached an open road. Just as she arrived, her cub came running out of the bushes. The ensuing interaction between the mother and cub proved the love that the two share for each other.”

At the water’s edge category: Pete Hyde (UK)
Gavlfjorden, Holm, Langøya, Norway

“Having driven several miles up a minor road, we came to the small harbour at Holm,” explains Pete Hyde, a photographer from the UK. “After a short walk, we were presented with this wonderful view up a small side-branch of Gavlfjorden. The soft, misty light and the calmness of the water were perfect for conveying the peace and tranquillity we were privileged to enjoy.”

Ammonite Press will publish a book about the 2016 competition, Outdoor Photographer of the Year: Portfolio II, in March

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