Photo Contest

The winners of the magazine's 36th annual Photography Awards

12-01-2006 // Hannah Schardt

FROM THE WILDS of Alaska to Mexico's Sea of Cortez to a front porch in suburban Ohio, the winners of the 36th annual National Wildlife Photography Awards found inspiration in nature all over North America. This year, for the first time, photographers from all levels of expertise were invited to enter and the competition was conducted in collaboration with Nature's Best Photography magazine. More than 12,000 images were submitted in eight categories: Mammals, Birds, Other Wildlife, Underwater Life, New Life, Connecting People and Nature, Habitat and Power of Nature. For each, a first-place prize was awarded in both the amateur and professional divisions. One first-place prize was also awarded in the youth division. The grand prize was awarded to an amateur. That image and several of the other winning photographs appear here. To view all of the winning images, along with this year's honorable mentions and instructions on how to enter next year's competition, visit our outdoor photo page.

pronghorns jumping

Robert M. Palmer

Miliken, Colorado
Late one afternoon in the middle of winter, Palmer was driving around the back roads of eastern Colorado, keeping an eye out for raptors to photograph. Instead, he came upon the makings of a perfect pronghorn action shot. A herd of the animals, startled by the sound of his approaching truck, took off running across a snowy pasture. "I stopped, got out and noticed this ravine that they had to cross," says the product manager. "So I waited." Sure enough, the pronghorn reached the ravine and began jumping across, giving Palmer, an amateur photographer, just enough time to use his 500mm lens and 1.4x lens extender to take this digital photograph of about a dozen pronghorn, including one leaping and one landing, in the golden light.

Humpback Whale

HONORABLE MENTION, Connecting People and Nature
Peter T. Hartlove

Longmont, Colorado
Every winter, more than 2,000 humpback whales come together off the coast of Silver Banks, Dominican Republic, to mate and give birth. On a trip a few years ago, Hartlove used an underwater film camera and a 15mm lens to photograph this calf (foreground) swimming near the surface while its mother (tail visible in bottom right) keeps close watch, seemingly unperturbed by the diver in the upper left corner of the image. "They're so intelligent," says Hartlove of his favorite animals.

baby birds

FIRST PLACE, New Life, Professional
James P. Crotty

Kettering, Ohio
Sometimes the most compelling nature is right outside our front doors—literally, in Crotty's case. Each summer, the photographer's front porch is home to several young bird families, including this pair of house finches that hatched in a hanging fern. Using a digital camera and a 100mm macro lens, Crotty says he lucked into this image: "I only got that one shot because as soon as they realize you're not the parent, they go back down into the nest."

diver on reef

First Place, Underwater Life, Amateur
Rand McMeins

Edmonds, Washington
"This was probably one of the most amazing things I have ever seen underwater," McMeins says of his image of a school of thousands of herring being chased by a cormorant. On a dive trip to the Sea of Cortez, the business owner photographed the busy scene using a digital camera, a 10.5mm fisheye lens and a Magic Filter, which helps recapture lost color underwater.

frog rippling water

HONORABLE MENTION, Other Wildlife, Amateur
Erik Enderson

Tucson, Arizona
Enderson came upon this red-spotted toad in a designated wildlife area a few miles from his home. "I heard its distinct call—it's about a 20-second whistle," he says. "I found this poor lonely male, all by himself, trying to attract a mate." Over the next couple of hours, the technical writer returned again and again to find the toad rippling the water with its throat sac as he sang out. He captured the lovelorn amphibian on film using a 180mm macro lens.

red bark

FIRST PLACE, Habitat, Professional
Tony T. Sweet

Eldersberg, Maryland
On a trip to Washington State's Whidbey Island, photographer Sweet knew just what he was looking for. "I asked someone where the madrona trees were," he says, "and they told me to go to Madrona Lane." Once he found the trees (also known as madrone or arbutus), Sweet took "a bunch of photos" of the brilliant red bark, which peels off to expose the wood below. For this panorama, Sweet used a film camera with a 30mm lens.


HONORABLE MENTION, Other Wildlife, Amateur
Howard B. Cheek

Kempner, Texas
This writing spider (Argiope aurantia) is quite small—only an inch or so in length, says Cheek. The semi-retired medical records coder spends hours roaming his 6-acre yard, keeping a careful eye out for such tiny subjects on which to practice his macro photography. "I just go out there and shoot whatever moves," says Cheek. He made this digital image with a 150mm macro lens and a 1.4x extender.


FIRST PLACE, Power of Nature, Professional
Hazel S. Erikson

Sharps Chapel, Tennessee
Erikson often witnesses electrical storms on Norris Lake near her home. Earlier this year, using a lightning-activated trigger on her digital camera, she took about 100 photographs during one particularly spectacular storm—including this striking image of lightning reaching across the sky towards a patch of blue. "I was very lucky," she says. When she uploaded this photo to her computer, she says, "I knew it was a keeper."

sunset on ice

FIRST PLACE, Habitat, Amateur
Robert Servranckx

Ile Bizard, Quebec, Canada
This icy scene looks like it could be miles from civilization, but it is actually at a frozen lake about three miles from Servranckx's home. That doesn't mean he didn't suffer for his art, however. "It was around zero degrees Fahrenheit with a good stiff breeze," says the programmer-analyst. "I was the only nut out there in the cold." Using a digital camera with a 17-40mm zoom lens, he photographed this frigid sunset on a February evening last year.


FIRST PLACE, Birds, Amateur
Steve Irving

San Jose, California
"This was a one-in-a-million shot," says Irving, who photographed a male calliope hummingbird (left) attempting to chase a female rufous hummingbird away from a feeding flower. The retired business owner made the digital image using a 70-200mm zoom lens while attending a photography workshop in British Columbia last year. "I've taken many photos of fighting hummingbirds," he says. "Usually all I get is wings or a blur, or nothing at all."

grizzly bear

FIRST PLACE, Mammals, Amateur
John Morrow

Glen Echo, Maryland
"Bears have sort of become my specialty," says construction executive Morrow. "I really like them." In fact, he likes them enough that he spent a three-week vacation—most of it rainy—photographing grizzlies in Alaska. One afternoon in Katmai National Park, Morrow, who had been up since dawn looking for bears, came across this young grizzly near a creek. "The sun was just starting to peek out and the bear looked really, really happy that it had stopped raining," he says. Morrow used a film camera and a 600mm lens to capture this image.

sea turtle

FIRST PLACE, Connecting People and Nature, Professional
Michael P. O'Neill

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
O'Neill is a frequent visitor to Florida's Marine Life Center, a wildlife rehabilitation facility just a few miles from his home. Two years ago, during a release of a healed loggerhead turtle, veterinarians and volunteers—watched by a crowd of curious onlookers—weighed the 300-pound reptile, loaded it onto a truck, drove it to the nearby beach and carried it to the water's edge. By then, the photographer was ready. "I always wanted to take this kind of picture," says O'Neill. "I knew I needed a creative angle." He plunged into the water with his film camera and 16mm fisheye lens and waited, waist deep in the surf. Once the turtle was released into the water, O'Neill says, "It took off like a missile." In the fleeting seconds before the animal vanished, O'Neill managed to take only one photograph. Fortunately, that photograph turned out to be just what he'd planned: the now-healthy giant returning to the sea under the eye of an adoring public.


FIRST PLACE, Other Wildlife, Amateur
Cyrinda Hoffman

Anchorage, Alaska
Yes, this photograph of an Alligator mississippiensis was taken from inches away, and yes, Hoffman was in the water with the 8-foot reptile. And no, we don't recommend it. But Hoffman wasn't worried. "That one was pretty docile," she says. "It just seemed curious." The electrical designer, a Florida native, was visiting Big Cypress National Preserve when she came upon the gator. Once in the water, Hoffman used a friend's digital camera with a 15mm fisheye lens and strobe lights in an underwater housing to make this image.

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