2008 Photo Contest Winners

The winning images of the 38th annual National Wildlife Photo Contest

12-01-2008 // Hannah Schardt

FROM A CARDINAL splashing in a Florida birdbath to a leopard lurking in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, the winning images of the 38th annual National Wildlife Photo Contest are as varied as the species that populate this planet. This year’s winners were drawn from our largest-ever pool of entries—more than 55,000 in six categories: Mammals, Birds, Other Wildlife, Landscapes and Plant Life, Backyard Habitats and Connecting People and Nature. Along with selecting the $5,000 grand prize winner, judges awarded cash and other prizes for the first- and second-place winners in every category in each of two divisions, amateur and professional. One youth winner was also chosen.


Photo Contest - Birds on a lake

Christian Ziegler
Panama City, Panama
Grand Prize

A greater bulldog bat swoops out of the night sky and snags its prey—most likely a tiny fish or a large insect—from Panama’s Gatun Lake. Photographer Ziegler, who spends much of the year documenting the region’s wildlife during all hours of the day, captured the image using a device called a stroboscope, which emits eight flash pulses during a single exposure.


Photo Contest - Leopard

Richard Coke
Cape Town, South Africa
First Place, Mammals, Amateur

The soft, golden light on this young male leopard is no happy accident: Coke first spotted the cat and its prey, a sable antelope, early in the day on a trip to Botswana’s Okavango Delta but was frustrated by poor light conditions. So he and his companions returned in the evening and found the leopard still devouring its meal. When the animal stopped to rest, Coke captured its velvety face surrounded by leaves and deep shadows.


Photo Contest - Father and Sons on a row boat

Laurie Hardwick
Greencastle, Indiana
First Place, Connecting People and Nature, Amateur

This pond, located on Hardwick’s property, is a big reason why she and her husband bought the house in the town where both were raised. “My husband grew up swimming in that pond,” she says. Here, Hardwick’s three-year-old son and a friend revel in the splashes from her husband’s vigorous rowing.


Photo Contest - Bird in a lake

Andre Seale
São Paulo, Brazil
First Place, Birds, Professional

“This was a lucky shot,” says Seale, who was floating in a shallow tide pool off one of Brazil’s rocky coastal islands when this brown booby landed in the water right next to him. After the bubbles settled, the bird stared at Seale for a moment then started walking in the inches-deep pool, allowing the photographer to make this underwater image.


Photo Contest - Blue Flowers

Dennis Frates
Wilsonville, Oregon
First Place, Landscapes and Plant Life, Professional

While Frates had seen this erosion channel many times on visits to Colusa County, California, never before a photography trip two years ago was it cloaked in the lupines and poppies that give this image its dramatic color. One year later, “There were wildflowers all over, but in this place, not one flower,” he says.


Photo Contest - Sloth Swinging

Steven Kirkpatrick
Madison, Mississippi
First Place, Mammals, Professional

Sometimes wildlife photography requires not only artistry but athleticism. On a boat trip to the Peruvian Amazon, Kirkpatrick spotted this three-toed sloth eating in a tree branch above a river—a visual he had always hoped to capture with his camera. In order to photograph the mammal face-to-face, he tied the boat to a tree while one of his companions clambered onto the boat’s roof. “I climbed on his shoulders and, shooting one-handed with a wide-angle lens, finally pressed the shutter,” Kirkpatrick recalls.


Photo Contest - Red Cardinal Bird on water

Robert Strickland
Beverly Hills, Florida
First Place, Backyard Habitats, Amateur

Aided by a feeding station he set up in the yard, and using a shed as a blind, Strickland photographs a variety of birds without ever leaving his property. This cardinal settled in for a refreshing bath and, says Strickland, “stayed for quite a while just hunkering down and absorbing the water.” 


Photo Contest - Dandelions

Mark Harrelson
Telluride, Colorado
Second Place, Landscapes and Plant Life, Professional

While gazing through a macro lens in a field near his home, Harrelson was delighted to discover the dazzling colors reflected in the seed head of a mountain dandelion—evidence that beauty can be found in nature’s humblest corners.


Photo Contest - Whale under a boat

Daniel J. Cox
Bozeman, Montana
First Place, Connecting People and Nature, Professional

Cox photographed this female humpback whale in the waters off the Dominican Republic. “It stayed with us for over eight hours—most of the time under the boat.” Cox himself was in the water about 50 feet away, an ideal spot to document both the whale and its human admirers.


Photo Contest - Bluebirds on a wire

Michael Smith
New Windsor, Maryland
First Place, Backyard Habitats, Professional

A dozen eastern bluebirds made Smith’s backyard their home base one recent winter, attracted by the mealworms set out each afternoon by the photographer. During a particularly bad snowstorm, this bird huddled on a wire, giving Smith a perfect opportunity to photograph its ruffled plumage against a snowy background.


Photo Contest - sharks

Alec Connah
Telford, United Kingdom
First Place, Other Wildlife, Amateur
One morning at daybreak, Connah was peering into the crystal-clear water off a jetty on Borneo’s Lankayan Island when he spotted these blacktip reef sharks attempting to herd a crowd of small fish. As if in slow motion, the fish swirled around the predators, creating shapes “a bit like a kid’s kaleidoscope,” says Connah. Moments after he took this photograph, the sun rose fully, the wind came up and visibility disappeared.

Photo Contest - Birds on a stem

Bryan Holliday
Phoenix, Arizona
First Place, Birds, Amateur

“This was a photo I’d dreamed of trying to make,” says Holliday. The Michigan school where he taught until recently had a wetland right on the property where red-winged blackbirds were a common early spring sight. But this photo required a rare combination: a clear, sunny morning, below-freezing temperatures and a singing bird. The blackbird’s song is in three parts, says Holliday, “so when I made that image, all three notes were visible.”

Photo Contest - Octopus

Stuart Westmorland
Mill Creek, Washington
First Place, Other Wildlife, Professional

On his first cold-water dive in more than a decade, Westmorland happened upon clear water and good visibility—and a very curious giant Pacific octopus. The animal noticed the photographer and made a beeline for him and his equipment, eventually wrapping itself around him and his tank. “As it’s exploring me, I’m just firing away with my camera,” says Westmorland, who managed to remain calm. “The power in those tentacles is one of the truly amazing things in the ocean.”

Photo Contest - Lillipads on a lake

Daniel Cedras
Homestead, Florida
First Place, Landscapes and Plant Life, Amateur

On a bright, hot day in Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Cedras had nearly given up hope of photographing anything in the harsh afternoon light when he spotted a cluster of giant lily pads floating on a pond. Partially shaded by a tree and side-lit by the sun, says Cedras, the lily pads seemed to glow against the dark water.


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