2012 Photo Contest Winners

The winning images from "National Wildlife" magazine's 42nd annual photography competition

11-07-2012 // Laura Tangley

THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE PHOTO CONTEST is now in its fourth decade, but entries to the competition continue to surprise the magazine’s editors. Chosen from more than 28,000 images in seven categories, this year’s winners include photos of some truly unexpected animal behaviors: Thousands of salmon encircle a grizzly just beyond the bear’s reach, a seal “plays” with a penguin before eating the prey and a hummingbird attacks an “intruder” that’s actually its own reflection. Other images depict better-known behaviors that are presented in ways we’ve not seen before: A pair of hawks, talon-to-talon, battle in midair and migratory salmon approach a photographer head-on at sunset.

View a slide show of all the winning images.


Harris hawks
David Cardinal

Portola Valley, California

Grand Prize

When Cardinal spotted a female Harris’s hawk guarding road kill in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, he expected action. These raptors form hunting groups to protect food from other predators, including nongroup members of their own kind. Cardinal prefocused on a branch “where an interloper was likely to land.” Soon another female Harris’s hawk showed up, and the first bird attacked. He says his winning image “captures the moment when the newly arrived hawk turns to meet the defending female’s fully deployed talons.”


Gentoo penguib and leopard seal
Amos Nachoum

San Francisco, California

First Place, Mammals

Creating this striking image of a leopard seal “playing” with its prey—a recently drowned Gentoo penguin—required nearly as much patience from the photographer as from the predator itself. To capture young penguins wading into shallow water off Antarctica’s Pleneau Island, seals make their way toward shore and sit perfectly still for one to two hours “looking like a typical rock in Antarctica,” says Nachoum, who spent “a lot of time waiting to see this happen.” After ambushing its victim, the seal crawls on its belly back to deeper water, where it catches and releases the penguin again and again before finally devouring the bird.


Salmon and brown bear
Jamie Scarrow

Nanoose Bay, British Columbia, Canada

Second Place, Mammals

Surrounded by salmon, this young grizzly still was having trouble getting enough to eat. The bear sat down in a pool in British Columbia’s Knight Inlet, where “the water was just too deep and the fish too aware of its presence,” says Scarrow, who  captured the scene from a viewing platform directly above. “It’s rare to have nature arrange itself in such an organized manner,” he says, adding that the bear later moved to shallow water where it had better luck.


Baby Cheetah
Lisa Hoffner

Los Gatos, California

First Place, Baby Animals

While on safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, Hoffner’s vehicle hit a large rock and got stuck. Lucky for her, four cheetah cubs happened to be playing on a log nearby. After three grew tired and lay down to rest, this cub “climbed to the top to get to eye level with its mom,” she says. “They proceeded to gently groom one another before retiring to sleep in the shade.”


Baby Handhill crane
Scott Helfrich

DeLand, Florida

Second Place, Baby Animals

Each day last April, Helfrich stopped by a retention pond near his home to check on—and photograph—a nest of sandhill cranes. “They’re magnificent birds and my favorite species to photograph,” he says. Nestled under a parent’s wing for warmth, the two chicks routinely emerged to observe Helfrich. “The little birds are really curious,” he says. “Sometimes they’d get so close I couldn’t photograph them.”


Jack Nevitt

Woodbridge, Virginia

First Place, Birds

On his “annual pilgrimage” to South Florida, Nevitt took this photo of a double-crested cormorant eight years ago in Everglades National Park with the very first digital camera he ever owned. He cropped the original image to focus in on the bird’s feathers and colorful eye. “I love the Everglades in springtime for all the waterfowl and other wildlife you can spot,” Nevitt says.


Taiwan barbet

Hal and Kirsten Snyder

Shanghai, China

Second Place, Birds

Visiting Taipei, Hal and Kirsten Snyder spent several hours observing this endemic Taiwan barbet dig out its nest hole in a tree. “Fascinated, we watched as the colorful bird removed large mouthfuls of woodchips and scattered the rubbish in the wind,” recalls Kirsten. Based in China for a few years, the Snyders travel frequently to take photos of wildlife. The barbet, which locals call “the five-colored bird,” “is one of the most beautiful birds we’ve seen in Asia,” Kirsten says.


Sockeye salmons
David Hall

Woodstock, New York

First Place, Other Wildlife

Hall waded into British Columbia’s Adams River to photograph migrating sockeye salmon during October 2010, the largest run of these fish in a century. Battling a swift current that was wreaking havoc with his equipment, he sought refuge beside a large tree trunk. “I pointed my camera downstream,” Hall says, “and on the back of the camera [its LCD screen] saw a virtual wall of sockeye facing me just inches away.” Meanwhile, the setting sun turned the sky purple and pink, while his flash lit the water beneath the surface. “I began to photograph and did not stop until the light had all but disappeared,” Hall says.

Jumping Spider
Colin Hutton

Durham, North Carolina

Second Place, Other Wildlife

After searching for this jumping spider, Phidippus mystaceus, for two months, Hutton located some juveniles on pine saplings in North Carolina’s Duke Forest at Duke University. A few weeks later, he took several thousand photos of the newly mature adults. This image—a combination of six photos shot rapidly (each at a slightly different focus) and merged using computer software—is his favorite. “I think the animal looks dignified and a bit comical at the same time,” Hutton says.


Jelly fish
Bill Lamp'l

Miami, Florida

First Place, Connecting People and Nature

Long isolated from other jellyfish species in a remote marine lake in the Republic of Palau, these golden jellyfish do not sting strongly enough to harm humans, making close encounters possible. When a fellow snorkeler came face-to-face with one of the animals, Lamp’l “tried to capture the moment of wonder and excitement” that she was experiencing.


Alandra Palisser

Delta, British Columbia, Canada

First Place, Backyard Habitats

Concealed inside her house behind a hanging basket in the window, Palisser photographed a rufous hummingbird “fascinated by its own reflection in a mirror ball, which it thought was an intruder in its territory.” Palisser’s yard is a haven for hummingbirds and other wildlife, filled with native plants such as bee balm, multiple nectar feeders and several water features, including a small lily pond containing a fountain. “Watching the birds gives us much pleasure,” she says.


Francisco Mingorance

Almuñécar, Granada, Spain

First Place, Landscapes and Plants

Located near the village of Castañeras, the Beach of Silence is “probably the most beautiful beach in western Asturias, Spain,” says Mingorance. To capture this “star” of sea foam on the shore, he photographed the scene during low tide at night using a long exposure. Lights from the village and a lighthouse shine in the background. “After getting this image, I have visited the beach many times,” says Mingorance, “but I’ve never seen this star with the same perfection.”


Violet sabrewing
Amelia Andrews

Lexington, Massachusetts

First Place, Youth

On a high school research trip to Guadalupe, Panama, Andrews spotted several striking hummingbird species competing for spots at a feeder. This one, a violet sabrewing, was the “most aggressive species,” she reports. New to the Tropics—and to the camera equipment she brought along—Andrews by the end of the journey “was completely in love with wildlife photography, even though I had never attempted it before.”


Striped Hyena

Ajay Parmar

Vadodara, Gujarat, India

People's Choice

Congratulations to our 2012 People’s Choice Award winner: Ajay Parmar, whose image of a striped hyena received more public votes than any other photo in an annual competition in which anyone who visits the contest website can vote. In his effort to photograph hyenas, Parmar spent three consecutive Sundays waking at 3:30 a.m. and driving three and a half hours to Velavadar National Park in Gujarat, India—without even spotting one of the animals. On the fourth Sunday, he was in luck when a hyena emerged from the grass and came strolling straight toward him. Because hyenas are nocturnal, getting an image of one in broad daylight is unusual. “This was one of my best days in wildlife photography,” Parmar says.


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