Eye of the Beholder

National Wildlife's 2017 Photo Contest Winners

  • Lisa Moore
  • PhotoZone
  • Nov 15, 2017

SELECTED FROM MORE THAN 25,000 IMAGES submitted to National Wildlife magazine’s 2017 photo contest, the glorious winners on these pages showcase what makes a photograph shine. A vivid play of color or pattern. A mood, either tender or bleak. A fleeting moment frozen in time. Raw power, pure emotion. Whatever the root of the magic, these images, and so many more given honorable mention, reflect the passion and craft of photographers from around the world whose vision brings nature to life. Some painstakingly planned a shot, using trial, error and patience to capture it. Others transformed a lucky moment into something unforgettable. And all of them help us see and feel that the natural world is worth our vigilant care. See the images that received an honorable mention.


the massive footsteps of an African elephant

Manoj Shah
Nairobi, Kenya

You can almost feel the earth tremble with the massive footsteps of an African elephant as it returns home with its herd after drinking at a marsh in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. Photographer Manoj Shah placed his remote camera on the ground where he thought the elephants would pass, then tripped the shutter while staying a safe distance away. “If I tried to take the picture lying down, most likely I would not be able to get up again,” he quips. A lifelong photographer, Shah speaks almost mystically about his quest to document this majestic species in decline. “My daughter worries that the elephant will be just a memory, a dream where they will walk on Earth at peace, as they were born to do, but kept alive only in our minds.” Moved by the animal’s power and frailty, he warns, “Their future is in our hands.”

flamingo chick peeks out at the world

Claudio Contreras Koob
Mexico City, Mexico

Just a few days old, a flamingo chick peeks out at the vivid world beyond its nurturing parent. Tens of thousands of flamingos nest at the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Photographer Claudio Contreras Koob quietly approached the birds at night, crawling in the mud and wearing camouflage so as not to stress them and trigger flight. “It’s a very slow process,” he says, “but I think I managed to win their trust.”

A newly hatched leatherback sea turtle meets the sea at sunset in Trinidad

Sean Crane
Scarsdale, New York

Facing a future fraught with peril, a newly hatched leatherback sea turtle meets the sea at sunset in Trinidad. Photographer Sean Crane was lucky enough to be there as three nests of the endangered turtles began to hatch. He helped volunteers protect the hatchlings from hungry vultures so they could reach the water. “This moment is the beginning of a journey,” says Crane. “The turtle is returning home.”

Canaries visiting a backyard habitat

Luisa Lynch

Santa Ursula, Canary Islands, Spain

Lured by seeds placed in a backyard pool, canaries alight and, with their reflections, create a lyrical portrait. Photographer Luisa Lynch built this pool and hung the colored backdrop to set the stage for this image, but it took many months of patient waiting to finally capture what she had envisioned. “I hope people will see this as a dance between two birds,” she says, “and think they are beautiful.”

A flower crab spider rests after shedding its skin

Anne Grimes
Ayden, North Carolina

Nestled in the heart of a magenta zinnia, a flower crab spider rests after shedding its skin, which lingers nearby like a pale ghost. Anne Grimes has a passion for the spiders, birds and other creatures that thrive in her backyard, where she provides food, water and shelter for wildlife. There she spends entire days watching the flow of life. “People need to be more observant,” she says, “to take a minute and look.”  

A southern masked weaver adds fresh grass to its dangling nest in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park

David Turko

Morganton, Georgia

Hard labor becomes a work of art as a southern masked weaver adds fresh grass to its dangling nest in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. Spotting the bird from a vehicle while on a photography trek, David Turko spent more than an hour making countless frames. “I wanted the feet out and wings back,” he recalls. Stilling his camera on a beanbag and using a telephoto lens, he finally got his wish—and a winning moment.

Bohemian waxwings cluster on a wintry branch

Jean-Simon Bégin

Pont-Rouge, Quebec, Canada

As elegant as ancient Japanese silk, Bohemian waxwings cluster on a wintry branch after feasting on succulent berries in a quiet Quebec wood. After a heavy snow, photographer and artist Jean-Simon Bégin dressed in white for camouflage and photographed the sated birds with an eye on composition. “I try to make every photograph look like a piece of art, a work of light,” he says.

An arc of blue light reflects hail in the clouds of a massive storm cell sweeping across a Kansas plain

Donald Caffrey

Goddard, Kansas

Like a menacing halo, an arc of blue light reflects hail in the clouds of a massive storm cell sweeping across a Kansas plain. Though a native of the state, photographer Donald Caffrey had never seen a tornado, so when he heard a storm was brewing, he grabbed his camera and chased it down. Fueled by adrenaline and ignoring high winds, he captured power in motion: “This is life in the Great Plains.”

Glacial ice near Iceland’s Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

Steve Hinch

West Yellowstone, Montana

The aqua gleam of glacial ice and a wink of sunrise in gray skies bring life to a black sand beach near Iceland’s Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon. Rough waves shatter ice chunks calved from a nearby glacier, littering the beach with frozen diamonds. “I like the starkness of it, the sense of rugged nature,” says photographer Steve Hinch. “It evokes a lonely feeling, but the color gives it some hope.”

A young lion cub in a warm family circle

Majed Ali

Kuwait City, Kuwait

Nose to nose with its mother, a young lion cub takes center stage in a warm family circle. It was late in the day in Kenya’s Olare Motorogi Conservancy when photographer Majed Ali glimpsed the mother lion’s eye through some brush. Soon the cubs trotted out, and from a respectful distance, Ali watched the animals play. “This photo attracts me because of the tenderness of the family,” he says. “There is love in the frame.”

“In a hundred years, people may only see lions in photos unless we work to save them now.”
—Majed Ali

wildebeest march along the parched Auob Riverbed in South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

Joseph Lange

Grand Junction, Colorado

Sunrise turns dust to flame as wildebeest march along the parched Auob Riverbed in South Africa’s Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. “The lighting here was exquisite,” says photographer Joseph Lange, who has made 15 trips to Africa and scores more across the globe. This is among the many images he has hanging in his home. “I feel it’s one of the most unusual and moving I’ve ever made,” he says.

A green sweat bee visiting a spiderwort bloom

Dave Weth

Normal, Illinois

A painter by trade, Dave Weth is an avid amateur photographer who spends countless hours photographing birds and other wildlife, mainly at a nature center in Funks Grove, Illinois. One day in June, he spotted this green sweat bee visiting a spiderwort bloom. Using a macro lens, he made this memorable portrait before the bee flew away. “Beauty cooperated with me for a brief moment,” he says.

Lorella Schoales

Tomkins Cove, New York

Gleaming like stained glass worthy of a cathedral, a dragonfly wing reflects morning light and reveals a cloud of fluffy dandelion seeds. Photographer Lorella Schoales spotted the insect caught in a spider web near her house. “I thought, ‘This poor little guy. The wing is so beautiful, I have to capture it.’” A high school art teacher, Schoales likes “the little details people don’t notice.” Using a macro lens, she turned this little detail into a jewel.

Camping alone in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park

John Scarr

New Brighton, Minnesota

Camping alone in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park, photographer John Scarr carefully planned where and how to make this self-portrait under the riveting glow of the Milky Way. Wearing a headlamp and using a remote camera, he took the shot about 3 a.m. “Being alone at night in the middle of nowhere is terrifying,” he says, “but every sense you have is at full blast. That’s the appeal.”

“The more we create powerful memories, the more we’ll protect the natural world.”
—John Scarr

Man walking along beach at sunset

John Nordstrand

Santa Barbara, California

A self-proclaimed “sunset seeker,” longtime photographer John Nordstrand knew something special was happening when he noticed “cotton candy clouds” painting the sky near his home in Carpinteria on the California coast. He grabbed his gear, headed to the beach and walked down to a point of land where a little lagoon was reflecting what Nordstrand calls “the best sunset I’ve ever seen.” Beauty met with unscripted luck when a local man entered the frame, adding his own reflection to this study of pattern, light and the human connection to nature.   

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

2017 Photo Contest Honorable Mentions »
Nature's Witnesses »
Keeping the Wild in Wildlife Photography »
Mammals in Motion »
Conservation Photography Through the Years »
Learn more about National Wildlife's 2018 Photo Contest »

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