The beauty of nature is boundless. And through the lens of a talented photographer, we often get to see its magnificence from a new perspective. The winners of the 2021 Nature Photographer of the Year competition give us just that with their stunning images that take us everywhere from the highest heights of winged flight to the depths of the dark sea. Already in its sixth year, the worldwide nature photography contest presented by Nature Talks received more than 20,000 entries spanning 13 different categories for the 2021 edition. And from all of these, the judges chose an overall winner to be named Nature Photographer of the Year.
Norwegian photographer Terje Kolaas took home the highest honor this year with his winning photograph titled Winter migration. The arresting image offers up a gorgeous view of a gaggle of pink-footed geese in flight. But instead of watching them take off from the ground, the viewer is placed right in the midst of the soaring flock. “This photograph immediately grabbed our attention in large part due to the novel perspective it provides,” explains Tony Wu, one of the judges on the 2021 jury.
“I’m privileged enough having thousands of pink-footed geese literally in my garden several months a year,” says Kolaas, explaining how he captured the winning shot. “More than 80,000 make a stopover here in the Trondheim Fjord wetland system on their way between the wintering grounds in Denmark and the Netherlands and the breeding grounds in Spitsbergen every spring and autumn, and the whole scenario is simply spectacular. I have been photographing them for more than 20 years, and at one point I kind of ran out of ideas and got the feeling that ‘everything’ with geese was already done. So what now?!…Thanks to the amazing drone technology, the element of air opened up a few years ago. And the dream of photographing the geese as being one of them, a part of the flock, up in the air actually became possible.”
The rest of the competition’s winning photos are equally as stunning, spread out between categories ranging from Animal Portraits to Plants and Fungi. And another special entry was chosen to receive the Fred Hazelhoff portfolio award. Lea Lee Inoue won this portion of the contest with her moving photo project following a family of round-tailed ground squirrels. The collection of images, titled Emotional Range, gives a poignant look at the daily lives of these adorable creatures.
“I decided to photograph them, hoping to show that these animals think, feel and have emotions too,” Inoue explains. “With this understanding, love and respect is developed for the natural world. Conservation is the natural effect of this endearment. This is a paradigm shift in thought—that conservation can begin early, at a ground level—with each person awakening to the natural world. With this realization comes animal respect, conservation, and welfare.”
Scroll down to see more incredible winning photos from the 2021 Nature Photographer of the Year Competition. If you’d like to submit your own work, entries for the 2022 edition will be accepted until May 29. For the full list of 2021 winners, runners-up, and honorable mentions—and to find out more information about their images—visit the contest page.