Stunning Panorama of Melting Polar Ice Wins Nature Photography Contest

Austfonna Ice Cap

“Austfonna Ice Cap” by Thomas Vijayan (Canada). Overall winner and Landscapes, Winner. Location: Svalbard, Norway
“Austfonna Ice Cap, the world's third-largest, on Nordaustlandet Island in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, covers about 8,000 square kilometers. It is melting at alarming rates due to global warming and contributing to rising sea levels; a grave concern. I visited Austfonna Ice Cap and captured a striking image of a waterfall created by the melting ice. Although I had been here before, it was disheartening to see the sea ice had melted in June.”

Renowned wildlife photographer Thomas Vijayan adds another award to his impressive résumé by being named Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2023. His winning photograph of the Austfonna Ice Cap beat over 8,000 images that were entered into the competition. The haunting photo is not only beautiful, but also a stark reminder of how global warming is rapidly melting sea ice.

“This is nature in its most urgent state of decay. The vibrant colors of the towering waterfall are juxtaposed with the reality of its creation,” says Audrey Granger, manager of Nature TTL, of the panoramic image. “The stark reality is that this image shows global warming’s impact on sea ice, where it is melting at alarming rates.”

In the youth competition, open to young photographers under the age of 17, Lucy Monckton of the United Kingdom took home the top prize. Her close-up portrait of honey bees is impressive, not only for the composition but for the calm and composure it surely took to capture the image. Monckton came upon a branch swarmed by thousands of bees and had to muster all of her courage to get the photo she was after while thinking of her own safety.

Beyond the overall winners, top photographs were also selected in eight categories, including Animal Behavior, Underwater, Urban Wildlife, and Wild Portraits. Particularly interesting are the top photographs in the Camera Traps category, which show how this technology can be used to focus on all types of animals. Winner Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar used his to photograph an elusive jaguar in Mexico, while runner-up Igor Mikula set up in a friend's window to get a unique view of a blackbird parenting her young.

See all the winners below, and if you are a nature photographer yourself, get ready for next year's competition, which will open for entries in January 2024.

Here are the winners of the 2023 Nature TTL Photographer of the Year.

Jaguar walking down steps into the Mexican jungle

“Crossing Barriers” by Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar (Mexico). Camera Traps, Winner. Location: Solidaridad, Quintana Roo, Mexico
“This jaguar had been seen before, so I decided to place a camera trap in a broken wall that led to the jungle. I placed one of the flashes strategically to get the jaguar's shadow reflected on the wall behind. Poaching, deforestation, and habitat fragmentation have caused an increase in interactions with humans, and most of the time, it doesn't end well for these cats.”

Large colony of bees

“House Hunting” by Lucy Monckton (United Kingdom). Overall Youth Winner and Winner, Under 17. Location: Staffordshire, United Kingdom
“On a walk in Staffordshire, UK, I was alerted to the presence of this swarm by a loud buzzing sound. I cautiously walked into the center of the swarm, where thousands of bees were crawling over a branch. It was important to remain calm, so while I was apprehensive about having hundreds of bees crawling over me, their well-being was my priority. Relocation is a natural process that occurs when a colony becomes too big for its home; the queen leaves with a few of the bees to find another home.”

Eurasian blackbird feeding chicks in nest

“Caring Parent” by Igor Mikula (Slovakia). Camera Traps, Runner-up. Location: Czech Republic
“The next generation of the common blackbird lives in the bathroom window at my friend's cottage. I watched their behavior for many
hours, and the presence of my camera did not bother them, even when feeding. No bait was used; I took the photo here using a remote trigger.”

Blubber jellyfish underwater in Australia

“Depth Perception” by Rowan Dear (Wales). Underwater, Winner. Location: Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia
“Over the last few years, I have witnessed a large gathering of Jelly Blubber in Sydney around March to April when the wind and currents are right to bring them from further up North. This year, we had 2-3 times more than I had ever seen. One area had a large condensed gathering, which extended down by around 5m deep. From the surface, shooting downwards, it was great to get a real depth perception of how many there were and create this alien-like environment.”

Polar bear waiting on an ice hole

“Seal Hunting” by Florian Ledoux (France). Animal Behavior, Winner. Location: Svalbard, Norway
“We witnessed a polar bear's patience during a sleepy hunt on the ice in Svalbard's frozen expanse. This male polar bear stalked seals at their breathing holes. After they evaded him, he opted to rest, vigilant and patient. As we endured the long Arctic day of 24 hours without sleeping, we eventually retreated, in awe of his resilience. In this Arctic symphony of survival, the polar bear's unwavering determination left an indelible mark on our souls.”

View of aurora from an Icelandic cave with a waterfall

“Strong Solar Storm Through an Icelandic Cave” by Josselin Cornou (France). The Night Sky, Runner-up. Location: Iceland
“This photo captures a moment of pure awe and wonder, one of my most challenging shots to date. It's incredibly rare to witness auroras from this Icelandic waterfall cave, as they are typically visible to the north or overhead. The stars aligned with clear weather and a G1/G2 forecast. After waiting for three hours in the cold, at 3:00 a.m., the auroras shifted south, putting on a breathtaking display. I quickly took photos to capture the moment, using a 14mm lens with two exposures (0.6s, f1.8, ISO 6400 for the auroras & ~20s, f1.8, ISO 1250 for the cave at EV-1) to ensure noiseless shadows. Fifteen minutes later, the auroras moved north again.”

Orca Splitting a School of Herring

“Crowd Control” by Andy Schmid (Switzerland). Underwater, Runner-up. Location: Skjervøy, Norway
“Every winter, enormous schools of herring migrate from the open ocean into the fjords of Northern Norway and attract large numbers of big predators, such as orcas and humpback whales. Witnessing orcas feeding on herring using the so-called carousel feeding technique is very exciting but not easy to capture due to various factors: limited light and visibility, fast-paced action, plus cold surface and water temperature. Being able to free dive and capture the action in an ongoing feeding frenzy in these conditions is difficult, but I managed to capture this female orca splitting a herring bait ball.”

Male California sea lions underwater

“My Kingdom” by Simon Biddie (United Kingdom). Wild Portrait, Winner. Location: Los Islotes, La Paz, Mexico
“Compared to their female counterparts, male California sea lions are larger, have thicker necks, and possess a protruding, grey sagittal crest. During mating seasons, the males become territorial and protect their harem of up to 30 females. This male allowed us to stay with the group for a long period and was more curious about us than territorial. The sea lions in this area have expanded in number compared to other colonies in Mexico. This is thanks to the protection offered by being a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Marine Park, where the no-take zone protects the entire food chain, providing a rich food source for the sea lions.”

Brown rat in an abandoned house

“When We’re Gone” by Florian Smit (Germany). Urban Wildlife, Winner. Location: Lower Saxony, Germany
“This image shows a brown rat in an abandoned house captured back in 2018. I used three flashes to illuminate the scene, and used a PIR motion sensor to trigger the camera.”

Carpenter ant walking on a leaf

“Point, Line and Plane” by Yicai Chang (Australia). Small World, Runner-up. Location: Canberra, Australia
“I found a colony of carpenter ants in the Black Mountain Nature Reserve in Canberra. I spent several weekends observing their behavior. During a return visit, I noticed that they kept shuttling among the leaves of a grass tree, as if they were searching for a new food source. When a carpenter ant climbed onto one of the leaves, a simple but miraculous scene came into view. The ant, the leaves, and the focal plane seemed to be frozen in a fraction of time. This perfectly aligned with the theme I had longed to express: the connection between nature and the universe. Without any hesitation, I grabbed my camera to capture this moment forever.”

Silhouette of deer on a hill

“Walk on the Hill” by Ákos Őrsi (Hungary). Under 17, Runner-up. Location: Tápióság, Hungary
“We were bird-ringing with my friends during our winter school break. In the setting sun, I spotted these deer on top of a small hill. They were quite far away, but I managed to create a nice composition.”

Robins fighting

“Fighting Robins” by Jane Hope (United Kingdom). Animal Behavior, Runner-up. Location: Scotland, United Kingdom
“In spring, the cute-looking Robin as seen on our Christmas cards becomes an aggressive defender of territory and breeding rights. In April 2021, I witnessed these two robins playing out their battles in front of me. The conditions were challenging for photography – there was sun and snow on the ground, but the action took place in the shadow of the hide, so the ISO ended up pretty high, and exposure compensation was needed.”

Aerial view of the Rio Tinto River in Spain

“Paintbox” by Florian Smit (Germany). Landscapes. Runner-up. Location: Rio Tinto, Spain
“Using a drone to gain a unique perspective, I captured this image of a trickle from the Rio Tinto River in Spain.”

Artistic photo of a dead moth lying on the surface of a bacterial film

“Painting” by Florian Smit (Germany). Small World, Winner. Location: Rondane National Park, Norway
“This image was captured in Rondane National Park in Norway. It shows a dead moth lying on the surface of a bacterial film. As I looked through the viewfinder, it looked like a painting to me.”

Shadow of great blue heron in water

“Fading Away” by Robert Gloeckner (United States). Wild Portraits, Runner-up. Location: Dunedin, Florida, USA
“A Great blue heron fades away in the green light on the coast of Florida. The green light is actually the reflection of the traffic light in the water. With decreasing natural habitat, the Great blue herons often interfere with humans, especially fishermen, to get an easy meal. Purposefully, I focused on the green background of the bird and used intentional camera movement to give this image a fading perspective.”

Spiders seen through the lights of cars at an intersection

“Traffic Intersection” by Simone Baumeister (Germany). Urban wildlife, Runner-up. Location: Ibbenüren, Germany
“I really wanted to do some photography one evening, but without light, this is always difficult. So, I went to a pedestrian bridge that offered a direct view of one of the main traffic intersections in our city. There were many spiders on the railing of this bridge. Using an old analog lens, I photographed a spider in front of the colorful lights of the city intersection with the many cars.”

Wild boar with Milky Way in the Background

“Milky Way” by Bence Mate (Hungary). The Night Sky, Winner. Location: Gyulaj, Hungary
“I keep searching for new perspectives on photographing wildlife. This picture was taken with a remote-controlled camera placed into a fish tank. It was lucky that the wild boar stayed unmoved for the moment the picture was taken. In Hungary, where this composition was captured, the Milky Way is very rarely low enough in the sky to touch the horizon, and this phenomenon occurs only for a few days in the month of August.”

Nature TTL: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Nature TTL.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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