Top Nature Photos of All Time Unveiled for Earth Day

Photo: Frans Lanting Photography, via International League of Conservation Photographers
Ansel Adams perhaps put it best: "Some photographers take reality...and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation." The natural world, and all the colors and forms within it, needs no alteration to be awe-inspiring. In fact, the beauty and harmony of an untouched landscape or the grace of an untamed animal are the standards by which we measure our most beloved creations. So it's no wonder that nature is the subject of so many powerful photographs. For Earth Day, the International League of Conservation Photographers has released the "Top 40 Nature Photos of All Time"--portraits that are truly eons in the making. "Its image mirrored in icy water, a polar bear travels submerged--a tactic often used to surprise prey. Scientists fear global warming could drive bears to extinction sometime this century." Photo: Paul Nicklen, via International League of Conservation Photographers

The International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), a group made up of working professional conservation photographers, likely considered thousands of pictures when compiling their list of the top forty. Clearly, with a limitless number of beautiful places and things in the natural world--and no shortage of photographers eager to snap a picture of them--deciding on the best photographs was no easy task.

"One evening a herd of bulls gathered across the water from me, rising above their reflections under an October moon, in a primeval scene of ancient Africa" says the photographer. Photo: Frans Lanting Photography, via International League of Conservation Photographers

According to the ILCP:

The exercise of selecting the Top Forty Nature Photographs of all time in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day is both an honor and a tremendous challenge. It may not be possible to for anyone to create a definitive selection of the forty "best" or "most important" nature photographs, if only due to the vast variety of criteria that must be considered. We decided to try anyway.

"A group of australian sea lions relax and frolic in a sea grass meadow near Little Hopkins Island South Australia. They are a curious species that nuzzle the lens and playfully pull on fin and mask straps." Photo: David Doubilet, via International League of Conservation Photographers

Members of the ILCP were encouraged to keep in mind several factors when picking their favorites. Considering "factors such as aesthetics, uniqueness, historical and scientific significance, or contribution to conservation efforts," all played an important part of the decision making process.

"This iconic Photograph was instrumental in allowing the rivers to run free. First published in 'The Australian Newspaper' prior to the 1983 Australian Federal Elections with the slogan 'Could you vote for a party that would destroy this?'" Photo: Peter Dombrovskis, via International League of Conservation Photographers

The photographs determined by the group to be in the top forty span 100 years of history and varied ecosystems throughout the world--and even one that's out of this world. Prints of the photos were donated by the photographers to be sold at Christie's Green Auction, and proceed will go towards several conservation organizations.

To see all the top forty photographs, visit the ILCP's flickr page.

"...My perspective was of the exuberance, not the limits, of life. The water was only a few feet deep, but the lilies reached for the sky," says the photographer. Photo: Frans Lanting Photography, via International League of Conservation Photographers
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