Breathtaking Icy Winter Scene of an Italian Lake Is People's Choice Photo Winner

The dramatic image earns the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award.

lake of ice

Cristiano Vendramin / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Willow branches reflected on the surface of a frozen lake are the subject of the winning image in the People’s Choice Award from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

The image, above, was taken by Cristiano Vendramin while visiting Santa Croce Lake in the province of Belluno, Italy. He noticed the water was very high and the willow plants were somewhat submerged, which created an interesting cross of light and reflection.

After taking the photo, Vendramin said he was reminded of a close friend who loved the place and is no longer here.

“I want to think he made me feel this feeling that I'll never forget. For this reason, this photograph is dedicated to him,” Vendramin said.

The photo, called “Lake of ice,” was chosen from a shortlist of 25 images by more than 31,800 wildlife and nature lovers who voted online.

The shortlist was chosen from a record-breaking 50,000 images submitted from 95 countries to the annual competition in 2021. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.

“I hope that my photography will encourage people to understand that the beauty of nature can  be found everywhere around us, and we can be pleasantly surprised by the many landscapes so close to home,” Vendramin says. 

“I believe having a daily relationship with nature is increasingly more necessary to have a serene and healthy life. Nature photography is therefore important to remind us of this bond, which we must preserve, and in whose memory, we can take refuge.”

Vendramin’s winning photo and the top four “highly commended” finalists will be displayed in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition through early June at the museum. 

Here are the finalists and what the museum had to stay about each of them.

“Shelter from the rain” 

two lions snuggling

Ashleigh McCord / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

by Ashleigh McCord, USA

During a visit to the Maasai Mara, Kenya, Ashleigh captured this tender moment between a pair of male lions. At first, she had been taking pictures of only one of the lions, and the rain was just a light sprinkle, although the second had briefly approached and greeted his companion before choosing to walk away. But as the rain turned into a heavy downpour, the second male returned and sat, positioning his body as if to shelter the other. Shortly after they rubbed faces and continued to sit nuzzling for some time. Ashleigh stayed watching them until the rain was falling so hard that they were barely visible. 

“Hope in a burned plantation” 

kangaroo and joy after bushfire

Jo-Anne McArthur / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

by Jo-Anne McArthur, Canada

Jo-Anne flew to Australia in early 2020 to document the stories of animals affected by the devastating bushfires that were sweeping through the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Working exhaustively alongside Animals Australia (an animal protection organisation) she was given access to burn sites, rescues and veterinary missions. This eastern grey kangaroo and her joey pictured near Mallacoota, Victoria, were among the lucky ones.
The kangaroo barely took her eyes off Jo-Anne as she walked calmly to the spot where she could get a great photo. She had just enough time to crouch down and press the shutter release before the kangaroo hopped away into the burned eucalyptus plantation. 

“The eagle and the bear” 

eagle and bear cub in tree

Jeroen Hoekendijk / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

by Jeroen Hoekendijk, The Netherlands

Black bear cubs will often climb trees, where they wait safely for their mother to return with food. Here, in the depths of the temperate rainforest of Anan in Alaska, this little cub decided to take an afternoon nap on a moss-covered branch under the watchful eye of a juvenile bald eagle. The eagle had been sitting in this pine tree for hours and Jeroen found the situation extraordinary. He quickly set out to capture the scene from eye-level and, with some difficulty and a lot of luck, was able to position himself a bit higher on the hill and take this image as the bear slept on, unaware. 

“Dancing in the snow”

two male pheasants in the snow

Qiang Guo / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

by Qiang Guo, China

In the Lishan Nature Reserve in Shanxi Province, China, Qiang watched as two male golden pheasants continuously swapped places on this trunk – their movements akin to a silent dance in the snow. The birds are native to China, where they inhabit dense forests in mountainous regions. Although brightly coloured, they are shy and difficult to spot, spending most of their time foraging for food on the dark forest floor, only flying to evade predators or to roost in very high trees during the night.