Wildlife, Plants, and Climate Star in Winning Photo Awards

Buddy lions, thriving lizards, and glowing mushrooms make an appearance.

pair of friendly lions walking in Kenya

Anup Shah / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

A pair of friendly lions stroll affectionately in Kenya. A factory in Greece takes the beach away from vacationers. Ghost mushrooms emit an eerie glow in an Australian forest.

These are some of the winning images in the Nature Conservancy’s 2022 Photo Contest. More people than ever participated in this year’s competition which saw more than 100,000 entries from 196 different countries and territories.

"The entries this year were stunning," Alex Snyder, contest judge and coordinator, tells Treehugger. "Photographers worked hard to create incredible imagery but this year they also worked hard on sending a message with their photographs. This took the contest to another level. "

“The diversity of images from around the world gave a glimpse into our fragile planet and all the life that inhabits it,” said award-winning conservation photographer Ami Vitale who was one of the competition judges. “The contest itself was a mesmerizing odyssey and we are left with a profound message of how interconnected all of us are and what it means to our own survival to intermingle with wildness.”   

There were six categories including a new one focusing on climate. Photographers were encouraged to capture what climate change looks like, ranging from its harrowing impacts to hopeful solutions. 

Anup Shah of the United Kingdom won top honors in the wildlife category for the photo above. The two lions were photographed in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Shah says of the winning image:

The sun breaks free of the horizon. There is a hint of a faint breeze. Otherwise, a pure stillness reigns. Then, a taut impala stares fixedly. Two moving objects. The lion on the right is distinctly older than its youthful companion. The old guy is one of the Four Musketeers that ruled Mara a long time ago. Ruthlessly. And now, Morani has re-appeared out of nowhere.

Here are the rest of the winners in each category.

Grand Prize

road with dry tributaries, shaped like a tree

Lin Ping / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

The competition's grand prize-winning photo was taken by Lin Ping of China. It features a drone’s view of a highway in Tibet, with gullies on each side that make it look like a tree. 

“It looks like a tree of life and evokes such feeling, but the irony is that there is no life without water,” said contest judge Smita Sharma about the winning photo.

Ping slept in a roadside parking lot overnight to get the early morning shot.

“Usually, most of my photography is about nature, but also a small part of cultural landscape and architecture,” Ping said in a statement. “I was inspired by the magical presence of nature which can go beyond individual lives.”

Climate, First Place

lizard with windmills behind it

Sandesh Kadur / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

The winning climate photo by Sandesh Kadur of India features a fan-throated lizard (Sarada superba) in a wind farm in India's Satara district. Research suggests that wind farms have changed the predatorial environment, now allowing the tiny lizards to thrive in the rocky environment.

Landscape, First Place

forest immersed in fog

Francisco Javier Munuera González / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Francisco Javier Munuera González of Spain took the top landscape prize with this photo of the slope of Mount Adi in Navarra, Spain.

We ascended through the forest immersed in fog, and when we reached the top for a few minutes in which the fog cleared we could enjoy the gales caused by the low temperatures.

People and Nature, First Place

factory stacks alongside a beach

Janusz Jurek / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Janusz Jurek of Poland took this winning photo in Greece.

I wanted to photograph the sea landscape, as everyone does, only turned 180 degrees. What I saw turned out to be more interesting. A huge factory broke into the sea, taking the beach away from restful people. A simple, ordinary scene is very symbolic for me. Industry pushes people off the ground. It pushes more and more. We are taking more and more.

Water, First Place

colorful sediment along river in Iceland

Kristin Wright / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

"Braided River" won the water category for Kristin Wright of the United States.

Brightly colored sediment paints the Icelandic landscape as at flows towards the ocean. The glacial river, Þjórsá, is the longest river in Iceland, originating at Hofsjökull glacier and meandering 230 km to the Atlantic Ocean. The aerial perspective provided by a small airplane, reveals the bright and varied colored sediment tracing the river’s path towards the ocean.

Plants and Fungi, First Place

ghost mushrooms give off eerie glow

Callie Chee / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Ghost mushrooms, photographed by Callie Chee of Australia, earned the top spot in the plants and fungi category.

Nicknamed ghost mushrooms due to its eerie green glow, the scientific names of these bioluminescent mushrooms are Omphalotus nidiformis. The glow is very much visible to the naked eyes in complete darkness. They are found in certain forests in Australia. Finding them and photographing them can be challenging as they grow and glow for only a few weeks in a year.

"What makes the contest exciting is when we see something that we’ve never seen before. This means taking the time and having the patience to get to that perfect moment," says Snyder.

"To compose the image in your mind and execute it masterfully. Callie Chee took us to another world with her image of biofluorescent mushrooms—when it first came up on the screen, each judge just went, 'Woooow!' It was a clear standout in the competition."

Here are more winners, including the personal picks of two judges.

Guest Judge Ami Vitale’s Choice

leopard holding prey with baby monkey clinging on

 Shafeeq Mulla / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Calling the image "An Unforgiving Kingdom," Shafeeq Mulla of Zambia photographed a leopard carrying the carcass of a vervet monkey with its baby still clutching its mother.

“The diversity of images from around the world gave a glimpse into our fragile planet and all the life that inhabits it," says Vitale. "The contest itself was a mesmerizing odyssey and we are left with a profound message of how interconnected all of us are and what it means to our own survival to intermingle with wildness."

Celebrity Judge Coyote Peterson’s Choice

polar bear in shadow of oil well

Florian Ledoux / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Coyote Peterson, host of YouTube’s Brave Wilderness, chose this image by Florian Ledoux of Norway as his favorite. The photo shows a polar bear feeding her cubs near an abandoned Russian settlement.

Peterson says:

The composition of this photo and its color balance is absolutely beautiful. The eye is drawn to these elements first and then you realize the center point is the mother polar bear and her cubs. The abandonment of the Russian settlement is a powerful statement that nature can and hopefully will reclaim its rightful place and despite the mess we leave behind life finds a way. For an animal like the polar bear, which is physically running out of space for existence due to constantly melting sea ice, the bravery it shows for a mother to find a place of refuge for her cubs is a heartwarming scene amongst the frigid feel this entire vision portrays.

Wildlife, Second Place

elephant tusks in the dust

Panos Laskarakis / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Panos Laskarakis of Greece says, "The African dust around the supergiant is one of the best spectacles in wild Namibia!"

Climate, Second Place

cleaning the lake

Amish Jain / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Amish Jain of India captured "a person cleaning the lakes of excessive sea vegetation due to hot climate as well as waste being dumped into the lake."

Water, Second Place

pink salt water

Nick Leopold Sordo / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Nick Leopold Sordo of Mexico photographed the Las Coloradas salt mines in Yucatan.

In these pink water lagoons is one of the most important salt generating plants in the country. They directly adjoin the Río Lagartos natural park, which is an important site for the American flamingo.

Wildlife, Honorable Mention

eagles fighting over piece of salmon

Rick Dowling / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Called "The Battle," this image by Rick Dowling of the U.S. shows two eagles fighting for a piece of salmon in Haines, Alaska.

Landscape, Honorable Mention

white mountains and black sand

Ivan Pedretti / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Ivan Pedretti of Italy photographed this winter scene.

Winter in Stokksnes in the beach with black sand and the majestic mountain called Vestrahorn, I like the difference in colors between the white mountains and the black dunes with the yellow grass.

Wildlife, Honorable Mention

giraffe drinking

Jenny Zhao / Courtesy TNC Photo Contest 2022

Jenny Zhao of the U.S. captured this image of a giraffe drinking at a waterhole at Zimanga Private Game Reserve in South Africa.

Correction—October 5, 2022: This article has been corrected after a previous version erroneously placed Haines in Arkansas, rather than its correct state, Alaska.