Young Photographers Share Images of Those Building a Better Future

There's a sharp focus on environmentalism and activism.

man's hands with bird
An injured bird in the hands of a wildlife rehabilitator.

Irene Facoetti, Student Competition, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Using their cameras, young photographers around the world told captivating stories of those "Building a Better Future." Their riveting, thought-provoking images are on the Student and Youth Competition Shortlist for the 2021 Sony World Photography Awards.

The Student shortlist features work by 10 students from around the globe. They submitted a portfolio of 5-10 images, highlighting how a group or individual is working to make change. Environmentalism and activism were some of the key themes.

Above is "Bàt-ti-to," part of a series by Irene Facoetti of Italy. Her black and white photographs features wounded birds treated in the WWF Wildlife Rescue Center (CRAS) in Valpredina, Italy. 

Facoetti describes her work:

There are people who dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of others, such as Matteo, owner of CRAS Valpredina. In addition to other pro-environment activities, he dedicates himself to the rescue of animals, in particular birds, victims of natural or man-made accidents. Patients follow a path of treatment and rehabilitation which, if passed, ends with the return in nature. Birds carry out fundamental activities to maintain the balance in the ecosystem including dispersing pollen and seeds, contributing to the recycling of nutrients and limiting the population of rodents and insects. The project wants to sensitize the viewer to this invisible suffering, telling the reality in which Matteo works; photographs, combined with radiographs and data provided by the center, show the treatment path carried out by the animals. Thanks to the CRAS, 60% of the recovered subjects manage to survive: our future also depends on the preservation of the present.

Winners will be announced on April 15. Here's a look at some of the other shortlisted images in the student competition and how the photographers describe their work.

Student Competition Shortlist


guard collecting trash in Argentina
Matias Alejandro Acuña, Shortlist, Student Competition, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Matias Alejandro Acuña, Argentina

Image Description: Environmental guard collecting chinstraps covered by the sand, something that is becoming common

Series Description: The images in this project reflect the preservation and protection of the environment. In the Argentine Patagonia, there is the Punta Bermeja nature reserve, where the daily action of the park rangers is to contain the advance of pollution produced by man and preserve the flora and fauna of a place with unique colonies of species that can only be preserved in this area. Faced with an adverse climate and living conditions, these people undertake a task for the planet, and allow us to reflect on the need to undertake larger and more supportive actions for the preservation of our planet.


China opera house performers
Yanan Li, Shortlist, Student Competition, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Yanan Li, China

Series Description: Chinese opera is the crystallization of Chinese traditional culture. It has inherited thousands of years of cultural heritage and is a valuable asset of Chinese spiritual culture. Chinese opera is not only a form of performance, but also the soul of Chinese culture for the Chinese nation for five thousand years. But nowadays, a large number of fast food culture occupies people’s sight. Traditional culture is covered by flashy time representations. Fewer and fewer people are willing to stop by these cultures that have been precipitated from time and to understand this art, even less. People are willing to spend almost all their energy and time on learning Chinese opera. In this era of rapid development, the successors carry the fate of Chinese opera and move forward. Although it is difficult, they will never give up because this is the Chinese spirit. I hope that this work interprets the dilemma of Chinese opera culture in today's dilemma, triggers viewers to associate and think about traditional culture, let go of the speeding pace, and move forward steadily and steadily, so that more viewers will pay attention To pay attention to and protect traditional culture and its inheritance.

"Hope in Nepal, with support from The Leprosy Mission"

leprosy mission, person playing game
Hannah Davey, Shortlist, Student Competition, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Hannah Davey, New Zealand

Series Description: At the beginning of this year I was fortunate to spend an incredible few weeks in Nepal, experiencing and documenting the work of The Leprosy Mission (TLM). TLM is building a better future, not only for those affected by leprosy, but for whole communities. I fell in love with the generosity of the people, the incredible beauty and the Nepali tea. Leprosy is a devastating disease; damaging nerves, causing ulcers, reducing immunity, and carrying ingrained stigma. TLM funds and operates Anandaban Hospital, above the village of Tikabhairab. A truly transformative place, it supports sufferers to become cured of leprosy. Patients regain confidence, and reintegrate into society through meaningful employment and purpose. TLM and Anandaban Hospital also support surrounding communities by providing employment, essential medical services for non-leprosy patients, and self-help groups. Currently one third of ward space is allocated for treating people with Covid.


Tayla Nebesky, Shortlist, Student Competition, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Tayla Nebesky, U.S.

Series Description: These photos were made on my parents small ranch in California. Each year they continue to cultivate the land and become more self reliant than the previous.

"Justice for George Floyd New York City"

George Floyd protests
Thomas Hengge, Shortlist, Student Competition, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Thomas Hengge, U.S.

Series Description: The tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police became a catalyst for change, bringing hundreds of thousands of people around the world out into the streets to fight systemic racism and police brutality. After months of New York City being ravaged by COVID-19, streets once lifeless flooded with demonstrators, putting their safety aside to fight for change. Despite a global pandemic, baton beatings and pepper spray, protestors were not deterred. All Summer and into Fall, protests raged to hold the NYPD and elected officials accountable for systemic oppression and problematic policing tactics used in minority communities. Organizers worked tirelessly and continue to work, fighting for a better future. Their efforts have led to a reassessment of policing methods in New York City and record numbers taking to the polls to vote in the presidential and local elections.

Youth Competition Shortlist

The photographers on the Youth Competition Shortlist were winners in six different categories. They entered images, responding to a different monthly theme from July through December, 2020. Here's a look at some of the shortlisted images.

"Natural World and Wildlife"

fox in snow
Emil Holthausen, Shortlist, Youth, Natural World & Wildlife, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Emil Holthausen, Germany

"Composition and Design"

hands on curtain
Pubarun Basu, Shortlist, Youth, Composition and Design, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Pubarun Basu, India

"Street Life"

boy at street fair
Ramakaushalyan Ramakrishnan, Shortlist, Youth, Street Life, 2021 Sony World Photography Awards

Ramakaushalyan Ramakrishnan, India

To see more, visit the 2021 winners and shortlist galleries.