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Grand Prize Winner. Western lowland gorilla female 'Malui' walks through a cloud of butterflies, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic.
Copyright  Anup Shah/TNC Photo Contest 2021   -  

The results are in: Here is some of the best nature photography of the year

By Scott Brownlee

The whimsical moment a gorilla walked through a cloud of butterflies was captured by UK photographer, Anup Shah.

This is just one example of the winning images for the 2021 TNC (The Nature Conservancy) photo contest. Announced last week, these photos inspire wonder and exploration, and help us cast a critical eye over the state of our global environment.

The Grand Prize winner this year is Anup Shah, for his photo of a western lowland gorilla surrounded by butterflies in the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic.

This year’s images were selected by a panel of judges that included renowned American singer-songwriter Ben Folds who said of the winning image, “I like photos that keep dragging you in. The [gorilla’s] face. Tolerance or bliss. It’s really hard to tell and the insects draw you there.”

Prathamesh Ghadekar/TNC Photo Contest 2021
People’s Choice Winner. Just before Monsoon, these fireflies congregate in certain regions of India.Prathamesh Ghadekar/TNC Photo Contest 2021

The People’s Choice award went to Prathamesh Ghadekar of India for a photograph of fireflies congregating around a tree before a monsoon.

After a one-year hiatus due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the photo contest returned with 100,190 photo submissions from a record-breaking 158 countries.

With submissions coming in from around the globe, categories for the contest included:

  • landscape
  • people and nature
  • water
  • wildlife
Scott Portelli/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Landscape category. Mangroves line the mud flats after months of rain filling the artesian basin. Gulf of Carpentaria in tropical north Queensland.Scott Portelli/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Minqiang Lu/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Honorable Mention, People and Nature. Farmers carrying livestock cross a river in In Yunnan, China.Minqiang Lu/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Man Wai Wong/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Third Place, Water. Winter in Iceland.Man Wai Wong/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Buddhilini de Soyza/TNC Photo Contest 2021
First Place, Wildlife. Five male cheetahs, were looking to cross this river in powerful currents.Buddhilini de Soyza/TNC Photo Contest 2021

Although many of the finalists' images inspire beauty and wonder, the environmental state of our planet also made for some stark and striking imagery, reminding us that nature photography in the 21st century can often have an element of tragedy attached.

Thomas Vijayan/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Honorable Mention, Wildlife. Orangutans are accustomed to live on trees and feed on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees.Thomas Vijayan/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Sebnem Coskun/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Third Place, People and Nature. New danger to underwater life as medical waste used during the pandemic reaches the seas.Sebnem Coskun/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Nature photography in the 21st century can often have an element of tragedy attached.
Daniel De Granville Manço/TNC Photo Contest 2021
First Place, Landscape. Carcass of a Pantanal alligator in the dry soil on the banks of the Transpantaneira highway, Poconé, Brazil.Daniel De Granville Manço/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Alain Schroeder/TNC Photo Contest 2021
First Place, People and Nature. The whole SOCP team works together to prepare Brenda, an estimated 3-month-old female orangutan for surgery.Alain Schroeder/TNC Photo Contest 2021

Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit environmental organisation working to save Earth’s land, forests, and oceans.

The annual TNC Photo Contest is a chance to share the wonders of our planet while bringing attention to the work that needs to be done in nature conservation around the world.