Majestic scenes in nature have been frozen in time courtesy of these breathtaking photographs.
They have been honoured in the 2022 Nature Photographer of the Year awards, an annual contest that endeavours to ‘show the beauty of nature worldwide’.
This year, the judges cherrypicked the winners from more than 20,000 entries from 96 countries around the globe. Among the submissions to catch their attention is an epic picture of a lightning bolt striking the red rocks of the Grand Canyon, an arresting image of an endangered snow leopard high in the Indian Himalayas, a dynamic shot of a whale framed by the Bangkok skyline, and a close-up of a brown bear rifling through some bins in Transylvania.
Topping the podium, however, is a spellbinding picture of polar bears occupying an abandoned village on the Russian island of Kolyuchin in the Chukchi Sea, captured by nature photographer Dmitry Kokh, this year’s ’Nature Photographer of the Year’.
The photo is part of a wider series that saw Kokh send his drone – complete with low-noise propellers to avoid disturbing the polar bears – over the island, ‘a place long deserted by people’ since its polar weather station shut down in 1992.
Below is MailOnline Travel’s pick of the winning and commended photographs from the awards – scroll down to the very bottom to see Kokh’s striking prizewinning photograph…
A jaw-dropping bolt of lightning illuminates the Grand Canyon in this epic photograph – highly commended in the ‘Landscapes’ category – by Argentinian photographer Raul Mostoslavsky. The photographer admits that he was in the ‘right place at the right time’
This extraordinary photograph by German photographer Sascha Fonseca tops the podium in the ‘Mammals’ category. It was taken when a snow leopard triggered the photographer’s camera trap ‘high up in the Indian Himalayas’ in the Ladakh region. Fonesca says: ‘The mystery surrounding the snow leopard always fascinated me. They are some of the most difficult large cats to photograph in the wild. Not only because of their incredible stealth but also because of the remote environment they live in.’ Clearly impressed, the judges say: ‘This photo of the highly endangered snow leopard is of amazing value… the snowy landscape and the amazing view of the mountains in the background results in a mystical moment’
German photographer Jens Cullmann was behind the lens for this evocative picture of a buffalo in a cloud of dust, captured in the Mana Pools National Park in the north of Zimbabwe. The picture is highly commended in the ‘Mammals’ category
This adorable shot of a little fox cub jumping to try and catch a beetle was snared in the Romanian countryside by photographer Zsolt Moldovan. It’s highly commended in the ‘Mammals’ category
This fascinating shot is from a photography series – the recipient of the Fred Hazelhoff portfolio award – by photographers David Hup and Michiel van Noppen that follows the brown bear population in Transylvania, Romania. The picture shows a large female bear knocking over a rubbish bin, with the photographers noting: ‘With the immense power these animals possess, steel bins are tossed around with ease.’ Detailing the story behind the series, David Hup explains: ‘In villages that lie in the shadows of the Carpathian Mountains, the presence of bears is clearly felt. Due to the illegal logging of the old-growth forests, their habitat and food become increasingly scarce. In search of food, they have to migrate from the ancient forests down to the villages, which regularly leads to conflicts with the inhabitants.’ The photographer continues: ‘Shepherds lose sleep trying to protect their sheep, and bears continue to break through fences to feast on scraps.’ The judges say that this ‘outstanding’ series carries a ‘strong message, making people care about the animal’
A second shot from Hup and van Noppen’s Romanian bear series, this time showing a ‘curious’ young brown bear inspecting a camera trap in a backyard, closely followed by its ‘watchful’ mother
This third shot from Hup and van Noppen’s portfolio, showing a trio of bears – a mother bear and her cubs – walking along a quiet street in Transylvania, is reminiscent of the fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The photographers say: ‘When the night falls, and the streets become quiet, the bears go in search of food. Encounters with locals are frequent’
Swiss photographer Clemence Till captured this picture of a curious young owl, which takes the gold medal in the Youth category. He explains: ‘I was able to observe this young owl around its nest’s tree for a few minutes. It was probably experiencing its first flight in spring and must still have had some difficulty flying correctly as I found it on the ground when I arrived in the area.’ The judges remark: ‘The leaves on the ground, the trees in the background, and the light filtering through the woods, all combine for the perfect setting of this tiny bird’
Italian photographer Stanislao Basileo snared this awe-inspiring picture of an Alpine ibex – a species of wild goat – in the Gran Paradiso National Park of northern Italy. It’s highly commended in the ‘Mammals’ category
This intriguing picture of toads fertilising their eggs – number one in the ‘Underwater’ category – was captured by Japanese photographer Kazushige Horiguchi. Heaping praise on the photo, the judges say: ‘This split image combines two different moods, taking place at the same time above and below the water. A dark stormy landscape above the water contrasts with the apparently calm and still life underneath the surface’
Hungarian photographer Krisztina Macsai snared this captivating photograph of a Cyclosa spider perched on its web, which is highly commended in the ‘Other Animals’ category
Snapping up the top prize in the ‘Black and White’ category is this heartwarming shot by Dutch photographer Ernst Dirksen, which shows an otter peeking through an ice hole in a lake. The judges praise the shot as ‘humoristic’
Highly commended in the ‘Human and Nature’ category, this heart-rending picture is the work of Indian photographer Sridhar Sivaram and shows three men on a motorbike colliding with a leopard in the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, India. The ‘very sad incident’ took place on a road that connects the reserve with a temple in the area. In a post on Instagram, Sivaram says that it’s ‘high time’ that the authorities regulate the free movement of people on this road to prevent such accidents. He adds that ‘fortunately, the leopard and the men escaped with very minor injuries’
This enchanting picture shows a bird in the Brunssummerheide Nature Reserve in Holland flying through the sky on a ‘golden misty morning’. Captured by Belgian photographer Brenda Heyvaert, it’s highly commended in the ‘De Lage Landen’ category, a special category that ‘highlights the beauty of nature’ in Holland and Belgium
Belgian photographer David Pattyn snared this picture of a great white egret distorted by a ‘curtain of water’ as it emerged from a failed attempt to catch a fish. It’s highly commended in the ‘De Lage Landen’ category
Highly commended in the ‘Animal Portraits’ category, this picture by underwater photographer Andrey Savin shows a pair of crabs off the coast of the Philippines
The runner-up in the ‘Black and White’ category, this remarkable picture shows four oryx walking over the sands of the Namib-Naukluft Park in western Namibia. It’s the handiwork of U.S photographer Craig Elson
Young Thai photographer Jomtup Charoenlapnumchai snared this stunning photograph of a Bryde’s whale soaring above the water’s surface in the Gulf of Thailand, with the Bangkok skyline in the background. It’s highly commended in the ‘Youth’ category
An impala appears to stare at the camera in this transfixing shot by South African photographer Byron Grobler, taken in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. It’s highly commended in the ‘Black and White’ category
This Iberian lynx ‘family portrait’, captured in Spain, is the work of Italian photographer Alessandro Beconi and is highly commended in the ‘Animal Portraits’ category
Reigning supreme in the ‘Landscapes’ category is this breathtaking drone photo of an island within a frozen lake, captured by Hungarian photographer Helga Urban
Behold the winning photograph, by Dmitry Kokh, which shows polar bears ‘making themselves at home’ in a derelict building on Russia’s Kolyuchin Island. ‘Both polar bears evoke the emotions of the audience effectively,’ say the judges. Sharing the story behind Kokh’s series, the contest explains: ‘Bears are very curious by nature so they walked around houses, and checked every door, window, nook, and cranny. There were about 20 animals inside at the same time, mostly males. The bears may look calm and sweet in these photos, but one must not forget that they are smart, curious, and incredibly powerful animals. As they probably thought the drone was some sort of bird, they did not let it out of their sight. Never one to miss a meal, they were probably ready to strike at any moment’