There are a lot of contests out there to choose from, especially in the space of landscape photography. The NLPA was created several years ago to provide a space for photographers to submit work with authenticity and ethical representation of nature. This was developed at a time when it felt like the majority of highlighted work via social media, contests, and the online photography world at large was overwhelmingly saturated with perfectly manicured images. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this choice in artistic expression, it left many in the space feeling like their work was far less visible than it once was.
The NLPA has some of the most strict and rigorous processes to uphold a level of authenticity, to continually highlight the work of artists intending to capture the world as true as it comes. This is stated in their contest mission statement:
The competition aims to represent landscape photographers who recognize the power that comes from truthful depiction of the natural world, whether shooting digitally or on film. While other competitions may allow complete freedom in digital manipulation, this competition is for photographers who choose to work within the more traditional bounds of the medium, while still expressing themselves creatively. It addresses the idea that the unique quality photography has over other artistic mediums is its grounding in reality. The competition showcases the skill of these photographers in revealing the wonder of the natural landscape.
Within the last year, we've seen rapid evolution in the ability to use AI to manipulate, fix, and even generate breathtaking images. While that has opened up new worlds of accessibility to the creative vision of photographers, it's highlighted how important a contest like the NLPA has become. Some highly regarded contests such as the International Landscape Photographer of the Year have added diction to dissuade the use of AI-generated content. However, like many contests, they don't do raw image verification. The lack of any raw verification is quite standard among most contests. Thus, how would you actually know if AI was or was not used?
Since the inception of the NLPA, the contest has not only grown in submissions but also become increasingly respected among the landscape photography community. Below you'll find this year's winners of each category for 2023. I highly recommend checking out the full galleries to see just how incredible the competition and work is among these artists. Most importantly, you can witness this collection of work knowing that there is a distinct level of authenticity behind each photograph.
Photographer of the Year, Winner: Blake Randall
I am deeply honored to receive the Natural Landscape Photography Award’s Photographer of the Year award. Since its inception, the NLPA awards have set the gold standard for landscape photography – preserving the authentic experience of capturing our planet’s unaltered natural beauty in contrast to the growing popularity of AI and computer-generated imagery. The competition has consistently showcased an exceptional lineup of talented photographers, many of whom I have looked up to and who have been a personal inspiration to me since I started my photography journey. The images presented in the competition reflect the kind of photography I aspire to achieve, making this award extra special and something I will be proud of for the rest of my life.
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the judges and NLPA founders for selecting my work and creating an outstanding competition. Congratulations to all my fellow winners who join in celebrating the true artistry of photography!
Photograph of the Year, Winner: Gabriel Stankiewicz
Blizzard - the default weather during my trip to Senja, Norway back in February 2023. It provided conditions for playing around with more intimate scenes and with gusts of wind that occasionally knocked me over as I am not the best at balancing with snowshoes on. Although the mere process of landing in deep, fresh snow is enjoyable, getting up in that wind with snowshoes on was a mission each time.
For this photograph, I was focused on the distribution of trees for balance and depth, and the right placement of the frozen stream in the background, which is what makes the image special to me.
Project Winner - PINUS PINEA, Winner: Tiago Mateus
The Stone Pine or Pinus Pinea is a species of pine native to the old world, more precisely in the Mediterranean region. Portugal has about 9% of the total world’s area of this species, which can also be found in other countries bordering the Mediterranean, such as Spain, France, Italy and Turkey. In Portugal the vast majority are concentrated in the Setúbal peninsula, where I live. In this photographic project I am not interested in portraying Pinus Pinea planted, pruned or straightened, explored in plantations or ornamental. I want to portray the wild Pinus Pinea which is free to grow, survive, break and fall, which has a story to tell us of its legendary strength and tenacity along the Atlantic coast or its relationships with other trees in the coastal pine forests. These trees, known for their resistance to summer drought, grow easily in weak sandy soils, heroically resist strong coastal winds and the salty air. Throughout their life they suffer countless fractures caused by storms or by the weight of their crown, which gives them striking strong personalities and, in most cases, incredible shapes that tell us the story of their lives and their fight against the elements.
Grand Scenic, Winner: Björn Nehrhoff von Holderberg
During an unusual warm period for a Northern Norway winter a stromfront hit the coast of Steigen with it´s towering mountains. Hiding the van from the raging winds I found shelter close to a tidal island. When it suddenly started snowing with extremely large snow flakes I was sure that this would be perfect for a longer exposure shot with snow streaks and so I walked to the rocky edge of the tidal island to take the shot.
Intimate Landscapes, Winner: Takahashi Hiroto
Abstracts and Details, Winner: Eric Bennett
Common Places, Winner: Matt Redfern
Captured near my home in Oregon during late fall, I found this scene in a small lake frozen after low temperatures and before the first heavy snowfall. I spent hours walking very slowly around the lake photographing smaller details of ice and leaves. Eventually I encountered an area of the lake with a collection of deadfall where I ultimately found this image. An old decaying trunk, fallen leaves, textured ice, and snowflakes come together to resemble a snowy tree. These elements, once living, now contribute to life differently, highlighting the beauty in their transformation from life to decay.
Mountains, Winner: Alexandre Deschaumes
This is the "Mont Maudit" mountain in Mont Blanc massif, Chamonix, French alps. High-altitude strong winds create these very fine orographic clouds that change their appearance very rapidly. The also special light of the moment contributes to the slightly surreal atmosphere of the image.
Water Worlds, Winner: James Hider
As the early morning light of a hot summer’s day hits the ridge line, the water of the Piemans Creek drops over 100 metres, deep within Victoria’s Alpine National Park.
Black and White, Winner: Harry Lichtman
A brutal winter storm blew through New Hampshire's Crawford Notch and set up conditions for this simple scene that was nearly black and white to begin with. Blowing snow created waves and drifts reminding me of surf on the ocean. Careful positioning of the camera created the balance among the trees and highlighted the snow using the dark areas of the river. The beautiful power of nature.
Nightscape, Winner: David Hunter
This is a photo taken of a Native American summer solstice marker. The image was taken with special access permission within Petrified Forest National Park during a two week artist-in-residency at the park.
Environmental, Winner: Martin Bürner
A bushfire makes its way across the dry forrest floor in Northern Territory (AUS). The flames divide the scene into a burned and a not yet burned area and guide us into a smoke-filled scene flooded by the warm light of the setting sun. A truly striking scene to witness as a person and to capture as a photographer.
Aerial, Winner: Peter Eastway
Lake Frome is considered to have some of the whitest sand in the world. Its ultra flat surface is punctuated by raised islands of yellow sand, blown across from the surrounding deserts and shaped by winds and rare floods. From above, it is an organic mosaic of natural patterns. This photograph was taken just after sunrise, looking directly into the light and allowing lens flare to add a splash of extra colour to the composition.
Phew, well if that doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will. You might be asking yourself after seeing some of these images just how edited they might be considering the restrictive nature of the contest. While you can find all the rules on their website, the key is just remaining true to any given scene. This doesn't mean photographers don't have artistic license within their editing, and yes you are perfectly allowed to erase a transient object such as a small footprint or something similar from your image. The key is just remaining authentic to representing what you capture. This is why the tedious process of raw verification is so important. I didn't even dive into their judging process, which approaches subjectivity in a unique way.
My personal experience entering this contest has ultimately pushed me to grow as a photographer. I think there is a time and place for many different mediums or expressions within the art we want to create. For me, it's inspired me to edit less and see more. If you've never entered a contest before, I highly recommend you try. Just the process of curating your own work can truly make you see things in a new light, maybe something deserving of a full article.
You should absolutely dive into the other winners from the contest as well as check out the yearly book that NLPA puts out, which includes even more photos than what you'll find in the contest galleries. Congratulations and gratitude goes to any name that makes it into these results!
All images used with permission, courtesy of Natural Landscape Photography Awards.