Photo Courtesy © Gordon and Cathy Illg
Get inspired by NANPA’s annual juried photo competition featuring some of the best work produced by members.
Each year, a renowned panel of industry leading nature photographers selects the winning images for the Showcase competition. The judges award a best in category, first runner-up and judges’ choice awards in six categories: Birds, Mammals, Scapes, Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife, Conservation and Altered Reality. The top images then appear in the annual issue of Expressions, receive recognition on the NANPA website and social media channels, and photographers are provided additional opportunities to showcase their work.
The entry period opens August 1, 2023, and will close at 11 p.m. EDT on September 18, 2023.
How To Enter
Entering Showcase is Easy!
- Become A Member: The 2024 Showcase is only open to members!
- Visit the New Entry Portal: Beginning August 1, click on the Enter Today button on this page and you’ll be directed to our new Showcase Entry Portal.
- Register your Showcase Account, Upload Your Images, and Checkout!
Includes all worldwide bird species.
Sandhill Cranes, Crex Meadows, Grantsburg, WI © Scott Wolff
Includes both land and sea mammals.
Black bear, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, © Donna Feledichuk
Includes landscape, plantscape, seascape, atmosphere, weather, etc.
Ocean wave, Cape Disappointment, Washington, © Don Larkin
Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife
Includes images of non-bird, non-mammal wildlife as well as close-ups of any subject. Close-ups are intimate views, tightly framed, or close examinations of subjects in nature.
Stink Bug, Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil © Alexandre Andes Gascon
Includes images that illustrate a conservation issue, either positive or negative, and the value of conserving a species, a place, an ecosystem, etc., for the benefit of wild and/or human communities.
America’s Covid Cleanup, Driftwood Beach, Coupeville, WA © Jann Ledbetter
Includes images displaying an obvious change in natural color, form, shape, or any combination of these. Image must be enhanced or transformed beyond the way the subject appears in nature.
Please see the AI Information page for additional details.
Ithumba Elephant, Ithumba, Tsavo National Park, Kenya © Lois Hild
In past Showcase competitions, we have asked the judges for some insights and tips on image selection and preparation to help future participants produce winning photos. Here are some of those comments:
- Study the photos that made it into previous Showcases.
Try not to duplicate the images, but go a step beyond them. Never think that because something has won before, it will win again if copied. “There is a lot of talent out there,” said one judge. “It ain’t easy judging this!” You can view last year’s winners HERE.
- If you know an animal or landscape intimately, you can create an intimate picture.
Shoot what you know.
- Make descriptions and titles relevant.
The “descriptive text” you enter benefits your entry by anticipating and providing answers to judges’ questions. More information helps judges evaluate an image. Information in this field will also be used as your image’s caption if chosen as a Top 250 winner.
- Bring to mind the pictures that have moved you and try to work out what it is about them that makes you respond.
Then use it.
- As a rule of thumb: Keep your subject sharp.
It’s not always easy, but submitting photos that are in focus and tack-sharp shows a command of your equipment.
- Examine entries that were uploaded to be sure they look the way you want the judges to see them.
Follow all competition rules exactly.
- Good composition is crucial.
If needed, use in-camera or out-of-camera cropping.
- Be sure your file does not include an embedded photo credit or border that would require an immediate disqualification.
- Know when to stop with your image management software.
Advances in image management software have enabled photographers to do nearly anything with their images. Excessive or unskilled sharpening, dodging and burning can easily ruin an image. Over-saturated images can become garish. “The art of the natural is far more difficult to achieve,” said one judge.
- When you specify Photo Illustration, briefly describe what warranted that designation in the comments field.
Judges understand the cosmetic retouch of a shiny rock or a stick at the edge of a frame. Without mentioning it, however, they may guess at more extreme methods. Photo Illustration is quite acceptable in Showcase. If you use that designation, explain why.
- Photo contest judges look at thousands of photos and it takes a lot to stop them in their tracks.
They are stirred by a fresh and surprising composition, creative use of color or a new way of seeing an old subject, if not a new one.
- Catch a moment of interesting behavior to breathe life into common subjects.
It takes persistence and talent to catch that moment in just the right way. For example, flying birds make a nice image, but an image of birds interacting in flight is exciting.
- Look at what other people aren’t shooting and consider those subjects.
If everyone else is shooting canyons and sand dunes, choose a landscape close to home and make a study of it until something new emerges. Think about new ways of interpreting a river scene rather than just blurring the running water. Use your technical skills and your creativity to set yourself apart. Originality is the real art of competing.
- Watermark, credit, border or other extra treatment on the image or identifying information in the caption. These require immediate disqualification.
- Images come in after the deadline, which is September 18th at 11:00pm EDT. The “shut off” is automatic. Give yourself enough time to complete the process before the deadline. SUBMIT must be clicked before the deadline with your payment processed!
- Captions don’t include answers that judges may ask themselves about the image such as, if Photo Illustration is marked, what was done to warrant it? Also, explain the circumstances of an unexpected/uncommon element, include background information if an element may be questioned from an ethical perspective, e.g., a defensive posture or images often created by baiting.
- Images are not sized properly (and other software errors). Learn your software. Know how to reach target specs for image dimensions and file size limit. Image preparation tips can be found below for Lightroom and Photoshop.
- Scans are pixelated, soft, overcropped or otherwise poorly made. The judges may love the composition and content of an image, but be unable to get past quality that is compromised.
- Overprocessed images. A breathtaking shot that is diminished by heavy-handed Photoshop work does not elicit high scores. When it comes to processing, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
- Entrant forgets to renew membership or renews too late. It’s best to renew well before the deadline in case of any technical difficulties. Renewal help is only available during normal office hours. Renewal delays may prevent you from entering the contest if you wait until the last minute.
- Images are muddy. All images are viewed via web browser. Check each entry after uploading to be sure the color quality is what you want the judges to see.
Creators of images entered into the Showcase competition must be truthful in representing their work and should not mislead the viewer. NANPA’s Truth in Captioning statement provides guidelines used by the Showcase competition. Label your images with the following tags when applicable:
The term captive, abbreviated CAPT, applies to any animal living under human care and control in a restricted environment. This includes, but is not limited to zoos, game farms, falconry birds, rescue facilities, sanctuaries and research facilities. Photographs taken at game farms are not accepted into the Showcase competition. Domestic garden flora should be designated as captive.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Yes or No?
Normal processing and capture that’s acceptable without designating an image as Photo Illustration includes:
- Reasonable adjustments to color, white balance, tone, lighting levels and curves, shadows and highlights, saturation, contrast, sharpness, etc.
- Moderate toning,vignetting, dodging and burning.
- Removal of dust or scratches or reduction of image noise.
- HDR, focus stacking and stitched panoramas.
- In-camera multiple exposures of a single scene.
Photographs that have been digitally or otherwise altered beyond standard optimization should be designated Photo Illustration. These include:
- Removal or alteration that changes the material content of the original scene.
- Nothing can be added to any entry except in the Altered Reality Category.
- Significant color adjustments and other treatments that differ widely from the original image.
- Extreme toning, dodging or burning that fundamentally alters the actual scene by hiding parts of it.
If using the Photo Illustration designation, it’s in your best interest to state in the description field on the entry form what was done to warrant that designation. Judges can only go on what they see in the image or read in the supporting information provided by the photographer. Anticipate judges’ questions such as:
- If Photo Illustration is marked, why?
- Explain the circumstances of an unexpected/uncommon element.
- Include background information if an element may be questioned from an ethical perspective, e.g., a defensive posture of the subject or a situation often created by baiting.
Get your conservation images ready to enter into the NANPA Showcase competition! Each entry in this category should illustrate a conservation issue—positive or negative—and the value of conserving a species, a place, an ecosystem, etc. for the benefit of wild and/or human communities.
A winning conservation photo could be from a passionate amateur or a pro. It could be taken by anyone in the right place at the right time who recognized the impact of a situation or someone who has worked a long time on a conservation story. A winning image will have initial impact supported by a caption that gives extended meaning to the message.
Best in Show, First Runner-Up and two Judges’ Choice winners will be awarded in this category, the same as other Showcase categories. Because of its specific nature, a separate panel of judges from the iLCP (International League of Conservation Photographers) will choose the winning images for the Conservation category. Cash prizes (in addition to other elements of the prize packages) are the same as other Showcase categories.
A conservation image tells a story with an issue behind it. For the Showcase category, the story can be told by the image/caption combination.
The difference between a nature photograph and a conservation photograph is that a nature photograph is a lovely photo of a lovely flower. A conservation photograph is the same flower with a bulldozer in the background approaching it.
This category is just for single image entries. Each entry should be a single image with a caption of up to 500 characters, adding context to the conservation story it represents.
Ideally, there will be an element of impact beyond a typical beautiful photo. One shouldn’t have to read the caption to know there’s something different about the image, but the words can add a full understanding about what’s going on.
Entries in the conservation category cannot be altered or designated photo illustration. Images for this category cannot be altered in any way that would require it to be designated Photo Illustration.
Entries in the conservation category have an additional dimension beyond images entered in other Showcase categories. The category is not for pretty pictures and captions that force a story. A pretty picture may be more appropriate in another category.
In creating a conservation photo, elements cannot be altered, added or removed. These would affect the integrity of the scene.
Review the following winning conservation images from the previous Showcase competitions to help you form a vision of what constitutes a conservation photo.
- Write a caption that has impact and draws attention, whether it’s a positive or negative conservation story.
- An image, however, shouldn’t be forced into the category with a word-smithed caption. Caption thoughtfully, with respect for the visible content of the photo.
- An image should be well-captured for the strongest impact.
- Judges would like to see a layered shot with immediate impact. A conservation story is usually a series of images, but for a single image to be effective, it should invite the viewer into the story.
- Conservation images can be hard photos that make the viewer upset, but they can also be positive, constructive or simply informative. The most important criterion is impact.
- Consider subjects big and small that reflect issues of concern. They can be subtle and still have impact illustrating a scene before, during or after a conservation issue.
- Conservation images aren’t just the gut-punch stories. Sometimes we become desensitized to those and simply turn away.
- A technically lacking image of an impactful situation may not score well enough to win.
- People can be represented in the photo since humans and wildlife are affected by conservation stories either directly or indirectly. But remember, the overall story features nature.
This unconventional category may be confusing to some. NANPA’s definition of altered reality is: Images that display a change in natural color, form, shape or any combination of these that alter the photographic process. The image would be enhanced or transformed beyond the way the subject appears in nature.
Since we know you are visually oriented, we did a Google search on “altered reality,” clicked on the “images” tab, and up came a gallery of images that covered a wide spectrum. So, if you are confused, give that a try.
Meanwhile, in words, a sample of possible Altered Reality nature photos might be:
- An elephant walking down the traffic-congested streets of New York City
- An insect made to appear larger than any mammals
- A kaleidoscope effect of a forest
- A photo of an animal or plant that is made up of hundreds of photos pieced together
- A reflection in mirrored sunglasses of a nature scene that is much different from the reality surrounding the person wearing the sunglasses
- Combining a photo of natural patterns to water and/or sky to give more texture to your scapes image
All images entered into the Altered Reality category should be designated a Photo Illustration (PHIL). For all other categories, any image with removed or changed content must also be designated with PHIL. No elements may be added to an image in any category except Altered Reality.
The Showcase competition recognizes the skill of the photographer to depict scenes of nature with a camera. With the surge in AI tools that are simple to use, we wanted to provide NANPA’s perspective on what is acceptable to enter in the Showcase.
The following explanations are intended to help entrants determine if or how AI fits within our Showcase competition.
Nearly all AI generated images utilize photos without permission, license or knowledge from the source photographer. The elements may not be recognizable in the form generated by AI, but using images as the basis of new creations is infringement.
Definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- For the purpose of this contest, artificial intelligence refers to any computer program or algorithm that generates or alters a photograph without the entrant’s intervention.
- In simplest terms and for photography, AI is a method of adding elements that didn’t exist in the photographer’s original capture with a camera and, as such, is not allowed in Showcase.
- This includes, but is not limited to, machine learning models, neural networks, deep learning algorithms, and other automated processes that generate images or modify them to change the content from what was captured by the camera.
Prohibition of AI Submissions
- All entries submitted to the NANPA Showcase must be the result of direct human effort and creativity.
- AI-generated or significantly AI-altered photographs are not eligible for submission. The exception is the Altered Reality category. Guidelines for that category appear below.
- AI programs or aspects of programs that use text to generate or alter an image cannot be used for ANY Showcase categories.
Acceptable AI Assisted Processing Software That Is Allowed
- AI tools or software to enhance or retouch entrant-captured photographs are permissible, as long as the primary creative input remains with the photographer.
- Processing programs with acceptable AI editing tools that can be used without adding content include, but are not limited to, Topaz Denoise, Sharpen, Gigapixel, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, etc.
Altered Reality Category Exceptions
- This category is appropriate for entries that display obvious changes in natural color, form, shape, or any combination of these. The image must be enhanced or transformed beyond the way the subject appears in nature.
- All elements must be the photographic creation by the entrant.
- No part of the image can be created with AI software using text inputs. Text inputs in AI software generate images based on words added by a human. These creations are derived from unlicensed copyrighted images and are infringements.
Verification of Compliance
- The contest organizers reserve the right to verify the authenticity and compliance of each submitted entry.
- If there is reasonable doubt that a photograph has been generated or significantly altered by AI, the organizers may request additional information or evidence from the participant to validate the entry’s eligibility.
- Failure to provide satisfactory evidence of compliance may result in disqualification from the contest.
A unique subject will stand out to the judges. Here’s a list of the most popular subjects during previous Showcase competitions:
2023 – Costal Alaska bears, hummingbirds, northern lights.
2022 – Bird behavior, coastal Alaska bears, elephants.
2021 – Bird behavior, night landscapes.
2020 – Bears, night scenes, birds in flight/with food.
2019 – Bears, night scenes, birds in flight/with food.
2018 – Bears, gorillas, birds in flight.
2017 – Alaskan bears, waterfalls, star trails.
2016 – Bears, auroras, birds in flight.
2015 – Predation, mating behavior, bears, abstracts, trees.
2014 – Bears (black, brown and polar), gorillas.
2013 – Bears, terns and other shorebirds.
2012 – Water-related, e.g., underwater, above water, seascapes, shorebirds.
We tend to get a lot of very similar questions about preparing images for submission. While we can’t cover all the details for all possible software and platforms, there are lots of resources on the internet that will guide you through the steps to prepare your images. Many photographers will be using either Adobe’s Lightroom or Photoshop. Here are two excellent tutorials on using those programs to prepare your images for submission:
If you are using some other software, search for “resizing photo using XXX” with XXX being your program and you will probably find lots of resources to help you.
Get The Inside Scoop!
Get more tips and contest insights to apply to entering NANPA’s Showcase as well as other photo contests in NANPA’s free handbook, Contest Secrets: What to Know Before You Enter a Photo.
Judges for General Categories
Joe & Mary Ann McDonald
Joe and Mary Ann McDonald are a professional wildlife photography husband and wife team who have been teaching photo workshops and leading photo tours for the past 35 years. Their images have appeared in every major natural history magazine and calendar throughout the years. Joe McDonald has written eight how-to books about photography, nine how-to e-books, is the author of numerous natural history books, and is a columnist in two photography magazines. He has produced several photography teaching videos and together they have created a YouTube channel to profile their work. Mary Ann McDonald has written 29 natural history children’s books, publishedHoot Hollow Cookbook and wrote a coffee table book about the Amish. They have photographed the seven big cats of the world in four different years, have completed 111 treks for mountain gorillas in Rwanda and have both named a baby gorilla in the Kwita Izina Naming Ceremony. They have both won awards in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the North American Nature Photography Association in 2021.
Ellen Anon is a professional photographer, writer, speaker, and educator specializing in nature and fine art photography. Her images, based on nature, are sometimes realistic and sometimes abstract but always designed to elicit emotional reactions from the viewer. Anon’s goal with her photographs is to go beyond the ordinary in ways that hopefully stimulate others to pause and appreciate some of the beauty and wonder of our earth that balances some of the stress of everyday life.
Anon’s images are included in collections in several countries and her photos have been showcased in galleries, used in numerous publications, including Sierra Club’s: Mother Earth and Inner Reflections calendars, as well as stock. She has had several images awarded in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition as well as other competitions, including Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards.
Anon has authored books, such as the popular Photoshop for Nature Photographers in the A Workshop in a Book series and the highly acclaimed See It: Photographic Composition Using Visual Intensity, as well as e-books on various photographic software and techniques, including the recent Secret Ingredients of Lightbox and Black Cloth Photography. Learn more about Anon’s work at https://www.ellenanon.com/index.
George D. Lepp
Nature photographer, teacher, author, and inventor George Lepp became one of Canon’s first Explorers of Light in 1995 and is now a member of the Canon Legends program. His passions for beauty, precision, cutting-edge technology, and environmental responsibility are revealed in his compelling images, which are widely published and exhibited. Lepp’s university studies in wildlife and wildlands management were interrupted in the 1960s by service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He then earned a bachelor’s degree and honorary Master of Science degree from Brooks Institute of Photographyand began his career working with scientists at University of Califorinia — Davis and for Car & Driver. Lepp is Field Editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and has shared his knowledge of all aspects of photography through hundreds of publications and lectures. A founder of the North American Nature Photography Assoc. (NANPA), Lepp has been honored with many awards, including Photo Media Photography Person of the Year, the Photographic Society of America’s Progress Award, and NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Judges for Conservation Category
Morgan (Mo) Heim
Morgan (Mo) Heim is a conservation photographer, filmmaker and adventurer focusing on co-existence and how human-influenced environmental change affects wildlife. With a background in ecology and journalism, her goal is to find the beauty, humor and perseverance in stories about wildlife, and how those stories shape who we are.
Heim is a Senior Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), a mentor for Girls Who Click and founder of Neon Raven Story Labs, a storytelling and strategy platform for conservation. In 2020, she co-launched Her Wild Vision Initiative aimed at raising the voices of diverse women in the craft of conservation visual storytelling. Her work has appeared in numerous outlets, including Audubon, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Newsweek and The New York Times.
Sebastian Kennerknecht is a wildlife and conservation photographer with more than fourteen years of experience visually covering wildlife and environmental issues internationally, focusing in particular on wild cats. He has produced high-quality editorial photographs, time-lapses, videos, and web content featured in and by The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC Wildlife, Smithsonian, The Economist, Science, and Conservation International, among others. Using highly customized SLR camera traps, along with conventional photographic techniques, he works closely with field biologists to both effectively and ethically capture photographs of some of the rarest cats on the planet while also highlighting the threats they face. Working for conservation organizations and on magazine assignments, Kennerknecht has photographed twenty-three of the forty species of wild felids in twenty-nine different countries.
Kennerknecht graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolution from the University of California – Santa Cruz, won the North American Nature Photography Association’s emerging photographer award, and is an associate fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).
Conservation photographer and author Dave Showalter is based in Colorado and focuses his work on the American West. He has published three books: his newest book, Living River: The Promise of the Mighty Colorado; Sage Spirit: The American West at A Crossroads, both published by Braided River; and Prairie Thunder by Skyline Press. Showalter’s photographs and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Audubon, Conservation Biology, Outside, Outdoor Photographer, National Parks magazine, High Country News, Wilderness, Colorado Life and elsewhere. In partnership with Braided River, Showalter’s exhibit “Colorado: Sage Spirit and Roaring Rivers” was displayed at Denver International Airport in 2018 and 2019, and viewed by more than 2 million people. Showalter is faculty with the Summit Series of Photo Workshops, a Senior Fellow Photographer in the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), and works in partnership with numerous conservation groups, including Audubon Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited Headwaters (Colorado River). Showalter travels extensively presenting Living River, Sage Spirit and a range of western topics.
About wildlife shooting: I photograph wild animals in wild settings and will not photograph captive animals at game farms.
Frequently Asked Questions
As we add new features and rules to the annual Showcase competition, questions are bound to arise that we have not addressed. Below are a few examples of possible questions. We will add more as we receive additional inquiries. If your question is not covered, please contact the Showcase Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A: There is no time limit as to when photos were taken.
A: Underwater seascape images go in the Scapes category unless the subject is wildlife (fish, invertebrates, etc.) or tiny animals underwater. Put fish, invertebrates and tiny underwater animals in Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife.
A: No. Photo illustrated images are not allowed in the conservation category.
I have a photo of an insect, close up, within its rainforest habitat shot at ground level. I can see this going in Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife, but it could just as easily go in Scapes since it shows the insect’s habitat. Do you have a preference?
A: Consider entering it in Scapes when habitat is a strong element of primary interest of the image. It wouldn’t be wrong in either category, so you must use your judgment.
I have a photo of my daughter fishing in the Firehole River in Yellowstone. What category should I put that in?
A: Entries in any category can include people interacting with or in the vicinity of the category subject as long as the people are not the primary interest. The larger view of these images would go into Scapes…provided they show the landscape and the people and their activity are not the primary point of interest (people images are not otherwise accepted into the competition). For your particular image, if the river is prominent and the setting is wild, then you could put the image in Scapes. Other image examples: a foggy morning and a loon pair on a lake with a man looking out on the scene from a chair on the dock with his feet in the water (this image could go in Scapes or Birds if either is prominent); mountain climbers ascending Mt. Rainier (also, Scapes); a photographer on the hood of a moving vehicle filming running cheetahs (Mammals if the cheetahs are prominent).
I have abstract images that I’d like to submit but they are often blurs with no indication that they are animals, plants or minerals. What category should I submit these?
A: If the actual subject is a scape, submit the image in Scapes; if it is a mammal, bird or other wildlife, submit in Mammals, Birds or Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife. The blurred style might also fit the Altered Reality category if the image is also transformed or enhanced. Many successful entries in that category make use of more than a single technique or filter.
What happens if I submit on two occasions? Can I receive the discounted price for all images after I submit the first five?
With the new 2024 Showcase Entry Portal you can come back and enter or edit your entries as often as you wish! For each image you submit after the fifth, you will get the 20% discount (entry fee of $8 / image) no matter how many sessions you submit the images in. Any questions? Send a note to email@example.com and we will get back to you quickly!
A: If the bear is a small part of the image and the landscape is outstanding, put it in Scapes. Here’s why: The landscape sounds like it is important to the feel of the image, and since this competition receives a lot of bear images—lots and lots—you might do better in Scapes. Who could resist a spectacular landscape with the surprise of a bear in the image?
By the way, the judges have the option of moving an image from one category to another if it is clear to them that it does not belong in the category in which it was submitted. That doesn’t happen often, and re-assigning categories is not the responsibility of the judges; an improperly categorized image could just as easily be disqualified.
A: Since the rules state that “entries that do not accurately reflect the subject matter and scene as it appeared when captured with the camera must be designated as Photo Illustration,” when content is removed from an image, it must be designated as a photo illustration when you enter it. It’s okay to touch up dust spots or scratches (from film). It may or may not be possible for you to crop out the leaf or piece of grass, but that’s another option.
A: No need to eliminate IPTC info. Our only concern is that when judges view images there are not embedded photo credits or other identifying info. You’d be surprised how often that happens!