2023 Showcase competition

Get inspired by our annual juried photo competition featuring some of the best work produced by NANPA members.
The Top 250 images are selected from thousands of entries across six categories: mammals, birds, landscapes, conservation, altered reality, and macro/micro/other wildlife and are featured in our Expressions journal.

The entry period opens August 1, 2022, and will close in mid-September. Exact closing date will be announced in July 2022.

Cover image by Anita Ross

2022 Showcase Judges’ Choice, Mammals

Winning a photo contest can elevate a nature photographer’s credibility and visibility. But winning isn’t everything.

Entering photo contests puts your images in front of audiences. Images can influence and affect people, change opinions, or make a difference. It isn’t unusual for participating photographers to be contacted about licensing their images for publication.

Contests also allow you to see how your work measures up to others. They are an opportunity to learn what makes one image unique in a field of thousands, what moves viewers or resonates with them, and—perhaps frustratingly—that no two judges are completely alike. Contests are, in short, one way to publish your work.

Participating in NANPA’s Showcase competition is also a way to use your images to support NANPA and help the organization attract and engage new nature photography enthusiasts.

Macro/Micro/All Other Wildlife Category, 2022 Showcase Top 100: Emerald Glass Frog with Crossed Fingers, Costa Rica, © Rick Beldegreen

Showcase Competition Categories

NANPA’s Showcase recognizes images in six distinct categories

  • Altered Reality: Includes images obviously displaying a 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.
  • Birds: Includes all birds.
  • Conservation: 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.
  • 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.
  • Mammals: Includes both land and sea mammals.
  • Scapes: Includes landscape, plantscape, seascape, atmosphere, weather, etc.
Birds category

BIRDS CATEGORY, 2021 Showcase Top 250
Open Wide, San Luis Obispo County, California
© Alice Cahill

Altered reality category

Coneflower In-camera Double Exposure, Cleveland Metro Parks, Ohio
© Randall Dunn

Conservation category

CONSERVATION CATEGORY, 2021 Showcase Top 250
Inquisitive Nestling Burrowing Owls, Mountain Home, Idaho
© Jim Shane


Goldenrod Crab Spider Shedding Skin, Ayden, North Carolina
© Anne Grimes

Mammals category

MAMMALS CATEGORY, 2021 Showcase Top 250
Southern Elephant Seal Pups Huddle against the Bulk of Their Mothers, Salisbury Plains, South Georgia
© Vicki Santello

Scapes category

SCAPES CATEGORY, 2021 Showcase Top 250
Sturm und Drang of King Tide Waves, Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington
© William Sutton

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Birds category
Altered reality category
Conservation category
Mammals category
Scapes category
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Tips from the judges

Tips From the Judges

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!”
  • 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.
  • If you are not shooting digital but are submitting digital pictures, check the scans against the originals before sending.
    The judges may love the composition and content of an image, but be unable to get past the pixelation in the sky or water or the softness of a bad scan. (That’s true for photo buyers as well.)
  • The submission of an image that isn’t sized properly is unacceptable.
    Follow the competition rules exactly.
  • 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.
  • The best 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. Too much or unskilled sharpening, dodging and burning can easily ruin an image. Over-saturation of images using image management software 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.

The entry period opens August 1 and closes at 11 pm EDT on September 20.

Captive and photo illustration explained

NANPA believes in photographers’ creative freedom to make images as they wish. Yet, it also recognizes that images presented in educational and other documentary contexts are assumed by the public to be straightforward records of what the photographer captured with a camera. Communicating clearly, efficiently and fully about the making of nature images is thus linked to public trust and acceptance.

Creators of images entered into the Showcase competition must be truthful in representing their work. 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. Garden flora should be designated as captive.(Photographs taken at game farms are not accepted into the Showcase competition.)

Normal processing and capture that’s acceptable without designating an image as Photo Illustration includes:

  • cropping
  • minor adjustments to color, white balance, tone, lighting levels and curves, shadows and highlights, saturation, contrast, sharpness
  • moderate toning, dodging and burning
  • removal of dust or scratches or reduction of image noise
  • HDR, focus stacking and stitched panoramas
  • in-camera multiple exposures
  • minor cosmetic removal of elements not affecting the material content of the image

Photographs that have been digitally or otherwise altered beyond standard optimization should be designated Photo Illustration. These include:

  • addition, removal or alteration that changes the material content of the original scene
  • 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 obscuring parts of it

If using the Photo Illustration designation, it’s in your best interest to state (explain) in the description field on the entry form what was done to warrant it. 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.

Include information in the “descriptive subject” field that can preemptively address judges’ likely questions about photo illustration, unexpected elements, or ethics concerns.

What constitutes altered reality?

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 deny 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 as Photo Illustrated (PHIL). Any image that adds, removes or changes the contents must be designated with PHIL, regardless of category.

7 most frequent mistakes made in entering the Showcase competition

  1. Watermark, credit, border or other extra treatment on the image or identifying information in the caption. These require immediate disqualification.
  2. Images come in after the deadline, which is September 20th at 11:00pm EDT. The “shut off” is automatic. Give yourself enough time to complete the process before the deadline. FINALIZE must be clicked before the deadline.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Images are muddy. All images are viewed via web browser, which is always sRGB. Convert your images to sRGB and then adjust saturation and contrast with that in mind. Every image is viewed under the same conditions, so no advantage is given to any color space.

Image preparation tips

  1. 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:Resize your images using Adobe Lightroom
    Resize your images using Adobe PhotoshopIf 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.

Most popular Showcase subjects

  1. A unique subject will stand out to the judges. Here’s a list of the most popular subjects during previous Showcase competitions: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


As we add new features and rules to the annual Showcase competition, questions are bound to arise that we did not address directly elsewhere. Below are a few examples, and we’ll be adding more as we learn more. If your question is not covered here, please contact the Showcase Coordinator at showcase@nanpacontest.org.

Q: When do the images need to have been taken? Is there a limit?

A: There is no time limit as to when photos were taken.

Q: What category do underwater photos belong in?

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.

Include information in the “descriptive subject” field that can preemptively address judges’ likely questions about photo illustration, unexpected elements, or ethics concerns.

Q: Can I enter my photo illustrated image in the conservation category?

A: No. Photo illustrated images are not allowed in the conservation category.

Q: 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.

Q: 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).

Q: 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 in?

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.

Q: What happens if I submit on two occasions? Can I get 6 for the price of 5 at $50 each time?

A: You receive that bonus 6th image with every purchase of 5 images, no matter how many images you submit—as long as you enter them all at the same time. You only get the discounted price (6 for the price of 5) when groups of 6 are entered at the same time. You cannot enter 2 images and come back the next day and enter 4 images and get the 6 for the price of 5 discount.

Q: Where should I put my photograph of a bear in its Alaskan habitat?

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.

Q: Is it permissible to remove an offending leaf or piece of grass?

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.

Q: As there are to be no identifying marks or embedded IDs, do I need to eliminate the IPTC info?

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!

Conservation category

Get your conservation images ready to enter into the 2022 NANPA Showcase competition! NANPA added a sixth category to its annual members-only photo competition in 2020: conservation. 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 the situation or someone who has worked a long time on a conservation story. A winning image will be a combination of a single image and the context of that image.

A Best in Show, First Runner-Up and two Judges’ Choice winners will be awarded from this category, the same as other Showcase categories. Because of its specific nature, a separate panel of judges will choose the winning images for this category. Cash prizes (in addition to other elements of the prize packages) are awarded for this category just as other categories in Showcase.

What is a conservation image?

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 should 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 might just belong in another category.

In creating a conservation photo, elements cannot be altered, added or removed to affect the meaning or integrity of the scene.

Review the following winning conservation images from the 2021 Showcase competition to help you form a vision of what constitutes a conservation photo.

Black-capped chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee Stuck in Burdock, Bozeman, Montana, 2021 Showcase Judges' Choice, Conservation © Kyle Moon


Pelican Not "Living the High Life," Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2021 Showcase Judges' Choice, Conservation © Jeremy Burnham


Processed Legs of a Bison Sit in a Cart after Being Slaughtered, Gardiner, Montana, 2021 Showcase Runner-Up, Conservation © Dawn Wilson Photography

Stump field

Still a Stump Field after 130 Years, Kingston Plains near Munising, Michigan, 2021 Showcase Top 100, Conservation © Tom Haxby

Western Snowy Plover

Threatened Western Snowy Plover Settles down Her Eggs, Monterey, California, 2021 Showcase Top 100, Conservation © Joshua Asel

Sea lion pup

Girls Petting a Frightened Newborn California Sea Lion Pup as It Tries to Escape, La Jolla, California, 2021 Showcase Top 100, Conservation © Jennifer Warner


Inquisitive Nestling Burrowing Owls, Mountain Home, Idaho, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Jim Shane

Domestic cat

California Thrasher in the Mouth of a Domestic Cat, San Luis Obispo County, California, 2021 Showcase Best in Category, Conservation © Alice Cahill

Adjutant storks

Endangered Greater Adjutant Storks Atop Boragaon Landfill, Guwahati, India, 2021 Showcase Top 100, Conservation © Carla Rhodes

Manta ray

Condominiums Loom over Juvenile Manta Ray, Jupiter, Florida, 2021 Showcase Top 100, Conservation © Bryant Turffs

Lilac-breasted roller

Lilac-Breasted Roller Taking Flight, Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania © Christopher Ciccone


There's a Message in the Trash, Rio Salado Audubon Center, Phoenix, Arizona, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Shane Morrison

natural area

The Last Preserve: Tiny Natural Area in the Midst of Warehouses and Industrial Development, London, England, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation© Thomas Simpson


The Loss of Two Bushbuck, Maasai Mara, Kenya, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Alison M. Jones


Tibetan Macaque at a Poor-Quality 'Rescue' Facility, China, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Scott Trageser


Too Young to Drink: Tule Elk with Litter, Elk Meadow, Redwood National Park, California, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Jane Scott Norris

blue whale fetus

Victim of a Shipstrike: Blue Whale Fetus Expelled from Mother, Bean Hollow State Beach, Pescadero, California, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Jodi Frediani


Free-Roaming Domestic Cats Kill Billions of Birds and Mammals Each Year, Oceanside, California, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Nicollet Overby


Wild Pelican Unable to Eat a Pleco, Jurong, Singapore, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Robert Ferguson


Archenemies: The Manatee and the Motorboat, Crystal River, Florida, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © James Beissel

shark fins

A Shark Finning camp with Hundreds of Fins Laying out to Dry, Punta Hughes, Isla Magdalena, Mexico, 2021 Showcase Top 250, Conservation © Bill Klipp

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Black-capped chickadee
Stump field
Western Snowy Plover
Sea lion pup
Domestic cat
Adjutant storks
Manta ray
Lilac-breasted roller
natural area
blue whale fetus
shark fins
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Tips for Conservation entries

  1. Write a caption that has impact and draws attention, whether it’s a positive or negative conservation story.
  2. 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.
  3. An image should be well-captured for the strongest impact.
  4. 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 is layered and invites the viewer into the story.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Conservation images aren’t just the gut-punch stories. Sometimes we become desensitized to those and simply turn away.
  8. A technically lacking image of an impactful situation may not score well enough to win. All of the Showcase criteria will be considered in judging: creativity, originality, impact and photographic skill.
  9. People can be represented in the photo as both humans and wildlife are affected by conservation stories either directly or indirectly.

For additional information about Showcase, contact the Showcase Coordinator at showcase@nanpacontest.org.

Contest Secrets

Get more tips and contest insights—that apply to NANPA’s Showcase as well as other photo competitions—in our free handbook, Contest Secrets: What to know before you enter a photo.