From Iceland’s volcanic landscape to Australia’s fire-ravaged forests: Stunning winners of National Geographic Traveller’s 2021 photography competition revealed

  • Taking the grand prize is Andro Loria for his ‘spectacular’ entry in the Portfolio category 
  • The images, all taken in Iceland from a small plane, capture the country’s deserts, volcanoes, and highlands 
  • The judges say: ‘Bright, dynamic and interesting, this is a stunning collection of shots’ 

The ‘best travel photography’ of the year has been revealed.

So says National Geographic Traveller UK in the unveiling of its 2021 Photography Competition winners.

Taking the grand prize is London-based Andro Loria for his ‘spectacular’ entry in the Portfolio category. The images, all taken in Iceland from a small aeroplane, capture the country’s deserts, volcanoes, glaciers, mountains, rivers, lakes, coast and highlands.

The judges say: ‘What an incredible selection of landscapes, mixing abstract, swirling colours with frozen, geyser-filled vistas in a way that is at once cohesive and distinct. The skill with portfolios is to curate a selection of images that complement each other and to elevate each above the single frame, while ensuring that each works individually – and the photographer has certainly succeeded with this.

‘The abstract images immediately draw the eye with brilliant colours, but the more identifiable landscape shots serve as a necessary foil to bring the portfolio back into the real world. Bright, dynamic and interesting, this is a stunning collection of shots.’

Pat Riddell, editor of National Geographic Traveller (UK), says: ‘We might have spent 18 months in a global pandemic, but that hasn’t diminished the consistent quality in our annual competition .’ Scroll down to see Mailonline Travel’s pick of the pictures… 

Hari Kumar Prasannakumar captured this photograph of an osprey – a runner-up in the Wildlife category – in Aviemore, Scotland. Ospreys, also known as sea hawks, migrate from Africa to Scotland every year. While there, the Indian photographer camouflaged himself and watched an osprey’s hunting mission play out from his perch. He recalls: ‘A lucky osprey in search of its breakfast swooped down on a lake to catch a bite to eat and flew off with a fish in each claw.’ Prasannakumar spent around two and half years waiting for the perfect moment to capture the image, and describes it as a ‘dream shot’. ‘The passion and my patience paid off,’ he says. ‘I was waiting for the bird from 4am in the morning, I got the first jump at 5am but it was a noisy image due to low light. Another bird came and this time I got the shot.’ The judges say: ‘An extremely impressive shot’ 

This beautiful image is also a runner-up in the Wildlife category. In securing the shot, Dimitrios Zacharopoulos drew inspiration from the flora and fauna of Wisley Gardens, Surrey. ‘I often go out and search for nature shots,’ he says. ‘This day was a particularly good day without too much sunlight. This spot had incredible colourful flowers and mesmerising tones and bumblebees were enjoying them. The striking colours of the flowers were a great contrast to the bumblebee colours and they worked well together.’ The UK-based photographer says taking the winning photo was ‘not easy’ – he admits to taking around 50 different images of the flowers before striking gold

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LEFT: London’s Richmond Park was the setting for this mesmerising picture, which shows a rabbit bathed in the golden light of the sunset. Snapped by photographer Mitchell Lewis, it is crowned the winner of the Wildlife category. The amateur nature photographer says: ‘Although Richmond is known for its many deer, I focused my attention on spending time with a large colony of rabbits in the centre of the park. Having spent two to three afternoons a week with the rabbits over a two-month period I was able to get fairly close to them without causing any disturbance to their natural behaviours.’ Lewis, who is based in London, says he captured the winning shot on ‘a perfect June afternoon’. After crawling up to the rabbits, he ‘was able to capture this moment as a rabbit sits in wait, enjoying the last few minutes of light before the sun dips below the tree line’. The judges say the photograph ‘feels like an oil painting’ and describe it as ‘an elegant shot of an often ignored animal.’ RIGHT: Behold the runner up in the People category, captured by Rajiv Joshi. The photograph shows a boatman tackle a challenging water channel filled with rocks and rapids. Joshi enlisted the help of the boatman to reach an island in Putao, a remote region in northern Myanmar, that’s home to a Buddhist shrine that monks make a pilgrimage to. ‘There was a powerful spirituality surrounding the area and a realisation the journey would be an adventure.’ the photographer recalls. Joshi was in awe of the boatman’s bravery when faced with traversing the water. ‘I was amazed by his skill, navigating through rapids and rocks protruding from shallow waters,’ he says. ‘He appeared cool and calm, even though I had concern we may capsize’

This photograph by Nic Crilly-Hargrave wins the top prize in the Food and Travel category. The self-taught photographer captured the shot in a warehouse behind Veracruz market in Mexico in January 2020. ‘It’s where animals are butchered and deliveries are unloaded, so it’s a pretty hectic place to shoot,’ Crilly-Hargrave says. ‘It’s a race against time to get everything ready before shoppers arrive, so everyone’s pretty focused – but I spotted this moment of companionship between two men as they gutted fish, knives flashing, scales flying everywhere. When they saw I’d taken their picture, one pointed to the other, uttering one word: “brother”.’ What do the judges think? ‘A seemingly simple photograph, this shot is entirely made by the interaction between the two subjects. Clearly passionate about their job, we feel as if we are sharing a personal joke and this helps make this shot feel inclusive and intimate, drawing us into their world’ 

Look above and you’ll see the runner-up in the Urban Environment category. During a trip to Downtown Yangon, Myanmar, Joshua Paul Akers decided to angle his camera from the fifth floor of ChanMyae Guest House. He explains: ‘There is so much happening at ground level in Yangon that you could be forgiven for not looking up. Having chosen a budget guesthouse on the upper levels of a hectic downtown street, I found myself with an even more emotive view five stories above street level.’ Akers, who works as an event photographer by day, adds: ‘The formerly grand facades of the buildings opposite had turned into a sort of unintentional vertical urban jungle, with trees and plants growing out of the cracks in the green and faded yellow walls’

The picture above – a runner-up in the Urban Environment category – was taken by the railway tracks in Rainham, East London. Snapper Vai Meng Chan was determined to capture the sunset and planned the photograph with careful precision. The Chinese photographer says: ‘The sunset position can only be seen one week a year and depends on the weather. Also, the train (Southeastern high-speed Class 395 Javelin) passed every 20 to 30 minutes. I planned this shot two months earlier and needed to be there for the whole week.’ The photographer adds that he likes to look for special spots that no one else has photographed. One judge comments: ‘I like the juxtaposition of earth’s natural powerhouse against the background of powerlines, pylons, cranes and unfinished tower blocks. The sun’s glint striking the rails and train draw the viewer’s eye to the journey through this quasi-apocalyptic urban landscape’

This image is from Renato Granieri’s portfolio, which is a runner up in the Portfolio category. Captured in Sierra Leone, the series shows The Sorbengi Women’s Oyster Group in action. According to Granieri, the group, which was founded by Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in 2018, ‘aims to teach the residents about sustainable ways to harvest oysters, so they are not destroying the environment and nature around them’. He adds: ‘This initiative purposefully targeted women oyster harvesters as a form of woman empowerment in the area. The group now boasts a total of 40 harvesters, 34 of which are women.’ One National Geographic judge says: ‘I was struck by the narrative in this portfolio: the portrayal of a community dependent on endangered mangrove habitat who, in caring for their environment, secure their future. The photographer engages with the subjects and the portraits are vibrant, interesting and contextual as well as technically near faultless’

Cast your eye above and you’ll see another of Granieri’s photographs. Again, it shows the work carried out by The Sorbengi Women’s Oyster Group. Granieri says: ‘During my stay at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, I was part of the Tacugama team that visited this remote area of Sierra Leone. I had a fantastic opportunity to spend a few days and witness the hard work achieved by the community. The work they do is truly remarkable.’ The judges describe the portfolio as ‘a truly intimate window into a small town’, adding: ‘This is a deeply personal portfolio that feels like a deep dive under a town’s collective personality’ 

This is one of the pictures of Iceland, taken from a small plane during the summer and autumn of 2020, that helped land Andro Loria the grand prize and the top spot in the Portfolio category. ‘Iceland is unique, as it has a great variety of landscape types within a relatively short range of distance,’ the photographer says. The judges drew attention to the artistic qualities of his landscape shots, saying: ‘Each image is striking in its own way and really draws you into the details of the landscapes and the story behind each of them’

Above is another image from Loria’s portfolio. He says: ‘You can see deserts, volcanos, glaciers, mountains, braided rivers and lakes, sea coast and highlands all in one flight. It is like a continent in miniature. And what an amazing “continent” it is.’ The judges heaped praise on the ‘absolutely wonderful photos’, adding ‘they look like abstract photos, like they are from another planet’ 

Again, Loria was behind the lens for this spectacular image. The judges apparently ‘did not want the portfolio to end’

Loria’s work, pictured above, was described as an ‘incredible selection of landscapes’ by the National Geographic judges

Loria’s talent as a photographer again shines through in this image. The judges comment that they were impressed with how he captured the volcanic landscape’s ‘dreamy spirals of geothermal steam’

This poignant photograph, captured by Jonathan Doyle, shows the devastation caused by Australia’s forest fires. The British photographer’s body of work is a runner-up in the Portfolio category. He snared this image in 2020 when he visited Australia’s Namadgi National Park, which had recently been ravaged by an unprecedented bush fire. The area was closed to the public at the time, but the park manager invited Doyle to see the impact of the fire. Doyle says: ‘The scene could only be described as apocalyptic, absolute devastation. But it was the silence that struck me first. We just stood there in the middle of the road, surrounded by dead white limbs thrusting up from the ground like giant skeletal fingers. No bird calls, no buzzing insects, no rustling leaves. Just suffocating silence. For me, these images depict the bleak reality of how human actions are leading to the destruction of our home, and it could well be a glimpse into what the future could hold for the Earth.’ Moved by the series, the judges say: ‘This series really captures the eeriness after a wildfire… the stillness and destruction of what is left behind’ 

Feast your eyes on Emerald Lake in China’s Qinghai Province. Photographer Jianbo Jia captured this photograph, which is a runner-up in the Landscape category, after travelling eight hours to reach the lake’s enchanting green waters. ‘When my friends and I arrived at the Emerald Lake, we were stunned, and our previous exhaustion was swept away,’ Jia says. ‘When we pulled up at the lake, I was still preparing my drone for take-off when my friend excitedly dashed into the lake, which I then filmed with my drone. My friend’s red jacket contrasted with the green surface of the lake, and their careful walk through the lake’s shallows added movement to the scene.’ Elaborating on the success of the photograph, one judge says: ‘I was really drawn to this landscape because of how unusual it is. The colours really grab you and I love the way the photographer has placed the people in the foreground along this curving leading line’

Have a gander at the winner of the landscape category, a drone shot captured by Turkish photographer Ozgun Ozdemir. The photo shows Marble Hill beach on the north coast of Donegal, Ireland, just before sunrise. Ozdemir, who moved to Donegal in 2013, explains: ‘Ever since I moved to Ireland, I always wanted to do a sea-related activity, but I was too shy to try anything because of the cold. I then tried surfing and fell in love with it. This is the beach where I frequently go surfing and I have experienced so many beautiful moments here. I was planning this shot for a couple of months.’ The judges admired his commitment to nailing the shot: ‘The use of drone photography has an incredibly impactful effect here, making the stream from land to water feel like a magic spell’

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