Dazzling Displays: 8th Annual Photo Contest Winners

Out of more than 50,000 photographs submitted, editors – and readers – picked seven showstoppers

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Smithsonian magazine

When a troupe of Indonesian dancers came to Bhopal, India, to perform a balletic adaptation of the Ramayana—the ancient Hindu epic detailing the worldly exploits of the hero Rama, freelance photojournalist Prakash Hatvalne, 54, was ready. “I reached the venue a little early,” he recalls. “As I went into the greenroom and was talking to the [dancers], I saw some of them making final touches to their makeup and costumes.” While one checked herself out in a mirror and another adjusted her eyelashes, Hatvalne pressed the shutter on his Nikon D50 digital camera. Smithsonian judges selected the resulting image as the grand-prize-winning photograph in our 8th annual photo contest. Given a choice between $2,600 in prize money and a vacation from Smithsonian Journeys, the Institution’s travel arm, Hatvalne opted for a trip to the Grand Canyon. He and his wife, Anita, will be traveling from India to Arizona this summer.

This year’s winning photographs invite us to appreciate spontaneous, everyday encounters: a firefly illuminating a blade of grass, a festival celebrant captured mid-leap, a young girl hiding her face in a headscarf or a batter sizing up a pitched baseball. “I wanted to capture a powerful moment, what one can only see hurtle by in a second, now frozen in time,” Christopher Lucka says of his stopped action shot.

This year nearly 12,000 contestants from all over the world submitted more than 52,000 entries in five categories: Altered Images, Americana, the Natural World, People and Travel. In addition to the finalists and winners selected by Smithsonian’s judges, online readers cast votes for their favorite photograph—an egret fanning its feathers. A gallery of all 50 finalist photographs can be found at Smithsonian.com/finalists. Our 9th photo contest is open for entries until December 1, 2011. C’mon, we want you to enter!

Grand Prize Winner »
Readers' Choice Winner »
Altered Images Winner »
Americana Winner »
The Natural World Winner »
People Winner »
Travel Winner »

Among other duties, editorial assistant Jesse Rhodes is responsible for our photo contest.

Indonesian artists make a few final touches before performing
Prakash Hatvalne (Bhopal, India)
Photographed June 2008, Bhopal, India

Hatvalne, who has worked as a photojournalist for the past two decades, was taken by the dancers’ fastidious preparations before a performance. “I love photographing people,” he says. “I also sometimes photograph landscapes as well, but there is no better landscape than a human face.” Prakash Hatvalne
Great White Egret
Antonio Soto (Weston, Florida)
Photographed March 2009, South Florida

A simple modification such as blacking out a background can yield dramatic results—as is the case with this photo of an egret. “These birds are magnificent animals,” Soto says, “and I have been photographing them since I was 18 years old.” This is the first Altered Images entry to win the Readers’ Choice award. Antonio Soto
Amber firefly
Radim Schreiber (Fairfield, Iowa)
Photographed July 2010, Fairfield, Iowa

“In the Czech Republic where I grew up, I only saw fireflies a couple of times, deep in the forest,” Schreiber recalls. “When I came to the United States, I was shocked and thrilled to see the abundance of fireflies and their amazing glow. I was happy to encounter this firefly and photograph its magical bioluminescence.” Radim Schreiber
Shyness
Fakrul Islam (Sylhet, Bangladesh)
Photographed October 2008, Sylhet, Bangladesh

Islam, who is president of his hometown photographic society, encountered this young girl in a tea garden. “It was evening when I saw her waiting for her mother to bring back fresh drinking water,” he recalls. “The eyes, the solemn look, the shyness of the girl compelled me to take this photo.” Fakrul Islam
Bronx teenager playing baseball
Christopher Lucka (New York City, New York)
Photographed March 2010, New York City, New York

“It was dusk and the shadows were long and elongated, and I was captivated by the shadows of the players,” Lucka recalls of the fenced-in Bronx sports court where several teenagers were playing baseball. “There was enough light to get the ball in mid-motion. It’s one of my favorite photographs, to this day.” Christopher Lucka
Creepy crawler
Lotte Pedersen (Esbjerg, Denmark)
Photographed August 2010, Esbjerg, Denmark

Lotte Pedersen finds photographic inspiration in nature. “I’m fascinated by the ‘big’ small world right outside in my backyard,” she says. “I can go on an adventure just by stepping outside.” Starting with her photo of a red beetle, she overlaid a shot of a concrete wall to create the textured surface of the final image. Lotte Pedersen
People taking a bath during a local religious fair
Poras Chaudhary (Kurukshetra, India)
Photographed August 2008, Kurukshetra, India

“The whole atmosphere was very lively,” Chaudhary says of the solar eclipse festival where he took this image. “There was so much to shoot: water, reflections, pilgrims, sadhus. I couldn’t resist. As a travel photographer I am able to capture a whole story in one frame, making the viewer feel the place.” Poras Chaudhary