From a playful-looking stoat to a mantis shrimp guarding its eggs, the animal subjects in the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards are captivating. This year’s winning photographers captured creatures in Svalbard, Norway; Bangladesh; Brazil and the depths of the Indo-Pacific.
On Tuesday, the World Photography Organization announced the shortlist and winners in the open competition, which allowed submissions from people of all ages and experience levels. Of the 415,000 total entries, which also included images in the youth and professional categories, the open awards received 200,000.
The contest accepted photos that fit under ten wide umbrellas: architecture, creative, landscape, lifestyle, motion, natural world and wildlife, object, portraiture, street photography and travel. From all of these subjects, one winner will be crowned on April 13.
“Finding original and different viewpoints photographically is challenging—but ever more rewarding,” Mike Trow, chair of the jury that judged the entries, said in a statement when the contest’s professional winners were announced. “They covered the profound and ongoing discussions around narrative truth and agency in art, as well as wider environmental, political and societal viewpoints.”
Here are the stunning animal and nature photos commended in the open competition’s natural world and wildlife category. (Standout pictures from all the categories can be seen here.) After viewing these awe-inspiring images, cast a vote for the Reader’s Choice award in Smithsonian magazine’s own annual photo contest.
“Mighty Pair” by Dinorah Graue Obscura, Winner
Mexican photographer Dinorah Graue Obscura was taking pictures of crested caracaras flying in Texas when she found two of them sitting together on a branch. Here, these carrion-feeding birds in the falcon family were sitting very still and looking in the same direction, as if posing for the camera.
“I think that a good picture does not need color, it just needs to capture the desired moment in time,” writes the photographer in a statement. But in the case of this image, the subjects also made it stand out. “I was amazed by their powerful personalities,” she writes.
“Stoat’s game” by Jose Manuel Grandio
This snow-white stoat in midair is demonstrating a mysterious behavior. Such twisting jumps are fairly common for the ferret-like creatures, but scientists aren’t exactly sure why. Some theorize it’s an involuntary response to infection by parasites, while others suggest it’s part of hunting.
“Sometimes, the dances are performed in front of a rabbit or large bird in an apparent attempt to confuse or distract potential prey,” Spanish photographer Jose Manuel Grandio writes in a statement. “But on other occasions—as here—there is no prey animal in sight.”
“Pandora” by Marcio Esteves Cabral
To capture these Paepalanthus wildflowers that form balls of tiny blooms, Marcio Esteves Cabral used a lantern to illuminate them. In the background, the Milky Way lights up the sky.
The flowers are “firework-like,” the Brazilian photographer writes in a statement. “It took several attempts, as I needed to capture the flowers without any wind to avoid motion blur during the long exposure.”
“The Captivating Eyes” by Protap Shekhor Mohanto
At the National Botanical Garden of Bangladesh, Protap Shekhor Mohanto concealed himself in order to capture this image of a young owl.
“During the day, these amazing birds tend to hide in nests made in the holes of tree trunks, but they sometimes peep out to observe their surroundings with their captivating yellow eyes,” the photographer from Bangladesh writes in a statement.
“Home Alone” by Pietro Formis
Italian photographer Pietro Formis found beauty in a piece of trash in the ocean. And this fish, a brown comber, found a place to hide.
The walls of the waste basket are lined with crinoids, plant-like marine animals that have been around since the Paleozoic. They make “beautiful decorations for the wall of this house,” Formis writes in a statement.
“Kingdom of the Parakeet” by Subrata Dey
Thousands of parakeets swarm above a field of rice in the agricultural area of Gumai Bill in Bangladesh. This highly productive field attracts droves of the seed-eating parrots when it is ripe. As Bangladeshi photographer Subrata Dey writes in a statement, “this area could be called a ‘parrot sanctuary.’”
“Puffin at Sunset” by James Hunter
As daylight faded, American photographer James Hunter put the sun at his back, hoping to capture a village in the Faroe Islands bathed in a soft golden glow. Then, a duo of puffins showed up.
“As it started to rain, I lay down and photographed this one in the spectacular light,” Hunter writes in a statement.
“Untitled” by Tibor Prisznyák
Hungarian photographer Tibor Prisznyák snapped this orange-tinted shot of deer in the morning light. A stag with antlers appears through the haze in the center of the image.
“Proud” by Patrick Ems
To Swiss photographer Patrick Ems, this goat looked to be standing proud and “enjoying the last rays of sunlight,” as he writes in a statement. The animal is standing in front of the peak of an 11,424-foot-tall French mountain known informally as "The Grepon."
“Frozen Feet” by Alex Pansier
A chinstrap penguin walks amid icy slopes, immortalized by Dutch photographer Alex Pansier.
“Pretty in Pink” by Charly Clérisse
Perfect to blend in with its surroundings, this Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse is covered in small red bumps. The tiny species grows to no more than an inch long and lives in fan corals.
French photographer Charly Clérisse captured its likeness in the Indo-Pacific in Tulamben, Bali. In a statement, Clérisse writes that the seahorse was a “very shy subject.”
“The River Crossing” by Arnfinn Johansen
In July 2022, Norse photographer Arnfinn Johansen snapped this image of wildebeest crossing the Mara River, a waterway in Tanzania and Kenya. They moved forward even though the water was infested with crocodiles, the photographer writes in a statement.
“Eye on the Prize” by Vince Burton
United Kingdom-based photographer Vince Burton captured this photo from below a barn owl swooping down on its prey.
“My precious” by Andrea Michelutti
This harlequin mantis shrimp (also called a peacock mantis shrimp) was photographed with its eggs in the Lembeh Strait of Indonesia. Italian photographer Andrea Michelutti took this image underwater, using a snoot, or a device that narrows the camera’s flash down to a point. The shrimp is a multicolored species known for its powerful punch.
“This mantis shrimp embraces and protects its treasure: thousands of eggs,” Michelutti writes in a statement. “It takes a few minutes to obtain this visual contact with both eyes, considering they can be moved independently in all directions.”
“Climate Change” by Mark Fitzsimmons
In Nordenskjøld Land National Park in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway, a polar bear walks along a rocky landscape.
“A decade ago there was a glacier,” Australian photographer Mark Fitzsimmons writes in a statement. “Despite relatively healthy numbers in the Svalbard region of the Arctic, polar bears face many issues, including increased human/wildlife conflict, warmer summers and receding glaciers.”