Peer Through the Lens of the World’s Best Nature Photographers

Sixty images, including the winners, from the 23rd annual Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice Awards go on view

Jabiru and Nest, Pantanal, Brazil by Petr Bambousek, (Winner for "Birds"): "When the pink labacho trees of the Pantanal are in full bloom, the entire area is unbelievably beautiful."
Polar Ice Formation, Svalbard, Norway by Andy Rouse (Winner for "Polar Passion"): "People see different things in this image; I see a Siamese cat.”
African Bush Elephant, Skeleton Coast, Namib Desert, Namibia by Arby Lipman (Winner for "African Wildlife"): "They began ‘dust-bathing’ with the ochre-colored sands endemic to this region."
Mountain Gorillas, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda by Nelis Wolmarans (Winner, Grand Prize): "I was humbled sitting in such close proximity to the powerful female as she lay with this tiny bundle of fur in her arms."
Bull Moose, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA by Isaac Spotts (Youth Photographer of the Year): "Cautiously, I slid into the water to be eye-level with them."
Sumatran Orangutan, Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia by Marco Gaiotti (Winner for "Conservation Story"): "Orangutans rarely descend, since Sumatran tigers pose a constant danger on the ground."
Gray Whale, Magdalena Bay, near San Carlos, Baja California Sur, Mexico by Claudio Contreras Koob (Winner for "Ocean Views"): "Every winter, gray whales embark on an enormous migration from the freezing waters of the Arctic to the mild coastal lagoons of central Baja California."
Edith Creek Sunset, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, USA by Chase Dekker (Winner for "Landscapes"): "When the sun dipped below the tree line, the high atmospheric clouds began to erupt with life."
Hiking Proxy Falls, Willamette National Forest, McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, USA by Mark Chen (Winner for "Outdoor Adventure"): "When I visited Proxy Falls for the first time, its grandeur left me breathless,"
Burchell’s Zebras, Near Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha Wildlife Park, Namibia by Catherine Dobbins d’Alessio: "As they held that position, I wondered whether it was a challenge for a fight or just a friendly gesture."
African Lion and Cape Buffalo, Zimanga Private Game Reserve, Mkuze, South Africa by Ifham Raji: "This immature young lion was quite puzzled to see a herd of cape buffalo approaching."
Great Gray Owls, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada by Connor Stefanison: "Great gray owls are known to nest in old hawk nests or mistletoe clumps."
Florida Manatee, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, USA by Carol Grant: “Is this manatee communing with the fish? Only it knows for sure."
Indian Peafowl, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka by Lucas Bustamante: "I didn’t expect to see a male peafowl performing his mating display."
Crabeater Seals, Errera Channel, Antarctic Peninsula by Cristobal Serrano: "“Crabeater seals’ lives are inexorably linked to sea ice; it provides a place to rest, mate, give birth, and raise pups."
Reef Manta Ray, Mayotte Island, Mozambique Channel by Gabriel Barathieu: "It passed just above me, like a plane taking off. Magnificent!”
Oceanic Whitetip Shark and Pilot Fish, Brothers Islands, Red Sea, Egypt by Greg Lecoeur: "This inquisitive pelagic shark inspects everything and does not hesitate to come into contact with divers.”
Clark’s Anemonefish, Lembeh Strait, Indonesia by Pedro Carrillo: "“A juvenile clownfish was found hiding in the mouth of a beaded sand anemone, the favorite host of the fish."
Violet Blanket Octopus, Janao Bay, Anilao Batangas, Philippines by Songda Cai: "The tiny octopus was trying to appear larger than it really is.”
Humpback Whales, Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga by Vanessa Mignon: “Every year, humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the warm waters of Tonga to give birth."
Greater Blue-ringed Octopus and Eggs, Lembeh Strait, Indonesia by Yung-Sen Wu: "“At 89 feet deep, I came upon a blue-ringed octopus sucking in and blowing out yellow eggs."
Free Diver with Blue MaoMao and Red Pigfish, Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand by Robert Marc Lehmann: "I like the little red pigfish sneaking into the image.”
Tundra Swan, Klamath Basin, Oregon, USA by Robert Irwin, age 14

Isaac Spotts bought his first “decent camera” six years ago at the age of 13. He had long been fascinated by the creatures in his home state of Wyoming. This year, Spotts was named the Youth Photographer of the Year in the Nature's Best Windland Smith Rice Awards. Spotts won for his breathtaking image of three sparring bull moose.

In order to capture the moment up close, he hopped into the spring, keeping a safe distance from the moose, and positioned himself and his lens at eye level. "It was quite chilly walking back to my car while soaking wet in 20°F weather, but it was worth it," he recalled in a postscript to his winning photograph.

“When I get out in nature and find animals and spend time with them, it reminds me just how beautiful this world really is and how lucky we are to share it with these incredible creatures,” Spotts says.

Along with Spotts’s submission, 26,000 photos from 59 countries were entered in the reknowned competion, now in its 22nd year and named in honor of photographer and conservation activist Sandra Windland "Wendy" Smith Rice, who died in 2005. Out of the thousands of entries captured by photographers of varying age and skill level, 60 of the finest, including the prize winners, will be on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History through September 2019.

Silver Fox, Northern Washington, USA by Tin Man Lee (Winner for "Wildlife"): "I spent a week with this fox family after a friend shared the location."
Filtering Giants (, Isle Mujeres, Mexico by Howard and Michele Hall (Winner for "Video, Nature in Motion"): "How these animals know when and where the fish will spawn is a mystery.”

Cheetah, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya by Andy Rouse: "I had been following this family in the Maasai Mara for two weeks and loved their displays of intimacy."
Serval, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya by Richard Peters: "It paused for a moment, ready to pounce at a butterfly passing by."
Gentoo Penguins, Antarctic Peninsula by Anil Sud: "I spotted two chicks being fed by their parent."

Nelis Wolmarans is the grand prize winner and has for 20 years led safaris in the Maasai Mara, helping to facilitate wildfire relocations and ant-poaching efforts. Wolmarans says wildlife photography has provided him with “a deep appreciation for that which we cannot and should not control or predict.” His award-winning image captures a serene moment when a mother gorilla and her baby nestle together, eyes closed in sleep. "Wildlife photography and nature to me means living in the moment," he says of his image, "capturing or experiencing a scene or behavior that lasts only briefly and that will never repeat itself in the exact same way."

Some of the images in the exhibition are printed in life-size dimensions, making the portraits of zebras, gorillas, bison and other animals stunning and magnificent. Glorious panaramas of some of the Earth's most striking places deliver vistas of rivers, streams and trees, through the lens of some of the world's most creative outdoor photographers.

Other 2018 winners in their categories include: Arby Lipman from Fort Meyers Beach, Florida, for "African Wildlife;" Petr Bambousek of the Czech Republic for "Birds," Marco Gaiotti of Genoa, Italy, for "Conservation Story;" Chase Dekker from Monterey, California for "Landscapes;" Claudio Contreras Koob of Mexico City for "Ocean Views;" Mark Chen from Annandale, Virginia for "Outdoor Adventure;" Andy Rouse from Svalbard, Norway for "Polar Passion;" Tin Man Lee from Agoura Hills, California for "Wildlife;" and Howard and Michele Hall of Del Mar, California, for "Nature in Motion Video."

The "23rd Annual Windland Smith Rice International Awards Smithsonian Exhibition" is on view October 29, 2018 through September 2019, on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Entries to the 2019 competition may be submitted beginning November 1, 2018.