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.
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.