Back and bigger than ever, Nature Talks' annual Nature Photographer of the Year competition has revealed its winners for 2022. The winners were chosen in 13 different categories after the judges considered 20,952 entries from 96 different countries.
Taking the overall top spot and a prize of 3,000 euros, Russian photographer Dmitry Kokh won with his haunting photo, "House of Bears," portraying arctic polar bears dwelling in an abandoned house.
The photo was taken during a voyage to Chukotka and Wrangel Island in September 2021. Kokh and his fellow expeditioners sailed along the arctic coast, covering over 1,200 miles of untouched landscapes and abandoned villages, before reaching the small island of Kolyuchin during a storm. There they found its forlorn Soviet weather station which was deserted in 1992.
Nature Photographer of the Year
Noticing movement inside a window of one of the abandoned buildings, Kokh launched a drone with low-noise propellers to investigate. There were approximately 20 bears inside the building, mostly males, while the females stayed by the shoreline with their cubs, the photographer explained in a press release.
Luckily for Kokh, two curious male bears peered outside, intrigued by the "weird-looking bird" buzzing above. Even luckier, they looked directly at the camera, giving Kokh his winning shot. He calls "House of Bears" alongside other photos from the expedition "snapshots of a premonition," in a world where human and animal needs collide.
"Decades after people moved out, polar bears moved in," judge Karin Van Couwenberg said. "Dozens of polar bears have been making themselves at home in abandoned buildings ... both polar bears evoke the emotions of the audience effectively."
The winners of 12 other categories deliver more beautiful and provocative pictures. Winning the Birds category, a simple and tender scene depicts a family of kittiwakes, photographed by Knut Sverre-Horn from Norway. They are dramatically backlit by warm sunlight casting their avian silhouette shadows on a fiberglass screen.
The ghost of the mountain, the snow leopard, is prominently featured in the winning photo in the Mammals category. This was photographed by Sascha Fonseca of Germany and the United Arab Emirates, who employed a camera trap to capture a closeup of the elusive and endangered feline.
Clémence Till won the Youth (11–17) category for an arresting picture of a grounded young owl that stumbled from its nest. "I was able to observe this young owl around its nest’s tree for a few minutes," Till said. "It was probably experiencing its first flight in spring and must still have had some difficulty flying correctly, as I found it on the ground when I arrived in the area."
The explosion of brown bear populations in Romania is featured in an eye-opening photo series by David Hup and Michiel van Noppen, who won the Portfolio Award. Bear hunting was banned by former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu—except for himself and his guests. Now, there are some 6,000 brown bears in Romania, they said, which is equal to half the brown bear population of Europe.
Entries for 2023's competition will be accepted on its website starting Jan. 16. Meanwhile the winners of the 2022 competition will be touring on exhibition through the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.