National Geographic Photography Contest 2011


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Sharon Shyam, Kristian Schmidt, Jan Rasmussen, Jared Bullis, Anton Iankovyi
12 Monday 12th December 2011

main image: My Father, by Jared Bullis

Milky Way Above The Himalayas by Anton Iankovyi

Each year the contest is divided into three sections: nature, places and people, and aspiring photographers are invited to contribute to as many as they like (or as many as they can afford: each entry costs $15, just so you know). There are literally thousands of entrants, but given that the theme is all about capturing a fleeting moment, most of our favourites contain the movement and off-chance spontaneity that can so often make a photograph stand out.


As with all three categories, this one was obviously really hard to narrow down to just one choice. But for the sake of brevity, here it is: Kathakali by Sharon Shyam.

Her picture was taken at the annual Kathakali storytelling celebration in Kerala, south India (though the year the photograph was shot isn’t given) and has that right balance of colour and contrast that we reckon the judges would be into. There are very strict rules on the smallest allowances for digital manipulation of any photos submitted, so the rich colours and beautifully captured light we see in this image are as close to the real thing as possible.

Plus, it’s pretty cool that Sharon captured the three-dimensional make-up (Chutti) worn by the actors, which one of the festival's schools has claimed is a Guinness Book Of World Record breaker for being the most 3D slap in the world.


Here’s another tricky one, because National Geographic has a huge reputation for documenting lesser-known rural spaces but can’t be seen to rule out urban landscapes either.

For that reason, we’ve swerved into a different lane altogether and gone with a photo shot indoors, by Jan Rasmussen. Abandoned Music School is all at once mysterious, slightly chilling and generally well-composed as an image in terms of balance and lighting.

It’s got a level of intimacy that we feel really hits home, and separates it from the vast sea of submissions of common landmarks, natural structures and architectural portraits. The music school in question has been slowly decaying for 25 years in Pripyat, Ukraine since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. It’s another powerful image with just a hint of movement that caught our eye and kept us looking.


This is the most popular of the three categories with over 9,000 photographs submitted, for obvious reasons: nature shots are pretty much what everyone associates with National Geographic off the top of their heads. And this simple photograph by Kristian Schmidt exemplifies the type of close-up and fleeting moment that Nat Geo photographers have been snapping for decades.

Lioness by Kristian Schmidt

This lioness was shot in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a sprawling 19,000 square kilometre national reserve that attracts a ridiculous amount of safari tourists each year. Driving tours seem to be the most popular, and every now and then people are given the opportunity to jump off the car to get closer to the wildlife. We can only assume that’s part of how Kristian managed to nab this clean and insightful snapshot.

Honourable mentions go out to My Father and The Milky Way too, which both captivated us. We’ll be checking in to see who the Nat Geo panel pick as their winners on Thursday.


Which pics from the entrant galleries caught your eye? And which do you think might win? Drop us a line in the comments boxes below.

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