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2021 AG Nature Photographer of the Year Competition winners

The 2021 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Competition winners have been announced, with NSW-based underwater photographer, Scott Portelli, winning the top prize for an image of a leafy seadragon.

‘Leafy Seadragons hide in the thick kelp to camouflage themselves to avoid predators. The vibrant flamboyant adults blend perfectly with their surroundings. At night the backlighting on a Leafy seadragon accentuates their features and the delicate bodies that appear translucent’. Grand prize winning image. Photo: Scott Portelli,

Portelli captured the image in March, 2020, while camping on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia just after Covid hit, bringing his lap around Australia to a halt.

‘I became acquainted with the resident dragons of Second Valley and this is how I managed to get the shot,’ said Portelli, who has been photographing wildlife for two decades. ‘After several encounters with one particular seadragon, it appeared to become unperturbed by my presence and I was able to compose a shot that tightly captured its eyes, features and appendages front on.’

As the grand prize winner, Portelli has won $10,000 cash and a Coral Expeditions holiday.

Judges said it’s a ‘unique and striking image’. ‘The backlighting has transformed the seadragon from a tiny sea creature into the illusion of a mythical beast. Beautifully framed, the dragon emerges from the darkness, glowing with a sense of fire within.’

Organised by the South Australian Museum, in partnership with Australian Geographic, the competition has been running since 2004. It aims to uncover some of the best flora and fauna photos of from the ANZANG bio region, which spans Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and the New Guinea region.

There are 12 categories. Submissions are open to anyone around the world, with 2206 entries from photographers in 17 countries. This year the judges are Trent Parke, Narelle Autio, and Stavros Pippos.

”The unprecedented restrictions throughout the pandemic have made me particularly wistful for the vistas and landforms that these talented photographers are such experts at capturing,’ said editor of Australian Geographic, Chrissie Goldrick. ‘Their powerful evocations of the unique landscapes of our region provide inspiration to embrace all opportunities to explore locally during this time of limited travel.’

The shortlist of images are showing in an exhibition at the South Australian Museum until October 31, 2021.

Here’s a gallery of category winning images.

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Photo contest criteria

Organising group: South Australian Museum
Status/Objective: To curate an exhibition of the best flora/fauna photos from ANZANG region.
Entry fee: $38 for first entry, $22 for each additional entry.
Prizes: $10K cash + Coral Expeditions holiday for grand prize. $1K for category winners, and $500 for runner-ups.
Sponsors: Australian Geographic, Atkins, Visualcom, Coral Expeditions.
Judges: Trent Parke, Narelle Autio, and Stavros Pippos
Number of entrants/submissions: 2206 submissions.
Categories: 12 categories covering a scope of flora and fauna, plus junior.
Exposure: Images show in a physical exhibition, show in online gallery and media exposure.
Transparency: This one is transparent, as you’d expect from a leading cultural institution.
Communication: Media contact details are easily available.
Estimated Gross Revenue: Let’s say each entrant submitted two images, $36 + $22 = $56. The contest would gross $64K revenue.
Copyright standards: Entrants retain copyright, and the use of shortlisted entries is limited to promoting the contest.
Overall rating: The cost of entry is a little higher than the average photo contest, but it’s a top contest with an esteemed judging panel that attracts high quality entries.

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