The best environmentally-focused photos of 2021


The changes humans are wreaking on the environment continue to be an underlying theme of many of the photography competitions we feature here on Popular Photography. But it’s the major theme for the 14th annual Environmental Photographer of the Year Awards—the winners of which have just been announced to coincide with the COP26 climate change conference. 

About the competition

The Environmental Photographer of the Year contest “celebrates humanity’s ability to survive and innovate and showcases thought-provoking images that call attention to our impact and inspire us to live sustainably.” 

Title: "Microplastics sent to the stomach, 2021."
Title: “Microplastics sent to the stomach, 2021.”
Sebnem Coskun

It’s always interesting to see themed competitions like this. Environmental photography isn’t exactly a traditional photographic genre—instead, it’s up to photographers to approach the subject matter as they like. Many of the winning shots sit at the intersection of documentary and landscape work, while others use more structured compositions. 

Title: "Hooked Pup, 2020."
Title: “Hooked Pup, 2020.” Celia Kujala

There are seven categories with the winners chosen by the jury, they include:

  • The Environmental Photographer of the Year Award.
  • The Young Environmental Photographer of the Year Award.
  • The Resilient Award, which is given to “a single image that incorporates a compelling narrative that educates, spreads hope, and inspires action.”
  • The Environments of the Future Award, which is given to an image that shows “the resilience of people and environments facing adversity and rising to the challenges of environmental destruction, energy security and the conservation of our natural resources.”
  • The Sustainable Cities Award, which is given to images that showcase built environments and “the connections between nature, society, and infrastructure.”
  • The Climate Action Award, which is given to an image that “demonstrates the human connection to the natural world and our actions to preserve it.”
  • The Water and Security Award, which is given to an image that “explores our ever-increasing demand for water and the role of equality in every aspect of water management from water scarcity to flooding.”

And there is also a People’s Choice award that you can vote on right now. The winning photo will be chosen on December 1st. 

Environmental Photographer of the Year

Title: "The Rising Tide Sons, 2019."
Title: “The Rising Tide Sons, 2019.” Antonio Aragón Renuncio

Antonio Aragón Renuncio, a Spanish photographer, took the top prize of £10,000 ($13,425) and the title of “Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021” for his photo of a sleeping child inside a house destroyed by coastal erosion on a beach in Ghana. 

Young Environmental Photographer of the Year

Title: "Inferno, 2021."
Title: “Inferno, 2021.” Amaan Ali

Amaan Ali picked up the title of “Young Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021” and a Nikon Z camera for his shot of a boy fighting forest fires in New Delhi, India. 

I don’t say this lightly, but I think this is one of the rare situations where the winner of the youth prize could well have won the overall competition.

The Resilient Award

Title: "Survive for Alive, 2021."
Title: “Survive for alive, 2021.” Ashraful Islam

Ashraful Islam won the “Resilient Award” for this shot of a flock of sheep searching for grass to eat on parched, cracked soil in Bangladesh. 

Environments of the Future

Title: "Ariel view of the Panaro river’s flooding near Modena, Italy."
Title: “Ariel view of the Panaro river’s flooding near Modena, Italy, 2020.” Michele Lapini

Michele Lapini won the “Environments of the Future Award” for this aerial photo of a flooded house in Modena, Italy. 

Sustainable Cities

Title: "A photobioreactor at Algalif facilities in  Reykjanesbaer, Iceland, 2020."
Title: “A photobioreactor at Algalif facilities in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland, 2020.” Simone Tramonte

Simone Tramonte won the “Sustainable Cities Award” for this shot of a photobioreactor that produces sustainable astaxanthin products in Iceland. (Yes, I had to Google it too, but it’s a heck of a photo.)

Check out the rest of the photos

Title: "The Coal Warehouse, 2020."
Title: “The Coal Warehouse, 2020.” Ales Tvrdy

You can check out the other 40 finalists over on the Environmental Photographer of the Year website. You can also vote for your favorite to win the People’s Choice Award.

There’s no word yet on how to enter next year’s competition. But if it’s anything like this year’s, it will launch sometime in March with entries closing at the end of July. Oh, and it will be free to enter which is a big deal given the quality of the prizes





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