Three Aussie photographers celebrated in United States for jaw-dropping images

Four from Australia were selected as finalists at California's BigPicture Photography Competition. But there is one accolade still to be announced.

Georgina Steytler's image shows five spider orchids highlighted against a dark spooky background in Western Australia.
Georgina Steytler was a finalist in the Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora category for her image March of the Spider Orchids. Source: Georgina Steytler/BigPicture

An Australian photographer’s ghostly image showing a cluster of five fragile spider orchids has astonished judges at an international photography award competition that celebrates the natural world.

Georgina Steytler was one of three local photographers who were finalists in the California Academy of Sciences’ renowned BigPicture Photography Competition which received over 7,000 images from nearly 70 countries. Her work was also highlighted in the Academy's magazine BioGraphic.

Steytler's interest in the wild Western Australian flowers grew after she became aware of their strange ability to trick other species. Described as "sexually deceptive", they produce pseudo-pheromones which mimic the scent of female wasps. This entices them to copulate with the flower and spread its pollen.

Shimmering Shallows Swarm by Ashley Sykes shows a bait ball at Bermagui, NSW.
Shimmering Shallows Swarm by Ashley Sykes was a finalist in the Art of Nature category. Source: Ashley Sykes/BigPicture

While Steytler's photograph focuses on the small and fragile, two jaw-dropping images by photographer Ashley Sykes look at life in Australia’s vast oceans. They were finalists in the Aquatic Life and Art of Nature categories. One shows a humpback breaching near Gerringong on the NSW South Coast, while the other highlights a spectacular salmon bait-ball off nearby Bermagui.

The third Aussie finalist was Sydney-based Scott Portelli who snapped an aerial photograph of whales in Antarctica. Titled Bubblnet, it was taken under permit from the Australian Antarctic Division.

Bubblenet by Scott Portelli shows whales creating bubbles in the water off Antarctica.
Bubblenet by Scott Portelli was a finalist in the Aquatic Life category. Source: Scott Portelli/BigPicture

These images originally appeared on bioGraphic, an online magazine about nature and regeneration and the official media sponsor for the California Academy of Sciences’ BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition.

In June, the grand prize went to Spanish Photographer for his stunning image titled The Forest of the Monarchs.

"Each year's collection of BigPicture winners surprise us with serendipitous themes. Our 11th year is no exception. Despite—or perhaps because of— all the monumental events taking place around the world, this year's winners spotlight the small but mighty creatures and forces that underpin how our world works,” Rhonda Rubinstein, creative director at the California Academy of Sciences said.

“Jaime Rojo's Grand Prize winning image that—from a distance—appears to show a forest of (oyamel) fir trees in Mexico is actually a kaleidoscope of millions of monarch butterflies on their 3,000 mile [4830 km] migratory route.”

The Forest of the Monarchs by Jaime Rojo shows trees in Mexico in a golden light covered in butterflies.
The Forest of the Monarchs by Jaime Rojo was the Grand Prize Winner. Source: Jaime Rojo/BigPicture

The three Aussie finalists are now in the running for the competition’s first People’s Choice Award. And voting is open until the end of July.

Aussies are increasingly being celebrated at the awards. In 2023, Yahoo News reported on Doug Gimesy winning the Human/Nature category.

His picture showed a wildlife carer nose-to-nose with a wombat she rescued after nearby habitat was bulldozed for a housing development. And Gimesy used the accolade to highlight the perils Australia’s native animals face.

“The bare-nosed wombat is also called the common wombat, but that’s a little bit misleading because they’re becoming less and less common. And one of the key reasons is habitat destruction,” he told Yahoo after his win.

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