9th Annual Nature’s Colors Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners and all of the finalists of our 9th Annual Nature’s Colors Photo Contest. Featured here are the Grand Prize, Second Place and Third Place winners.

Click here to see all of the finalists.

Grand Prize

“Morning At The Elk Rut—Cataloochee Valley” by John Mariana

The Cataloochee Valley is a portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park located in North Carolina between Knoxville and Ashville. Once a farming community, it was acquired by the National Park Service, and historic frame buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been preserved, surrounded by 6000-foot peaks. Elk were released in Cataloochee Valley in 2001 as part of an experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park. The herd can be seen regularly in the fields of the valley, especially during the Elk Rut from mid-September to mid-October in the early morning and evening hours.

Early on an October morning, I drove along the valley road and was struck by the sun rising over the nearby mountain and casting rays. The tree on the left was lit from behind, making it stand out from the background. As this bull elk roamed the field, I kept shooting and waiting for a strong composition and back light. The final image is a three-image panorama. The panorama provides the scale and the breadth of the scene that was just awesome.

Nikon D600, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR at 170mm. Exposure: 1/640 sec., ƒ/14, ISO 640.

Second Place

“Latourell Falls” by Brian Waddell

When I took this late-autumn photo of Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, I wanted to get off the main trail and away from people, so decided to walk along the old Columbia River Highway to look for a way up. I found a small game trail and started hiking it, being careful not to disturb the fragile moss and ferns that are part of the beauty of the Gorge. I hiked as far as I could until I got to a cliff wall. I then traversed over a couple hundred yards of slippery rocks at the bottom of the cliff until I found this perfect vantage point.

Nikon D7100, Tokina AT-X 11-16mm F2.8 PRO DX at 11mm, Singh-Ray polarizer. Exposure: 1/13 sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400.

Third Place

“Painted Sunset” by Arif Abdullah

Living in the San Francisco Bay area, I have the privilege of enjoying California's Pacific coast quite often. No matter how many times I visit this majestic stretch, it never ceases to amaze me. The rugged beauty of Big Sur's McWay Falls overlook at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park always takes my breath away irrespective of time and season. But surely, the magical sunset in autumn of 2016 that I tried to capture in this shot was unforgettable. The golden-yellow shades of the sky, the translucent turquoise waves, the shimmering waterfall and the evening mist juxtaposed so perfectly as if painted on an artist's canvas. This image is composed of two exposures blended manually to bring out the wide dynamic range of the actual scene.

Sony a7R, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM at 19mm, Metabones adapter, Breakthrough Photography X4 polarizer, Vanguard Alta Pro 254CT tripod. Exposure (sky): 0.6 sec., ƒ/20, ISO 100. Exposure (foreground): 5 sec., ƒ/20, ISO 100.



    I, too, agree with both of you. This business of grossly over embellishing photographs is absolutely ridiculous and most of the time looks so fake that they should never be published. That elk and that valley that won first place, in the way it’s presented, never existed.

    I certainly agree with the comments above that HDR and supersaturation make the photos look fake and that in the current environment many of these photos are overdone. However, I think it is not necessarily the goal of the photographer to simply present a photograph that has not undergone some degree of processing. There has always been some degree of post processing, in traditional and digital darkrooms. Photography is art and it is up to photographers to present their work as they choose. If we only tried to represent “reality” then there would never be black and white photos.

    Congratulations to the winners and all the finalists.
    The photography is truly beautiful.
    Nice work to all!
    I do not know any two people who see or remember a scene the same way, Thank God.
    It is all a matter of personal style and preference.

    I also agree with the comments regarding these oversaturated photos. There should be separate categories for good, slightly altered photos and overly saturated photos that are unrealistic, though artistically okay. I know this is a “trend”, but what about photos that are more realistic looking. Disappointing.

    I don’t agree with the folks who say these images are oversaturated. The three photographers have edited their photographs to art. I have nothing against those who prefer SOOC images, but I appreciate efforts to present images as the photographers imagined them when they captured the raw images.

    While it isn’t my personal preference, I certainly can understand how the recent tendency towards highly/overly saturated images in the digital world came to be. After all, digital made this end of image creation easy and immediate. That said, I have to say I am “dissatisfied” with many of the selections here. A “Nature’s Colors” contest that highlights unnatural colors seems out of touch to me. Some will say, “Well Ansel did post-production….blah, blah…”, or “it’s the artists vision”, etc. Fair enough, and I am not specifically bashing the photographers here. I am certainly expressing the fact that I believe one of the biggest downsides to digital photography, is the modern tendency to use color and complete exposure as a crutch. I would have thought Outdoor Photographer would recognize that as well.

    I agree. They should at least provide a separate category for this type/style of heavily saturated art. The selected pictures almost appear like landscape illustrations.

    Thanks to everyone above. I’ve been feeling vaguely guilty about disliking oversaturated prints. I don’t process my stuff much beyond cropping and a smart fix or two. I could never try to compete with these “comic book” shots that seem to be so much in favour.

    I have to agree that the images are …over saturated. Overprocessed. I can appreciate the composition, but when we start drifting beyond colors that were in the natural environment… then we might as well be taking photos of Narnia. Of course, this is just my opinion.

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