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20 Winners Of Travel Photographer Of The Year

The global Travel Photographer Of The Year award (TPOTY) jury has announced the winners for its 19th edition and the images are an inspiring celebration of our planet as well as a platform to highlight its worsening plight.

Together with the overall winner, the awarded images in 10 categories combine into a fascinating journey ranging from abstract images of the ‘paintings’ created by sand and tides in the Scottish Hebrides to a Ramadan breakfast amidst the devastation of a Syrian town, a hare in a ‘ball’ of ice and snow and intimate depictions of lives and cultures across the globe.

The Travel Photographer Of The Year showcases the beauty and diversity of life on our planet and this year it awarded 138 winning shots chosen from more than 20,000 images submitted by photographers in 151 countries.

“The last two years have been tough for everyone and opportunities for travel photographers to shoot new imagery have been limited,” said TPOTY founder Chris Coe. “The winning images and those received from all entrants, are testament to the tenacity, creativity and ingenuity of travelling photographers.” 

The Overall Winner is Fortunato Gatto, an Italian photographer based since 2007 in Scotland, for his sumptuous, detailed abstract images of patterns in the sand which form part of his winning selection that also includes shots of a ‘meeting of the seasons’ in Alaska that draw you in with a wonderful sense of place to one of the planet’s most beautiful and remote places.

“Such beautiful images lift the spirits and warm the soul,” the judges commented about Fortunato’s images. “The meeting of the seasons in Denali National Park in Alaska, USA, (photo above) gives a wonderful sense of place and remoteness. In contrast, though using a similar colour palette, the detailed abstract images of patterns in the sand created by water wash in Scotland’s Hebrides (photos below) play with shape and colour to great affect. We are all very conscious of global warming and conservation. These images show us the beauty in nature which we need to protect and preserve.”

“Nature is the highest work of art, and that is also my aim in representing it,” Fortunato explains. “Through metaphors, I look for hidden images to tell nature’s secrets.

TPOTY is run by photographers for photographers and open to amateur and professional, beginner and expert, young and old photographers from anywhere in the world.

The winning photos will be displayed in April and May at a free-to-view outdoor exhibition at London’s Granary Square, near King’s Cross and St Pancras train stations.

The 20th anniversary contest will be launched on April 2, 2022.

“I took this picture just before a grizzly bear showed up,” the photographer recalls. “The fresh snow covering the mountains in the background was the perfect frame for this special meeting between autumn and winter.”

Best Portfolio Winners

In the village of Uzgen in the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan, more than 170 horses (in this picture) and men wearing the classic Soviet tank hat or a Kyrgyz tebetei hat, push and shove each other with dexterity and endurance in fearless combat as they fight for possession of a young, 60 kilo bull.

Itin Bietov Jildizbek, a wealthy local man, has organized a massive game of Alaman-Ulak to celebrate the 13th birthday of his son, Cherniaz. Thousands of riders have come to compete for the prizes he is offering throughout the day: 10 horses, 10 yaks, 10 camelsf and the grand prize of the final game, a Lada brand car.

Trying to outrun your opponents with a headless goat wedged between your leg and your horse might not be your idea of a fun game but in Kyrgyzstan, Kok Boru is the national sport. Dead Goat Polo, as some refer to it, looks more like cavalier rugby. Generally divided into two teams of five (and hundreds or more in a freestyle variant called Alaman-Ulak), fearless men on horseback race from one end of the field to the other chasing the rider with the goat trying to prevent him from scoring a point by heaving the 20-kilo headless body into the tai kazan (goal) at either end. Only stallions are used in this game because they are naturally anti-social and eager to fight off rivals.

The players train their horses to muscle out other horses in the pack while they themselves wrestle each other to snatch the goat and gallop toward the goal, slamming into the rubber tires that encircle the meter-high mound. Most villages throughout the country have a playing field and some boast official stadiums.

Professional teams play tournaments which culminate in the national championships that take place during the festivities surrounding Nowruz on March 21, when the Kyrgyz nation celebrates the beginning of spring.

The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has halted large public gatherings but unofficial games continue to be organized in many villages.

“A higher viewpoint on this maelstrom of competitive humanity gives us a vibrant insight in this event that simply would not be evident from ground level,” the judges said. “Wherever you look there is something happening and the eye continuously roams and explores the detail.”

This young Muslim girl had her face completely covered, although her graceful features can be seen through the fabric. She looked at a nearby man, seeking consent to remove her veil, which he gave her permission to do. The photo was taken at the exact moment she was about to push aside the red veil.

“During his travels in the most remote countries and places of the world, Alessandro manages to capture moments of light between time and space, in dimensions of unfamiliar cultures, to build a visual bridge between faces and places, colours and scents in an extraordinary way,” the judges commented.

The colors of Ireland in autumnal reflections are seen here at Gouganbarra in County Cork. People’s ancient bloodlines are integral to Ireland’s history and geography.

The Afar have existed in the Danakil depression for millennia and control the salt trade from the third-lowest spot on Earth into the Highlands. It’s an ancient trade which has changed little over time and is almost biblical in nature.

The Danakil, 120 meters below sea level, is the hottest place on the planet. Temperatures can rise to over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer and these people have adapted to cope.

At the Arctic Circle, there’s a place in Northern Yukon where the Fishing Branch River doesn’t freeze in winter. Here, grizzly bears continue to chase salmon long beyond other Canadian locations.

With temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit), the bears’ wet fur instantly freezes when they emerge from the river. “This bear was walking head down when he noticed me,” the photographer says. “For a second, he looked at me, quickly assessing if I was a threat or a meal. Deciding that I was neither, he continued his walk, passing within a few meters of me.”

“I was shooting something else when I turned to see the sun beginning to pass across the roofs of the houses,” Karamazov recalls. “I didn’t have time to adjust the camera settings and only had about 10 seconds, in which I took five shots. I caught the light.”

Young Travel Photographers

This photo is one among a portfolio of forest images taken during different seasons of the year. Each forest is a different color of the rainbow. Bright reds of fall in Texas, warm yellows of summer in Wyoming, lush greens of spring in California and cold blues of winter in Colorado.

This picturesque scene was reminiscent of the deep, dark woodlands in a Tolkien’s story, displaying the varying fall hues in the background juxtaposed with the stillness of reflections in the water. The gray background presented an eerie mood for the image while the bright, crisp foliage competed for attention

Landscape & Adventure

Lake Magadi is one of the inland lakes at the southernmost point of Kenya, in the Rift Valley and formed by fault subsidence. During the dry season, it’s 80% covered by sodium carbonate and is well known for its wading birds, including flamingos.

In the dry season, there are salt deposits around the lake forming colorful patterns, depending on wind and wave. Large numbers of flamingos are often seen here.

“Aerial shots of these lakes and colonies of flamingos are not uncommon but the photographer’s vision and execution of these particular images are both striking and beautiful, with compositions which draw the eye into each image,” the judges commented.

Austrian professional free-skier Fabain Lentsch skiing in Haines, Alaska while filming with Legs of Steel on a mountain face called ‘Dirty Needle’.

Due to the close proximity of the Pacific Ocean, snow sticks to the mountains of southeast Alaska like nowhere else on earth. This creates a phenomenon called ‘spines’ which form on top of the normally steep and rocky mountain faces. This provides professional free-ride skiers with a wholly unique challenge.

“Both a stunning landscape and a mad adventure catch the eye in this image,” says Lermond. “How mad is this skier? Totally exhilarating.”

Living World

“Mud, mud, glorious mud!” the judges enthuse. “A fabulous image full of texture and abstract except for the hippo’s eye which then allows us to define its shape.”

An eye blinked in the drought-stricken mud pool as the hippopotamus emerged to take a breath. Hippos come up for air every three to five minutes.

Scorched Earth and Broken Spirits at Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya: After a long walk, a pride of lions rests on a surviving patch of grass after a fire destroyed most of their territory. The pride was on the move to an area with grass, where they could hide and hunt in the vegetation.

This is a rarely-encountered scene with a Praying Mantis staring at its just-shed skin. Praying Mantis don’t have a nymph stage. They must shed their skin in order to grow.

The creature dangles on a plant as the skin splits down the middle. At this stage, it’s vulnerable to predators attacks and tends to sit and wait in the same habitat while scanning the scene for potential prey.

Most of the time, zebras will ignore passersby in cars. But the second the car stops, they will turn on their heels and walk away. In Lewa Conservancy, they seem to be a little more cooperative and less skittish than those in other parks.

“For this shot, the zebra faced me just as another walked behind it, making an almost symmetric background around its head,” the photographer says.

A young Mundari herder immerses himself in fresh urine from his Ankle Watusi cow. The reason? To make use of a natural antiseptic and to change his hair color to red or even bleached blonde.

This mountain hare showed its resilience on a slope situated at a plateau, enduring blizzard-like conditions. Every half hour or so, it would move to groom before settling again into this form.

In the worst conditions, it waited longer until the snow and spindrift receded. Upon moving into this ball position, the snow which had formed an icy crust on its fur fractured, creating a tectonic-plate effect.

This Syrian neighborhood was famous before the war as the scene of mass breakfasts every Ramadan. Heavy bombing displaced the population during the war.

The residents returned after a period of relative calm to a neighborhood nearly destroyed. So the people of Idlib came together for breakfast amid the destruction.

“Welcome to the feast,” the judges said. “A community ripped apart by war and tragedy shows its togetherness as everyone comes united around the table and meal after the Ramadan fast. It a rich image which keeps the viewer exploring it.”

Preparing for ‘the Dance of Death’ in which five skeletons jump to the beat of a drum in Verges, Catalonia, Spain.

Although it’s part of the staging of the Passion of Jesus Christ through the streets and squares of the town, the dance has achieved international fame as a unique and ancestral legacy of the macabre dances of the Catalan and European Middle Ages.