These images are the best of the best. Literally.
They were selected from more than 500,000 images submitted over 20 years by photographers from around the globe for the annual Nature’s Best Photography: Windland Smith Rice International Awards.
The 100 best-of-the-best photos will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History through October 2016, in an exhibit called “Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Presents: The Best of the Best.”
The Smithsonian shared this selection of images with us, and they are presented here with permission.
Scroll down for the images, and a description of how they were caught from the photographers.
Megan Lorenz caught this image of an Atlantic puffin in Newfoundland, Canada. She won the 2015 Grand Prize in the competition.
'Perched precariously on the edge of a cliff trying desperately to overcome my fear of heights, I watched this Atlantic Puffin pull a Wild Iris from the ground and walk along the cliff toward me. He stopped for a moment and I had enough time to capture him with the blue sky in the background before he dropped the Iris over the side where his mate was waiting at the burrow entrance.'
-- Megan Lorenz
'We encountered a blanket of haze and through this misty curtain we could make out two bulls feeding. I focused on one that had the rising sunlight behind him. A pair of cattle egrets perched on him as he fed. Without warning, the elephant began to lie down, startling the birds and causing one to take flight. It was thrilling to witness such an event.'
'Photographing mountain sheep can be a daunting task typically starting with a long hike straight up a steep, rocky slope. This pair was found high above a valley during autumn. Rams may be best known for their horn clashing, signalling the rut. But on this day, they seemed more interested in companionship than establishing order. It is endearing moments like these that make the arduous hikes worthwhile.'
'My guide and I had climbed for hours up a 10,000-foot-high volcanic mountain through bamboo rainforest until we found ourselves within about 20 feet of a family of endangered gorillas in their natural habitat. Observing this nearly 500-pound, chest-beating silverback was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.'
-- John Reiter
'While I had visited Antarctica before, this time I visited a colony of 4,000 pairs of Emperors. Being in such a magnificent environment to witness the family life of these penguins has been a very rewarding experience. As this pair of penguins was caring for its young, I laid on the ice to bring the perspective of another penguin to the image.'
-- Marcello Libra
'The stunning beauty of the Mandarin has made it among the most popular of all ducks. Unlike other duck species, Mandarins are believed to be lifelong couples, and as such have been a source of inspiration portrayed in countless art forms and literary works by the peoples of Asia for centuries.'
-- Russ Burden
Lee Slabber caught this image of an African lion and its cub in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Africa.
'I had been following this pride in the Kalahari for a number of days, focusing on one youngster who was always causing trouble. In this image, his father had been trying to sleep. The cub kept climbing over the adult's head until the lion growled to warn it to back off. In a moment of brave defiance, the youngster just glared back at his dad. I loved the display of intimacy.'
-- Lee Slabber
'Diving into the blue, ten miles off the coast of Faial Island, I watched a torpedo-shaped shadow rapidly approaching from deep, dark waters. As it came closer, its long pectoral fins gave it a form that reminded me of a jet plane; it was a six-foot-long blue shark.'
-- Nuno Sá
'During an expedition to document Arctic wildlife, I observed a polar bear family from a small, ice-going vessel. The mother and her cubs were living on pack ice far from land. Incredibly intelligent animals, young polar bears learn quickly through their inquisitive nature. This cub was intrigued by its reflection and was studying it with great interest.'
-- Florian Schulz
'I was photographing this leopard as it lay in a tree. When it jumped down and started walking toward my vehicle, I lay on the ground and started using my smaller 300mm lens before quickly getting back into the car. I have always wanted to capture a leopard's piercing eyes looking straight ahead at ground level -- the view its prey must have.'
-- Stephen Belcher
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