The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been a stark wake-up call for humankind. Or so we hope. There has never been a stronger message to stop messing with the environment and to do everything we can to conserve it. Unless we bring about substantial reforms, this dangerously unbalanced relationship we have with nature is bound to create even more deadly outbreaks.

The Nature inFocus Photography Awards have always generated an impressive catalogue of imaginative and artistic images, and this year it is no different. Every single image in this collection has urgent stories to share about the natural world, from remarkable natural history moments to pressing conservation issues, and it is about time we as a race stood up and paid attention.

The pandemic meant that we had to skip the Nature inFocus Festival this year, and the opportunity to meet the community and put names to faces. Instead, the results of the much-anticipated Nature inFocus Photography Awards 2020 were announced at a live virtual event on September 1, 2020. 

Yashpal Rathore won the top honour – Nature inFocus Photograph of the Year – for his stunning shot of a bat frozen in flight against the urban sprawl of Bangalore. The image won the top prize in the Wildscape & Animals in Habitat category. 

For the first time in the history of the competition, a Special Jury Award was awarded to a participant. Swedish photographer Magnus Lundgren became the maiden winner of the award, whose work won three prizes and had made it to the final round of judging in all categories for adults.

Sitara Karthikeyan won the Young Photographer title.

Scroll down to see all the winning images.


'A Mirage In The Night' – Nayan Jyoti Das

Winner – Creative Nature Photography

Occasionally, nature surprises us with moments so dramatic and beautiful, like right out of a fairytale. Caught in the warm embrace of a posse of fireflies, a family of wild elephants huddles together under the night sky, mirroring the asterism of Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka of Orion above.

Manas National Park, Assam

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'Bear Necessities' – Gagandeep Matharoo

Runner-up – Creative Nature Photography

An in-camera double exposure image of two playful Sloth Bear cubs riding on momma bear's back, taking a tour of the jungle that is their home and a part of their soul.

Satpura Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

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'Part Of The Light' – Aniket Thopate

Second Runner-up – Creative Nature Photography

As dawn broke and the first rays of the sun filtered through, the fireflies lighting up a cone-shaped tree deep in the jungle showered down on the forest floor. Crawling over leaf litter, they quickly disappeared into the dark depths of the forest floor. Anticipating the movement of one individual, the photographer set the frame and shot this long exposure image of the trail of light left behind by a single firefly.

Bhandardara Dam, Maharashtra

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'Stilt Off!' – Nirav Mehta

Special Mention – Creative Nature Photography

A Black-winged Stilt takes flight with a splash of water. The photographer captures the stilt-like legs of the bird and the individual droplets of water against the backdrop of the lake shimmering in the golden colours of dusk.

Rajkot, Gujarat

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'Spiral Of Death' – Samyak Kaninde

Special Mention – Creative Nature Photography

The elaborate, intricate web an orb-weaver spider builds is a truly incredible feat of engineering. The photographer caught this individual weaving one over the plants in his balcony, in the raging wind. 

Pune, Maharashtra

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'Order in Chaos' – Jayesh Joshi

Special Mention – Creative Nature Photography

Rosy Starlings perch on the edge of a parapet like substitute players on the bench, waiting to join in the action. The long exposure shot captures the frenzy of the murmuration above, hundreds of starlings swooping across the sky in intricately coordinated patterns.

Vadodara, Gujarat

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'The Last Stand' – Ganesh Chowdhury

Winner – Animal Portraits

The Ganges River Dolphin is the oldest river dolphin species that survives today. The extraordinary resilience of this species to have survived in one of the most intensely abused river basins in the world certainly needs to be recognised. But as per official figures, there are only about 3,700 of them left in India's river systems. On being informed of the river dolphin’s presence by the locals, the photographer spent four hours in the water before he made this image with his point-and-shoot camera.

Nayachar, West Bengal

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A photograph that is new and unique, showcases a rare natural history moment and makes an emotional connect at the same time checks all boxes for me. Ganesh Chowdhury’s stunning photograph of a sub-adult Ganges River Dolphin does all that and more. I have never seen such an intimate portrait of this shy animal, featuring almost its entire body, with such an adorable expression to boot. The critically endangered river dolphin needs all the attention it can get, from the public, the policy makers and the scientific community, who can collectively join forces to lobby for its protection. In my opinion, this photograph has the ability to draw the attention of various kinds of people, and the power to connect all these threads.                                                                                                                                                   – Dhritiman Mukherjee (Jury, Wildlife Photographer)

'The Boxer' – Mofeed Abu Shalwa

Runner-up – Animal Portraits

The Red Palm Weevil is a species of snout beetle, recognised by its distinctive long snout and geniculate antennae. First reported on coconut trees in Southeast Asia, they have since gained a foothold on date palms in several Middle Eastern countries and have spread to Africa and Europe through the movement of infected planting material. 

Qatif, Saudi Arabia

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'Rhino’s Day Out' – Soumabrata Moulick

Second Runner-up – Animal Portraits

An Indian Rhinoceros ventured outside park boundaries and into adjoining villages before posing for this portrait with a big smile plastered on. The photographer, who had followed the rhinoceros on foot, anticipated and moved ahead to wait near a forest department outpost, and was rewarded a close-up encounter with the gentle beast.

Manas National Park, Assam

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'I Spy, You Spy' – Anupam Koley

Special Mention – Animal Portraits

A spyhopping Irrawaddy Dolphin checks out the foreign inhabitants on the boat for a full-minute before diving back into the water. The cetacean behaviour of rising out of the water and holding a vertical position to find out what is happening above the surface is proof of their curiosity and intelligence. This brackish water lagoon in Odisha is the single largest habitat of Irrawaddy Dolphins in the world with as many as 155 individuals.

Chilika Lake, Odisha

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'Madre' – Puskar Basu

Special Mention – Animal Portraits

A baby Giant Anteater sits safely tucked on its mother's back as the pair makes their way through the Colombian savanna. The largest anteaters on earth, Giant Anteaters are slow-moving mammals that can exhibit extraordinary traits under threat. To ensure the safety of their young ones, mother anteaters carry them for up to a whole year, long after they have been weaned. The photographer focuses on the offspring, yet it is the mother that the image speaks volumes about.

Los Llanos, Casanare Department, Colombia

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'Monsoon Matchmaking' – Ripan Biswas

Special Mention – Animal Portraits

Pre-monsoon storms known as 'Kalboishakhi' in Bengali bring the first rains after months of the dry season. The skies open up with thunder and lightning, announcing the arrival of the mating season for amphibians. This single exposure image of a Fejervarya sp. was made by shifting focus initially from the frog and then on to the clouds.

Cooch Behar, West Bengal

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'The Hitchhiker' – Magnus Lundgren

Winner – Animal Behaviour

The Brown Paper Nautilus is an argonaut, a free-swimming octopus of open ocean habitats. A species that is widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, the Brown Paper Nautilus is known to cling to objects floating on the surface of the sea, including other argonauts. Here a female nautilus is seen surfing on a free-floating medusa. Though the relationship is not fully understood yet, the nautilus is believed to use its host as a food source and as a defensive weapon. When the nautilus was photographed, it used the medusa as an active form of protection by turning it towards the camera, which it presumably perceived as a potential predator.

Balayan Bay, Luzon, Philippines

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Argonauts are as unusual as they are beautiful and in this image one can easily lose all sense of scale and perspective while being drawn into a fantastical commentary on underwater relationships, locomotion and weaponised biological toxins! It beautifully articulates the neverending drama that lies uncovered among the miniscule world of ocean drifters.      – Tasneem Khan (Jury, Biologist and Photographer)

'Rainmaker' – Lenu Kannan

Runner-up – Animal Behaviour

Cicadas are known for their signature song, produced by males to attract females. The loud sound is made by the repeated movement of membranes that are present on either side of their abdomen. But such dedicated efforts of courtship require energy and adult cicadas depend on tree sap for nourishment. Specialised digestive tracts allow them to consume in large quantities and quickly excrete the excess fluids. So the next time you feel droplets of water on your face on a cloudless day know that it is probably a cicada showering you blessings from up in the canopy.

Bannerghatta National Park, Karnataka

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'Water Wars' – Chaitanya Rawat

Second Runner-up – Animal Behaviour

On a hot day in the forests of Jhalana, with temperatures touching 45ºC, the photographer waited under the shade of a tree near a man-made waterhole. His patience was rewarded when a leopard slid down the rocks like melted wax and strolled towards the waterhole. His camera zoomed in on the spotted, ochre and black coat as he watched the gorgeous feline drink its fill. Suddenly, the scene turned electric as a Striped Hyena made an appearance, unaware of the presence of the cat. Expecting the hyena to quickly slink away, the photographer was surprised to watch it go on the offensive and chase the leopard up a tree. The hyena then drank its fill and moved away.

Jhalana Forest, Jaipur

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'Chorus Of Cicadas' – Matrishva Vyas

Special Mention – Animal Behaviour

A group of cicadas excretes excess liquid waste after taking in copious amounts of tree sap. To be more specific, xylem fluid. The low concentration of nutrients in xylem means that cicadas have to consume a large quantity to gain sufficient nutrients. Shot against the sunlight, it seems as if the tree is leaking like a burst pipe.

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra

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'Paleo Diet' – Alok Kar

Special Mention – Animal Behaviour

A water-dwelling Nilus spider with a kill double its size, under the leaf of a water hyacinth. Commonly referred to as the Fishing Spider, it kills by injecting the fish with neurotoxic venom. The spider then hauls its kill onto dry ground and administers chemicals to liquefy body tissues before eating it.

Cooch Behar, West Bengal

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'Breed The Red' – Varun Thakkar

Special Mention – Animal Behaviour

A Southern Ground-hornbill, the largest hornbill species on Earth, feeds its young one. Found in grasslands, woodlands and open savannas of southern Africa, they are recognisable by their jet black feathers and the bright red throat wattle in males. Juveniles instead have yellow patches on the face and throat. Pollution, logging and agricultural expansion which often destroy nesting habitats are the primary threats for this species.

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

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'Circle Of Death' – Srikanth Mannepuri

Winner – Conservation Issues

Fishermen surround the lifeless body of a Mobula Ray at a fish landing site in Kakinada as they determine its value in thousands of rupees. The winner of the auction will then prepare the fish and trade it illegally to Southeast Asian countries for high-profit margins. The gill rakers of the Mobula Ray is believed to hold medicinal properties.

Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh

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'A Bag of Plastic' – Ripan Biswas

Runner-up – Conservation Issues

A bagworm moth larva with a case constructed of soil, lichen and plastic. Plastic never breaks down completely and simply gets mixed with other decaying materials. This caterpillar larva has made it a part of the protective case within which it hides. Every being on the planet is exposed to this man-made hazard and it is clogging up and choking entire ecosystems.

Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal

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We’ve read of the Pacific garbage patch. We know India generates approximately 26,000 tons of plastic waste – the equivalent of 9000 full-grown Asian elephants – every day. We know that plastics is a colossal environmental problem – and that is part of the problem, that we see the issue in terms of numbers, of scale. That is why this Ripan Biswas image of the Bagworm (Psychidae) gets high honors in the environmental photography section. In the larval stage, the bagworm builds itself a portable home out of soil, lichen, leaves etc salvaged from the forest floor – and that is how deep and how wide the plastics problem has penetrated, all the way to the infrequently trodden forest floor of the Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal. Biswas gets recognised for spotting it, and for recognising what he was seeing for what it was – an example of how even the tiniest of creatures bears the burden of the dangerous detritus of humankind.              – Prem Panicker (Jury, Senior Journalist)

'Plastic Surfer' – Magnus Lundgren

Second Runner-up – Conservation Issues

A male paper nautilus rides a piece of plastic in the pelagic zone. In the ocean, plastic debris injures and kills fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Marine plastic pollution has impacted at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species.

Balayan Bay, Luzon, Philippines

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'Ambush In The Sky' – Abhijit Addya

Special Mention – Conservation Issues

The Rajarhat wetlands, situated about 15km from the city of Kolkata, have become a hunter's paradise. Hunters use trap nets that are placed in strategic locations across water bodies and marshes. These nets are about 20-30 feet in length and 4-5 feet in width and are strung across bamboo poles. They are made of strings so thin that they are not visible from a distance unless viewed carefully. Birds fly into these nets and get entangled in them. Unable to escape, they succumb at the hands of the hunters or await a slow, painful death.

Rajarhat New Town, West Bengal

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'Death On The Ganges' – Ganesh Chowdhury

Special Mention – Conservation Issues

The national aquatic animal of India lies lifeless, tangled in a fishing net, in the Ajay river. The continuing anthropogenic pressure, a lack of awareness and the absence of a coordinated conservation plan are threatening India's remaining few Ganges River Dolphin populations.

Nayachar, West Bengal

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'Life In The City' – Krishnendu Mitra

Special Mention – Conservation Issues

Over the pandemic lockdown period, we seem to have learned to pay more attention to the natural world, particularly the winged creatures that visit us outside our window. This Barn Owl, which found itself on the sunshade of an apartment in Kolkata during the lockdown drew a curious audience. Kids hollered at it, and hearing the commotion, cameras of all sizes and forms joined in the action from windows and other vantage points all over the apartment. For birds like the Barn Owl, survival is always a challenge in urban spaces where air pollution and noise pollution make life difficult for them.

Kolkata, West Bengal

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'Dust To Dust' – Sitara Karthikeyan

Winner – Young Photographer

A majestic tusker walking head-on towards the photographer showers himself in dust sprayed from his trunk. Elephants dust bathe to keep their skin healthy and to keep parasites at bay. It also helps them to cool down their bodies.

Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand

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'Choked' – Adityakrishna S Menon

Runner-up – Young Photographer

An aerial view of a once-pristine lake taken over by discarded waste and overrun by plants. Preserving lakes, wetlands, and other water bodies in our urban spaces are of the utmost importance if we are to solve the nation's worsening water crisis. This young photographer urges all of us to join in the community efforts to preserve our lakes and rivers.

Ernakulam, Kerala

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'Harmony In Faith' – Abhikram Shekhawat

Second Runner-up – Young Photographer

A large population of Rhesus Macaques rules the Aravalli landscape, which is also home to the renowned Galtaji temple. Though these monkeys create a lot of nuisance, they are treated respectfully by the devotees who visit the temple to worship the monkey god, Hanuman. Photographed here is a female Rhesus Macaque sitting in front of the glorious temple edifice.

Jaipur, Rajasthan

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'Of Life And Death' – Tanish Ray

Special Mention – Young Photographer

A Spotted Deer makes a run for its life on being chased by a leopard. After patiently stalking the herd for over an hour, the leopard had sprung into action. It was late in the evening, the park exit time was approaching, and the light was minimal. Too close to the chase, the young photographer decided to freeze the jumping, lunging deer in an action-packed frame with only the hind portion of the animal visible.

Nagarahole National Park, Karnataka

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'At The Water Hole' – Ankit Kumar

Special Mention – Young Photographer

A herd of elephants gathers around a water hole as the sun sets behind them. They were too busy drinking their fill to acknowledge the presence of the young photographer who sidled up the edge of the hide to capture this unique perspective.

Northern Tuli Block, Botswana

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'Catch The Sun' – Sumit Adhikary

Special Mention – Young Photographer

A breaching Spinner Dolphin casts a striking silhouette against the light reflecting off the deep blue ocean from the setting sun. Breaching is a very common activity among cetaceans, and though there are a number of hypotheses, scientists still really don't know why they do it.

Indian Ocean, Maldives

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'The Dark Knight' – Yashpal Rathore 

Winner – Wildscape & Animals in Habitat

A Greater Short-nosed Fruit Bat drops out of a Singapore Cherry tree on the walkway of a busy street in the capital city of Karnataka. The headlamp streak of a speeding vehicle, the neon lights of business hoardings – the long-exposure shot perfectly captures the dynamism of city life. The ever-growing city has seen these nocturnal winged mammals adapt to the chaos of the urban environment. Though vilified by much of the human population, bats play a vital role in our ecosystem as seed dispersers and pest-controllers. The photographer used a laser trigger and low-powered flashlights to freeze the bat in its flight. 

Bangalore, India

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This image caught my attention the minute I saw it. There were multiple aspects about it – that it is literally in our backyard, a species that is usually in the news for the wrong reasons, but still fascinates many people – and this photographer had gone to lengths to capture it in such a beautiful way that it can only evoke awe and affection towards it (hopefully).                           – Divya Mudappa (Jury, Conservation Scientist)

'Who Decides Where Elephants Sleep?' – Ganesh Raghunathan

Runner-up – Wildscape & Animals in Habitat

We often assume that wildlife belongs exclusively in forests or protected areas. An animal, however, will take what it is given, and make the best of it. Two elephants, a mother and son, sleep peacefully on an open patch of ground alongside a tea field.

Valparai, Tamil Nadu

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'Cinderella Of The Ghats' – Mandar Ghumare

Second Runner-up – Wildscape & Animals in Habitat

A terrestrial snail endemic to the Western Ghats, Indrella ampulla is the only species in the monotypic genus, Indrella. The species is polymorphic – the visible soft parts of the snail show great colour diversity, ranging from pale yellow to red like in this particular individual. The wide frame showcases the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats which it calls home.

Coorg, Karnataka

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'A Nemo, An Anemone' – Digant Desai

Special Mention – Wildscape & Animals in Habitat

A clownfish peeps out from its residence, safe in the embrace of a million anemone stinging cells (nematocysts). One of the most recognised ocean symbiotic relationships, the clownfish-anemone relationship is believed to have evolved at least 10 million years ago. A protective mucus coating with certain microbial and chemical signatures on the clownfish enables the anemone host to recognise them as their own and prevent the triggering of nematocysts and discharge of toxins.

Indonesia

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'Uber Underwater' – Magnus Lundgren

Special Mention – Wildscape & Animals in Habitat

Whilst freediving off Triton Bay at night, the photographer found a Whale Shark to be a hugely popular figure among remoras, each lobe of its massive tail packed with a dozen of this strange fish species. Remoras or suckerfish have a modified dorsal fin which acts as a suction cup and allows them to hook onto other larger marine creatures. The relationship with their hosts is complicated. Though remoras primarily feed on parasitic copepods (small crustaceans) that also attach to their hosts, they can significantly slow down their hosts and force them to expend more energy.

Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia

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'Home Is Where The Hole Is' – Rohin Bakshi

Special Mention – Wildscape & Animals in Habitat

The Indian Scops Owl is easier heard than seen. They are picky about the tree they choose to spend time in and tend to pick dark tree hollows that can help their camouflage. This particular individual seems to stand out against the dark bark of the tree, lost in a forest of trees in varying shades of black, brown and grey.

Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh

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