AMERICAN FORESTS’ ANNUAL PHOTO CONTEST IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOWCASE a wide array of forest scenes — from large natural landscapes to city parks — that are just as beautiful and diverse as the people who live among, enjoy and depend on them. This winter, American Forests received over 1,500 submissions. A panel of six judges, including professional photographers, adventure seekers and individuals with an eye for nature, assessed a selection of these photos on the criteria of originality, technical quality and artistic merit. These are the incredible photos that took home the top honors.
GRAND PRIZE WINNER: “Lover of Light”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Rachel Feinberg (Calif.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I was walking along a swamp in Lakeland, Fla., surrounded on either side by a thick blanket of moss and vines draped upon tangled branches. Then, like a scene on stage, the curtains of glowing Spanish moss opened to reveal a lone anhinga, basking in the spotlight of the setting sun.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Feinberg is a photo enthusiast whose work can be viewed at www.shutterberg.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “This image reflects a truly masterful job of creating a strong, clean composition out of an otherwise busy scene. The use of natural framing and lighting creates an amazing sense of depth within the frame, and the various textures combined with the placement of the anhinga adds an emotional element, elevating the visual significantly.” — Scott Kranz
WINNER, FOREST WILDLIFE: “Sunrise Feast”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Dave Shaffer (Wis.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “It was a cold February morning. We had a snowstorm the day before, but I was greeted with a glorious backyard sunrise. I was delighted to see one of my crabapple trees was filled with hungry pine grosbeaks. Quickly, I grabbed my camera. The warm glow of the morning sun was wonderful as this male enjoyed his feast.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Shaffer is a wildlife photographer whose work can be viewed at www.bearwitnessimages.com. Shaffer was the 2021 Forests in Focus grand prize winner and the 2018 forest wildlife category winner.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “Dave’s image of the pine grosbeak eating crab apples includes everything I look for in good nature photography — technical skills, complimentary composition, nice light and an authentic, spontaneous moment of a personally meaningful subject. It’s easy to get a dramatic photograph of lions or tigers or bears on safari, but it’s often hard to connect meaningfully to such exotic or even cliché images. I find myself much more grateful — and apt to smile — for an image like this that reminds me to take a moment in my own backyard and inspires me to notice all the beautiful little dynamics all around us all the time.” — Jason Houston
WINNER, FOREST CLOSE-UPS: “Those Who Inhale the Dew”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Ellie Fornshell (Ohio)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I had been wandering the woods of Canada Creek Ranch, Mich., for hours, my camera in hand. I stooped to lift a tattered leaf, and the glimmer of morning dew on its vibrant skin caught my eye. I held it against the gloom of the distant trees to snap a picture.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Fornshell enjoys taking photographs of nature and her work can be viewed at www.facebook.com/mirco.america.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “This image stands out in so many extraordinary ways. The incredible detail in this macro shot adds both intrigue and mystery, drawing the viewer’s eye into this tiny world. And the colors throughout the image — from the gradient of blues on the leaf to the pops of purple bokeh in the background — are beautifully captured.” — Scott Kranz
WINNER, CITYSCAPES SPLENDOR: “Autumn Tunnel”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Ed Neville (Colo.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “On an early October morning bike ride along the Big Dry Creek trail in Westminster, Colo., the sunlight backlit this ash tree in full yellow display.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Neville is an award-winning nature photographer whose work can be viewed at www.edneville.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “’The Autumn Tunnel’ is an homage to the perfect fall day. The image created an intimacy with nature for the viewer by framing the vibrancy and majesty of the foliage and tree. It feels like a portal drawing you into the beauty of a moment in time.” — Koren Martin
WINNER, FORESTS AND PEOPLE: “One with the Trees”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Jamie Ball (Mich.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “On a venture to explore all the state parks in Michigan, we find ourselves on a lot of hikes, such as this one in Hartwick Pine State Park. My son Greyson likes to explore all the trees along the way and found this one particularly interesting.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Ball is a Michigan State Park photo ambassador whose work can be viewed at www.mittenfilms.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “As a mom of boys at a similar age who share a love of hiking and exploring, the moment captured in this photograph resonated with me on a personal level. There is also some sweet symbolism in this scene — out of the old comes something new, hope in a new generation.” — Carla Delgado
WINNER, BIG, BEAUTIFUL TREES: “Redwood Light”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Michelle McAfee (Ore.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “Just south of Crescent City, Calif., cars lined Highway 101, parked willy-nilly by excited, mesmerized drivers. Golden sunbeams exploded through the fog-enshrouded grove of giant redwood trees, as dozens of people stood in the lanes. I laid on the grainy, southbound asphalt and shot my Nikon at the light that stopped traffic.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: McAfee is a photographer/writer whose work can be viewed at www.michellemcafeephoto.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “Redwoods are a spectacular sight in their own right. The light pouring through the fog and around this giant conveys a sense of mystery and wonder, highlighting the magical feeling one experiences while in these spaces.” — Libby Pansing
WINNER, FOREST LANDSCAPES: “Shades of Winter”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Kinley Bollinger (Wyo.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “Thigh deep in snow, I attempted to steady my tripod legs. My hands fumbled in the sub-zero temperatures, and my eyes and ears stung from the cold. However, the beauty of the moment brought peace to my heart.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Bollinger is an 18-year-old nature photographer who loves to share the beauty of her home state. Bollinger’s work can be viewed at www.wyophotos.com. Bollinger was a 2021 Forests in Focus honorable mention, a 2018 People’s Choice nominee and first entered our contest in the Aspiring Photographers category.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “When I think of winter, of course my mind goes to the ‘winter blues.’ The sun sets earlier, brining blue hour sooner and a cold dark blue night. For me, ‘Shades of Winter’ brings the color to life, from its ice, water and sky, all juxtaposed against the blanket of white snow. There is a calm in the photo that is inviting despite its harsh condition.” — Eric Lee
WINNER, NATURE AS ART: “Abstraction Created by Southern Appalachian Understory”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Neil Jacobs (N.C.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I made a similar photo the previous year, which inspired this image I took last fall in Ashville, N.C., as the leaves began changing color. This photo is part of a series of forest abstractions I created when I moved to the area.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Jacobs is a still photographer for television and film whose work can be viewed at www.neiljacobsphotographer.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “Nature is beautiful in and of itself, and it’s because of that beauty (often represented in photographs) that we can fall in love with places we don’t get to experience first hand. We count on that at the most basic level. But it’s in the interpretation of that beauty — like in Neil’s forest understory abstraction — where the photographer steps back from a literal representation of what we SEE and strives to capture instead what we FEEL — that reminds me of those more rare moments of awe that take our relationship with nature to the next level.” — Jason Houston
WINNER, ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHERS: “Lensball Reflection”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Kaiden Deck (Ohio)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I took this photo one evening on a mountaintop in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. The sun shined through the tall trees and illuminated the moss. I set up my lensball and was able to capture the bokeh in the background.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Deck is a high school sophomore with aspirations to pursue photography as a career and whose work can be viewed on his Instagram @kaideck_photography.
WHY WE LOVE IT: “What captivated me with this photo was the illusion of scale. In this context, the lensball looks like a giant dew drop sitting on the mossy forest floor. With the sun peering through the trees in the background, there’s something almost magical about the scene.” — Carla Delgado
“Here Comes the Sun” by Ken Vesey
“Castle Lake” by Chris Manfield
“Trillium Lake” by David Griffith
“Forest Shelf” by Peter Guttmacher
ABOUT THE JUDGES
American Forests was honored to have the following six incredible judges on our panel for the 2022 Forests in Focus Photo Contest.
Jason Houston is an independent photographer / filmmaker exploring how we live on the planet and with each other through community, culture and human experience. Visit his website at www.jasonhouston.com
Koren Martin is a Philadelphia-based photographer originally from Atlantic City, N.J. Her work is a mixture of candid portraiture and immersive documentary photography. She has a passion for highlighting the beauty and strength of the African Diaspora.
Carla Delgado is the founder and creative director at Page 33 Studio based in Austin, specializing in editorial design, brand identity and information graphics.
Eric Lee is a freelance photojournalist in Washington, D.C., focused on photographing stories of identity, community and resilience.