AMERICAN FORESTS’ ANNUAL PHOTO CONTEST is an opportunity to showcase a wide array of forest scenes — from large wilderness areas 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 more than 1,700 submissions. A panel of six judges, including professional photographers, adventure seekers and individuals with an eye for nature and design, 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: “A Lover’s Gift”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Alyssa Hussey (Va.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “In Charleston, S.C., two great blue herons put on one of the most beautiful moments during mating. This elaborate display of courtship and pair-bonding includes a ritualized greeting, stick transfers and nest ceremony where the birds erect their plumes and ‘clapper’ their bills. This stick transfer is one small step in a beautiful dance.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Hussey loves capturing moments in life that take you back to a memory of the past. Her work can be viewed on her Instagram: @through_birds_eyeview.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “Beyond portraying beautiful light and a compelling composition, “A Lover’s Gift” invokes a moment that allows us to imagine a touching narrative between two creatures. And it’s that quality that raises this image to a high level.” — Scott Kranz
WINNER, BIG, BEAUTIFUL TREES: “The Tree”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Holly April Harris (Pa.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “Less than an hour before dusk on a breezy October day in Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia, this beautiful birch tree seemed to glow in the light that filtered through its golden autumn leaves, appearing almost magical amongst the surrounding conifers.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Harris is a photographer, artist and long-time nature lover in southwestern Pennsylvania, who particularly enjoys photographing wildflowers, waterfalls and trees, and whose work can be viewed at https://hollyapril-harris.pixels.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “This image represents ‘As above, so below.’ The branches reaching toward the sun from all directions are reflective of the roots growing in all directions absorbing the nutrients from below. — Tia Washington
WINNER, FOREST LANDSCAPES: “Tunnel Vision”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Thomas Cluderay (Washington, D.C.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I recently chased fall colors on Caddo Lake, a sprawling flooded cypress forest on the Texas-Louisiana border. I spent several days scouting seemingly endless opportunities for composition. Here, I tried to capture the scale and depth of the cypress groves, using trees on either side to frame the middle trio.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Cluderay is an avid photographer, backpacker and nature lover based in Washington, D.C., whose work can be viewed at www.tcluderayphoto.com. Cluderay was the 2022 Forests in Focus People’s Choice winner.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “There’s something mysterious and captivating about this image; the depth of the image pulls you into a scene that is not immediately beautiful but makes you think about stories that could have happened under those trees.” — Amaya Beltrán
WINNER, FOREST CLOSE-UPS: “Mushroom and Moss”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Nan Sanders Pokerwinski (Mich.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “Returning home from a walk in nearby Manistee National Forest, I came across this backlit scene of a mushroom and moss growing on a fallen tree, just footsteps from my back door.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Pokerwinski is a writer and photographer who has found solace and inspiration in forests all her life, and whose work can be viewed at www.nanpokerwinski.com and www.nanpokerwinski.smugmug.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “Fungi are the overlooked soul of the forest, moving energy from life to life. This image uplifts the importance of the mushroom, showcasing it reaching from the forest floor into the forest canopy, as if it were reaching into the next life cycle.” — Saad Amer
WINNER, FOREST WILDLIFE: “Curtain Call”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Dave Shaffer (Wis.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “This entertaining cub lost all his inhibitions and performed like a stage actor as he played with a stick he found. I remember every second of my experience with this little guy that day. It’s moments like this that make me forget about the rest of the world, if even for a few moments.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Shaffer is a wildlife photographer whose work can be viewed at www.bearwitnessimages.com. Shaffer was the 2022 Forests in Focus forest wildlife category winner, the 2021 grand prize winner and the 2018 forest wildlife category winner.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “This image gives me all the warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s a peak into the playful personality of a cub, but, for me, it transcends just a glimpse into nature. It reminds me of my own young daughter with her hands in the air on stage after a performance in a way that is a beautiful representation of how nature, and wildlife, can bring us joy and nostalgia in so many ways.” — Ashlan Bonnell, contest manager
WINNER, NATURE AS ART: “Early Morning Frost”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Gary Lord (Ohio)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “This photograph was taken a little past sunrise on Jan. 21, 2023 along Hyatt Lane in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We came upon this road at the perfect time for the early morning frost to be shimmering in its glory and splendor.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Lord worked 45 years as a decorative painter and began exploring the world of photography as a new art medium when he retired. He tries to share his passion for the beauty of nature with others.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “The muted color palette allows the snow-covered trees to act as sculpture. The trail disappearing into the background creates a desire for exploration deep into the trails of the mountain forests. This image captures the essence of Smoky Mountains National Park, and contemplates the wonder of this amazing feat of conservation.” — Saad Amer
WINNER, FORESTS AND PEOPLE: “Skiing Under the Stars”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Kinley Bollinger (Wyo.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I took this photo of my dad when we decided to go out for a night ski under the stars together in Shoshone National Forest. My hands were absolutely freezing when I took this shot, but the moment under the stars made it all worth the negative 15-degree Fahrenheit temperature.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Bollinger is a nature photographer who loves to play outdoors and capture the marvelous beauty of her home state, Wyoming, and whose work can be viewed at www.wyophotos.com. Bollinger was the 2022 Forests in Focus forest landscapes category winner, 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: “I love the way it captures the sense of adventure and commitment that accompanies heading into the wilderness on a cold winter night. Technically (and cleverly), the photographer does a nice job of framing and balancing exposures of the night sky, mountains and skier to deliver a genuine appearance of movement and the simultaneous senses of intimacy and vastness that make the image so effective.” — Eric Liner
WINNER, ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHERS: “Misty Falls”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Kaiden Deck (Ohio)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I set out to hike Rainbow Falls in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but, as I neared the falls, it began to rain. I decided to finish the hike, wanting to see the final view. I got there just as it started to pour and was able to get the shot before my camera got soaked.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Deck is a high school junior with aspirations to pursue photography as a career and whose work can be viewed on his Instagram: @kaideck_photography. Deck was the 2022 Forests in Focus aspiring photographers category winner and the 2021 aspiring photographers category winner.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “This photo captures tranquility. You can imagine hearing the water falling and rushing over the rocks while breathing in the fresh, crisp air of the forest.” — Tia Washington
WINNER, CITYSCAPES SPLENDOR: “Keiser Park”
PHOTOGRAPHER: Austin Parnow (Calif.)
PHOTOGRAPHER’S PERSPECTIVE: “I was dropping my kids off at the park behind their school one December morning, and I just had to step out and take a picture of the moss-covered blue oaks as the rising sun illuminated the ground fog.”
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Parnow is a landscape designer, landscape contractor and landscape photographer in Sonoma County, Calif., whose work can be viewed at www.parnowphotography.com.
WHY WE LOVED IT: “I’m excited about the work of this winner because they’ve found beauty in something that many would consider desolate that takes true talent and an eye for detail.” — Johannah Rogers
“The Wood Duck” by Melissa Rowell
“Alone in the Pasture” by Betty A Gross
“The Pines of Bryce Canyon” by Claire Thompson
“Misty Dawn at Great Meadow” by Robert Banner
ABOUT THE JUDGES
American Forests was honored to have the following six incredible judges on our panel for the 2023 Forests in Focus Photo Contest.
Johannah Rogers is the Global Brand Director of Bulleit Frontier Whiskey. She is a native New Yorker and enthusiastic about self-expression through the arts as a theater kid herself.
Amaya Beltrán is an award-winning creative director with international experience. She possesses an innate talent for composition, visual design and photography and is the co-founder of Salta, a creative agency focused on doing ‘good work for good people.’