Photographer of the Year 2020 — Finalists

From nearly 6000 entries, judges have whittled it down to just 40 finalists. Now, you be the judge… select your favourite five images from those below.

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From nearly 6000 entries, judges have whittled it down to just 40 finalists—each a new expression of the environment and society in which we live. Now, you be the judge… select your favourite five images from those below.

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emmawillettsprints

Aerial

Emma Willetts

It’s pretty cold in a Cessna in the middle of winter, especially with the door off, but Emma Willetts was on a mission: to photograph New Zealand’s rivers and beaches in a fresh way. Flying over Awaroa Bay at high tide, Willetts spotted oystercatchers dotting the inlet like sesame seeds.

petraleary

Aerial

Petra Leary

Nature reclaims derelict tennis courts in the Auckland suburb of Mount Roskill. When Petra Leary learned of the abandoned facility, she immediately planned to shoot it for her ongoing project documenting tennis courts. Seen from a drone, the forms are abstracted, and the similar colours of grass and concrete seem to merge.

mitchellclarkcreative

Aerial

Mitchell Clark

Flying over Fox Glacier in the middle of January, Mitchell Clark noticed an unusual pinkish residue highlighting the contours of the ice. It was dust and ash from the Australian bush fires that had been burning across the Tasman. The pink tinge first appeared on the Southern Alps at the beginning of December 2019.

tobydickson

Aerial

Toby Dickson

A large male sperm whale rests on the surface of the ocean while two dusky dolphins investigate his head. “Sperm whales are often skittish, even to animals as small as dolphins and seals, so it was rare to catch a photo of one relaxed enough to let them swim around it,” says Toby Dickson.

williampatino_photography

Aerial

William Patino

The last rays of sunlight scatter over the steep glaciated valleys of western Fiordland. William Patino attempted this photograph several times before successfully capturing what he calls the “sea of stone”. Bringing his vision to life involved trial and error: “The right altitude, humidity, light and angle were required to get this effect.”

earlybirdmedia

Aerial

Struan Purdie

Stopping on the snowy shores of Lake Lyndon on a winter road trip, Struan Purdie noticed the water was mirror-still. He vowed to return with a boat and wakeboarder. Two years later, conditions lined up to create the photograph he had envisioned. The biggest challenge? Finding someone willing to brave the near-freezing water.

thejoshshaw

Aerial

Josh Shaw

When Josh Shaw’s vehicle broke down on Mount Ruapehu, the nearest mechanic shop was Horopito Motors. It’s also a vintage car dismantler. As Shaw’s vehicle was being repaired, he scouted a vantage point to capture the scale of the junkyard. It was stormy weather, and Shaw got this shot just minutes after heavy rain.

Aerial

Becky Macneil

Nesting Adélie penguins appear as tiny black dots from an altitude of 2500 feet. Aerial photographs of the colony have been taken every year since the early 1980s in order to conduct a penguin census. In 2019, Becky Macneil was responsible for photographing every centimetre of the colony, spending hours hunched at a helicopter window.

takashi.tsune.nz

Resene Landscape

Takashi Tsuneizumi

Capturing the different faces and moods of Tititea/Mount Aspiring has been Takashi Tsuneizumi’s personal project for the past six years. This image was made during stormy weather—despite cloud cover, Tsuneizumi gambled on taking a flight to his pre-scouted vantage point, and was rewarded when the sun broke through, revealing the summit.

gavinlangphotography

Resene Landscape

Gavin Lang

When Gavin Lang took this photograph of climbing partner Alastair McDowell, the pair had already been on the move for four hours in their attempt to summit three 3000-metre peaks in one day. McDowell is pictured scaling the upper reaches of the Silberhorn arête, a sharp ridge separating two valleys.

peterlathamphotography

Resene Landscape

Peter Latham

The lighthouse at Manukau Heads normally has excellent views of Auckland’s central business district and Rangitoto Island. Peter Latham planned to photograph this cityscape at sunrise—until heavy fog rolled in and enveloped the scene. Looking around, he saw the Ngāti Te Ata Waiohua pou emerge from the mist.

aldenwilliams

Resene Landscape

Alden Williams

Early morning light breaks through the Christchurch fog on a midwinter’s day. Alden Williams captured this view from the Port Hills. Noticing the mist starting to disperse over the city below, he sought a clear vantage point to capture the filigree details of bare tree branches emerging from the haze.

blue_polaris

Resene Landscape

Zhi Yuen Yap

As dawn breaks over Mount Ruapehu, the western side remains in the mountain’s shadow. Zhi Yuen Yap wasn’t the only person to catch the sunrise that spring morning. Noticing two other hikers, he waited for them to walk into his frame to give a sense of scale to the landscape.

peterdrury_photographer

Resene Landscape

Peter Drury

The edge of the Ross Ice Shelf protrudes into the fog, one of its faces catching the light. The ice shelf, which is about the size of France, is the world’s largest by area. For Peter Drury, who spent more than 30 years as a press photographer, visiting Antarctica was the culmination of a lifelong dream.

williampatino_photography

Resene Landscape

William Patino

Fiordland is William Patino’s primary subject, and he visits Milford Sound whenever there’s a decent storm. He was waiting for the right moment to capture a close, wide-angle view of Stirling Falls when a wind gust sent the spray flying towards him. Patino pressed the shutter a moment before being engulfed by spray.

robsuisted

Resene Landscape

Rob Suisted

Mount Taranaki rises over the forest canopy of the ring plain surrounding it. Rob Suisted had had this photograph in mind for a while—until, finally, the weather, evening light and vantage point coincided. He found mature trees to frame the view, then used his drone to shoot four frames, which he later stitched together.

seacologynz

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

Crispin Middleton

A football octopus rides inside a salp, a translucent, jelly-like sea creature. Salps are common around our coasts, but football octopuses normally live in the open ocean. Though Crispin Middleton has photographed extensively around the Poor Knights Islands, it was the first time this octopus has appeared before his lens.

simonbirdphotography

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

Simon Runting

An Australasian gannet preens at Muriwai Beach’s gannet colony on a summer morning. Simon Runting was lying on the ground photographing the colony when the bird landed on top of him. It settled less than a metre away and seemed to relax. Careful not to startle the gannet, Runting fired off a few frames.

scott_mouat

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

Scott Mouat

A male kākāpō “booms” and “chings” by night in the bowl he’s sculpted, part of an elaborate routine to attract the ladies. Documenting kākāpō is a challenge—they’re shy and nocturnal—so Scott Mouat used an infrared camera and infrared lights. Concealed in a hide, he captured this scene without disturbing the birds.

dartagnansprengel_photography

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

D’Artagnan Sprengel

Visiting the lake at Western Springs, D’Artagnan Sprengel noticed a little shag surface with an eel clamped in its bill. The eel fought to break free, the shag struggled to swallow it, and Sprengel did his best to keep the thrashing pair in frame. It was over in moments. (The shag won.)

edinzphoto

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

Edin Whitehead

Rako/Buller’s shearwaters stream out past the Milky Way from their colony on Tawhiti Rahi, having fed their checks. Perched on the edge of a cliff, Edin Whitehead waited for the birds to fly along the trajectory she envisaged—then fired her flash, “freezing” them in place in the frame.

douglasthornephotography

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

Douglas Thorne

When a kōtuku flew past Douglas Thorne near the Milford Sound ferry terminal, he leapt into action, thinking he’d photograph it on the wing, or with Mitre Peak in the background. Instead, he captured it scratching his head. It was a struggle to hold still amidst the sandflies long enough to get the shot.

liquid_action_films

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

David Abbott

Drifting through Tie Dye Arch, hoping to film bronze whalers, Dave Abbott saw a flash of colour and movement in a shadowy corner—two male Sandager’s wrasses having a violent dispute over territory. “I really wanted to capture the feeling of movement as they fought back and forth,” he says.

benjamin.crowle

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

Benjamin Crowle

An oystercatcher chick seeks cover from its parent to escape windblown sand. “What you can’t see in this photo are the two chicks already sheltering under the adult, which left this chick out on its own to get a hammering,” says Benjamin Crowle, who spent a day photographing this oystercatcher family.

Electric Kiwi Wildlife

David White

The dried remains of a kāruhiruhi/pied shag bake on the parched lakebed of the Lower Nihotupu Reservoir. This year, Auckland has experienced a record drought, with this dam dropping to a third of its capacity. One day, David White hiked around the reservoir, looking for pictures to represent the water shortage.

capturedby.thelight

Progear PhotoStory

Lambert Laluz

In June, marches were held around New Zealand in support of Black Lives Matter, a movement which began in the United States to protest the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. Black Lives Matter has since become an international rallying cry against racial discrimination, especially by the state.

sharronbennettphotography

Progear PhotoStory

Sharron Bennett

Rowers train at dawn—day in, day out—and compete on the course at Lake Ruataniwha. Two young women celebrate after making the podium at the New Zealand Rowing Championships. For Sharron Bennett, documenting rowing is a personal project: “I am continually photographing the sport—the pain, the power, and commitment.”

edmarshallwildimages

Progear PhotoStory

Ed Marshall

Black petrels breed each year in the forest surrounding Hirakimata, Great Barrier Island's summit. Ed Marshall spent a month in the bush to monitor these endangered seabirds, attaching leg bands and recording breeding behaviour. The island’s steep terrain adds an extra challenge to fieldwork—and photography.

beckimoss_

Progear PhotoStory

Becki Moss

Five flatmates in their early 20s pass the time during Alert Level 4 in a central Auckland suburb. The lockdown opened space for creative pursuits—reading, art—as well as home haircuts, tattoos and piercings. Becki Moss had more time for photography: “I have always documented the lives of the people I live with.”

astewart_waiphoto

Progear PhotoStory

Andrew Stewart

Setting out to document the COVID-19 lockdown through the eyes of a 12-year-old, Andrew Stewart encountered only one significant challenge: working with pre-teens in their natural habitat. “This subspecies is reasonably temperamental,” he says, “and so photos needed to be taken either when high levels of trust or indifference were present.”

scottysinton

Progear PhotoStory

Scott Sinton

The Mangawhai Bowl Jam is the biggest skateboarding event in New Zealand, and Scott Sinton has photographed it several times over the years. In 2020, he decided to focus on individual participants, such as Jakob Robinson—the skateboarder pictured taking a moment after a serious fall. He went on to win the open finals.

denisamanasek

Progear PhotoStory

Denisa Maňásková

For her first New Zealand WWOOFing job—a labour-for-accommodation exchange pairing volunteers with organic farms—Denisa Maňásková arrived at a saffron farm in early February. The saffron wasn’t blossoming in mid-summer, but there were beehives full of honey to be harvested. Quickly overcoming her fear of bees, Maňásková documented the process.

braden_fastier

Lumix Society

Braden Fastier

Members of the 501st Legion—an international organisation dedicated to replicating the costumes of villains from the Star Wars films—high-five members of the crowd during the 2019 Richmond Santa Parade. Braden Fastier was covering the event for the Nelson Mail, looking for ways to isolate the many crowd events in single pictures.

ashimgc_

Lumix Society

Ashim GC

At the international arts festival WOMAD, members of the crowd soak up the music in different ways. While photographing the mosh pit, Ashim GC noticed one attendee sleeping soundly, oblivious to the turbulence. Struggling to remain still amidst the push and movement of the dancing crowd, Ashim fired off a few frames.

aldenwilliams

Lumix Society

Alden Williams

As the sun sets, Grenville Pitama starts the uplift of the hāngī during Matariki celebrations at Richmond Community Gardens, a revitalised part of Christchurch’s red zone. Alden Williams knew that uncovering the hāngī would be the day’s best opportunity for a photo—but had only a slim window of time to capture it.

aldenwilliams

Lumix Society

Alden Williams

Sheep shearer John Aramakutu prepares for a hard day at the office. Alden Williams made this portrait for a story about Aramakutu’s life—his experiences as a state ward, as an inmate, and losing a family member to suicide. “The moment captured was designed to show a battle-weary product of a tough upbringing still contributing in a backbone Kiwi industry.”

aldenwilliams

Lumix Society

Alden Williams

Three months after the Christchurch mosque shootings, a remembrance event was held at Hillmorton High School for the victims of the terrorist attack. Though Alden Williams had obtained permission to photograph at the event, he used a long lens to make his presence less intrusive to the crowd.

scottysinton

Lumix Society

Scott Sinton

On January 4, 2020, 11 short-finned pilot whales stranded near the mouth of the Matarangi estuary. Four whales died, but holidaymakers kept the remaining seven alive. Scott Sinton’s help wasn’t needed, so he picked up his camera to document the whales’ fate: “All eventually kicked their tails and swam to freedom beyond the sandbar.”

nathan.secker_photo

Lumix Society

Nathan Secker

Ida Ward has lived in this house since she was married, more than 70 years ago. Now 96, Ward suffers from gout in her hands, which she covers with gloves. Nathan Secker, her nephew, felt compelled to document her and her home on a recent visit. “I didn’t ask her to move or pose for the photograph. This was Ida’s world.”

mckeenphotos

Lumix Society

Chris McKeen

As supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement gathered outside the United States Consulate, Chris McKeen photographed the scene from the roof of a truck: “It wasn’t until they all took a knee, raised a fist and stared up at me that I knew I had a frame that captured the diversity and intensity but also the surprising youth of the marchers.”


Thanks to our family of sponsors, each of them committed to fostering the craft of photography in New Zealand. Remember to vote on your favourites for the Ockham Residential People’s Choice award.