Nature Photographer of the Year has announced the 2023 winners. Jacquie Matechuk, a nature photographer from Canada, won first place with an exquisite image of a spectacled bear. The beautiful animal stands in the midst of lush greenery, and Matechuk’s photo has a dreamy, painterly vibe.
The image backstory
“Spanning more than 8,000km, the Andean Mountain range occupies more than a quarter of the land surface in Ecuador,” Jacquie Matechuk explains “Rich in biodiversity, it’s also home to a unique species called the Spectacled Bear.”
“Until planning this trip, I knew nothing about them. But as a certified bear guide, I was excited to expand my knowledge and understanding of a new species and to compare behavior and their interactions to those of our grizzly, polar, black, and brown bears.”
“As we drove from Quito to the Andean mountains, through villages and farming communities, the extraordinary conditions and fertility of this land were inescapable,” the photographer continues. “Hours of winding roads and stunning landscapes later, we pulled into a small community where we were greeted by a local farmer/guide. A gentle-natured man who’s worked tirelessly for decades to observe, learn, and advocate for this endangered species. His family’s hospitality reaching far beyond opening his home, opened a door to a whole new world.”
“For 11 days at roughly 8,000 feet above sea level, we hiked vertical paths up and down the canyon walls, trekking through creeks, ducking out of torrential downpours, and often clambering through mud to observe these beautiful bears. In their natural habitat and with our guide’s intimate knowledge of each bear, we were quickly accepted by them. We kept a respectful distance to ensure their comfort and it paid off in spades. They would nurse, fall asleep, cuddle, forage, and play, seemingly more oblivious to our presence with each passing encounter.
In this image, Tony (a large male spectacled bear), and frequent traveler through these parts had climbed into a century-old fig tree seeking refuge from the midday sun. It was draped in Spanish moss, gently swaying with each breath inhaled and exhaled by the canyon walls. He sauntered effortlessly across a burly branch and sat peacefully against the tree’s trunk. When a gentle rain began to fall across the valley, he stood and turned to look up as though embracing the cool moisture on his speckled face. And for a fleeting moment, the warmth of muted sunlight falls across his face as ‘He Looks to the Heavens’.”
Besides the overall victory, He Looks to the Heavens also brought Matechuk first place in the mammals category. Jury chairman Marco Gaiotti explains why they chose this photo as the winner:
“The Spanish moss hanging from this centuries-old fig tree gives an incredible sense of three-dimensionality while the soft light filtering through the colors highlights the profound connection between species and habitat in this image. Finally, the pose of this spectacled bear fits perfectly into the texture of the photograph.”
About Nature Photographer of the Year
The Nature Photographer of the Year competition is an initiative of Nature Talks. This organization is also responsible for the Nature Talks Photo Festival, which takes place in the Netherlands each year.
Other than the overall winner, the contest also recognizes winners, runner-ups, and highly commended photos in the following categories:
- Other Animals
- Plants and Fungi
- Nature Art
- Human and Nature
- Black and White
- Animal Portraits
- Nature of “De Lage Landen”
- Youth 10-17 years
- Fred Hazelhoff Award (Portfolio)
If you’d like to see more contest photos from other years, click on the links below and enjoy!
- This mystical giraffe photo wins Nature Photographer of the Year 2020
- Fascinating photo of geese migration wins 2021 Nature Photographer of the Year
- Polar bears took over an abandoned house and won Nature Photographer of the Year 2022
- Dreamy photo of a spectacled bear wins Nature Photographer of the Year 2023