Media releases for the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Competition.

Media contact:

Ashleigh Glynn
Communications Officer, South Australian Museum

0466 389 019 or

Fin Whale’s Demise by Mat Beetson

2019 winner announcement

A thought-provoking image of a beached Fin Whale being circled by sharks has won the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition in 2019. “Fin Whale’s Demise” by Mat Beetson captured the surreal moment with a drone while on a photographic trip with a friend.

Mat Beetson from Western Australia took the winning photograph in Cheynes Beach in Albany, WA with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro Drone.

“I was actually in the Great Southern region of WA to photograph the beautiful beaches but a turn in weather with a crazy storm made it a little tough to fly a drone. We heard from some locals that there was a beached whale at Cheynes Beach,” Mr Beetson said.

“It was unreal, arriving at a peaceful coastal town with a pristine beach and then seeing this huge whale not even five metres from shore – we then noticed the thrashing close by and realised that a few sharks had also stopped by,” he explained.

“I launched the drone to see the aerial view and captured a sequence of photographs, this shot was one of the last ones I took and I was very lucky that the shark came back for a look,” he said.

Mr Beetson has been involved in photography for more than 20 years with his focus and passion being landscapes and wildlife. His prize is $10,000 and a Coral Expeditions cruise.

When asked how it felt to be named the winner of the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2019, Mr Beetson said,  

“It’s amazing. I’m still in disbelief…it’s such a huge honour. I was really excited just to be shortlisted in my category, but to take out the overall award, amongst an exceptional standard of entries in such a prestigious competition – it’s a really big thrill”.

The 2019 competition judges are:

  • Justin Gilligan- a freelance photojournalist with a career as a marine scientist, Justin has worked on a number of projects with Australia’s Commonwealth and State Fisheries Agencies alongside independent research into some of Australia’s most remote reef locations.

  • Glenn McKimmin- a landscape photographer with a passion for the photographic industry. In 2017, Glenn launched Aperture Australia, which has now become Australia’s biggest photographic conference.

  • Tui De Roy- an award-winning wildlife photographer, naturalist, and author of many books on wildlife themes around the world. She is also a passionate conservationist who encourages others to take better care of the planet.

The judges said that: “Despite seeing millions of nature photographs over the decades, we have never seen anything that remotely resembles this image. Unique and exciting, it reveals incredible beauty in death. Rather than being an inanimate scene, the image is given life by the circling shark, which in turn reminds us of the ecological function of the dead whale, providing food and energy to the living organisms around it. The image surprises by revealing such a shocking scene in a beautiful setting, and speaks volumes of the new dimension the latest technology has opened up for photographers.”

Mr Brian Oldman, Director of the South Australian Museum, said that Mr Beetson’s photograph had been judged the winning entry among 2,219 photographs.

“This is the first time a photograph taken by a drone has won the competition. It’s a reflection of the continuous growth in photographers adopting new technology year on year,” Mr Oldman said.

“By having technology such as drones accessible to photographers it broadens the scope to capture moments that often aren’t seen by the naked eye,” he explained.

“We’re very proud to produce this competition and resulting exhibition every year and are continuously blown away by the calibre of entries and this year is no different,” Mr Oldman said

Ms Chrissie Goldrick, Editor-in-Chief, Australian Geographic said,

“This year’s collection of images is one of the strongest we have seen in this annual competition. It’s interesting to see technological advances like drones and domes expanding our ability to capture and share the wonders of the natural world. The winning image is visual storytelling at its best.”

The winners and runners-up of the ten categories have also been announced.

Animal Portrait

Winner: Decorator Crab, Ross Gudgeon (WA)
Runner-up: Bride in the Bath, Melissa Christi (QLD)

Animal Behaviour

Winner: The Heat Run, Scott Portelli (NSW)
Runner-up: Evil Cousin, Pete McGee (NSW)

Animal Habitat

Winner: Small but Mighty, Richard Smith (UK)
Runner-up: Spider on Ice, Raoul Slater (QLD)


Winner: The Ghost of the Forest, Marcia Riederer (VIC)
Runner-up: Pandani at Lake Oberon, Jarrod Castaing (NSW)


Winner: Barron Falls, Neil Pritchard (QLD)
Runner-up: Through the Curtain, Nick Monk (TAS)


Winner: Texture, Tracey Jennings (UK/MYS)
Runner-up: King Pair ConversationAndrew Peacock (QLD)

Junior (photographers under 18 years of age)

Winner: In the Dark, Floyd Mallon (NSW)
Runner-up: Under the Spikes, Isaac Wilson (SA)

Our Impact (depicting human impact on nature)

Winner: The Watering Hole, Melissa Williams-Brown (SA)
Runner-up: End of the Line, David Stowe (NSW)

Threatened Species (threatened, rare, vulnerable or endangered species)

Winner: Curious Encounter, Etienne Littlefair (NT)
Runner-up: Just Hanging On, Neil Edwards (SA)

Portfolio Prize (best portfolio of size or more images)

Winner: Charles Davis, (NSW)
Jeff Gillies Commercial Director of Coral Expeditions said,

“We are extremely proud to once again be involved as Presenting Partners of the NPOTY. Our congratulations to all the entrants and winners and we thank you for your skills in capturing and sharing the amazing world around us through your inspiring imagery.”

The South Australian Museum is hosting a public exhibition featuring all of the finalists from 16 August to 10 November 2019.

The same exhibition will be presented at Powerhouse (MASS) in partnership with the Australian Museum from 16 August - 20 October 2019.  

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