‘Daylight turned into darkness’: Eye of a firestorm takes out 20th anniversary nature photography prize


A harrowing moment captured at the heart of a bushfire in Parma Creek Nature Reserve, New South Wales, has claimed top prize in the 2023 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition and exhibition opening at the South Australian Museum on 26 August.


Photographer Samuel Markham’s winning shot, ‘My Country Burns’, was taken in the final days of 2019, in a bushfire season that remains seared into memory around Australia and the world.


“Nothing can prepare someone for being straight in the line of a pyrocumulonimbus firestorm with a built-in flashover and temperatures exceeding 1000°C,” Markham said of his on-the-ground snapshot. “While protecting my home on New Year’s Eve 2019, daylight turned into darkness with 40m-plus flames.”


Now in its landmark 20th year, the competition – which is owned and produced by the South Australian Museum – drew 2,182 entries from 550 photographers across 10 countries in its search for the best wildlife and landscape photographs taken across Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea regions.


This year’s judges, Mike Langford, Adjunct Professor Wayne Quilliam and Jackie Ranken, singled out Markham’s “breathtaking, scary photograph” for its “energy and visual drama indicative of the world we now live in”. “Despite the circumstances this isn’t a panicked shot; it is a studied composition with extraordinary detail,” the judges said. “Many layers draw us into the scene, giving us a genuine feeling of being part of the firestorm.”


Markham heads a high-calibre field of 10 category winners unveiled by South Australian Museum Director Dr David Gaimster last night in an online ceremony, before the annual exhibition of all 95 finalists opens on Saturday 26 August.


“From the smallest invertebrates to the grand canvas of the night sky, this year’s winners share vital perspectives of our bioregion at a critical juncture,” said Dr Gaimster. “Bringing audiences face to face with the biodiversity around us, these photographers combine art, science, patience, and purpose to raise the public consciousness about humanity’s impact on fragile ecosystems.”


This year’s winners include moments of riotous colour and fleeting scenes of peace and tranquillity, from 17-year-old Junior winner Isabella Alexis’ macro portrait of a wolf spider (family Lycosidae) guarding its young, to past winner Matty Smith’s shot of an inky showdown between male cuttlefish (Sepia apama) during courting season, which topped the Animals in Nature category.


Other highlights include Portfolio winner Lewis Burnett’s suite of aerial shots that portray a range of species from a pygmy blue whale to a saltwater crocodile swimming in tranquil waters from Ningaloo Reef to Timor-Leste. Joshua Rozell’s stunning Our Impact-winning image of the night sky in Western Australia’s Pinnacles Desert criss-crossed with unregulated satellites highlights how humanity’s encroachment into natural environments is no longer bound by gravity, creating a legacy of light pollution and space junk distilled in its title: ‘Swamped Skies’.


Comically titled ‘Frog in a Bog’, Urban Animals category winner Tom Owen Edmunds’s iPhone 11 shot of a green tree frog (Litoria caerulea) at home in the amphibious environment of a steel toilet bowl in Walgett, New South Wales promises to be a crowd favourite (“My brother-in-law tells me a frog in the dunny means the water is clean,” said Edmunds. “Better than a snake!”).


Australian Geographic Group Picture Editor Nicky Catley congratulated this year’s finalists, whose entries reflect an “incredible dedication to the craft, often years of deep observation and patience and, in many cases, expertise in certain species, animal behaviour and environment.”


“Meticulous, purposeful, and artful photography of nature matters more than ever as powerful imagery can shift thinking and effect change on a scale beyond any other form of communication,” Catley said.


The resulting exhibition will open to the public at the South Australian Museum from Saturday 26 August 2023 until Sunday 29 October 2023. Tickets are available now via Humanitix.


For further information and to view the winners, runners up and finalists, visit:


For further information and to view the shortlist, visit:

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Amy Haring, Manager, Marketing and Communications
0434 880 950

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