55 award-winning wildlife photos that will make you see animals in a whole new light

55 award-winning wildlife photos that will make you see animals in a whole new light
"Laughing Seal - Oh, I just got it!" by Brian Valente. A seal appears to laugh.
"Laughing Seal - Oh, I just got it!" by Brian Valente. Brian Valente/CWPA/Barcroft Images
  • October 4 is World Animal Day.

  • Images celebrated by wildlife photography competitions give us new insight into the natural world.

  • Here are photos from the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, Siena International Photo Awards, Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and Underwater Photographer of the Year.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The overall winner of the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards was a photo of an expressive squirrel.

'Caught In The Act' by Mary McGowan shows a squirrel with its arms extended.
"Caught In The Act" by Mary McGowan. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

The photo was also the winner of the Alex Walker's Serian Creatures of the Land Award and the Affinity Photo People's Choice Award. Photographer Mary McGowan won a safari in Kenya, a handmade trophy from Wonder Workshop in Tanzania, and a camera bag from Think Tank.

The Under the Sea Award winner was photographer Tanya Houppermans with a photo of a friendly shark.

"Smiling Blue Shark" by Tanya Houppermans. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
"Smiling Blue Shark" by Tanya Houppermans. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

The shark appeared to be smiling as it swam towards the photographer, earning her an award in the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Check out the eyes on that owl.

"Peek a boo" by Shane Keena shows an owl peeking out of the ground.
"Peek-a-boo" by Shane Keena. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

The photo, entitled "Peek-a-boo" by Shane Keena, won the Spectrum Photo Creatures of the Air Award in the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Krisztina Scheeff, a finalist in the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, captured a greedy Atlantic puffin in "Seriously, Would You Share Some?"

Two puffins, one of which has lots of leaves in its mouth. The other puffin looks on jealously.

Scheeff took the photo in Scotland.

Who says nature photographers have to be human?

"Wildlife PhotograBear" Roie Galitz shows a polar bear appearing to take a photo.
"Wildlife PhotograBear" by Roie Galitz. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

"Wildlife PhotograBear" by Roie Galitz was a Highly Commended photo in the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

These bears appear to be excellent dancers.

"Tango" by Michael Watts shows two bears appearing to dance.

The photo, entitled "Tango," was Highly Commended in the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

So do these lizards.

"Martian Tango" by Sergey Savvi shows two lizards who look like they're dancing.
"Martian Tango" by Sergey Savvi. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

The 2018 Wildlife Comedy Photography Awards recognized the photo as Highly Commended.

This bear doesn't seem to be feeling up to a tango.

"Coastal Brown Bear Cub with Headache" by Danielle D'Ermo shows a bear appearing to facepalm.
"Coastal Brown Bear Cub with Headache" by Danielle D'Ermo. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

Another Highly Commended photo from the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards shows a brown bear appearing to clutch its head.

Photographer Barney Koszalka captured a battle of wits between moose.

"So There" by Barney Koszalka shows two moose who look like they're talking to each other.
"So There" by Barney Koszalka. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

Another Highly Commended photo from the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards shows one animal sticking out its tongue.

This bear is just really passionate about road safety.

"Drive Safe" by Jonathan Irish shows a bear leaning against a road safety sign.
"Drive Safe" by Jonathan Irish. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

The photo was Highly Commended in the 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

These primates were up to some monkey business.

"This Is Sparta" by Sergey Savvi. One monkey is kicking another.
"This Is Sparta" by Sergey Savvi. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

Highly Commended by the 2018 Wildlife Comedy Photography Awards, the photo shows two monkeys fighting, playing, or something in between.

Kallol Mukherjee snapped a photo of a well-positioned peacock behind a rhino for the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

"Rhinopeacock" by Kallol Mukherjee. A peacock stands behind a rhino.
"Rhinopeacock" by Kallol Mukherjee. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

The photo was Highly Commended in 2018.

Squirrels can be incredibly flexible.

"Split" by Geert Weggen. A squirrel stands on two flowers.

"Split" by Geert Weggen earned the title of Highly Commended in the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

The overall winner of the 2017 Wildlife Comedy Photography Awards shows an owl struggling to keep his grip as his owl friends look the other way.

"Help" by Tibor Kercz. An owl slips off a branch.
"Help" by Tibor Kercz. Tibor Kercz/CWPA/Barcroft Images

The photo was taken in Opusztaszer, Hungary.

A baby dormouse appears to laugh on a yarrow flower in this award-winning photo from the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

"The Laughing Doormouse" by Andrea Zampatti. A mouse appears to smile while sitting in a flower.
"The Laughing Doormouse" by Andrea Zampatti. Andrea Zampatti/CWPA/Barcroft Images

Alex Walker's photo, taken in Monticelli Brusati, Italy, won the Serian on the Land award.

The 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Award's Kenya Airways in the Air Winner shows widgeons flying through the air.

"Duck Speed" by John Threlfall. Ducks flying line up with an airplane's cloud trail.
"Duck Speed" by John Threlfall. John Threlfall/CWPA/Barcroft Images

The birds were photographed in Preston, England.

A green turtle pushed a a Napoleon maori wrasse out of the way in Queensland, Australia.

Slap" by Troy Mayne. A turtle pushes a fish with its fin.
Slap" by Troy Mayne. Troy Mayne/CWPA/Barcroft Images

The photo won the Padi Under the Sea award in the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

This photo is cheekily named "Outsourcing Seatbelt Checks."

"Outsourcing Seatbelt Checks" by Graeme Guy. A giraffe looks at a low-flying plane.
"Outsourcing Seatbelt Checks" by Graeme Guy. Graeme Guy/CWPA/Barcroft Images

The photo, taken in Masai Mara, Kenya, was a Finalist in the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

A seal in San Diego, California, appears to be getting a good laugh.

"Laughing Seal - Oh, I just got it!" by Brian Valente. A seal appears to laugh.
"Laughing Seal - Oh, I just got it!" by Brian Valente. Brian Valente/CWPA/Barcroft Images

The 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards named the photo as a Finalist.

Photographer Tanakit-Suwanyangyaun titled this photo "Say Cheese!"

"Say Cheese!" by Tanakit-Suwanyangyaun. A fish sticks its head out of the water.
"Say Cheese!" by Tanakit-Suwanyangyaun. Tanakit-Suwanyangyaun/CWPA/Barcroft Images

The photo was a finalist in the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, taken in Sipadan, Malaysia.

A Calumma nasutum, also known as a nose-horned chameleon, danced on the end of a branch in Andasibe, Madagascar.

A Calumma nasutum, the nose-horned chameleon seen dancing on the end of a branch in Andasibe, Madagascar.
Untitled by Jasmine Vink. Jasmine Vink/CWPA/Barcroft Images

The photo was a finalist in the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

"Hitching A Ride" by Daisy Gilardini was Highly Commended in the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

"Hitching A Ride" by Daisy Gilardini. A polar bear cub climbs its mother's back.
"Hitching A Ride" by Daisy Gilardini. Daisy Gilardini/CWPA/Barcroft Images

A polar bear mother with a cub hitches a ride in Wapusk National Park in Manitoba, Canada.

Reuters chose this photo of birds on the back of a zebra as one of the best animal photos of 2018.

Birds on a zebra in Nairobi, Kenya.
Birds on a zebra in Nairobi, Kenya. Baz Ratner/Reuters

The photo was taken in Nairobi National Park near Nairobi, Kenya.

Another photo recognized by Reuters in 2018 shows a murmuration of migrating starlings flying in a cloud.

Starlings fly in formation near Beit Kama, Israel.
Starlings near Beit Kama, Israel. Amir Cohen/Reuters/TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The birds appeared near the village of Beit Kama in southern Israel.

A red deer in the early morning mist made for a dramatic silhouette.

Red deer in Bushy Park in London.
Red deer in Bushy Park in London. Henry Nicholls/Reuters

The photo, taken by Henry Nicholls, was one of Reuters' best animal photos of 2018.

Elephants and zebras walk through Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

A whirlwind is seen as elephant and zebras walk through the Amboseli National Park.
A whirlwind is seen as elephant and zebras walk through the Amboseli National Park. Baz Ratner/Reuters

Whirlwinds swirl in the background of this photo, recognized by Reuters as one of the best animal photos of 2018.

Shivang Mehta's photo of a young tiger cub hunting a deer won second place in the "Animals in their Environment" category of the 2018 Siena International Photo Awards.

"The Hunt" by Shivang Mehta. A tiger tackles its prey.

"A young and inexperienced tiger cub attempts to hunt a chital (spotted deer) in Ranthambore National Park, India; but the chital turned out to be too big for this young cub," Mehta captioned the photo. "I captured the moment when the tiger cub was struggling to get the prey down, as his siblings and mother were watching from a distance."

The first place winner of the "Animals in their Environment" category went to Amos Nachoum for his photo of a penguin that is about to be eaten by a seal.

"Facing Reality" by Amos Nachoum. A penguin is about to be eaten by a seal.
"Facing Reality" by Amos Nachoum. Amos Nachoum/Siena International Photo Awards

"A leopard seal got into a lagoon just before low tide," Nachoum wrote. "The seal was hiding, waiting to ambush young penguins as they got closer. When a penguin got close enough, the seal moved extremely fast and caught the penguin by its feet, dragging it to the open water. I was following parallel to the action. The seal released the penguin twice and the terrified penguin succeeded in escaping, but the seal continued chasing after it, and on the third attempt, drowned the penguin and devoured it."

"This scene was part of a large, multi-day aggregation comprising hundreds, perhaps thousands of whales," said photographer Tony Wu.

"Sperm Whale Herd" by Tony Wu. Sperm whales swim in the ocean.
"Sperm Whale Herd" by Tony Wu. Tony Wu/Siena International Photo Awards

Wu's photo won third place in the Animals in their Environment category of the Siena International Photo Awards.

Mariusz Potock photographed chinstrap penguins chilling on an iceberg in Bransfield Strait, Antarctica.

"Travelers" by Mariusz Potock. Penguins on an iceberg.

The photo took third place in the Beauty of Nature category in the 2018 Siena International Photo Awards.

"Some of these floating islands are great resting places for hunting penguins who can travel many kilometers, before jumping back into the icy water," Potock wrote.

The 2017 Photo of the Year in the Siena International Photo Awards was "Sand Hill Cranes" by Randy Olson.

"Sand Hill Cranes" by Randy Olson. Lightning strikes in the distance as sand hill cranes sit in the foreground.
"Sand Hill Cranes" by Randy Olson. Courtesy Siena International Photo Awards

"This photograph harkens back to a time when the USA had braided streams and plenty of space for the Sand Hill Crane migration," Olson wrote. "Now, only a small area of the Platte River in Nebraska can accommodate all of them. Volunteers at the Crane Trust counted 413,000 Sandhill Cranes on this evening … more than they've ever counted before. These cranes are running out of habitat in most of their migration that goes from Siberia to South America."

A brightly colored kingfisher bird was photographed in Croatia by Petar Sabol.

An orange and blue bird sits on a branch.

The photo won Siena International Photo Contest's "Remarkable Award" in 2017.

Yarin Klein captured a goofy brown bear in "We All Have That Friend."

"We All Have That Friend" by Yarin Klein. Two bears, one of which has a dramatic expression.
"We All Have That Friend" by Yarin Klein. © Yarin Klein/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2020

Klein took the photo in Kuril Lake in Kamchatka, Russia.

Arshdeep Singh won the 10-and-under category of The Natural History Museum in London's Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards with this shot of two owls.

"Pipe Owls" by Arshdeep Singh. Two small owls sit in the hollow inside of a pipe.
"Pipe Owls" by Arshdeep Singh. © Arshdeep Singh - Winner, 10 Years and Under

Singh, who started taking pictures when he was 6, spotted these two owls in a waste pipe from the car window. He asked his father to stop the car so he could kneel on the seat and get this shot, resting his camera on the half-open window.

The grand title winner of the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year was Marsel van Oosten's "The Golden Couple."

"The Golden Couple" by Marsel van Oosten. Two orange monkeys sit in a forest.
"The Golden Couple" by Marsel van Oosten. © Marsel van Oosten - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Van Oosten had a tough time keeping up with the monkeys as they hopped from tree to tree, but after some slips and stumbles, he captured this shot of a pair resting.

Cristobal Serrano won the "Animals in their Environment" category of the Nature Photographer of the Year contest with this image of crabeater seals.

"Bed of Seals" by Cristobal Serrano. Seals bask on an iceberg.

Photographer Cristobal Serrano used a drone to spy these seals in one of their favorite resting spots in the Errera Channel of Antarctica.

Ricardo Núñez Montero captured this heart-wrenching photo of a gorilla mother mourning her baby.

"Kuhirwa Mourns Her Baby" by Ricardo Núñez Montero. A gorilla holds up the corpse of its baby.
"Kuhirwa Mourns Her Baby" by Ricardo Núñez Montero. © Ricardo Núñez Montero - Winner, Behaviours Mammals

Like people, animals mourn their dead relatives. This gorilla mother carried, cuddled, and groomed her infant's corpse.

Kuhirwa, a mountain gorilla, lives in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. After a few weeks of sadness, she gave in and started eating the baby's remains.

This shot depicting Kuhirwa's grief won the mammal behaviors category in the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards.

The grand-prize winner of the museum's Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest spotted an extremely elusive animal: an African leopard.

"Lounging Leopard" by Skye Meaker. A leopard lies down.
"Lounging Leopard" by Skye Meaker. © Skye Meaker - Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Grand title winner

South African photographer Skye Meaker, who's been snapping photos since he was 7, spent hours tracking leopards through the Mashatu Game Reserve of Botswana before he nabbed this shot — and the grand title of Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2018.

Carlos Perez Naval won the 11 to 14-year-olds category of the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards with this morning shot of a long-tailed duck.

"Duck of Dreams" by Carlos Perez Naval. A duck swims on a pond.
"Duck of Dreams" by Carlos Perez Naval. © Carlos Perez Naval - Winner, 11-14 Years Old

Norway's Barents Sea is home to one of the largest seabird communities in the world.

Naval, who has been taking pictures since he was 5 years old, slipped out of his boat and into a floating hide to get this shot.

This photo of a treehopper guarding her young won the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year's Portfolio Award.

"Mother Defender" by Javier Aznar González de Rueda. A treehopper on a branch.
"Mother Defender" by Javier Aznar González de Rueda. © Javier Aznar González de Rueda - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The spiny projection on the treehopper's back is called a helmet. It's used to deter predators. González de Rueda captured the photo in La Maná, Ecuador.

The winner of the "Birds" category in the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest was a photo of a male brush turkey.

"The incubator bird" by Gerry Pearce. A bird walks on the ground.
"The Incubator Bird" by Gerry Pearce. © Gerry Pearce - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Photographer Gerry Pearce captured this turkey tending to his nest in Garigal National Park in Sydney, Australia.

It would have been nearly impossible for this turtle to escape from a plastic net it got caught in without the help of underwater photographers who happened upon it.

"Caretta Caretta Turtle" by Eduardo Acevedo. A turtle is stuck in plastic netting.
"Caretta Caretta Turtle" by Eduardo Acevedo. © Eduardo Acevedo/UPY2019

Eduardo Acevedo was named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year in the 2019 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition for his work.

"The Caretta Caretta turtles spend much of their life in the open ocean," he wrote. "They come to the Canary Island after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches. In this trip of many years, they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc."

The Wide Angle winner of the 2019 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition was François Baelen with a photo of a humpback whale.

"Gentle Giants" by François Baelen. A whale's tail.
"Gentle Giants" by François Baelen. © François Baelen/UPY2019

"At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimeters away from her tail," he wrote. "I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn't need to ask the playful calf: he was very curious."

Fabio FabioIardino snapped a photo of a fast-moving cuttlefish for the 2019 Underwater Photography Awards.

"Fast Cuttlefish" by Fabio FabioIardino. An octopus in the dark ocean.
"Fast Cuttlefish" by Fabio FabioIardino. © Fabio FabioIardino/UPY2019

The photo was the winner of the competition's Macro category.

Nicholas Samaras snapped a photo of this friendly ray in Stratoni, Greece.

"Fly High and Smile" by Nicholas Samaras. A stingray appears to smile.
"Fly High and Smile" by Nicholas Samaras. © Nicholas Samaras/UPY2019

It was the Portrait winner of the 2019 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

"I visited Stratoni three times in August 2018 for a photo project dedicated to the seahorse colony that managed to survive there," he wrote. "On my third and last visit I was planning to create a specific group photo of seahorses before sunset using natural light. Just in time for the big finale, a small ray came onto the scene!"

Black and white nature photos heighten the drama.

"Between Two Worlds" by Henley Spiers. A bird dives into a school of fish.
"Between Two Worlds" by Henley Spiers. © Henley Spiers/UPY2019

Henley Spiers' photo was the Black and White category winner in the 2019 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

"This image captures the hostile, black silhouette of the cormorant as it dives down onto its prey, who, for a brief moment, remain unaware of the danger above," the caption read.

Enrico Somogyi titled this photo taken in Indonesia "Hairy in the Sunrise."

"Hairy in the Sunrise" by Enrico Somogyi. A coral reef under the surface of the water.
"Hairy in the Sunrise" by Enrico Somogyi. © Enrico Somogyi/UPY2019

It was the winner of the Compact category in the 2019 Underwater Photographer of the Year contest.

"This adorable seal pirouetted and arabesqued around me before sliding in and flicking sand over itself in a final attempt to get me to play - and it nearly worked!" wrote photographer Martin Edser of this photo.

"Playtime?" by Martin Edser. A seal spins in the water.
"Playtime?" by Martin Edser. © Martin Edser/UPY2019

Edser was the winner of the British Waters Compact category of the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

Taeyup Kim's photo for the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year contest revealed the beauty beneath the surface of the water in French Polynesia.

"Paradise" by Taeyup Kim. A coral reef beneath the water's surface in French Polynesia.
"Paradise" by Taeyup Kim. © Taeyup Kim/UPY2019

The photo earned Kim the title of Up and Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year.

The winner of the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year contest was "The Gauntlet" by Richard Barnden.

"The Gauntlet" by Richard Barnden. Sharks swim in the ocean.
"The Gauntlet" by Richard Barnden. © Richard Barnden/UPY2019

"As the sun sets on Fakarava South Pass, the estimated 700 sharks that are patrolling the mouth of the channel by day begin to hunt at night," Barnden wrote.

A photo of a grumpy sea turtle appearing to give the finger won the top prize at the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

A grumpy sea turtle appearing to give the finger.
"Terry the Turtle" by Mark Fitzpatrick. © Mark Fitzpatrick/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2020

Fitzpatrick spotted the turtle in Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia.

Chee Kee Teo captured a surprised baby otter being carried around by its mother in "Time For School," a finalist in this year's Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

An otter carries a baby otter by the skin of its neck.
"Time For School" by Chee Kee Teo. Chee Kee Teo/Comedywildlifephoto.com

"A smooth-coated otter 'bit' its baby otter to bring it to and fro for a swimming lesson," Teo wrote.

Axel Böcker came across a jolly dragonfly in "Don't Worry. Be Happy!"

A blue dragonfly that appears to be smiling at the camera.
"Don't Worry. Be Happy!" by Axel Bocker. Axel Böcker/Comedywildlifephoto.com

"A dragonfly on a flower looks into my camera early in the morning, and it seems as if it is laughing," Böcker wrote. "If I have a bad day, this image makes me smile back."

The image is a finalist in the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Clemence Guinard came across a baboon who looked ready to burst into song and titled the image "The Baboon Who Feels Like A Tenor."

A baboon with its mouth wide open, as if it were singing.
"The Baboon Who Feels Like A Tenor" by Clemence Guinard. Clemence Guinard/Comedywildlifephoto.com

"Resting with its pack, down a road in the Saudi Arabian mountains, this hamadryas baboon started to yawn," Guinard wrote. "But the graceful position of its paws, its fluffy cape, its eyes looking like it put some makeup — in front of the camera, this baboon was on stage, ready to please its public and to start its tenor solo."

The photo is a finalist in the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Kevin Biskaborn's image features a mother raccoon with her babies squished into a tight space, aptly titled "Quarantine Life," a finalist in the 2021 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Four raccoons squished in a hole in a tree trunk.
"Quarantine Life" by Kevin Biskaborn. Kevin Biskaborn/Comedywildlifephoto.com

"Isolated inside with your family eager to get out and explore the world? These eastern raccoon kits are too," Biskaborn wrote. "Just when you think there's no more room in the tree hollow, mother raccoon appears and displays just how compact the space is. The babies clambered all over their mom and each another, struggling to take a look at the exact same time. This photo was taken in Southwestern Ontario, Canada."

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