2020's top photogs – and Ockham People’s Choice winner – announced

New Zealand’s most prestigious photography prize, New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year, has been claimed by Christchurch's Alden Williams for a remarkable portfolio that included land and cityscapes and social documentary. Meanwhile, scientist Edin Whitehead’s stunning starry seabird night shot took out the inaugural Ockham Residential People’s Choice Award.

Alden Williams, a photojournalist at the Christchurch Press, was a finalist four times over, across two categories. He won the Resene Landscape category and achieved a highly commended in Lumix Society.

His attention to dramatic light is a hallmark of his work, says New Zealand Geographic publisher, General James Frankham. “The glow of a cigarette lighter, strong backlight through fog, the pinpoint accuracy of a shaft of light illuminating a father and daughter at a memorial for victims of the Christchurch attacks. These could be interpreted as examples of serendipity, but Williams was there when it happened, in the right place with the right lens, and a well-trained eye to the viewfinder.”

New Zealand Geographic received nearly 6000 entries into Photographer of the Year this season – a record in the competition’s 12-year history. “We received images of Covid-19 lockdown, of Black Lives Matter marches, as well as the landscapes and wildlife that define us,” says Frankham. “Photographers made good use of the time afforded by the pandemic, and chose to spend it documenting their lives, society and immediate environment.

“This year we have seen technology develop further too, making photographs possible today that might have been unimaginable only a decade ago. A picture shot by Gavin Lang was illuminated only by starlight and the thin loom of a headtorch on Silberhorn Arête before dawn. Cameras have become as sensitive as our eyes, and in some cases, more sensitive. Finalist Scott Mouat photographed a kākāpō booming at night on Whenua Hou using infra-red illumination, stealing light from beyond the visible spectrum, clicking a shutter in total darkness.”

But as always, success in Photographer of the Year has more to do with the content of the photograph than the technology used to create it. The most effective images were those that made the viewer feel something, or those that offered a perspective that was either recognisable or challenging, and this is where Alden Williams’ work shined. Williams took away the title of 2020 Nikon Photographer of the Year, cash winnings and a voyage to the subantarctic with Heritage Expeditions.

All finalists are on display at the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland until March 2021.

Edin Whitehead’s transfixing photograph of petrels departing their roosts at the Poor Knights Islands won the Ockham People's Choice Award...

Soaring seabirds capture Ockham Residential People’s Choice award

The public have had their say too, voting on the 40 finalists for the Ockham Residential People’s Choice award. This year, from 25,000 public votes, the winner was Edin Whitehead’s transfixing photograph of petrels departing their roosts at the Poor Knights Islands. It was created using a flash gun and a long exposure, to capture the sweep of the Milky Way and the departing birds, frozen at six points on their outward flightpath.

The Young Photographer of the Year award was claimed by Becki Moss, a brave young photographer confronting subjects that are complex and poorly represented in mainstream media. Her sympathetic and committed imagery reflect life in lockdown, a pet day, and pictures from an ongoing project from within Auckland’s rainbow community.

Other winners include Douglas Thorne for an image of a kōtuku in Milford Sound which won the Electric Kiwi Wildlife category, Nelson Mail photographer Braden Williams won the Lumix Society category for a frame a stormtrooper at the Richmond Santa Parade, the ProGear PhotoStory category was won by Scott Sinton for a visual essay on the Mangawhai Bowl Jam skateboarding competition, Emma Willetts picture of oystercatchers in Awaroa Bay in Abel Tasman National Park won the Aerial category, and William Patino took out the Resene Colour award for his picture shot over the peaks of Fiordland at sunset.

All the winners are reproduced in the November/December issue of New Zealand Geographic magazine, on sale now.

2020 Winners

📷 Nikon Photographer of the Year Alden Williams
📷 Young Photographer of the Year Becki Moss
📷 Ockham Residential People’s Choice Edin Whitehead  
📷 Resene Colour Award William Patino
📷 Electric Kiwi Wildlife Douglas Thorne
📷 Resene Landscape Alden Williams
📷 Lumix Society Braden Fastier
📷 Progear PhotoStory Scott Sinton