Taranaki lensman captures NZ’s most prestigious photography award

Taranaki snapper Andy MacDonald,  a Stuff photojournalist with “the eye of an artist”,  has taken out New Zealand’s premier photographic prize. Meanwhile, rock wren wrangler Douglas Thorne has won the Ockham People's Choice Award.

New Zealand’s most prestigious photography competition, New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year, has been won by Taranaki-based photographer Andy MacDonald for a broad portfolio of imagery covering social stories, landscapes and wildlife.

MacDonald, whose winning gallery can be viewed below, won Nikon Photographer of the Year and a $30,000 voyage with Heritage Expeditions. He also took home the Lightforce Aerial category award.

“The images were full of colour, action and meaning,” says New Zealand Geographic publisher General James Frankham. “It’s the result of hard graft as a photojournalist, and the eye of an artist looking for patterns, juxtaposing subjects, making angles.”

The breadth and quality of his portfolio made Andy MacDonald the stand-out winner for Nikon Photographer of the Year 2022.

“Andy uses a drone like some photographers might use an alternative lens – just another perspective on the action unfolding in the frame.”

New Zealand Geographic received more than 6000 entries into Photographer of the Year this season— a record in the competition’s 14-year history.

“2022 marked a change for Kiwis, a cautious re-emergence from social distancing into a world of gradually increasing freedoms,” says General Frankham. “We were flooded with images of quiet hope, resurgent social gatherings, and in particular, photographs of nature that were dramatically backlit or featured figures dwarfed in their landscape—images of the natural world that evoked awe, scale and the intrinsic power of land and sea.”

“Photographer of the Year has become a sort of visual survey of the nation over the past 14 years we’ve been running it,” he says. “It’s like a cross-section through our society, showing the best and the worst of us, our successes and our challenges. This year, images of pristine landscapes stand next to lakes choking with toxic algae, and thriving wildlife next to birds that have perished in a pool of oil. It’s triumphant and sobering in equal measure, and I hope, a reflection of the country that rings true to our audience.”

From 6000 entrants there were 55 finalists, four award winners and seven category winners – each a clear-eyed perspective of our environment and society.

Rock wren wrangler wins Ockham People’s Choice award

The collective wisdom of the crowd also spoke with rare and thunderous clarity. The Ockham People’s Choice category, considered by many in the Ockham office to be the Nobel Prize of Photography, saw more than 27.000 votes cast. From the finalists, a clear winner emerged – Douglas Thorne's delightful image of a pīwauwau / rock wren atop Barrier Knob in Fiordland.

Set up with a wide-angle lens to photograph the sunset, Thorne had spotted a couple of rock wrens bouncing up the rocks towards him. He hid under boulders like a stealthy Southland fox, glad for the camouflage of his grey puffer jacket. “I anticipated the rock wren would fly towards this pointy rock, as they like to land on tall rocky outposts,” he says. “I only managed to get a few shots before it saw me and flew off.”

Thorne's win would herald the start of the greatest hundred hours in rock wren history.  Shortly after winning People's Choice, the rock wren was named New Zealand Bird of the Year. What scenes! Competition spokeswoman, Ellen Rykers told RNZ the “super-cute” rock wren's victory was richly deserved.

“They are these little olive green wrens and they weigh about the same as a MallowPuff so they're super tiny.

“They don't really have a tail ... they have these long legs with these really cool quite big feet. They're kind of like snow shoes because rock wrens live above the bushline in the mountains in the Southern Alps so they need these kind of crampons to grip onto rocks and snow and ice up on the mountain tops.”

Kelp, kiwi and kayaks win category prizes

The Electric Kiwi Young Photographer of the Year award was claimed by Ryan Anderson, with a diverse portfolio of social documentary photography.

Other winners include Nick Farrelly who won Auckland Zoo Wildlife category for a dramatic image of a kiwi on a beach on Rakiura/Stewart Island, Cruz Erdmann who won the Resene Landscape category with an underwater photograph of a kelp forest, and Ricky Wilson’s picture in the dressing room of a drag cabaret on Karangahape Road in the Lumix Society category. Tatsiana Chypsanava won the Leica Photostory category for a documentary project of a Tūhoe family in Ruatoki. The winning Lightforce Aerial image featured a surfer dwarfed by a Nelson swell by Andy Macdonald. Resene Built Environment was won by Mike Scott for a quiet silhouette on a bridge in Hamilton, and the new Adventure category, sponsored by Adventure South NZ, went to Graeme Murray for a dramatic image of a kayaker surging over Huka Falls at dusk.

All the winners are reproduced in the November/December issue of New Zealand Geographic magazine, on sale now, and finalists and winners can also be viewed in an online gallery


📷 Nikon Photographer of the Year Andy MacDonald
📷 Electric Kiwi Young Photographer of the Year Ryan Anderson
📷 Ockham People’s Choice Douglas Thorne
📷 Resene Colour Award Gasper Weber
📷 Auckland Zoo Wildlife Nick Farrelly
📷 Resene Landscape Cruz Erdmann
📷 Lumix Society Ricky Wilson
📷 Resene Built Environment Mike Scott
📷 Leica PhotoStory Tatsiana Chypsanava
📷 Lightforce Aerial Andy MacDonald
📷 Adventure South NZ Adventure Graeme Murray

“2022 marked a change for Kiwis, a cautious re-emergence into a world of gradually increasing freedoms... we were flooded with images of the natural world that evoked awe, scale and the intrinsic power of land and sea.”

General James Frankham