The 2013 Earth & Sky Photo Contest Winners

The contest was open to anyone of any age, anywhere in the world. With a significant increase to the last year contest over 710 entries were received which only two dozens of them were rejected of not being relevant to the contest. David Malin, a prominent member of the judging panel and a world-known pioneer in scientific astrophotography explained that “The 685 entries the judges examined (twice the 2012 judged images) represent some of the best TAWN-style photographs ever gathered together in one place. Judging them was a significant challenge, considering the high standard and variety of the entries. Given the number of judges and their individual tastes and preferences and their different ways of working, there was a surprising small spread in the final selections. The winners are to be congratulated on being outstanding in a very competitive field, and the entrants commended for presenting us with such a wonderful variety of inspiring images. I feel privileged to have seen so many beautiful images in such a short time!” Babak Tafreshi, TWAN director and one of the contest founders, said, “The entries and the winners are all “fresh” images of Earth & sky, taken in the past one year. Some documented the latest major celestial events such as the November 2012 total solar eclipse in Australia or bright appearance of comet PanStarrs this March and April.”

The images were taken and submitted from 45 countries including Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, UK, and United States. The most participating were United States and China, followed by Iran, Australia, France, Austria, India, Indonesia, Italy and UK.

Babak Tafreshi added that “The amazing number of eye-catching entries from across the world tells how public attention to night sky is growing as well as interest to sky photography and we are very pleased if TWAN has a role on this increasing awareness. We were thrilled by a large number of good images from Asia this year which several of them selected as Notable Mention. However a large number of the images with excellent composition and idea didn’t reach the winners because of poor editing or over-cooked processing where the natural colors of night sky were altered by extreme white balance shift or applying too much color saturation. Some other beautiful images that didn’t succeed were photo composites created by blending various images of different exposure and setting. While editing is essential in any style of photography specially when dealing with challenging low-light conditions, according to the contest criteria entries should be gently edited so they preserve the natural-looking sky and the originality of a photograph (compared to digital art).”

According to the contest theme of “Dark Skies Importance,” the submitted photos were judged in two categories: “Beauty Of The Night Sky” and “Against The Lights.” The selected images are those most effective in impressing public on both how important and delicate the starry sky is as an affecting part of our nature, and also how bad the problem of light pollution has become. Today, most city skies are virtually devoid of stars. Light pollution (excessive light that scatters to the sky instead of illuminating the ground) not only is a major waste of energy, it also obscures the stars, interferes with astronomical observatories and, like any other form of pollution, disrupts ecosystems and has adverse health effects. Similar to TWAN itself, the contest aims to reclaim the natural beauty of starry sky and to help preserving the dark skies which are not yet affected by artificial lights. “The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is amplified by the contest photos. Both contest categories provide a visual awareness of the disappearing starry night sky and hopefully an understanding as to its cause. The added hope is that the photos will provide an incentive to be more actively involved in reasonable light pollution solutions and therefore dark skies preservation” said contest judge Connie Walker, associate scientist and education specialist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

Contest Winners
The overall contest winner and first prize in Beauty Of The Night Sky category goes to Stephane Vetter of France (, for his March 2013 panoramic photo “Sky Above Godafoss” of aurora and the Milky Way over the “Waterfall of the Gods” in Iceland. The photo wins a Canon EOS60Da camera ($1500 value), sponsored by Woodland Hills Camera & Telescope, a major provider of astronomical and photography equipment in the United States. The 60Da is a DSLR camera specifically made for night sky photography.

The first prize in Against The Lights category goes to Andreas Max Böckle of Austria for his photo “Under the Hood” taken from a mountain top overlooking the city of Salzburg in a moonlit night. The photo wins a complete set of Polarie Star Tracker ($900 value) provided by Vixen, including the mount, tripod, and the polar scope. Polarie is a smart ultra-compact mount for DSLR cameras to track the stars for astrophotography using just a camera and a lens.

“Crossed Destinies” by Luc Perrot from Réunion Island of France (Indian Ocean) is the second place winner in Beauty Of The Night Sky category. Noted by judge David Malin “Perfect composition, colour, focus. Outstanding!”. The photo wins a Polarie startracker mount from Vixen Europe (450€ value), the distributor of fine quality astronomical and nature watching products in Europe.

The second place winner in Against The Lights category is Zach Grether of United States for his photo “A Canyon Lake Morning” which shows the impact of lights on natural sky and the night environment in Arizona. Noted by judge Tunc Tezel “Light pollution scattered in the sky like a soft box assisted the photographer in capturing the landscape at night! But that tells the dark natural environment which wildlife need is disturbed”. The photo won a Polarie startracker mount from Vixen Europe (450€ value).

The other winners in Beauty Of The Night Sky category are:
Third place: “Meteor Magic” by Shannon Bileski for her outstanding capture of a streaking fireball and colorful aurora over a snow-covered lake in Canada in March 2013. An 8×42 Orion Ultra View binocular is the prize, provided by Education & Outreach Group of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO).

Fourth place: “Solar Storm” by Fredrik Broms shows how the northern lights dance in the sky of Norway after a solar storm reached the Earth. The image won $100 gift certificates from Woodland Hills Camera & Telescope.

Fifth place: “Totality” by Geoff Sims who receives a Kitt Peak Observatory gift package from National Optical Astronomy Observatory. The 2012 November 14 photo has captured the total solar eclipse over Queensland, Australia. Noted by judge Babak Tafreshi “While we didn’t include solar eclipse images in the previous years, this image that has prominently captured the moon shadow cone changed our position. Totality creates a short bizarre nightscape and the phenomenon strongly connects astronomy and nature.” (See TWAN eclipse gallery for eclipses from around the world.)

The 3rd to 5th winners in Against The Lights category are:
Third place: “Midsummer” by Norbert Span of Austria won an 8X42 Orion Ultra View binocular, provided by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). The panoramic photo shows the Milky Way and long standing tradition of Midsummer Fire Festival in the Alps (at the Summer Solstice).

Fourth place: “Bridging the Earth & Sky” by Zach Grether who receives $100 gift certificates from Woodland Hills Camera & Telescope.

Fifth place: “Golden Gate Star Trails” by Rick Whitacre who receives a Kitt Peak Observatory gift package from National Optical Astronomy Observatory. A well-done photo sequence has captured star trails above the lights of San Fransisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

All the winning and notable photos (see the second half of the contest video) will also appear on the TWAN Guest Gallery in the next weeks.

Contest Judging
The judging panel for the 4th Earth and Sky Photo Contest included:
David Malin (Widely considered the most distinguished night sky photographer in the world; TWAN member and consultant)
Jerry Bonnell (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center scientist and the co-founder and editor of Astronomy Picture of the Day or APOD, one of the most visited and globally influential astronomy webpages)
Connie Walker (Director of the Globe at Night program; science education specialist at the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory)
Wally Pacholka (widely accomplished TWAN member in the United States)
Tunc Tezel (TWAN member in Turkey, and one of the contest main coordinators)
Oshin Zakarian (TWAN member in Iran with unique skill in bringing artistic composition to nightscape images)
Babak Tafreshi (Founder and director of TWAN; award-winning photographer; board member of Astronomers Without Borders)

The Earth & Sky Photo Contest submission is always during April, as part of the Global Astronomy Month, worldwide activities coordinated by Astronomers Without Borders and organize by astronomy community to share beauty of the night sky with others.

Related links
– Short link to this page:

– Direct link to contest video:

National Geographic online coverage of the 2013 contest winners

– The 2013 contest result on NBC News

– The 2013 contest result on the Daily Mail

– Winners of 2012 Earth & Sky Photo Contest

– Winners of 2011 Earth & Sky Photo Contest

– Winners of 2010 Earth & Sky Photo Contest

– Other notable photos of the 2010 contest

Sky&Telescope article on notes about 2012 contest results by Babak Tafreshi

National Geographic online coverage of the 2012 contest winners


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