The 2014 International Earth & Sky Photo Contest Winners


A stunning collection of nightscape photos (night sky above landscape) are selected as the winners and honorable mention photos of the 5th International Earth & Sky Photo Contest. The contest was open to anyone of any age, anywhere in the world; to both professional and amateur/hobby photographers. With a significant increase to the last year contest over 1000 entries were received and 80% of them were approved for the contest judging. David Malin, a prominent member of the judging panel and a world-known pioneer in scientific astrophotography explained that “This competition encourages photographers with imagination to push their cameras to their technical limits, and to produce eye-catching images that appear perfectly natural and are aesthetically pleasing. Hundreds of nightscape photographers from across the world rose to the challenge, and the panel of nine judges was ultimately faced with finding the best from almost 800 images.” Babak Tafreshi, TWAN director and the contest co-founder, adds “We are pleased to see contributions this year from new countries which night sky photography is emerging. Also nightscape images taken in the countries and areas less exposed to landscape astrophotographers.”

The images were submitted (or taken) from 55 countries and territories including Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France (& Réunion Island), Gabon, Germany, Great Britain (and South Georgia Island), Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, United States, and Vatican.

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. “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 first prize in Against the Lights category (and the overall contest winner) goes to Giorgia Hofer of Italy for her photo “Light in the Sky” taken on 2014 Jan 1 from Cibiana Pass in the Dolomites (Alps), northern Italy. “I tried to portray the mist produced by the drones launched fireworks on the evening of new that were illuminated by a nearby light tower. in the only dark part of the sky the Big Dipper (the prominent part of constellation Ursa Major) is perfectly framed by the rays.”, noted by the photographer. Commented by contest judge and long-time National Geographic photographer James Richardson “This captures the great ambiguity we feel about the night and night lighting. It is at once beautiful and beautifully composed. But it is also night lighting obscuring the beauties of the night. A beautiful image that confronts us with our own, conflicted desires.” David Malin adds that “It is an excellent and striking composition, set in a fine location and the wintery setting makes this image a powerful statement about light pollution. But light pollution also makes the image! This image could be a winner in any photographic competition.” The photo wins a complete set of Polarie Star Tracker 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.

The first prize in Beauty of the Night Sky category goes to Luc Perrot from Réunion Island of France (southern Indian Ocean), for his image “Over the Top” captured on 2014 Feb 28. A volcano in the Reunion Island peaks out of a sea of clouds and rests under stars. “The photograph beautifully captures a scene that is eternal, the central bulge of the Milky Way is rising majestically over Piton de la Fournaise volcano. Noted by contest judge David Malin “The image shows no sign of human presence, and is a reminder that the foreground landscape and the dark dust lanes in the Milky Way are made of the same elements, seen here as delicate clouds and solid mountain peaks.” James Richardson adds that “With the Milky Way swirling over this fantasy landscape, it is a beautiful reminder that we live in galaxy, and that it is always there, whether we can see it or not. This image gives us a sense of our home in the universe.” 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 second place winner in the Beauty category is Ben Coffman of Portland, USA, for his photo “False Dusk and Falls at Oregon Coast”, taken in February 2014 from Hug Point at the Pacific Ocean coastline in northern Oregon. Noted by the photographer: “Surprisingly, this was my first time capturing zodiacal light. I had wanted to capture this waterfall at night for years but had been unable to because of cloud cover and the difficulty of accessibility. This falls is only reachable during low tide. The waterfall itself falls right on the beach, less than 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean, making it a rare breed.” Also known as false dusk or false dawn the zodiacal light is an elegant beauty of natural night sky only visible in the dark skies after dusk or before dawn. It is the reflected sunlight from dust in the Solar System plane (originated from asteroids and comets). David Malin notes that the image is “a fine study of the hard-to-see zodiacal light setting into of the sea, and a shoreline that boasts a remarkable waterfall, all captured in the twilight glow beneath the stars. Photographs like this require insight, imagination and persistence.” James Richardson adds: “What a beautiful sense of the edge of the night, the transition between our sense of day and night, how one slips into the other. The waterfall, the stream leading away leading our eye to the glowing horizon, the deep blue receding into blackness, all set an incredibly tranquil tone.” The photo wins a telescope from Starizona, and $300 gift certificates from Astronomik, the manufacturer of finest astronomical filters known for the clip-filters for Canon DSLR cameras (such as light pollution filter).

“Reflected Aurora” by Alex Conu of Romania is the second place winner in the Lights category. Taken on 2014 March 15 from Lofoten Islands in northern Norway the image is made “after a few stormy days, Aurora was back in Reine, a scenic fishing village in Norway. Despite many photographers who like shooting the Northern Lights during moonless nights, I really love the nights when the Moon is present. The landscape is beautifully lit and the final images are a lot more appealing.”, explained by the photographer. Judge James Richardson notes that “Two great forces are combined in this image: the blazing lights of the town spreading along the coast of the fjord, and the aurora sweeping over the mountains. The wide, panorama nature of the photograph sets the stage for this conflict in a beautiful way, and subtly points out that we always need to inspect our ideas of beauty and how we control our environment.” David Malin adds that “Light pollution is generally a bad thing, but here it enhances the image by separating the sky from the watery reflection. A delicate aurora further enhances this well composed and executed scene, enhanced by moon light on the snow.” The photo wins an astrograph telescope from OPT Telescopes, a major provider of astronomical and photography equipment in the United States.

The other winners in Beauty of the Night Sky category are:
Third place: “Kirkjufell Nights” by Nicholas Roemmelt of Austria for his outstanding capture of aurora over Kirkjufell waterfalls in Iceland in a moonlit night of March 2014. James Richardson regards this image “a fantastic confluence of the forces of nature. This is, of course, just one small corner of our universe, and yet we see swirling all the waterfalls carving at the rocky landscape, the mountain resisting erosion, the aurora sweeping around the pole and the stars beyond, part of the whole. The organizational power of this photograph is just wonderful.” The photo wins a widefield binocular from Vixen Europe (the distributor of Vixen telescopes and binoculars in Europe).


Fourth place: “Little Explorer” by Ibrahim Elawadi of Egypt, captured in November 2013 from desert near Fayoum, about 100 km south of Cairo. “This visualises the story of building the future by placing a passion in the young minds to explore the universe in the young minds”, explained by the photographer. The image also reminds the logo and spirit of the immensely successful International Year of Astronomy 2009. The photo wins The Complete Sky & Telescope Seven Decade DVD Collection by Sky & Telescope, widely known as the world’s most respected astronomy magazine.

Fifth place: “Bioluminescence & Star Trails” by Phil Hart of Australia, taken on 2013 Jan 16 from Gippsland Lakes in Victoria. Southern stars trail in this long exposure image. The green airglow and yellow Milky Way appear above rare but brilliant bioluminescence (light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism, here by marine planktons). The photo wins a Sky&Telescope celestial globe.

The 3rd to 5th winners in Against the Lights category are:
Third place: “Unlimited Sky” by Majid Ghohroodi of Iran is a February 2014 image from Maranjab Salt Lake near the city of Kashan. Noted by the photographer: “The winter starry sky (with constellation Orion in the middle) is merged into light domes of three major cities in this panorama. The reflected star light from the water is polarized. That’s why the reflected image is more clear than sky.” Contest judge James Richardson notes that “the image shows graphically the incredible reach of our night lighting, how it can extend far beyond the cities we light up at night, to the most remote beaches and landscapes. The solitary figure framed against the light just brings home how much this can effect us personally, changing the night in ways we never intended.” The image wins $300 gift certificates by Astronomik filters.

Fourth place: “Fog Below And The Stars Above” by Mark Gee of New Zealand receives $200 gift certificates by Astronomik filters. Captured in March 2013 this challenging nightscape capture shows a heavy fog rolled into Wellington, New Zealand. Explained by the photographer “The fog diffuses and suppresses the glow of the city lights below which allowed me to photograph both the city and the Milky Way in one exposure. This is something that is not usually possible due to the bright glow of the city lights.”


Fifth place: “Heavenly Street” by Song Hongxiao of China wins a widefield binocular by Vixen Europe. This long-exposure photo sequence of 2013 March 30 has captured star trails from the sacred Taishan or Mount Tai. Explained by the photographer: “Its been an ancient China tradition that people climb to the top of Mountain Tai to watch the beautiful sunrise and pray. In this picture thousands of people are walking across the Heavenly Street. The lights from their flashlight interplays with the stars in the sky.”

Honorable Mention Photos
About 70 other outstanding images are also selected by the judges. Some of these images were voted by several judges and they were competing closely with the winner photos. These entries are awarded by honourable mention in the contest video and on TWAN Guest Gallery.

Notes on Editing Issues
A large number of images with excellent composition and ideas didn’t reach the winners list 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 co



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