Wildlife Photos We’ll Never Forget

Photography has played a prominent role in National Wildlife ever since the first issue came out in 1962. In the 50 years since, the magazine has published more than 14,000 photos taken by thousands of photographers from all over the world. As editorial director, I’ve been involved in the selection of many of those images. Following are four of my favorites:

The photo that generated the most accusations


After we published Bill Roth’s picture of a moose sitting in a backyard baby pool in Anchorage, Alaska, in a 1999 issue, we were besieged with angry messages from members accusing us of using computer trickery. In response, in a subsequent issue of the magazine, we published another Roth photo taken from a different angle showing the animal’s full body inside the pool. While it didn’t generate many letters, the second photo did produce one reaction that I still remember today. “I was wrong in assuming you would doctor a photo,” a member in Oregon wrote. “Please accept the enclosed donation to NWF as an apology.”

The photo that produced the most smiles


It’s impossible to verify how many people actually smiled after looking at it, but this image of a four-week-old panda cub produced a large reader response, including two dozen letters from students in a California elementary school class who told us it was their favorite photo ever. Katharine Feng took the picture in a captive-breeding facility in China for a 2005 NW article. “I photographed the cub as it stretched and yawned,” she told us. “Its eyes were not yet opened, so it could not see.” Feng assured us that her presence did not cause any problems for the cub.

The photo that spawned the most mail from readers


When it first appeared in the magazine in a 1998 essay about wildlife in winter, Daniel J. Cox’s heart-wrenching picture of a polar bear mother and cub in northern Manitoba huddling over another cub that had just died generated an outpouring of emotional letters from NWF members. Cox told us it was “a tragic scene, but one that I believe needed to be documented with a camera so people can see how difficult wild creatures’ lives really are.”

The photo that got the most staff votes


I should qualify that this Steffen Binke image of a dwarf minke whale in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef received the most votes from the judges in the magazine’s 2009 annual photo contest. It was awarded the grand prize. Binke said he took the photo with a fish-eye lens, only a few feet away from the massive creature. “It was a great moment,” he recalled. “I am still sure I could hear its heartbeat and breathing.”

The National Wildlife Photo Contest

Now in its 42nd year, the National Wildlife Photo Contest is open for submissions, and you don’t have to travel to distant places like the Great Barrier Reef to create a winning image. Sometimes, in fact, the best photographic subjects can be found right in your own backyard. This year’s winners will be published in the magazine and will receive some great prizes. Entrants also can participate in our separate People’s Choice competition. For details, including how to enter, visit www.nwf.org/photocontest.  To see more nature and wildlife images, go to www.nwf.org/photozone.