• Thousands of monarch butterflies cluster on fir branches in a forest streaked with sunlight.
    Winning images from BigPicture, including Jaime Rojo’s “Forest of the Monarchs,” will be featured in an exhibit opening this fall at the California Academy of Sciences. © Jaime Rojo
  • A flurry of black and gold tadpoles swims towards the surface of a lake, with lily pads and algae shown in the background.
    Each category winner wins a $1,000 cash prize. These rapturous tadpoles, pictured, were captured by underwater photographer Shane Gross, who won the 2024 Aquatic Life category. © Shane Gross
  • A man pours gasoline onto a patch of brush, while fire looms and swallows up trees behind him.
    This dramatic scene from a prescribed burn won Maddy Rifka the 2024 Human/Nature category prize, which seeks images illustrating human impact on the environment. © Maddy Rifka
  • A ghostly wolf stands against a snowy Arctic backdrop with blue skies and mountains in the distance.
    Peter Mather's winning Photo Story, titled "Northern Ghosts," uses long exposure photography to illustrate the ephemeral nature of wildlife in the Arctic. © Peter Mather

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (June 18, 2024) — A stunning sunset snapshot of fir trees weighed down by millions of monarch butterflies took the Grand Prize at the 11th annual BigPicture: Natural World Photography Competition, the California Academy of Sciences announced today.

Dubbed “The Forest of the Monarchs,” photographer Jaime Rojo captured this unique image after spending years studying the iconic butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico. Rojo’s image documented the epic migration monarch butterflies undergo every year, as they journey from summer breeding grounds to the same overwintering sites in Mexico’s mountainous forests. Also published as part of a 2023 National Geographic cover story, Rojo felt this image presented a rare view of the monarchs huddling together to conserve warmth in the remote winter habitat that has supported them for countless seasons.

“At first glance, Jaime Rojo's winning image may just look like a pretty forest photo, but a closer look reveals an absolutely magical world,” said Suzi Eszterhas, BigPicture jury chair. “As our eyes focus, the details of hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of monarch butterflies emerge. Just as each butterfly clings to a tree, we are reminded that this entire species clings to existence as its future generations are threatened with extinction. Jaime’s image is an absolute wonder and unlike anything we have ever seen before.”

World-class photographers representing nearly 70 countries submitted 7,393 images to this year’s competition, with each submission capturing the remarkable beauty and awe-inspiring splendor of the natural world. A gallery of this year’s winning images and select finalists was just published by bioGraphic, the Academy’s independent online magazine about biodiversity and the official media sponsor for the BigPicture competition. Gallery photos and captions are available for syndication to interested media outlets upon request.

Category winners include:

  • Aquatic Life Winner: “Tadpole Migration” by Shane Gross, chronicling hundreds of polliwogs as they journey from a lake’s depths to the water’s surface in Vancouver Island.
  • Winged Life Winner: “Underwater Harmony and Chaos” by Franco Banfi, illustrating the chaos and beauty of the Northern gannet’s daily fight for food and survival.
  • Terrestrial Wildlife Winner: “Beauty of the Desert” by Hema Palan, depicting a sand racer slithering between the branches of a bush in India’s Thar Desert.
  • Human/Nature Winner: “Good Fire” by Maddy Rifka, showing a Hoopa Valley tribal member lighting a patch of forest brush on fire during a cultural burn.
  • Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora Winner: “In Celebration” by Geo Cloete, capturing a blanket of sea anemones blooming in a South African tidepool.
  • Photo Story Winner: “Ghosts of the North” by Peter Mather is a 5-photo series that documents the eerie, ghostlike nature of the Arctic’s elusive wildlife.

Check out all of this year’s Grand Prize, First Place, and category finalists here or see all the winning images at the annual BigPicture photography exhibit, set to open September 2024 at the California Academy of Sciences.

BigPicture is also excited to announce the launch of its first-ever People’s Choice Award, which asks our audience to vote on their favorite images from a pool of high-scoring BigPicture submissions, ranging from sunbathing elephants to grimacing cheetahs swimming in a river. The winning image will receive $300, and all voters will automatically be entered into a drawing to receive the Academy’s latest photography book, Seeing It All. Members of the public are only allowed one vote per household; please refer to the competition terms and conditions for more details.

Check out the People’s Choice finalists and cast a vote for your favorite here. The voting period is now open and will close on July 31 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.

"BigPicture receives around 7,000 image submissions each year, yet less than one percent become the winners and finalists displayed in the exhibition. There are so many charming, funny, gorgeous, surprising, dramatic, and bizarre images that also awed our team—those that depict playful encounters, unlikely collaborations, frightful moments, and curious behaviors," says Rhonda Rubinstein, creative director at the Academy and co-founder of BigPicture. "With the introduction of the People's Choice Award, we are thrilled to showcase an additional batch of top-ranked images and their photographers, and see how they resonate with the public."

Awards from this year’s competition include $12,000 in cash prizes. Competition entries were judged by a diverse panel including Jury Chair and renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas, international photo editor Sophie Stafford, and award-winning nature and conservation photographers and filmmakers Jahawi Bertolli, Sandesh Kadur, Karen Kasmauski, Jo-Anne McArthur, and Kiliii Yuyan. This year’s photo essay category, “Unusual Perspectives,” shows how unusual perspectives help bring new insights into our lives on this ever-changing planet, highlighting artful angles, bird’s eye views, remote locales, and unique points-of-view.

Since launching in 2014, BigPicture has established a strong reputation within the photography community, receiving a four-star rating from The Photographer's Guide to Photo Contests by Photo Shelter six years running. In 2018, Chronicle Books released Wonders: Spectacular Moments in Nature Photography featuring more than 100 breathtaking images from the BigPicture competition. Last year, to coincide with BigPicture’s 10th anniversary, the Academy produced Seeing It All: Women Photographers Expose the Planet. With a foreword by renowned marine scientists and ocean advocate Dr. Sylvia Earle, Seeing It All is a dramatic photography book featuring 11 visionary women photographers from BigPicture.

Sign up here to stay up-to-date on all things BigPicture and receive an email update when next year’s competition opens.

About the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in scientific research and environmental education—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.

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