Snapshot: Earth Photo Awards 2023 – when humanity and nature collide

Ever since humans began to farm 10,000 years ago, they have altered Earth’s landscape. First in only small, local ways, but as humanity progressed, so too did its influence over nature.

From mining and logging to relocating or eradicating species, our management of the natural world can be seen almost everywhere.

In recent decades the effects of these interventions have been amplified by climate change, as a warming world compounds many of the unintended consequences of our actions.

Earth Photo, a competition run by Forestry England and the Royal Geographical Society, aims to ‘make viewers think differently’, capturing nature, people, place and space, forests, the land and seascapes, and the varied impacts of – and adaptations to – climate change.

More than 1,400 entries have been whittled down to 128 photos and videos, with the winners announced on Thursday, June 22.

From people working in harmony with the landscape and destroying it, to the visual impacts of climate change, this selection of entries highlights the many different forms our relationship with nature can take.

Take a second look, and you’ll spot something peculiar about some of these trees – the fact they’re not trees at all. They’re mobile phone masts in disguise, and have been popping up across the US in recent decades, including near Palm Springs airport, pictured (Picture: Annette LeMay Burke)
Photographer Sandipani Chattopadhyay says: ‘The drinking water crisis poses a significant threat to human survival, with global warming causing the melting of glaciers and irregular monsoons leading to the rapid drying of freshwater sources. The Bankura district in West Bengal is currently facing a severe drinking water crisis, with villagers struggling to access clean and clear water. Most of the time, they have to collect muddy water from dried river beds and filter it to make it drinkable. This situation highlights the urgent need for sustainable water management practices, conservation of freshwater sources, and equitable distribution of safe and clean drinking water to all people’ (Picture: Sandipani Chattopadhyay)
Burning trees during a night fire in Presicce, southern Salento, Italy. Photographer Filippo Ferraro says: ‘When an olive tree burns, due to its hollow trunk, the so-called “chimney effect” occurs, which causes the tree to burn very quickly from the inside’ (Picture: Filippo Ferraro)
The Holderness coast located in the north east of England is one of Europe’s fastest eroding coastlines. The devastating consequence of this is villages and land slowly disappearing into the sea. The Lost Villages project explores the constant battle between the North Sea and the mainland, and to document the irreversible change taking place on the ancient coast, formed during the last ice age. Photographer Neil White says: ‘The speed of erosion has increased significantly in the past decade thanks to rising sea levels – linked to climate change. It is estimated that up to 32 villages dating back to Roman times have already been lost.’ (Picture: Neil A White)
Members of a high-angle tree clearing team watch as a helicopter returns with another load of equipment and camping gear as they are deployed to a remote montane watershed that feeds the Theewaterskloof dam in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Photographer Nyani Quarmyne says: ‘Needing wood, colonial settlers introduced pines, eucalyptus and Australian acacia trees to South Africa. Now counted among a number of alien invasive plant species, they are wreaking havoc upon native ecosystems and leading to hotter, more frequent fires. And they are sucking up water. In 2018 Cape Town famously came close to running dry. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) estimates that eliminating ‘aliens’ from the greater metro region’s watersheds will save 55billion litres of water a year by 2025 – two months’ supply for 4.8million people.’ (Picture: Nyani Quarmyne)
Photographer Lee Ju Shen says: ‘The fishermen on Myanmar’s Inle Lake live in a symbiotic, synergistic, and sustainable coexistence with Mother Nature. They fish individually with basket traps, in pairs with line nets, and spear-fish in small teams – then barbecue their catch over open fires on their wooden boats! Sustainable fishing ensures their community’s livelihood, so they selflessly balance their catch size with the highly variable water levels, caused by heavy monsoons, wet summers, and dry winters. The challenging circumstances and changing climate have forged a people who deeply love and respect Mother Nature. We could learn much from these remarkable, resourceful, and resilient people.’ (Picture: Lee Ju Shen)
Photographer Liz Milani says: ‘Women and Trees is an environmental art project, a collection of portraits and voices of women from around the world who are standing for trees and the living Earth. The project explores the age-old relationship between women and trees, the feminine and nature, and wishes to create awareness on the vital role of trees and forests in our lives and the importance of female approaches to restoring our connection to nature. The collection of portraits captures change makers, activists, earth defenders, writers, teachers, artists, poets, musicians, dancers, midwives, healers and keepers of ancestral traditions. Every woman in this project is uniquely contributing to restoring the natural world and our relationship to it, inviting us to remember ourselves as nature.’ (Picture: Liz Milani)
A buff-tailed bumblebee, aka Bombus terrestris, is captured hovering in a meadow in Tjøme, Norway. Named after the buff (yellow) colour of their queen’s tail, workers bees have a white tail – making them hard to distinguish from white-tailed bumblebees (Picture: Pal Hermansen)
Scientists of the Kurchatov nuclear centre, northeast Kazakhstan. In the shooting ranges of Semipalatinsk, in the former Soviet Union, 456 nuclear warheads were tested. The impact of the radiation on the population of the nearby inhabited areas was kept hidden for several decades by the Soviet authorities. The nuclear fallout of the experiments directly affected about 200,000 inhabitants and impacted more than a million people. Photographer Pierpaolo Mittica says: ‘What happened on the Semipalatinsk Polygon is regarded as one of the greatest crimes planned against humanity. The local population was used specifically as guinea pigs to understand the consequences of radiation on people. Today the life for the local people goes on, struggling among this legacy.’ (Picture: Pierpaolo Mittica)
Photographer Rob Kesseler says: ‘For over twenty years I have worked with botanical scientists and molecular biologists to explore the living world at a microscopic level to reveal its many complexities too small to be seen with the naked eye. Airborne continues this investigation using microphotography to focus on the impact of climate change. This collection of images was developed with support from Oxford Instruments uses Multi Colour Electron Microscopy to reveal airborne pollutants on leaf surfaces to create hand-coloured micrographs. The colour data of each specific element from the EDS was then used as the basis for hand colouring the black and white images to create powerful micro-landscapes of dystopian turmoil. This highly polluted sample from a holly leaf collected in Lambeth on the banks of the Thames reveals a salt crystal nestled amongst the trichome hairs on the leaf surface (Picture: Rob Kesseler)
Nurideen, 35, is pictured breaking down an old battery charger inverter, which was used as backup in a solar energy storage system. He will resell valuable material like copper, lead and other metals. Materials he cannot resell will be burnt, releasing toxic gases. Photographer Sandra Weller says: ‘The number of broken solar items is increasing, but there are no regulations for professional solar waste disposal in African countries, thus it becomes part of the general e-waste problem (Picture: Sandra Weller)
Late afternoon, Cuba. A family rests in front of their house in the stunning Viñales valley in the west of the country. The striking karst landscape is punctuated by mogotes, dome-like limestone outcrops that stretch up as high as 300m. The area is known for its tobacco production, which largely uses traditional methods to ensure quality (Picture: Sebastian Lewandowski)
Photographer Andrew Smith says: ‘I have been capturing the environment I find myself in by drone commercially and as a personal pursuit for the past five years. In that time that natural world and our relationship with it has fascinated me. [Pictured is] Traprain Law, East Lothian. Once home to the Votadini tribe who ruled this area of Scotland at the time of Roman occupation, two layers of fortifications can be seen at the edges and a huge hoard of Roman silver was found here. Yet despite its rich history and cultural importance, this volcanic plug was mined until it was banned in the 1960s, causing the eyesore you see here.’ (Picture: Andrew Smith)
Photographer Azim Khan Ronnie says: ‘Brick kilns are one of the main cause of climate change. The breathtaking scale of Bangladesh’s brick making industry is captured in this photo along the polluted Buriganga River, which shows them piling up in thousands as manufacturing processes wreak havoc on the surrounding environment. It is estimated that one million people churn out tens of billions of bricks each year across 7,000 separate kilns. Brick kilns are the top air polluter in the country, particularly during dry season when most bricks are made, turning the air quality of this metropolis severely unhealthy’ (Picture: Azim Khan Ronnie)
This algae doesn’t exist. Craig Ames used artificial intelligence to create new species based on the cutting-edge work of English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins in the mid-Nineteenth century. Working from a broad sample of the specimens Atkins originally rendered, Ames repurposes their Latin names to create instructional ‘prompts’, which were processed through a text-to-image AI image generator. Revealing the photographic language and aesthetics deriving from the algorithm’s machine learning, the AI was instructed to create photographic representations of the individual specimens. The resulting fabrications were labelled and catalogued to create a new visual taxonomy of simulated algae. Photographer Craig Ames says: ‘The work distorts the boundaries between the real and the artificial, highlighting a growing disconnect between the natural world and the simulated hyperreality that increasingly subsumes it.’ (Picture: Craig Ames)
Elephant and Castle in central London might not seem the most obvious place to grow crops, but here Honor Loxton, site manager and senior farmer at Crate To Plate, oversees three shipping containers of hydroponics that flourish while traffic and people rush about their days nearby. Hydroponics are environmentally beneficial in a number of ways, including growing food closer to consumers and requiring no soil (Picture: Joanna Vestey)
Maharloo Lake in Iran has lost 90% of its water in recent years due to drought, destroying habitats and putting nearby residents in danger of salt storms and water shortages. Photographer Nazanin Hafez says: ‘Maharloo Lake has been the victim of climate change, but more than that, the victim of mismanagement. The four important springs that fed the lake have dried up completely. The influx of sewage and toxic substances, the construction of a dam and the illegal extraction of salt are other causes of death of this beautiful lake.’ (Picture: Nazanin Hafez)

The shortlisted images will be available to see in the Earth Photo exhibition, opening at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), in London, from June 17 to August 23, 2023, and five Forestry England sites across the country, from June 23 to January 28, 2024.

The exhibition will also tour to the Sidney Nolan Trust, Herefordshire, from July 13 to September 30, 2023, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, from February 1 to March 1, 2024 and Lishui International Photography Festival, China in December 2023.

All the images are available to view on the Earth Photo website


Welcome to Snapshot,’s picture-led series bringing you the most powerful images and stories of the moment.

If you have a photo collection you would like to share, get in touch by emailing 

MORE : Snapshot: 75 years of Caribbean culture – London’s Windrush Legacy

MORE : Snapshot: ‘I want to grow up to be a real war hero’ – the reality for Ukrainian children caught in the crossfire


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.