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The winning images from the 2021 Drone Photo Awards are live and we’re frankly, blown away. Going on four years strong, it’s among the largest and most well-respected international aerial photography contests.

And while the majority of shots featured in the gallery of winners and runners-up were captured using drones (check out our roundup of the best beginner drones), contestants could make use of a wide variety of methods to get an aerial perspective, from helicopters to kites, airplanes to balloons.

The categories

Hong Kong Basketball player Hui Huen Hang Hyman practicing his shoot during Siu Hei Sports ground opening event on July 4, 2020
Highly commended entry from the “Sports” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: One shot
Description: “Hong Kong Basketball player Hui Huen Hang Hyman practicing his shoot during the Siu Hei Sports ground opening event on July 4, 2020.” Lampson Karmin Yip

The contest is open to all, regardless of whether you are a professional or amateur. And submissions came from all over the globe. This year’s individual categories include: Urban, Wildlife, Sports, People, Nature, Abstract and Wedding. Additional categories include Series (for multi-image stories) and a Video category.

If some of those categories seem a tad repetitive to you, we’d have to agree. For instance, quite a few of the featured images in the Nature category easily could’ve easily fit into the Abstract one, and vice versa. Similarly, there seemed to be a bit of overlap between the Wildlife and Nature categories. But category-related quibbles aside, the results from this year’s contest are breathtaking nonetheless.

Drone Photographer of the Year

Pink-Footed Geese Meeting the Winter
Photo of the year – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Pink-Footed Geese Meeting the Winter
Description: “Thousands of Pink-footed Geese roost in central Norway in spring, on their way to the breeding grounds on Svalbard in the Arctics. Probably because of climate change, they arrive earlier every year and often the ground and the fields where they feed are covered by snow when they arrive. The geese tend to use the same paths, so when waiting for them in the air with a drone, photos like this one are possible.” Terje Kolaas

Of all the images entered, the judges crowned one overall winner the “Drone Photographer of the Year.” That image (above), by Terje Kolaas, shows a large flock of geese taking off and heading north for the spring. A breathtaking shot for sure, it’s just one of the many inspiring and/or mesmerizing entries. It also touches on the theme of global climate change, making it particularly impactful and relevant.

Scroll down to see our other favorites. And head to the bottom of the story to find out how you can enter next year’s contest.

Environmental issues

A pond of toxic waste from a copper mine
Runner up from the “Series” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Abstract nature
Description: “This canvas is actually a pond of toxic waste from a copper mine, located in the province of Huelva, Spain. These ephemeral formations will disappear with the next torrential rains and new waste inputs. After an initial human intervention, it never ceases to amaze me how nature molds and paints, with different minerals and colors, combine to create these abstractions worthy of the best abstract painters.” Manuel Enrique González Carmona

Environmental issues, including toxic water runoff from industrialization, proved to be a popular topic among this year’s contestants. And this shot, from Manuel Enrique González Carmona’s series of abstract nature images, was by far our favorite that touched on the subject.

The series shows the impacts of the mining industry on the natural landscape. And it’s the type of image that both catches the eye while also conveying the details of an important story. It’s both beautiful and horrifying at the same time. No wonder it came in second place in the “Series” category (view the other shots from Manuel’s series here).

A 500-year-old monastery in the Moscow region and a large power plant in the background
Winner of the “Urban” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Metaphorical Statement About City and Winter
Description: “A 500-year-old monastery in the Moscow region of Russia sits in the foreground, with a large power plant in the background. The steam from the cooling towers is particularly dense due to severe frost.” Sergei Poletaev

Another one of our favorite images came from Sergei Poletaev. He captured the contrast of a 500-year-old Russian monastery against the backdrop of powerplant cooling towers as they churn out steam and fill the sky with dark ominous clouds. It’s a nightmarish-looking photo that makes the landscape appear almost dystopian.

Earth’s power

The strength of our planet was also on full display in this year’s contest. Below are a handful of winning images that show off its unbelievable power.

A surfer escapes a monster wave off the coast of South West Western Australia
Winner of the “Sports” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Gold at the End of the Rainbow
Description: “I found gold at the end of this rainbow as surfer, Ollie Henry, escapes a monster wave off the coast of South Western Australia.” Phil De Glanville

Captured off the coast of Australia, Phil De Glanville’s category-winning shot is magnificent for quite a few reasons. For starters, the sheer scale of the wave, compared to the surfer, requires a moment for pause. And the surfer’s calm demeanor and red wetsuit add a nice contrast to the surroundings. Lastly, the tiny rainbow, likely formed from the ocean’s spray, adds something extra special to the composition. This one may be our overall favorite of the bunch.

The intense and glorious moments during an erupting volcano with an exclusive view from the inside. Captured in Iceland
Winner of the “Nature” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Extragalactic
Description: “The intense and glorious moments during an erupting volcano with an exclusive view from the inside. Captured in Iceland.” Martin Sanchez

Martin Sanchez’s winning photograph of a volcano blowing out magma is another one that shows off the insane power of our Earth. Captured in Iceland, it offers a truly unique perspective of an event few of us will ever see with our own eyes. We just hope he had insurance on that drone!

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition and subject matter play an important part in many successful images. And Khanh Phan’s shot of individuals harvesting tall grass in a wind-swept sea of green is a perfect example. You can almost hear the grass swaying in the breeze just looking at the image. And the contrast of the workers’ red, blue and orange outfits plays nicely against the backdrop.

Women harvest grass in the lowlands of Vietnam
Commended entry from the “People” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Harvesting grass
Description: “The women are harvesting grass, a type of grass that grows naturally in lowland areas. This grass is found throughout Vietnam, in some low-lying areas in Central and Southern Vietnam. Grass can be used as fodder, fertilizer or as a material to keep plants moist. Under the wind and sunlight, the grasslands are like waves and bring out the conical hats of the women, a wonderful harmony between man and nature.” Khanh Phan

Abstract patterns from above

Something we love about drones is the fact that anyone with the passion and a few hundred bucks can go find a new perspective and create something beautiful (with practice, of course). And many of our favorite images show a bird’s eye view looking down. This method of shooting often results in intriguing photos filled with all sorts of mesmerizing shapes and patterns.

A spectacular aerial view of the famous Duoyishu terraces where rice is grown
Highly commended entry from the “Abstract” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Duoyishu Terraces
Description: “A spectacular aerial view of the famous Duoyishu terraces where rice is grown. The shades of colors of the different levels of the rice fields create a unique effect.” Ran Tian

Ran Tian’s shot of rice terraces in China is one of those images. Not only does it make us want to visit the location, but it’s also easily one of the most beautiful photographs from the entire contest.

Another bird’s eye shot–with a completely different subject matter–came from Raf Willems, who pointed their camera at concertgoers attending a floating performance. It’s an image that looks cool from far away, but also contains a lot of intricate details when you get close.

This image shows people in inner-tubes while they are attending a concert on a floating stage
Commended entry from the “People” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Floating People
Description: “This image shows people in inner-tubes while they are attending a concert on a floating stage.” Raf Willems

And finally, we’re big fans of the below shot, showing boats stored along the river Buriganga in Bangladesh right at the start of the 2020 global pandemic.

The bank of the river Buriganga during the pandemic time in Bangladesh
Commended entry from the “Urban” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Bank Of Buriganga
Description: “This photo was taken from the bank of the river Buriganga during the pandemic time in Bangladesh. These boats and ships are used for people and goods to cross the river from one side to the other.” Md Tanveer Hassan Rohan

Other favorites

Some of our other favorite images from the contest include the winner of the wildlife category (below), a dreamy Dubai cityscape, and an amateur boxing match held in the middle of a shuttered market.

A green turtle heading back to water after laying down eggs in her peaceful nest at Oman coastline between Ras Al Jinz and Rashad turtle reserve
Winner of the “Wildlife” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Back to Adventure
Description: “A green turtle heading back to the water after laying down eggs in her peaceful nest on the Oman coastline between Ras Al Jinz and Rashad turtle reserve.” Qasim Al Farsi
A foggy morning in downtown Dubai. Very rare conditions, caused by the cold nights and warm mornings
Commended entry from the “Urban” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: City In the Sky
Description: “A foggy morning in downtown Dubai. Very rare conditions, caused by the cold nights and warm mornings, create the perfect scene for an aerial photo. The iconic buildings of Dubai emerging out of the low clouds creating an impression that the city is floating in the sky.” Hugo Healy
A bird's eye view of a wrestling match
Commended entry from the “Sport” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title:
Enjoying Wrestling
Description: “On a holiday when the market is fully closed, a make-shift ring has been arranged on a narrow lane of the busiest business zone. A full-fledged tournament is on and the spectators including hundreds of market employees, are enjoying the matches in full tempo from some informal galleries. This was captured from the attic of an old high-rise structure to have a bird’s eye view.” Amitava Chandra

Enter next year’s contest

A zebra runs, seen from above
Commended entry from the “Wildlife” category – 2021 Drone Photo Awards
Title: Fast Track
Description: “Whether the Zebra is black with white stripes or if it is white with black stripes, it definitely stands out in the wild. I was on a photoshoot for some other species and that is when I spotted this beauty running in haste.” Thomas Vijayan

Next year’s contest will start accepting entries in early January of 2022. In the meantime, signup for an account with the Siena Awards (they run the contest). And get out there and start shooting! If this year’s winners are any indication, the competition next year will likely be stiff.

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