Australian Geographic celebrates Australia through compelling stories of its people, places, flora and fauna. They seek to inspire Australians to love and care for our country, and through the support of the Australian Geographic Society, they help empower individuals and organisations to tackle environmental challenges and find innovative solutions to the many threats faced by our natural world. Australian Geographic donates 100% of its profits to the Australian Geographic Society’s conservation and sustainability programs. 

In line with Australian Geographic’s mission statement, this brand-new awards category will be a celebration of the power of photography to inspire action and drive positive change for our planet.

The Head On Environmental Awards by Australia Geographic is a unique bracket within the roster of Head On Photo Awards categories (Portrait, Landscape and Student), that will support visual storytellers to explore the issues and challenges affecting the wellbeing of our environment. These include, but are not limited to, human-induced climate change, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, unsustainable development, feral invasive species, pollution, ocean acidification and climate-change-induced extreme weather events.

We hope that photographers will harness their passion, curiosity, talent and creativity to capture images that address today’s most urgent environmental issues and by doing so, foster greater awareness, encourage action, and ultimately bring about change.  We are seeking images that highlight problems, document solutions and shine a light on sustainable practices.  

An illustrious judging panel of environmental photography pioneers will expertly select finalists who will have their work exhibited in a major public installation as part of Head On Photo Festival 2023. The overall award winner will receive a cash prize of $10,000 (AUD). Furthermore, all finalists will also have the chance to be selected for future publications in Australian Geographic and Head On Interactional Magazine.

So, now that your initial excitement has settled, you are probably asking yourself ‘okay, but… what is environmental photography?’ Valid question. Allow us to answer all the pressing questions you may have about our new Awards category!

Chris Round

First of all, what is the difference between environmental and landscape photography?

Environmental photography is both more broad and more specific than you first think.

Environmental photography adopts a specific point of view distinct from landscape photography. Landscape photography is generally concerned with establishing a sense of place and space through aesthetic strategy – whether that be sweeping mountains or city car parks. In landscape photography the onus is placed upon the photographer to create an image out of what they see beyond them, to create some sense of subjective meaning amidst the expanse.

In environmental photography, on the other hand, the environment is the active agent. Environmental photography views the world as a self-possessed subject, focusing on what we know, what we don’t know, its impacts, its triumphs and its threats, therefore it is often used to raise awareness of environmental issues like climate change, pollution, and deforestation.

In fact, the general dictionary definitions of the terms might be the best framework for considering their difference.

Landscape: “all the visible features of an area of land, often considered in terms of their aesthetic appeal.”

Environment: “the natural world, as a whole or in a particular geographical area, especially as affected by human activity.”

William Debois

Can my picture fit in both the environmental and landscape categories?

Yes, of course!

Landscape and environmental photography can have some overlap. For instance, a photographer might capture an image of a forest in danger due to deforestation. This not only showcases the forest’s expansive beauty but also brings attention to the issue of deforestation. If you feel your image has a strong justification for being in both categories, then you are probably right!

In fact, all of the pictures included in this article are from past Landscape and Portrait Awards finalists, which just goes to show how diverse environmental photography can be.

Serena Dzenis

Environmental photography is still feeling a bit broad – got anything more specific?

The Head On Environmental Awards by Australian Geographic seeks to reward exceptional photography of ‘the environment and anything impacting it’, including:

  • Wildlife
  • Aquatic environments
  • Flora
  • Eco-systems
  • Micro-diversity
  • Scientific pursuit
  • Outdoor activity
  • Environmental destruction
  • Anthropological insights
  • Conservation
  • And more

But above all, the judges of this Awards category will consider timely images that capture the incredibly diverse nature of our planet as more than a subject and provoke reflection on our world and our place in it. So, if your image falls outside of these categories but still reflects these core values then it is definitely still relevant!

Steve Bright

Is environmental photography only in documentary style?

The Head On Environmental Awards by Australian Geographic is open internationally to photographers of all levels and welcomes exceptional photography across all styles and genres. It will celebrate photographers who seek to shed light on significant elements of the natural world no matter what style that message comes in.

Environmental photography doesn’t need to be in a documentary style to comment on the conditions of our natural world. We welcome and encourage artistic interpretations and interruptions into this category.

Judith Crispin

Does that mean it’s all doom and gloom? Can I photograph positive things impacting our environment?

Yes! Please do – environmental photography, like the environment itself, is a delicate eco-system that relies on a balance of opposing forces.

We need to focus on the good and the bad. While there are a lot of threats facing our environment, many people are trying to make positive strives to combat these systems which deserve to be documented.

Julie Kenny

Can I take a picture of my cat?

I swear, we could be talking about anything, and someone would still ask this question.

Look, if the picture of your cat makes a meaningful statement about environmental impacts – then yes, yes you can.

Bridgette Gower

We and our friends at Australian Geographic are beyond excited about the Head On Environmental Awards by Australian Geographic and all of the amazing photographic opportunities this will open!

Enter the Head On Environmental Awards by Australian Geographic today!

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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 open in May/June.

Image detail: Gary Ramage