Several male cactus bees form a mating ball on the ground

"Bee Balling" by photographer Karine Aigner, BigPicture 2022 Grand Prize Winner


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (June 8, 2022) — The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is excited to announce the winners of this year’s BigPicture: Natural World Photography Competition. More than 7,000 photographic submissions were entered by world-class photographers representing 65 countries—each image capturing the incomparable beauty of Earth and the diversity of life it fosters.

A gallery of this year’s winning images was just published by bioGraphic, the Academy’s online magazine about nature and conservation solutions and official media sponsor for the BigPicture competition. Gallery photos and captions are available for syndication to interested media outlets upon request.

Competition entries were judged by an esteemed panel of photographers and photo editors, including Jury Chair and renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas, international photo editor Sophie Stafford, and award-winning nature and conservation photographers Jaymi Heimbuch, Gab Mejia, Jamie Rojo, Camille Seaman, and Christian Ziegler. Photo categories include Terrestrial Wildlife, Winged Life, Landscapes, Waterscapes & Flora, Aquatic Life, Art of Nature, and Human/Nature. This year’s photo essay category, Taking Action, focuses on images—or the stories behind them—that show the power of participation on behalf of communities as we adapt and strive towards a healthier planet.

This year’s Grand Prize image, titled “Bee Balling” by photographer Karine Aigner from Washington, DC, shows a “mating ball” of male cactus bees (Diadasia rinconis) grappling with each other in the hopes of securing a mate. In order to capture this rarely seen spectacle, Aigner laid on the ground in the South Texas sun and waited patiently as the frenetic cluster began to form. Cactus bees are often outcompeted by the European honey bee, and while crops rely on the latter’s pollination efforts, cactus bees pollinate native plants making them critical to a healthy, functioning environment. Through her photography, Aigner hopes to tell the stories of native species like the cactus bee, highlighting their delicate relationships to humans and the world around them. Check out all of this year’s Grand Prize, First Place, and category finalists here.

"We don’t often see small organisms in Grand Prize images," says Suzi Eszterhas, BigPicture Jury Chair. "Aigner was able to capture a rare and tiny phenomenon and turn it into something spectacular. By observing this mating ball from the lowest point possible, we’re given an intimate perspective of this unusual behavior."

Since launching in 2014, BigPicture has established a fast-growing reputation within the photography community, receiving one of just a handful of recommendations from “The 2020 Photographer’s Guide to Photo Contests” by PhotoShelter, one of the world’s top online photography resources. The competition was also named one of the “Top 15 Photography Contests & Prizes in 2021” by Pixpa, a leading online portfolio service for photographers, and was included in My Modern Met’s list of “30+ Best Photography Competitions to Elevate Your Craft.

Awards include $12,000 in cash prizes and all 49 winning images will be featured in the annual BigPicture photography exhibit, set to open this fall at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Sign up here to stay up-to-date on all things BigPicture and receive an email update when next year’s competition opens.

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