Grand Prize winning image "Hope in a Burned Plantation" by Jo-Anne McArthur shows a kangaroo in a burned eucalyptus plantation

BigPicture 2021 Grand Prize winning image "Hope in a Burned Plantation" by Jo-Anne McArthur


SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 15, 2021) - On Saturday, October 16, 2021 the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco will open BigPicture, the museum’s eighth annual exhibit celebrating some of the world’s best wildlife and conservation photography. Featuring 49 top images from the 2021 BigPicture: Natural World Photography Competition, the exhibit highlights Earth’s biodiversity, illustrates the many threats that our planet faces, and underscores the importance of protecting, conserving, and regenerating the natural world. Attendees of the Academy’s BigPicture NightLife event (21+) will get a sneak peek of the exhibit on Thursday, October 14 ahead of its public opening on Saturday, October 16. The exhibit will be open through Sunday, April 24, 2022 at the Academy in Golden Gate Park.

Photographers representing 68 countries submitted nearly 8,400 photos for consideration. Renowned wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas chaired an esteemed panel of judges composed of some of the world’s leading photographers, photo editors, and conservationists. A gallery of winning images was recently published by bioGraphic, the Academy’s online magazine about nature, conservation, and regeneration, and official media sponsor for the BigPicture competition. Gallery photos and captions from the bioGraphic story are available to any interested media outlets for syndication upon request.

This year’s grand prize image, Canadian photographer Jo-Anne McArthur’s “Hope in a Burned Plantation,” shows an eastern grey kangaroo pausing in a burned eucalyptus plantation, a joey just visible in her pouch. McArthur’s photograph represents both devastation and hope: cataclysmic bushfires driven by record-setting droughts and temperatures have ravaged the Australian landscape in recent years, burning some 17 million hectares (42 million acres) and displacing nearly three billion animals in 2019 and 2020; yet the mother kangaroo and her offspring are a powerful reminder of nature’s resilience, symbols of hope that life can persist against all odds.

In 2020, BigPicture launched the Emerging Photographer Grant, which awards $2,500 grants and mentorships to support young photographers sharing fresh approaches to capturing conservation, science, and regeneration. BigPicture 2021 showcases the work of inaugural grantee Lianna Nixon, whose five minute film “Letter to the Arctic” takes viewers on an Arctic expedition to discover personal stories of scientists at the intersection of identity, science, and the natural world.

In addition to award-winning wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas, the BigPicture 2021 judging panel included international photo editor Sophie Stafford, filmmakers Inka Crewswell and Morgan Heim, and award-winning nature and conservation photographers Michael Aw, Shem Compion, Claudio Contreras Koob, Jasper Doest, and Rathika Ramasamy. Photo categories for the competition and exhibit include Terrestrial Wildlife; Winged Life; Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora; Aquatic Life; Art of Nature; and Human/Nature. BigPicture also includes a Photo Story category, featuring four to six images that highlight a theme. The 2021 Photo Story category, Out of the Ordinary, highlights some of the truly unique and unexpected events that occur in nature, and enables viewers to see the world from a new perspective.

The grand prize and first place category winners and their work will be honored in a private reception on October 14 ahead of the BigPicture NightLife debut. Awards include $12,000 in cash prizes and winning images featured in the BigPicture photography exhibit on the museum’s public floor.

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.

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 or call (415) 379-8000 for more information

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