The winning images from the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards

From the bizarre to the beautiful: The striking winning images from the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards

  • The 2020 Sony World Photography Awards received 346,000 entries from photographers around the world 
  • There were 10 categories including architecture, discovery, documentary, environment and landscape
  • The overall winner and the title of Photographer of the Year 2020 goes to Pablo Albarenga from Uruguay 

Cue the drum roll…

The winners in the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards 2020 have been announced – and the pictures that have made the podium are striking to say the least.

This year, the competition received 346,000 entries from photographers all around the world in 10 categories – architecture, creative, discovery, documentary, environment, landscape, natural world, portraiture, sport and still life.

Pictures range from the bizarre to the beautiful. There is a fascinating still life of an android that is part of the winning series in the still life category, a stunning shot of fireflies that is runner-up in the natural world category – and a fascinating drone picture of a Japanese internment camp in Utah, which comes third in the landscape category.    

The title of Photographer of the Year 2020 and the $25,000 prize goes to Pablo Albarenga from Uruguay for his series showing landscapes and territories in danger from mining and agribusinesses in the Amazon. The winner in the open competition is British snapper Tom Oldham for his stunning portrait of Pixies frontman Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis). Greek student Ioanna Sakellaraki is chosen as Student Photographer of the Year, while Hsien-Pang Hsieh from Taiwan is Youth Photographer of the Year.

Scroll down for our pick of the winning bunch. Which are your favourites? 

An image taken by Pablo Albarenga, from Uruguay, who scoops the title of the Photographer of the Year 2020 and the $25,000 prize for his series showing landscapes and territories in danger from mining and agribusinesses in the Amazon. This photo shows Jose, one of the leaders of the Achuar indigenous people in the Shatamentsa community in Ecuador. Pablo explained: ‘He defends his rainforest by generating projects in collaboration with external organisations. One of them aims to create an indigenous group to monitor their territory from the ground and also by using aerial technology such as drones’

British photographer Tom Oldham is the overall winner in the open competition thanks to the image on the left that he took for Mojo magazine of Pixies frontman Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis). Tom said: ‘Photographers for Mojo magazine enjoy a rare degree of freedom and trust with what is usually an open brief. This allows us to capture our own experience with very high-profile musicians. However, when photographing famous singers, we are often painfully aware of how many times the sitter has, well, sat. I like to acknowledge this and asked Charles to show me the level of frustration photoshoots can generate. He offered up this perfect gesture of exasperation, and the image ran as the lead portrait for the feature.’ The image on the right is by the winner of the title of Student Photographer of the Year, Greek snapper Ioanna Sakellari. She won for her series of photos exploring the challenges surrounding climate change and the sustainability of islands. Her images were taken on the Greek island of Tilos, where islanders use various solar panels and energy devices for electricity. Ioanna said: ‘My series looks at how these strangely shaped devices and wires become an organic part of the scenery at night’

This photo was snapped by Hsien-Pang Hsieh from Taiwan – the winner of the Youth Photographer of the Year title. Speaking about this picture, Hsien-Pang said: ‘This image was taken shortly after I came to Germany to study. It was the first time I had travelled abroad alone, and I felt under enormous pressure. There were so many things to learn at school, and I was also trying to fit in with everyone else. Although this man looks as though he’s in a rush to get to work, he’s actually standing still – and it’s this dichotomy that appealed to me. These days, with life moving at such a frantic pace, it’s important for people to slow down. When I’m facing challenges I look at this picture and it reminds me to take a moment and just breathe’

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Winner of the natural world and wildlife category is South African Brent Stirton for his pictures showing the crisis facing pangolins, which he describes as the ‘the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal’. Pictured is a Termminck’s pangolin he snapped as it learned to forage after being rescued from traffickers on the Zimbabwe/South Africa border. He said: ‘Pangolin caregivers at this anonymous farm care for rescued, illegally trafficked pangolins, helping them to find ants and termites to eat and keeping them safe from predators and poachers. This is one of only three true Pangolin rescue and rehabilitation sites in the world. Pangolins are the world’s most illegally trafficked mammals, with an estimated one million being trafficked to Asia in the past ten years. Their scales are used in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine and their meat is sold as a high-priced delicacy’

Third in the landscape category is South Korean photographer Chang Kyun Kim, whose series shows Japanese internment camps that were built in remote and harsh areas of the United States during the Second World War. This image shows the concentration camp at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Delta, Utah. She said: ‘The lower part of the image shows the massive grids where the prison barracks of Topaz War Relocation Center that incarcerated 10,000 Japanese people living in the U.S were constructed. I tried to show the harsh landscape that surrounds the campsite. It was taken with my drone’

Hashem Shakeri, from Iran, comes second in the discovery category for his series called ‘Cast Out of Heaven’, which is about satellite towns in his country that have been impacted by U.S sanctions and the fall in value of the Iranian rial. This image shows half-constructed buildings in the new town of Pardis, close to Tehran. Hashem said: ‘Although some parts of the town have been already settled, almost half of the buildings in the town are yet to be completed. Many of the apartments are owned by people who had pre-purchased them many years ago and are still waiting for their apartments to be completed so they can move in. However, the timing of the completion is being constantly postponed’

Chinese photographer Youqiong Zhang comes third in the documentary category with a series about Chinese enterprises moving production to Africa. This picture shows a factory owned by the Huajin Group, which specialises in the production of women’s shoes, in the Eastern Industrial Zone, close to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The photographer says there are dozens of other companies from China in this factory complex

In second place in the natural world and wildlife category is Japanese photographer Masahiro Hiroike for her images of himebotaru – a type of firefly, between six and eight millimetres long, that lives in the forest. This image was taken in the mountains of Tottori in Japan. She said: ‘The purpose of the project is to share this phenomenon with people in the hope that it will encourage them to protect these wonderful creatures’

German photographer Robin Hinsch is the winner in the environment category with a series of images taken in the Niger Delta in Nigeria. This photo shows a natural gas flaring site in Ughelli. He said: ‘It used to boast an incredibly rich ecosystem, containing one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet, before the oil industry moved in. An issue in the Niger Delta is gas flaring, a byproduct of oil extraction. As the gas burns, it destroys crops, pollutes water and has a negative impact on human health’ 

On the left is another image by environment category winner Robin Hinsch. This one shows a policeman in Ughelli in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. Covering 70,000 sq km (27,000 sq miles) of wetlands, the Niger Delta was formed primarily by sediment deposition. Meanwhile, German photographer Adalbert Mojrzisch comes third in the natural world and wildlife category with a series of highly magnified images of insects. His image on the right shows a robber fly. He said: ‘Most of my subjects are found dead on windowsills or in zoological gardens – in that sense you could say they are unremarkable. At first glance, the insects appear grey and dirty, but when viewed at high magnifications (usually between 5x and 80x) interesting structures and beautiful colours begin to emerge’

Third place in the environment category is Italian photographer Luca Locatelli for his images showing the future of high-tech farming. This picture is called ‘Siberia Lettuce’ and Luca said: ‘The great indoors provides optimal growing conditions for lettuce and other leafy greens at Siberia B.V. in Maasbree, Netherlands. Each acre in the greenhouse yields as much lettuce as 10 outdoor acres and cuts the need for chemicals by 97 per cent’

Winner of the landscape category is Ronny Behnert from Germany with his series of pictures showing evidence of Shintoism and Buddhism around Japan. Pictured left is the Einootsurugi shrine. Ronny said: ‘It was difficult to find that amazing spot but after a few hours of searching and exploring I found the torii. The special feature here was the symmetrical arrangement through the two lamps in the foreground. I spent more than three hours at this spot because of the spiritual atmosphere at this place.’ On the right is another of his images, this time of the Bentenjima shrine

Florian Ruiz, from France, comes second in the landscape category with a series of images depicting Lop Nor, a former salt lake, now largely dried-up, located in Xinjiang province in northwest China. He said: ‘This barren area was used intermittently as a nuclear weapons testing site from 1964 to 1996, with as many as 45 tests carried out underground and in the atmosphere. I wanted to show the invisible danger in this desolate area. Using a Geiger counter I measured the presence of radiation in becquerels (Bq). The title of each image is the level of soil contamination I recorded, expressed in Bq. Using digital techniques, I superimposed image fragments, suggesting atoms altering and a general feeling of impermanence.’ The name of this image is 0,531 Bq

British photographer Hugh Kinsella Cunningham comes third in the discovery category with a series of images of the realities of an Ebola outbreak in North Kivu, an active conflict zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pictured left is a frontline health worker of the Ebola response posing for a portrait at a medical facility. Hugh said: ‘Hand-washing, chlorinated water spray and regular temperature checks with non-contact thermometers are part of new procedures to stop the spread of the virus.’ Argentinian photographer José De Rocco comes third in the architecture category with his series Formalism I, showing bold colours and shapes. Speaking about his image on the right, he said: ‘As a graphic designer, I’m drawn to bold colours and shapes. Formalism I is the result of three years walking the streets and searching for beauty in places that most people pass by. I tend to take a shot when I spot something interesting, and then return repeatedly until I get what I need’

French photographer Didier Bizet is runner-up in the documentary category thanks to his series on reborn dolls. These are hyper-realistic dolls that resemble a newborn baby with artists going to great lengths to ensure their creations are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Speaking about this image, Didier said: ‘Some reborn dolls are equipped with devices that mimic heartbeats, breathing, sucking or head mobility. These devices are carefully hidden inside the doll’s padding, and can be recharged via USB’

Third in the portraiture category is Sasha Maslov from Ukraine, whose series shows ladies who work on railway crossings in Ukraine. Pictured left is one of the ladies at the crossing of Poltava in Kyiv. Sasha said: ‘In a country that has been torn apart by political turmoil, war and loss of territory – not to mention corruption and a permanently troubled economy – few people pay attention to the women they see from a passing train, standing still with a folded yellow flag. In this series, I explore my childhood fascination with railroads and the fairy-tale houses that stand beside the tracks.’ On the right is an image by Sandra Herber from Canada. It’s part of a series of images of ice fishing huts on Lake Winnipeg that snared her the top prize in the architecture category. Ms Herber said: ‘These huts, shacks or permies (as they are called in Manitoba) must be transportable, protect their occupants from the elements and allow access to the ice below for fishing. Once these requirements have been met, the owners are free to express their personalities in the shape, structure and decoration of their huts – they are large or small, decorated or plain, luxurious or utilitarian and everything in between’

Taking second place in the architecture category is Jonathan Walland, from the UK, for his series of images of minimalist modern architecture. This image shows the Arena Tower on the Isle of Dogs in London. He said: ‘For me, minimalism is a way of enabling clarity. I approach modern architecture in a way that eliminates distraction, keeping the viewer focused on the purest elements of photography: form, light, texture and the way that these components amalgamate. This body of work required rigid consistency in order to document the structural forms of each building and demonstrate the different and unique way in which light interacts with each structure’

Winner of the still life category is Italian Alessandro Gandolfi, who submitted a series of images exploring how science and technology can increase our longevity. This image shows a robot called Alter at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Japan. Alessandro said: ‘Some believe that in the future, it will be possible to completely download our minds into humanoids similar to this one, and therefore, by overcoming the physical limits imposed by the human body, it will be possible to live forever’

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