The amazing winning images of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards

From a forest lit up by fireflies to raccoons prowling a San Francisco park: The spectacular winners of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards revealed

  • The Photographer of the Year title was awarded to the Portuguese professional photographer Edgar Martins 
  • The awards’ judges praised Martin’s winning photography series as a ‘powerful, personal set of portraits’ 
  • READ MORE: The otherworldly beauty of Britain caught on camera, from mountains to ancient woodlands

The victorious photographers in the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards have been revealed – and the images in this year’s winners’ gallery are as remarkable as ever. 

Each year, the prestigious contest, which receives entries from across the globe, runs several competitions, including the professional contest and the open competition. Standout images include a photo of a forest in India lit up in spellbinding fashion by fireflies, a hypnotic image of raccoons on the prowl in San Francisco, a breathtaking image of an Alpine meadow in Italy and a picture that shows the Milky Way framing Chureito Pagoda, a pagoda that overlooks the Japanese city of Fujiyoshida and faces Mount Fuji.

Reigning supreme overall, the Photographer of the Year title and the $25,000 (£20,220) cash prize were awarded to the Portuguese photographer Edgar Martins for his series ‘Our War’, which paid tribute to his late friend, photojournalist Anton Hammerl, who was killed during the Libyan Civil War in 2011.

Commenting on his win, Martins – who submitted his winning series to the Professional competition – said: ‘It is quite an emotional experience because I get to honour my friend on a world stage… there’s no award that has the reach of the Sony World Photography Awards.’

Sharing his thoughts on Martins’ winning project, Mike Trow, Chair of the 2023 Professional competition, says: ‘Photography is so often about memory and its nature… Our War by Edgar Martins has used memory and invention to give us a powerful, personal set of portraits that attempt to explain the last days of his friend, the photojournalist Anton Hammerl. His work highlights the lengths photographers will go to tell a story and create meaning; each image giving a sense of the journey Anton took without ever being explicit about how his life ended. The entire jury this year was fulsome in their appreciation of the work and its narrative force.’

Exhibiting the work that captivated the judges, the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 exhibition opens at Somerset House, London, until May 1, featuring over 200 prints and hundreds of additional images from winning and shortlisted photographers. Scroll down to see some of the category-winning and shortlisted images from the overall contest – with Martins’ award-winning work at the very bottom…

This extraordinary picture shows black bear cubs playing on a rope swing in the backyard of a home in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s part of a series – ‘Cities Gone Wild’ – by U.S photographer Corey Arnold, who says: ‘Urban black bears in Asheville are becoming more bold and fearless, resulting in a large influx of bears wandering residential neighbourhoods.’ Shedding light on the series as a whole, Arnold says: ‘Cities Gone Wild is an exploration of three savvy animals – black bears, coyotes and raccoons – that have uniquely equipped to survive and even thrive in the human-built landscape while other animals are disappearing. I tracked these animals in cities across America to reveal a more intimate view of how wildlife is adapting to increased urbanization.’ The series is the overall winner in the ‘Wildlife and Nature’ category of the Professional Competition 

This shot, a second from Corey Arnold’s prize-winning Cities Gone Wild series, shows raccoons in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The American says: ‘Reliant on humans for food, these raccoons have been habituated with feeding by raccoon lovers. On two occasions, I witnessed cars pulling up with many pounds of dog-food, sour cream, chicken, chips and other snacks, dumping them on the ground and in the bushes. The practice is illegal, but still common. Coyotes also arrived at times when regular feedings seem to occur just after dark. Raccoons and coyotes are thriving in the urban environment that is San Francisco because of the abundance of food left by humans’

‘In the area surrounding Nordenskjold Land National Park in Svalbard [a Norwegian archipelago], a lone polar bear is exposed on rocks where a decade ago there was a glacier.’ So says Australian photographer Mark Fitzsimmons of this poignant picture, titled ‘Climate Change’. He adds: ‘Despite relatively healthy numbers in the Svalbard region of the Arctic, polar bears face many issues, including increased human/wildlife conflict, warmer summers and receding glaciers.’ Impressing the judges, the image was shortlisted in the ‘Natural World and Wildlife’ category of the Open Competition

Entered into the ‘Landscape’ category in the awards’ Open Competition, this picture shows the sunrise over Seiser Alm, a high-altitude Alpine meadow in Italy. It was captured by Slovenian photographer Ales Krivec, who says of the houses in the frame: ‘The cottages are idyllic and I can just imagine living here, waking every day to a stunning view like this’

This moody shot shows earth pyramids that ‘were formed millions of years ago’ in the Dolomite mountains in Italy’s Percha region. ‘On this particular morning they were in low clouds, which adds to the atmosphere,’ says photographer Robert Bilos. The image was shortlisted in the ‘Landscape’ category of the Open Competition 

This magical image – a composite of several pictures taken over 16 minutes – shows fireflies illuminating Anamalai Tiger Reserve in southern India. Photographer Sriram Murali says: ‘Anamalai Tiger Reserve is a biodiversity hotspot known for its megafauna and flora, but for a few days every year it is this tiny insect that steals the show at night.’ It’s part of a wider photography series focusing on these fireflies, which snapped up third place in the ‘Wildlife and Nature’ category of the Professional Competition. Murali explains: ‘In April 2022, I set out to a remote area of the reserve with forest officials. Flashes of green started appearing at twilight and as the place grew dark, millions of fireflies started synchronising their flashes across several trees. The flashes would start in one tree and continue across other trees like a Mexican wave. Such large congregations of fireflies are very rare, and this series captures the phenomenon of fireflies turning an entire forest into a magical carpet of yellowish-green light’ 

Putting a spotlight on the women’s peace movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this picture is part of a series by British photographer Hugh Kinsella Cunningham. In the shot, captured in the country’s North Kivu Province, peace activist Liberata Buratwa can be seen speaking to communities that were displaced by an M23 rebel offensive. Cunningham says: ‘Liberata arrived to host a meeting where she received updates on the security situation to share with her network. Shifting frontlines mean that it is often unclear which areas are unsafe for civilians. Activists also speak to recently displaced civilians to collect testimonies of human rights violations they may have witnessed.’ Of the wider series, he says: ‘Nearly 20 years on from a conflict that killed five million people and upended tenfold more lives, the Democratic Republic of Congo is once again sliding into chaos. As renewed conflict with the M23 rebels, massacres and regional militarisation caught the world’s attention this year, the vital contribution of women to peace remains invisible. Despite escalating violence, some women are working to create [a] dialogue between armed actors and communities. They track human rights violations, warn of impending violence and plead with rebel leaders to stop attacks. In doing so, they take immense risks.’ The series took the top prize in the ‘Documentary Projects’ category of the Professional Competition 

This picture by photographer Maria Camila Ramirez Castaneda shows the Colombian city of Medellin, the country’s first Special District of Science, Technology and Innovation. The image was shortlisted in the awards’ Student Competition 

This mesmerising picture shows the Milky Way framing Chureito Pagoda, a pagoda that overlooks the Japanese city of Fujiyoshida and faces Mount Fuji. Photographer Yukihito Ono notes that the cherry blossoms were in full bloom when the picture was taken, adding: ‘It is rare that full bloom cherry blossoms, a new moon and clear skies coincide.’ The image was shortlisted in the ‘Travel’ category of the Open Competition 

This striking shot is one of a series that focuses on the Tieshan Cement Factory, set in Guilin City in south China. Photographer Fan Li explains: ‘The factory was built in 1996 and played an important role in Guilin’s economic development and urban construction. However… the cement factory has now been relocated, leaving behind the old buildings, water towers, pools and railway tracks.’ The series has snapped up first place in the ‘Architecture and Design’ category 

In this dynamic shot, Kelsie Whitmore, the first female professional baseball player to play in an all-male pro league, pitches in the bullpen before a game at Richmond County Bank Ballpark on Staten Island, New York. It’s part of a wider series focusing on Whitmore, which was captured by photographer Al Bello. He explains: ‘[Kelsie] plays outfield and pitches for the Staten Island Ferryhawks in the Atlantic League of professional baseball… on September 3, 2022, Kelsie became the first woman to record a hit in association with Major League Baseball.’ The series took the top prize in the ‘Sport’ category of the Professional Competition 

LEFT: This vibrant picture by photographer Gabriela Timo shows an amusement park in Santa Cruz, California, in the summertime. It was entered into the ‘Motion’ category in the awards’ Open Competition. RIGHT: This is one captivating picture from the photography series that earned Edgar Martins the title of Photographer of the Year. It shows a dissident freedom fighter in a makeshift burka in Libya. Sharing the story behind the series, Martins says: ‘In 2011, my dear friend and the photojournalist, Anton Hammerl, travelled to Libya to cover the conflict between pro-regime and anti-Gaddafi forces. On April 5 he was forcefully abducted and killed by government militia. Frustrated by the lack of progress in the investigation to find his mortal remains, in 2022 I took matters into my own hands and travelled to Libya. This previously unseen body of work is structured as a self-portrait of Anton Hammerl through the people he photographed and met, and others involved in the conflict (freedom fighters or their descendants, ex-militia, local residents, Gaddafi loyalists or lookalikes, and so on). They were selected because they resembled him, espoused similar ideas and beliefs, or reminded me of him at different stages of our friendship.’ The series was entered into the ‘Portraiture’ category of the Professional Competition

This jarring shot, a second image from Martins’ winning portfolio, shows a fighter demonstrating what it’s like ‘being shot in the head’ 

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