US photographer’s amazing shot wins “most popular” trophy, out of 76,000 images in Nikon’s global contest

by Dave Etchells

posted Monday, July 31, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT


US photographer Dorte Verner's extraordinary photo "Disappearing Fishing Method by Moken" won the prize for the most popular photo in Nikon's 49th annual global photo contest, out of more than 76,000 submitted by 21,511 photographers from 170 countries. The Most Popular prize was awarded based on the votes of all the other photographers who had made it past the first cut. (I'm not sure of the exact vote count, but it was on the order of several thousand.)

The Nikon Photo Contest has quite a history, as a truly global annual competition that's been running every year since 1969. Nikon told me that in that time, more than 410,000 photographers have submitted a total of 1,620,000 photos for consideration! Anyone can enter, and for most categories, any brand of gear can be used. This year only shots taken with Nikon equipment were eligible for the special 100th Anniversary Award, but any equipment could be used for photos in all the other categories.

I had the opportunity to attend the award ceremony itself and the opening reception for the exhibition of all the winning photos at a gallery in Tokyo as well as talk with each of the winners. It was a great experience to able to speak with people with so much passion and commitment to their photography!

Nikon Photo Contest
American photographer Dorte Verner's photo "Disappearing Fishing Method by Moken" was voted most popular by the other photographers in the competition, winning her a Nikon D810 camera and Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

Most Popular Entry Award winner backstory

In the case of Verner, her passion for photography grew out of her passion to "give voice to people who have none." She wants to preserve vanishing cultures before they disappear entirely and help the world connect with the world's poorest peoples as fellow humans, rather than statistics or set pieces in a 2-day news cycle.

The Moken of Myanmar are both poor and vanishing, struggling to continue their nomadic seafaring culture in a day when massive fishing trawlers have decimated the fish populations they rely on to survive. In a separate interview (to be published later), Dorte told us that there were only a thousand or so Moken left, spread across an 800 kilometer expanse of ocean.

Nikon Photo Contest
"Disappearing Fishing Method by Moken" by Dorte Verner
Click image to view larger.

It's easy to see why Dorte's photo won popular vote; it's an example of capturing the perfect moment, and the fleeting arrangement of the elements in it resulted in an exceptionally strong composition as well.

The Moken style of fishing is to leap from small boats with a long spear, thrusting it ahead of them in mid-air to spear the fish. In the shot, one of the Moken fishermen is caught literally mid-leap, with his spear just entering the water. The lighting is perfect, and Dorte's D810 and 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens nailed the focus and delivered exceptional detail. (In the full-size version, you can see hairs and water droplets on the fisherman's body; the focus is just spot-on, and the detail crisp.)

For her vision and efforts, Dorte won a D810 camera, which will be her third one at this point, and a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens.

100th Anniversary prize

I led with Dorte's photo, since she's a fellow American and was the proximate reason I was invited to attend the ceremony, but the other winners were equally extraordinary.

The top "100th Anniversary prize" was won by Annamaria Bruni from Italy, for her photo "Greeting to the Sun." Shot in Egypt, the subject is the grandmother of one of Annamaria's close friends, praying in the morning, caught in a beam of sunlight streaming through a window. Annamaria had seen the woman praying this way all during her visit and wanted to capture the sense of peace and quiet devotion. She said that she wanted to show a different image of Islam than what makes the news, her friend's grandmother embodying the devotion and peace practiced by most followers of the religion.

Nikon Photo Contest
Annamaria Bruni's photo "Greeting to the Sun" won the 100th Anniversary prize, winning her a 100th Anniversary version of Nikon's D5 uber-camera.

I found the picture remarkable on several fronts. From a distance, the bold contrast and balance of light and dark across the frame makes for an exceptionally strong composition. One of the Nikon staff present remarked to me that the lighting reminded him paintings some of the Old Masters, like Vermeer. When I got up close to the photo, though, it transformed from being "just" a great composition to a powerful portrayal of faith and devotion. The details of the woman's face and hands make for an intensely personal connection.

Nikon Photo Contest
"Greeting to the Sun" by Annamaria Bruni
Click image to view larger.

Annamaria's prize was a 100th Anniversary Edition Nikon D5 body and 500,000 Yen in cash (about $4,500 US, as of current conversion rates). She also happened to already be a Nikon shooter, and appeared to be excited about stepping up from her current D800 to the D5's exceptional low-light and autofocus performance.

Grand Prize

Tian Yuan Yuan from Anrin Provence in China won the Grand Prize for his photo "Breaking Time, a shot of workers in a metal foundry taking a break amidst steam rising from (I assume) cooling castings. Here again, the lighting is a key component; light streaming through windows separates the workers from their surroundings. The balance of light and dark, and the sharp relief of workers against the wispy texture of the steam makes for a captivating image.

Nikon Photo Contest
"Breaking Time" by Tian Yuan Yuan
Click image to view larger.

I was impressed by the fact that Tian said that shooting and documenting the lives of the factory workers has been a personal project of his for ten years now: That's a lot of commitment!

Tian's prize was a D5 body (standard version vs 100th anniversary) and a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens. Talking to him, he was looking forward to the D5's great low-light performance.

Nikon Photo Contest
Tian Yuan Yuan's photo "Breaking Time" won the Grand prize in Nikon's 2017 photo contest, winning him a Nikon D5 body and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

Tian himself speaks only Chinese, but he had a full-time interpreter accompanying him, so I had a chance to chat with him some at the gallery-opening reception. Sitting here writing this now, I'm realizing I should have asked him more about his photography, but my curiosity about a part of China I'd never heard about before overrode my journalistic instincts, and I ended up talking more with him about the area he lived in, its culture and cuisine than I did photography.

Tian is from the city of Wuhu, in Anhui Provence, in Eastern China, at about the same latitude as Shanghai, but a couple of hundred miles inland. Besides having the Yangtze River running through it, Anhui is an area with a lot of streams, smaller rivers, lakes and ponds. With all that water, it's no surprise that a lot of their cuisine centers around fish. It's apparently very spicy food. When Tian told me through the interpreter that it was very spicy, I said "Oh, like Szechuan?" He replied "No, much hotter." Yikes -- some Szechuan can get pretty spicy, so I can't imagine how hot the Anhui food is! Tian explained that part of what makes it hotter is that there's no sweet base beneath the heat; Anhui cuisine is spicy and salty. (He and the interpreter both placed emphasis on the saltiness aspect.) I can't wait to try it; I like a lot of spicy foods, and am a salt-aholic, so it sounds right up my alley. I'm a little unsure of one of his recommendations, though, a dish that translates as "Smelly Fish." It apparently doesn't smell when it comes to the table, but it apparently involves letting fish "go bad" before cooking. Despite the revolting description, he said that people invariably like it once they get up the nerve.

Anhui Provence also has utterly spectacular scenery, with jagged mountain spires, deep valleys, classical-looking Asian evergreen trees projecting out from the rocks, etc, etc. After talking with Tian, I've added Anhui Provence to my bucket list; it seems like a must-see :-)

The gallery reception and upcoming road show

The day after the awards ceremony, Nikon opened a gallery showing in Daikanyama, an uber-trendy neighborhood of shops, bookstores and restaurants just west of the Tokyo neighborhood of Shibuya. I'd heard of it but never been there myself until this event. I could hardly believe that it was just a short walk from the thousands of people around Shibuya Crossing. It made me think of hipster neighborhoods in Seattle or Portland, OR, but in a less obnoxious, Japanese kind of way :-) The exhibition is on display from 11am to 7pm daily at the Daikanyama T-Site Gallery, from now through August 2. That's only same-day notice by the time most of you will be reading this, but it's worth stopping by if you happen to be in or passing through the Shibuya area.

Nikon Photo Contest
The T-SITE gallery was small and intimate, with a cleanly modern design.

The exhibition of the winning photos will be traveling around the world throughout the rest of 2017, though, so there'll be chances for many of our readers to see it, as dates and locations are announced.

Overall, it was a great experience, to be able to see the whole collection of winning photos and videos, and to be able to meet Dorte, Annamaria and Tian while I was there. If you have a chance, be sure to check out the gallery exhibition if it comes to your area!

Other photos from the event

Nikon Photo Contest
Dorte receiving her award from Nikon Senior Vice President and General Manager of Nikon's Imaging Business Unit Nobuyoshi Gyoku.


Nikon Photo Contest
Head judge Neville Brody led the team responsible for reviewing 76,000 submissions. He told me that each judge was responsible for doing a rough cull of about 10,000 images each. The result of that process was 2,000-3,000 images that they reviewed together over a three day period, to arrive at the final list of winners. Here, he's posing next to the trophy, newly-designed for the anniversary year.


Nikon Photo Contest
Designed anew for the anniversary year, the trophy was quite striking; a solid cube of acrylic, with a metal cube in the center, Nikon's logo on each face.