Bright orange fire glows out from between mountains at night.
Bighorn Fire Bighorn Fire in the Catalina Mountains by Chenyu Li won first place in the "Adventures in Nature” student photo contest. © Chenyu Li


Students Take Home Cash Prizes and Bragging Rights in Nature Photo Contest

  • Tracey Kiest Stone
    The Nature Conservancy in Arizona

Students from the West Valley to the East Valley and from Flagstaff to Tucson impressed professional photographers in the 8th “Adventures in Nature” Photo Content.

Chenyu Li, a Beijing, China native who attended The Gregory School in Tucson, took home first place for Bighorn Fire in the Catalina Mountains. During the awards event he said he loves Arizona landscapes and wanted to submit something unique. Judges called his photo remarkable with brilliant composition.

Sixteen-year-old Karissa Morales of Tucson won 2nd place for Boy Kissing Chicken. She’s excited about winning! “I wanted to take a different approach and focus on a human and nature interaction rather than a beautiful nature photo. When I saw my nephew pick up the chicken and, kiss it, I knew I captured something special!” said Morales.

While on assignment for photography class, Arnav Ved of Chandler was keeping his eye on wildlife in a nature preserve. For a moment three avocets paused, enabling him to seize a beautiful moment. Ved won Third Place for Three Avocets. Ved said he loved seeing the red in the background and the sun’s reflection in the foreground.

What started as a Tucson competition has expanded across the state. This year, more than 3,742 photos were entered by 500 Arizonans—ages 13-18—engaged in the creative contest! In 2019, there were 1,665 entries.

"This challenge is a great way to inspire younger generations to spend more time outside and to look at nature in different and creative ways,” said Tana Kappel, marketing manager for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. “This competition is also the driving force behind some great partnerships.”

Winners will receive up to $10,000 in prize money plus gift certificates and passes to Nature Conservancy preserves in Arizona. The breakdown is $5,000 for first, $2,500 for second and $1,000 for third. All honorable mentions earn $250. They are:  

  • Henry Davis, Tucson, Tortoise
  • Trenton Gullikson, Prescott, Lightning
  • Alexa Hartman, Flagstaff, Tree in Snow
  • Grant Olson, Phoenix, Silhouette on Piestewa Peak
  • Levi Plummer, Glendale, Greater Roadrunner and Rufous Hummingbirds
  • Weston Thomas, Chandler, Bird Attack Bird 

Contest winners will also have their photos published by the sponsors: The Nature Conservancy in Arizona, Arizona Highways magazine and Cox Communications. Plus, the top winners are eligible for a photography workshop from Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

The judges were Phoenix-based photographers Suzanne Mathia and Mark Skalney, former UA president and acclaimed photographer John Schaefer, Arizona Highways magazine photo editor Jeff Kida, Arizona Daily Star photo editor Rick Wiley, and former UA music professor and TNC photo volunteer Bob Billups.

Arizona Highways

Since 1925, Arizona Highways magazine has brought the beauty of Arizona to visitors and natives alike through its award-winning photography, travel journalism and steadfast commitment to discovering the state’s treasures. Helping to drive tourism to and through the state, Arizona Highways has subscribers in all 50 states and more than 120 countries.

Cox Communications

Cox Communications is the third largest cable provider and a multi-service broadband communications company in the country, serving nearly 3 million residential and business product subscribers in Arizona (a product subscriber represents an individual service purchased by a customer).

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 75 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 38 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.