Adventures in Nature: Student Nature Photo Contest Winners Announced

Tucson, AZ | May 10, 2016

Ten photographs out of 1,200 submissions were selected as finalists in the 2016 Adventures in Nature Student Photo Contest sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, Cox Communications and Arizona Highways magazine. The student winners were honored during an awards ceremony May 4 at Western National Parks Association in Oro Valley, with the top five winners receiving cash prizes from Cox Communications. 

The winners are:

  • 1st place: Randy Davidson, 18, Prescott High School, for “Under the Stars"
  • 2nd place: Wyatt Mendez, 18, Tucson High Magnet School, for “Preying Mantis”
  • 3rd place: Tanner Charnstrom, 17, Pinnacle High School, Phoenix, for “Afternoon Glow”
  • 4th place: Mary E. Siml, 15, homeschooled in Tucson, for “Sky Island”
  • 5th place: Madilyn Olson, 15, homeschooled, San Tan Valley, for “Double Rainbow”

Rounding out the top 10 were:

  • Mary E. Siml, 15, homeschooled in Tucson, for “The Great Expanse”
  • Lily Cate Smith, 14, The Gregory School, for “Green Bug on a Flower”
  • Michael Bray, 15, Walden Grove High School, Sahuarita, for “Web of Life”
  • Lydia Yates, 16, Poston Butte High School, for “Itsy Bitsy”
  • Tyra Hughes, 18, Skyline High School, Mesa, for “Salt River”

First place winner Randy Davidson took a dramatic night photo of the Milky Way. He said he researched the setting (Dosie Pit near Prescott) and timing (10:40 p.m.) of the photo for maximum effect, and added a silhouette of his friend to anchor the photo to the earth. He hopes to study natural resource management and perhaps minor in photography. His parents are Anita Davidson and Larry Davidson of Prescott.

Second place winner Wyatt Mendez took a stunning macro photo of a green praying mantis set against a red flower. He took the photo near Cave Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains, where he hikes often and searches for invertebrates to photograph. “Getting this none-too-happy mantis to stand still in a good position for more than half a second was no easy task,” he joked.

Tanner Charnstrom took his third place photo in Upper Antelope Canyon. A diagonal blast of light is set against the undulating gold curves of the slot canyon. Tanner hopes to study filmmaking with a minor in photography. “Photography,” he says, “helps me improve my filmmaking abilities.”

Mary Siml, the first place winner in last year’s photo contest, returned this year with two black and white photos in the top 10. Mary says she loves getting out in nature and wants to pursue nature photography. “I love living in the Sonoran Desert where I can walk out my door and capture amazing images of nature.”

Contest judges were Jeff Kida (Arizona Highways photo editor), Rick Wiley (Arizona Daily Star photo editor), Mark Skalny (corporate and nature photographer) and Bob Billups (Nature Conservancy photo volunteer) Judging criteria included technical merit, creativity, uniqueness, visual/emotional impact and artistic vision.

You can see the 10 finalists’ photos in a slideshow at The photos will also be published on-line on Arizona Highways and Cox Communications media.

Cox Communications is the third largest cable provider and a multi-service broadband com¬munications company in the country, serving nearly 3 million residential and business product subscribers in Arizona.

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. 

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 unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, 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.

Contact information

Tana Kappel
The Nature Conservancy in Arizona


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