There are photos, and there are photos. We’ve all taken some holiday snaps at a particularly enviable location, or in a rather picturesque spot, and checked out the images later, thinking that professional photography might not be out of reach after all.
Well, maybe think twice about that – the images you’re about to browse are from the shortlist of Professional shots from Sony’s 2020 World Photography Awards, and to say they’re stunning would be an understatement.
This image is all about the clean lines and stunning, bright colours. It’s like something out of a child’s imagination, but is actually just the result of people wanting a splash of colour in their lives.
Here, again, you get a splash of colour, this time in an otherwise white-out landscape. This tiny home looks like it might be encrusted in place, but in theory could be picked up like a trailer and driven away. The yellow of the main cabin is a beautiful contrast to the freezing outdoors.
It’s amazing seeing monumental structures in the process of being constructed, and there’s something completely otherworldly about seeing these giant elephant heads in India, robbed of their context, with a worker casually holding one in place.
Part of the story of any sport is the exhaustion afterward, whether you’ve won or lost. We love the way this wrestler has so clearly sat down utterly knackered, and the fact that his expression gives nothing away at all about how his own bout went.
This image has something magic realist about it, and certainly seems to be sending a message about the value of reading and book-learning. The mushrooms growing from this tome seem to evoke wizards and witches, but maybe that’s just us.
A matter of scale
This photograph is an interesting contrast in scales, with the architecturally complex model on the floor drawing the eye. The table above it is more beguiling, especially when you realise that it’s an inch off the ground.
We all know the aftermath of a home haircut means sweeping – lots of sweeping. This photo takes that scene and turns it into a lovely meditation on texture, not to mention an ode to a classic-looking chair.
The models used by trainee doctors to practice their medicine are creepy at the best of times. The colour grading and orientation of this photo makes this scene seem almost like something out of a picture book, or constructed from toys.
If you thought the last model was creepy, try this one on for size. It’s a robot called Alter on display in a robotics museum in Tokyo, and as far as we’re concerned, it’s terrifying.
This still life has beautiful colour to showcase in its tablecloth, while the subject, the tuber cassava, is lovingly focused upon and lit to show the wonderful variety of its knobbly crusted skin.
Bugs under a microscope – it’s not our idea of fun, but the images you can get out of the process are undeniably striking. This black-and-white monstrosity is tiny, but photographed like this, could be a giant space beast for all you know.
This kid is shredding it – proving that scooters can get huge air just like skateboards, and making us worry for his safety at the same time. The perspective is brave, and the expression on his face is priceless.
This portrait is of Chantal, a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the victim of sexual violence perpetrated by soldiers. As part of photographer Denis Rouvre’s Unsung Heroes project she talked about her experience. This photo is a raw reminder of the importance photography can carry as an act of witnessing.
A retro look
We love the look and feel of this photo – you couldn’t tell what decade it was from if you tried. It’s a railroad worker in Ukraine, and we’re fond of how proud she is of that uniform, paired with those spectacular curtains for a beautiful colour palette.
Captured at work
This might be our favourite portrait in this whole collection, a goldfish seller captured on his bike about to drive away. The lighting is sumptuous, while just taking in all the fish on his stand would keep us occupied for some time.
Pangolins are trafficked in sad numbers, and remain extremely endangered. They’re stunning creatures, and extremely beautiful to observe, as this photo demonstrates, picking out the details and outline of each of it scales with lovely skill.
You might be hard-pressed to guess what this photograph is actually of – we certainly were stumped. It’s actually a butterfly’s wings under a lot of degrees of magnification.
Bears might be more used to the freezing cold than us, but we have to say we still feel pretty sorry for this chilly-looking customer. The frost in his beard is really detailed, while the black and white gives the whole picture a melancholic air.
The grey of these trees is in wonderful contrast to their orange leaves, while the fallen foliage on the water’s surface give this a really eerie vibe. It’s like something out of True Detective, with the bayou beckoning.
There’s nothing like a remote road to remind you of the extent to which we have remodelled the world’s landscapes to suit our ends. This winding road with its endless switchbacks is a textbook example.
Similarly, anytime you forget that we’re growing plants, flowers and foodstuffs in almost insane quantities at a time, check out an image like this to remind you that many “farms” don’t look like much like their name anymore.
Returning to calmer themes, this beautiful sea gate and two lanterns is shrouded all around by mist to create a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a Miyazaki film. It’s a lovely, blanched photograph.
A family business
It might not look like your own domestic bliss, but this photo of family harmony is delightful. The Bolivian family here have swapped to agriculture because the climate crisis was making their old craft of fishing harder and harder.
And here’s the climate crisis represented more forcefully – a natural gas flaring site in Nigeria spews flames into the sky, above a landscape that was once vibrant and full of life, and now looks like somewhere to be avoided at all costs.
Again, the industrial background to this image is impossible to escape. We love the bizarre symbolism of this lone wanderer, decked out in gold, making what looks like a pilgrimage toward a promised land that doesn’t hold much allure.
Hell on earth
If the fossil fuels burning don’t evoke the climate crisis, this terrifying image of a true conflagration should. Needless to say, it’s from Australia’s bushfire crisis, and the lone fire truck puts the scale of destruction into proper context.
A more peaceful scene, if still somewhat unsettling, is provided by this photograph of Pardis, near Tehran. The blanched-out colours make for a landscape that almost looks unreal.
You don’t often see the colour pink in nature, but this superb aerial image of the Lemurian salt lake, Ukraine, shows that where it does arise, it’s simply stunning. The addition of a single person gives you a sense of scale and points out the colours all the more vividly.
We love how communal this image is, with these wrestlers training against the sand’s resistance as a group, all striving for the same goal of excellence and victory. You can see how single-minded each is at the moment captured.
We end on a true high note with this photograph of an Iraqi couple taking a boat trip having just been married. The bride picks her way up the rocky beach carefully, her beautiful dress clear and obvious as a beacon, while the groom carefully gets on the boat in the background. One lovely little further detail – in the background, a lone swimmer interrupts the lake’s surface.