A photographer who captured the intensity of the Black Summer bushfires in the midst of the disaster has been named the 2023 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year.
Samuel Markham's photograph, My Country Burns, was taken 20 minutes after the fire front passed through Parma in the Shoalhaven on New Year's Eve 2019, when Mr Markham, family, neighbours and a friend fought to save his family home.
"This is a breathtaking, scary photograph, full of energy and visual drama, which is indicative of the world we now live in," judges and experienced photographers Mike Langford, Adjunct Professor Wayne Quilliam and Jackie Ranken said.
"Despite the circumstances, this isn't a panicked shot; it is a studied composition with extraordinary detail.
"Many layers draw us into the scene, giving us a genuine feeling of being part of the firestorm."
Mr Markham said the ordeal that preceded his photograph was terrifying.
"The skies darkened with an unsettling swiftness, casting an eerie veil over our surroundings and from the sky came a rain of embers," he said.
"We stood our ground, uniting against the very embodiment of nature's fury.
"As the firestorm descended upon us, it felt as if we were standing directly in the path of a colossal, jet-engine-like force fuelled by an unyielding southerly wind.
"The temperature soared to unimaginable heights, surpassing the 1000-degree mark."
Against all odds, Mr Markham's family home remained standing, and he spoke of the "unity and strength" that emerged when communities came together to protect their homes and loved ones.
Mr Markham said the Australian Geographic competition (owned and produced by South Australian Museum) was, in his opinion, the best nature photography competition in the country and one he'd been entering for years.
"The calibre of work that gets shortlisted every year is truly remarkable," he said.
"Being awarded the Australian Geographic 2023 Nature Photographer of the Year is definitely a highlight in my landscape photography career."
Mr Markham's love of photography began when his family bought a digital camera in 2011.
He works for a public transport company but finds plenty of time to indulge his passion out of work.
"I would love to turn it into a full-time career one day if the opportunity presents itself," Mr Markham said.
In the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, his favourite places to photograph are Bombo Quarry, Cathedral Rocks and the Jervis Bay area - "some of the most beautiful places in the world".
"They taught me the fundamentals of landscape photography. These were the locations that I ventured to in the early hours of the morning to perfect my craft," Mr Markham said.
With this prestigious win under his belt, Mr Markham is now planning multi-day photography workshops he will host in Kiama and Jervis Bay next year, where he will teach participants tips, tricks and methods he has learnt throughout his years of landscape photography.
The Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year is an annual competition open to photographers across the world, but their work must be taken in the region encompassing Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea.
First prize this year was $10,000 and a holiday.
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