2021 Photo Contest

Judging the 2021 World Press Photo Contest: Specialized Juries

In January 2021, the judging of the 2021 World Press Photo Contest kicked off - for the first time online - with seven specialized juries that shortlisted the best images and stories in each of the eight categories of the contest.

The World Press Photo Contest recognizes the best visual journalism of the last year, rewarding images and stories in eight categories. This year, 4,315 photographers from 130 countries have entered 74,470 images! This is an increase from 2020, when 4,282 photographers from 125 countries entered 73,996 images.

We spoke with some of the jury members that reviewed the entries to analyze the main topics of 2020 and what they were looking for when judging.

Contemporary issues

Davina Jogi, documentary photographer, founder and co-director of the Zimbabwe Association of Female Photographers (ZAFP); Laure Troussière, deputy chief photo editor at Libération; and Muhammad Fadli, photographer and photo editor; looked through 5,598 single images and 1,730 stories to select the best single pictures and stories documenting cultural, political or social issues affecting individuals or societies.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice protests around the globe were the main topics in the Contemporary Issues category. “Both are important stories that almost all of us can relate to from what probably was the most turbulent year in decades. However, I also found that some of the most interesting entries were actually talking about something different. There are so many pressing issues these days all over the world, and I think it’s very important to put our attention there equally,” said Fadli.

“I was looking for photographs or stories that moved me: photographs that ask good questions and make us think (...) stories where the photographers really invested their time to explore the possibilities in telling stories through images. (...) I was also trying to be as open as possible and stray from conventional ideas of what photojournalism should look like,” he explained.


This year, Esteban Vanegas, chief photo editor at El Colombiano; Esther Horvath, photographer; and Ian Teh, photographer; reviewed the 1253 images and 466 stories entered into the Environment category.

“There were many extremely strong visual stories, which I personally loved to learn about,” explained Esther Horvath.

The Environment category was introduced in 2018 and over the years has become an increasingly prominent topic in the World Press Photo Contest even outside this category. It rewards stories documenting human impact, positive or negative, on the environment.

“A good environment photograph should raise awareness about an issue, make you think and motivate you to take action. All made with beautiful composition, where I can also feel the photographer cares about the topic,” she added.

Long-Term Projects

Laura Boushnak, photographer; Martina Bacigalupo, photographer and photo editor; and Rodrigo Orrantia, curator; are the three professionals who shortlisted the 379 entries in the Long­-Term Projects category this year.

The category rewards projects on a single theme that have been shot over at least three different years. Rodrigo Orrantia said about this year’s entries: “I think what stood out the most was the variety of approaches to visual storytelling. Photographers in general, but specifically photojournalists and press photographers, are discovering new ways of telling stories visually. Some entries stood out because their visual language was really sophisticated, which is a very exciting change from the classic press photography tradition.”

He shared his judging criteria: “I was looking for a narrative arch. A project that takes the audience on a journey, with a beginning and a development over time, especially projects shot over many years, where you can understand the subjects and empathize with them, and see the world through their eyes, not just the photographer's. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do, for a photographer to really connect with the universe of the story,” he added. 


Eladio Fernandez, associate fellow at iLCP; Jo-Anne McArthur, photojournalist and founder of We Animals Media; and Lars Lindemann, director of Photography at GEO, are the 2021 Photo Contest Nature jury. They selected the best single pictures and stories showing flora, fauna and landscapes in their natural state from the 1,278 single images and 210 stories entered to the contest.

“Nature and environment photography can be created to educate us about the fragility of our world, and inspire us to protect it. I looked for images that were unique but that also had the power to make us think, care, and act,” said Jo-Anne McArthur.

As in other categories, the COVID-19 pandemic and global travel restrictions had an impact on the Nature photography produced in 2020. “Due to the pandemic, photographers had to make the most of shooting near home. They turned their attention to the flora and fauna in their own neighborhoods and nearby forests and fields. It’s inspiring that we don’t have to board a plane and head somewhere exotic to make jaw-droppingly beautiful images. And how lovely that the side effect of that is that we’re protecting nature in this way, by focusing locally and flying less,” explains McArthur.


Brent Lewis, photo editor at The New York Times and co-founder of Diversify Photo; Krystle Wright, photographer and director; and Silvia Izquierdo, chief photographer of Associated Press Brazil, reviewed the 1,633 images and 289 stories submitted to the Sports category.

In 2020, sports events were cancelled, postponed, or held without an audience, and the jury could see that back in the Sports category this year. “After a year like 2020, there was no doubt that there was going to be an interesting collection of entries,” said Krystle Wright.

She explained what she was looking for when judging: “Whilst keeping an eye on technicality and topics that were newsworthy of the past 12 months, ultimately I was looking for unique entries. As a judge, I want to be surprised, challenged, and completely enamored with a photograph or story. Too often the sports category is inundated with cliche topics where the photographer relies too heavily on the subject to carry them through. But when a photographer has immersed themselves into a situation that reveals intimacy into a story or by planning and luck of being in the right place for that spectacular action moment, it becomes a clear standout entry as it's not an easy task to bring all the elements together.”


The portraits category of the World Press Photo Contest rewards single pictures or stories of individuals or groups either in observed or posed portraits. The three professionals judging the Portraits category this year were Caroline Hunter, picture editor at Guardian Weekend; Luisa Dörr, photographer; and Omar Victor Diop, visual artist and photographer.

“A good portrait is the fruit of an interaction between the subject and the photographer. That interaction, in my opinion, must be felt in the image. A portrait should be opinionated, but it should not be prying. I like a portrait that is a ‘joint statement’ from the people on both sides of the camera. Emotions are also an important ingredient of a good portrait,” explains Omar Victor Diop.

This year, 3,494 single images and 824 stories were entered, with the pandemic being one of the main protagonists here too. “I found that although the pandemic and its impact on all aspects of life was the most common topic, the interpretations and creative ways in which the photographers took on that topic offered a great diversity. This finding is also relevant when it comes to the issue of racial justice and social progress around the world,” said Diop.


Akili-Casundria Ramsess, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA); Francis Kokoroko, photographer; and Nicole Tung, photojournalist; shortlisted the entries in the General News and Spot News categories of the 2021 World Press Photo Contest.

“What stood out the most in what was an unprecedented year in our history, were the photos that really told the story of just how upended our collective lives were. It was the images that found the essence of how humanity had to adapt and evolve in a distinctly uncertain time - whether that was because of the pandemic, or through social justice movements - those that really moved, and touched,” explains Nicole Tung.

The General News category rewards single pictures or stories reporting on news topics and their aftermaths. This year, photographers submitted 5,538 single images and 1,000 stories to this category.

The Spot News category recognizes single pictures or stories witnessing news moments or immediate events. 1,404 single images and 219 stories were entered into the category in 2021.

Nominees announced 10 March

The 2021 Contests nominees will be announced on 10 March 2021. The winners will be revealed on 15 April 2021 during an online awards show ceremony.

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