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Open competition: our favourites

3 years ago

© Kevin Frank, Switzerland, Shortlist, Landscape, Shortlist, Open competition, Architecture, Sony World Photography Awards 2021

The results of the Open competition is one of the most highly anticipated announcements in the Sony World Photography Awards calendar, with photographers from a vast range of backgrounds and expertise taking part. Acknowledging the most striking standalone images that highlight the beauty of our world, the Open competition really is a celebration of the democractic nature of photography as it stands today. More than 330,000 images were entered into this year’s Awards with photographers from across 220 countries and territories taking part across the four competitions. Just over 165,000 images were entered into the 2021 Open competition with 130 images making the cut.

We've decided to pick out and highlight some of our favourites from the shortlist across the competition's ten categories which we feel not only present 2020 in a visually engaging way, but teach us more about the world we live in. Take a few moments to enjoy these photographs and their power to inform, delight and even alter our preconceptions. 

A phenonmen of 2020 was COVID compatible concerts. Wehn restrictions eased in the summer and nations were in need of some live culture, many attended drive-thru performances. Holger Bücker documents Christof Stein-Schneider from the band Fury in the Slaughterhouse during a such an event in Hannover. The band played in front of about 1,000 cars, with indicators, warning lights and high beams replacing applause. The flag you see to the right of the frame was designed by the contemporary artist Andora to honour Christof’s positive impact on society. His influence has continued throughout Germany's lockdowns. 

When the headlines weren't dominated by the devastation of the pandemic it was – in the last part of the year – covered with stories and events relating to the American politics and the election. This jublient image by photojournalist Vytenis Jankūnas shows a young woman celebrating Joe Biden's win in a fountain by Washington Square Park in New York.  

Confined to our homes for the majority of the year, many people around the world turned to creativity for solace. Feeling the clinical blue colour of surgical gloves was a prominent colour throughout 2020, frustrated photographer Tatenda Chidora from Zimbabawe used this PPE to comment on the impact the pandemic has had on some people's mental health. 

While stadiums might have been empty of crowds they were still filled with matches and all the dramas that go with play. Take for example Greek photographer Michail Karagiannis' revealing portrait of professional footballer Alexandros Paschalakis, goalkeeper with Thessaloniki’s PAOK FC, who takes off his jersey after an accident during a match with Panathinaikos in Athens.

Street photography is all about capturing a chance encounter or a random incident within a public place, normally often offering a glimpse into human life. We felt Hersley-Ven Casero from the Philippines' photograph of a group of friends cooling off from the blistering sun by leaping into the ocean at Bantayan Beach, Dumaguete City encapsulated what makes a standout street image. 'I regularly pass by this spot on the lookout for a good shot, as it’s a popular hangout for these active and fearless local kids.'


Many parents were hurled in home schooling last year, having to quickly learn how to balance work and their children's education and 24 hour care. Serkan Çolak's peaceful image of their child at play in a tent they had made out of a parachute is a reminder of those precious respites. We loved the slight trompe l'oeil quality of this monochrome photo, as well as underlying mystery. 

Setting creative limitations on your practice can help to achieve focus. As many of us became familiar with our parks and nearby scenic routes in 2020, which refined many photographers' eye and knowledge on their local area, as Swiss photographer Alexandre Pietra can testify: 'I discovered this mandarin duck in the calm water of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Day after day, I would wait on a small bridge for the moment when this colourful bird would be right under me. After a few days, this magnificent spectacle happened.'

'This boy was alone during Porto’s Black Lives Matter protests, and I could feel the emotion in his eyes,' says Portuguese photographer Jose Pessoa Neto. 'When I look at this image, I can recall the intensity that existed on that day.' The killing of George Floyd by a police officier catalysed widespread anti-racist protests around the world this summer. Calling for racial equality and an end to systemic racism, people of all ages went out to march on the streets. 

We always enjoy a humourous shot depicting daily life in the Open competition Street Photography category and David Keith Brown's image didn't disappoint. Taken at an outdoor beauty shop of sorts in Bangkok, Thailand, Brown tells us how 'These women had just had long eyelashes glued in place, and were sealing them in place with hairdryers and fans. Both the composition and lighting seemed lovely, so I snapped the scene up close.'



The Open competition rewards striking standalone images highlighting the beauty of our world. Photographers could submit up to three images across ten categories and the photos were chosen for their power to communicate a visual narrative with excellent technical and creative skills. 

Open Photographer of the Year is selected from the ten category winners and is awarded $5,000, global exposure and Sony digital imaging kit. The winner will be announced via a specially commissioned programme featuring all of the overall winners hosted by art historian Jacky Klein and entertainer Nish Kumar on 15 April. The film A YEAR IN PHOTOS will be available to stream via the World Photography Organisation digital platforms - more information soon.