Smithsonian Nature’s Best Photography Event at the National Museum of Natural History

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Henry, the enormous African elephant stood strong and proud while animals from his homeland, and other places far and wide, were projected around the rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C. It was the evening of November 15th, nine days ago and there was a sense of magic in the air!

A Florida manatee was included. My photograph of a Florida manatee and schooling snapper was a Highly Honored winner and will now hang in the Smithsonian for a year!

Myself and my husband Theo Grant, by my manatee photograph in the Nature’s Best Photography–Windland Smith Rice International Awards. ©️Nature’s Best Awards 2018

I’m thrilled to see it in the museum and also glad it is hung low where children can easily engage with it.

“From the wild to the walls of the Smithsonian”. That was the “button” that lured me to enter this competition. It’s all about having millions of people view your photograph and to raise awareness for conservation of little-known animals. The Florida manatee is special as it is America’s treasure. But living mostly in Florida, the world’s understanding of the endangered manatee is lacking. It’s been over eleven years since a photograph of manatees hung in this exhibit. It’s about time more information of their fascinating and beautiful lives these marine mammals lead is spread.

A little girl questioned me about the manatee and her brother still seems interested! Taken shortly before our awards event on Nov. 15, 2018.

Snow! Did you know it snowed the morning of the event? Snow is not unknown in Wash. D.C., but snow a week before Thanksgiving is very unusual. A couple of the organizers said they were worried and, yes, unfortunately a few flights were canceled, but all in all most participants arrived and the weather only bolstered the enthusiasm!

Living in Florida, I look at us as “snow deprived nerds”. I had to video the view out of our hotel window at 7am!

Weather people said the evening before that snow wouldn’t fall in the DC metro area. Our hotel was a mile from the Capitol. It snowed for a few hours!

We arrived on Tuesday so the snow didn’t effect us, aside from having to take a Lyft instead of walking on Thursday. Later in the afternoon I had an appointment to be interviewed, on camera, by the Smithsonian Channel. We gave ourselves plenty of time to arrive at the TV station’s headquarters in DC, near DuPont Circle, and I’m glad we did!

While waiting in a meeting room at the Smithsonian Channel, I was excited to talk with Arby Lipman who photographed the whimsical elephant giving itself a dust bath. It won the African Wildlife category. Then shortly afterwards a young man entered with his mother. I shook his hand he said his name was”Robert”, but I didn’t totally get it…? So he repeated it and said it must be the Australian accent. Oh my, now I recognized him as Robert Irwin, son of Steve Irwin! And of course that was his mom, Terri Irwin! Then I remembered the beautiful Highly Honored tundra swan image I had admired so. It was his! Somehow I hadn’t put the photographer’s name and connected it with him, but now it all came together! He and his mom were going to be interviewed right after me. There was still time to wait so Robert asked me what image was mine and I said the manatee and he and Terri enthusiastically expressed how much they liked that image. Then Terri told of a story when Steve Irwin encountered a manatee in Florida and what a special experience it was. Marc Dantzker, from the Smithsonian Channel, joined us and the conversation was certainly interesting! When I left to do my interview my husband Theo really enjoyed talking with the Irwins.

Myself and Robert Irwin in front of his Highly Honored tundra swan in the Youth category.And Robert was excited to get a photo next to my manatee also! He’s extremely and genuinely kind!

Right before the awards event, we gathered with guests in the Sant Ocean Hall of the Natural History Museum. My husband Theo took this photograph of folks having drinks and hors d’oeuvres under the hanging skeletons.

Mingling beneath the bones in the Sant Ocean Hall, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Then the main event! Here’s how the hall looked with projections during the touching tribute to Windland “Wendy” Smith-Rice.

Epson projected some of the images in the rotunda and these owls even blinked! Stunning! ©️Nature’s Best Awards 2018Stephen Freligh, from Nature’s Best Photography, recalled his apprehension when the unexpected early-season snow suddenly appeared that morning! ©️Nature’s Best Awards 2018

All was well though and the big event was a complete success. Here’s me, speaking and a recording my husband made sitting in the audience.

I conveyed a greeting from the manatees in warm sunny Florida! Note I’m wearing a manatee necklace. ©️Nature’s Best Awards 2018The winning closeup of a gray whale by Claudio Contreras Koob is projected above me. The other awarded Ocean Views photographers that could attend are standing by me, Wowie Cai and Young-Sen Wu. ©️Nature’s Best Awards 2018Relaying greetings from the Florida manatees. Video by my husband.

Here’s Robert Irwin’s acceptance speech for his Highly Honored tundra swam image in the Youth category.

Carol, Terri and Robert Irwin at the Nature’s Best Photography Awards event at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Carol, Catherine Dobbins D’Alessio (Plains Zebras) and another awarded photographer in the front row. ©Natures Best Awards 2018

My award plaque and a fox cookie from the event.

The hard-working Stephen Freligh from Nature’s Best with myself. Thank you Steve!

I wanted to meet the photographer who took this blanket octopus image. I love it! Wowie Cai, I enjoyed meeting you too.

An underwater photographer friend in Australia, Vanessa Mignon, couldn’t make it but I sent her this photo of Henry the elephant enjoying her awarded humpback whales, projected.

Terri Irwin was kind enough to give her thoughts on my manatee image.

After all the awards were given out to category winners and highly honored photographers we went upstairs to see the exhibit. Here are two videos to give you an idea, a quick walk-through of the exhibit.

OK, I hope you all enjoyed this synopsis of the 23rd Annual Nature’s Best Photography – Windland Smith Rice International Awards. There is a lot more than this! I’m afraid I’ve only scratched the surface.

And thanks for caring about manatees everyone! Go see the exhibit in our Nation’s Capital. It is there until September 2019, it’s FREE and Kid Friendly! For more information on the exhibit, awarded photographers and videographers, an overview video of the images, etc. please visit:

Nature’s Best Photography

23rd annual Nature’s Best Photography Awards Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Best, Carol