Our 2021 Selection process

Our goal is to showcase thought-provoking images that call attention to our impact and inspire us to live sustainably.  We recognise the intricate interconnected nature of development, poverty reduction, equality, security and climate action and the unprecedented effort from all sectors of society required to address the defining issues of our time.  We expect these images to be challenging and that many will raise tough but important issues such as environmental racism and exploitation.

There have been important questions raised regarding the staging of images selected for publication by the competition. While staging is not specifically barred in our 2021 competition rules and guidelines, the discussion on how our competition protects the rights and dignity of vulnerable populations is an important one that we take very seriously.

We also believe that our competition has a responsibility to promote robust and transparent informed ethical consent practices in photography. We invited feedback from stakeholders and we are having discussions internally and with industry experts regarding the specified guidelines and queries raised. We will give these discussions the time they require and deserve. Next, we will act to ensure that our policy on ethics in photography is clear, effective and that we have the processes and safeguards in place to support it.

In the interim, we can provide more transparency into what is taking place now:

  • We have reviewed all of this year’s selected images and are satisfied that they comply with the competition rules and guidelines for 2021.
  • When launching next year’s competition, we will publish our policy on ethics in photography with specific guidance for photographers on consent and ethical representation of vulnerable populations.
  • As part of our selection process, we will continue to closely review any shortlisted or exhibition images that depict vulnerable children before selection or publication.

We believe that providing leadership and education on respect for the rights and dignity of all people represented in imagery is an essential part of our responsibility as a photography platform. We appreciate the comments and perspective that we have received and the important dialogue this has encouraged. We will use this, and other review processes, to further develop our guidelines as appropriate.

If you would like to learn more, information about our 2021 selection process is included below. We understand that not everyone will agree and seek to continually improve our approach to the competition. We welcome and encourage feedback to this end.  If you would like to get in touch with us, please do contact us at epoty@ciwem.org.


2021 Winners selection process:

We selected a jury of 10 people from around the world comprised of professional photographers as well as leaders in environmental management. Learn more about their backgrounds here.

Our selection process consisted of 2 stages:

Stage 1:  Independent review and scoring

The jury members reviewed images that met the competition criteria as stated in the rules and conditions below and scored it on the following criteria. In this stage, each judge reviewed submissions independently. No information about the photographer was provided at any time to the jury during the selection process.


  • Impact – does it illustrate immediate, subtle or resonant messages?
  • Creativity – is it unusual, thoughtful, beautiful, subversive or ironic
  • Originality – is the subject treated differently and is the subject matter new
  • Composition – consider the perspective, balance, clarity of meaning and focus of statement
  • Relevance – consider current environmental issues
  • Technical quality – consider clarity, focus, lighting, exposure and colour

Points for each criterion are awarded by each jury member:

  • 1-4 points: little to no sign of criteria demonstrated
  • 5 – 7 points: evidence of criteria demonstrated to some degree
  • 8-10 points: outstanding submissions, criteria clearly demonstrated
Stage 2: Panel review and winner selection

The top scoring submissions moved to the final selection stage. All jury members met as a group to review and discuss the highest-scoring submissions in order of points awarded.  During this phase, the group came to a consensus on all category winners.

Rules and Guidelines

CIWEM’s Environmental Photographer of the Year competition in partnership with WaterBear aims to promote and reward excellence in international environmental photography, and to enhance the understanding of the causes, consequences of and solutions to climate change and social inequality.

Before entering, please read the Rules and Guidelines and Digital Specifications & Digital Adjustment Guidelines carefully as all entrants have to acknowledge acceptance of them during the online registration process.

1. Entries must be received by 11.59 BST on 14 August 2021 (‘the Closing Date’).  

2. Each entrant may enter up to ten (10) still photographs.

3. All photographs entered must have been completed since 01 January 2018.

4. Entries must be submitted as digital files only. For initial entry, all still photography images must be submitted as JPEGs, saved at a high quality level, with a maximum file size of 199MB. SEE DIGITAL SPECIFICATIONS SECTION BELOW FOR FURTHER DETAILS.

5. If shortlisted, entrants must be able to supply images as RAW files or original JPEGs. SEE DIGITAL SPECIFICATIONS BELOW FOR FURTHER DETAILS.

6. Entrants must be the sole author and owner of the copyright for all the entries they submit, or they must have obtained permission from the copyright holder to submit the entries on their behalf. A copy of any such written permission must be supplied to the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) on request.

7. The photographer retains the copyright to all their entries into the Environmental Photographer of the Year. The photographer will be credited. The photographer agrees that CIWEM will not be liable to the photographer in the event of inadvertent omission of the credit.

8. Do not add a signature to any entry as judging is done anonymously and entries with overlay signatures will be rejected.

9. It is the entrant’s responsibility to ensure that all the necessary permissions are obtained from people featured in the entry.

10. All entries, should be a faithful representation of the original scene and localised adjustments should be used appropriately. Some digital adjustment or editing is allowed, but entrants should understand that the objective is to remain faithful to the original experience, and to never deceive the viewer or misrepresent reality. SEE DIGITAL ADJUSTMENT GUIDELINES SECTION BELOW FOR FURTHER DETAILS.

11. Each entrant agrees to participate in related publicity and to the use of their name and entry for the purposes of advertising, promotion, exhibition, transmission and publicity of the competition and exhibition and CIWEM without additional compensation.

12. By entering the Competition, you grant CIWEM a non-exclusive sub-licensable licence to reproduce, publish, exhibit and communicate your entry to the public by exhibiting your entry through all media throughout the world for 10 (ten) years in relation to the Environmental Photographer of the Year competition and CIWEM’s charitable activities. This includes but is not limited to: the competition judging process; an exhibition and tour (including virtual); inclusion in an Environmental Photographer of the Year Exhibition catalogue or book; online galleries; private viewings, websites and microsites, corporate communications, on sponsor’s network platforms and apps, reports, promotional, press, PR and marketing activities including digital and social media (paid and organic) and press and marketing materials, educational support and brand ambassadors, all of which are associated with the Environmental Photographer of the Year and CIWEM’s charitable activities and public benefit remit; and associated merchandising. CIWEM is allowed to pass on any entry to online and print publications and to its sponsors including WaterBear, to be used either for editorial or image based promotion and exploitation only by CIWEM and its sponsors in relation to the Environmental Photographer of the Year, with full credit given to the photographer. CIWEM’s use of the photographs may further include third party licensing (including further licensing opportunities to sponsors) to generate revenue, however, in the event that CIWEM’s use is for ancillary purposes, it shall consult in good faith with the entrant about an appropriate share of revenue.

13. By entering the competition you accept that your entry may be exhibited by CIWEM or other exhibitions organised or attended by CIWEM and by the sponsors as part of the Environmental Photographer of the Year. CIWEM reserve the right to reproduce any entry for exhibition purposes.

14. CIWEM cannot accept liability for the misuse of entries and or failure of any third party to comply with the Environmental Photographer of the Year’s credit guidelines.

15. By entering the Competition you are granting CIWEM permission to sub-license its rights to Sponsors of the Competition under the same terms and conditions contained herein.

16. CIWEM may grant to its Sponsors of the Environmental Photographer of the Year competition (detailed on this website ) the right (including but not limited to) reproduce any entry from the exhibition in their own marketing, publications, use in exhibitions (including virtual), on websites, microsites, corporate communications, transmission on the WaterBear platform and its apps, reports, promotions, digital media, social media (paid and organic), private viewings, online galleries, press and PR, brand ambassadors, marketing, education support and the Sponsors promotion of their sponsorship of the Environmental Photographer of the Year.

17. Judges appointed by CIWEM will choose the exhibition and winners. The judges’ decision on all matters relating to the competition is final and binding and no correspondence will be entered into. During judging the judges reserve the right to move entries from one category to another where appropriate and not award any entry within a category.

18. CIWEM reserves the right to cancel this competition at any stage.

19. CIWEM reserves the right to amend, remove or introduce additional judging categories, including prizes and conditions, at any stage during the competition.

20. The competition is open to all international photographers, both amateur and professional, and of all ages.

21. It is the responsibility of each entrant into the competition to ensure they have read and abide by the General Rules. By submitting an entry, each entrant agrees to the General Rules, that their entry complies with the General Rules, and that they will be liable to the Owners and their licensees in respect of any damages or losses incurred as a breach of the General Rules by the entrant.

22. Any entrant found to not comply with the General Rules at any stage of the competition will be disqualified and any prizes will be forfeited.

23. The decision of CIWEM on all matters relating to the Competition is final and binding.

Anyone born on or after 31st July 2000 can enter this category. Only photographs taken by photographers within this age range can enter this category.

Proof of date of birth may be required upon request.

For entrants under 18 parental written permission must be received from the parent or guardian of the photographer upon request from CIWEM.

1.      The prize will be a Nikon Z 7II Camera and 3 Nikon lenses (detailed below)

2.      The Organiser reserves the right to change or otherwise amend the prize on grounds of reasonableness and fairness.

3.      The prizes are as stated, are not transferable to another individual and no cash or other alternatives will be offered.

4.      Nikon reserves the right to substitute the prize to an equal or greater value should circumstances make this necessary.

5.      Please allow 28 days for delivery of the prize subject to availability and sale start dates.


  • Nikon Z 7II
  • NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
  • NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S
  • NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S

The following guidelines explain the required specifications for each category at the different stages of the competition. Please ensure that your entries adhere to these guidelines. If any further queries, please check the HELP & FAQs section or contact CIWEM by email at epoty@ciwem.org.

• Initial entry: all still photographs must be submitted as JPEGs, saved at a high quality level with a maximum file size of 199MB. Each image file must be named with your surname, first name and brief title e.g. SmithJohn_Title.jpeg. Whilst image titles may be too long to be used as image names, a section of your title would be adequate.

• Proof of authenticity: original digital camera RAW files will be required if your image is shortlisted. Digital images captured as JPEG are allowed, providing the original un-retouched JPEG is available for inspection. Any work created from more than one original (e.g. stitched images), must be declared as such, and the original captured images should be available for inspection when requested.

• Printing: for printing in all media and for inclusion in an exhibition, a high-resolution image (preferably TIFF) will be requested if your image is selected.

The following digital adjustments are allowed:

• removal of sensor dust spots and chromatic aberration

• levels (in moderation)

• curves (in moderation)

• colour (in moderation)

• saturation (in moderation)

• contrast work (in moderation)

• shadow and highlights (in moderation)

• sharpening (including selective sharpening) in moderation

• cropping in moderation and as long as a suitable high-res TIFF file can be supplied for printing a large exhibition display

• dodging, burning and toning (in moderation)

• neutral density gradients (in moderation)

• removing lens vignetting

• panoramas i.e. panoramas created from several images that have been taken from the same location and at the same time, and then combined or stitched using digital techniques, and resulting in a wider view than can be achieved with most wide-angle lenses. (NB: stitched panoramas must be declared in caption information.)

• multiple exposures are only allowed if this is a feature of the camera and the result is one single file. Entrants must state in the caption if their image is a multiple exposure


The following digital adjustments are not allowed:

• adding or removing animals, parts of animals, plants, distractions, people etc.

• composites and sandwich shots that add elements.

• images that have been digitally manipulated outside of the allowed adjustments.

  • The personal data of entrants will be managed by CIWEM in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018.
  • CIWEM will collect personal data about entrants (and when applicable, parents/guardians) at the time of entry, and as otherwise provided in order to administer the competition and its associated activities only.  View CIWEM’s privacy policy at https://www.ciwem.org/privacy-policy.