WHAT SUBJECT MATTER IS
ACCEPTABLE IN NATURE IMAGES?
The “primary subject matter” of acceptable Nature images can be divided into two broad categories—organisms (such as mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and plants) and inanimate things (such as geological features and natural phenomena). Some of these subjects are not acceptable in Wildlife images.
The Nature definition limits the subject matter of Nature images to “natural
There is no universally accepted definition of “natural history”, although it is often considered to be the study of plants and animals in their natural environment. However, the Nature definition allows images from “all branches of natural history” so it permits images from fields such as botany, zoology, geology and astronomy. However, the Nature definition specifically excludes images from the fields of
anthropology and archaeology.
Anthropology is the study of humankind (including culture, society and difference). Archaeology is the study of human activity in the past. So any image that is a study of humankind, past or present, is not acceptable in Nature competitions.
The Nature definition requires organisms in Nature images to be “extant”.
Extant means “still existing”. It is a term commonly used in biology to refer to groups of organisms (such as species or families) that are still alive as opposed to being extinct. For example, the Tasmanian devil is extant, the Tasmanian tiger is extinct.
Although most Nature images will depict living organisms, the
definition does not require an individual organism in an image to
be alive and the Wildlife definition specifically allows images of
“carcasses of extant species”.
The Nature definition requires the subject matter to be identifiable.
The way in which and image is captured and presented must render the subject identifiable by a “well-informed” person (for example, someone familiar with the type of plant being photographed). It must also be possible for such a person to verify that the image is an “honest presentation” of the subject matter.
Although there is no requirement for Nature images to show a complete organism, extreme close-up images of parts of an organism may not be readily identifiable and, if so, would not be permitted.
The definition requires the subject matter to be presented honestly. Any photographic process that results in a dishonest presentation of the subject matter is unacceptable. It would, for example, be dishonest to deliberately change the colour of a bird in a nature image.
The Nature definition excludes certain types of plants and animals.
Broadly speaking, the definition excludes images of animals or plants that were created by humans (for example, hybrids that have not occurred naturally) or which exist in their present form because of human intervention (cultivated plants, domestic animals or mounted specimens).
Hybrid plants or animals are those created by humans from two or
more different species. Hybrid plants are not permitted, so this
excludes most plants and flowers that you will find in domestic gardens.
Cultivated plants are those that exist because their ancestors were
taken from the wild and grown under some form of controlled
conditions (usually for the purpose of food). Selective breeding has
changed these plants over time. Cultivated plants are not permitted so,
for example, this excludes images of crops grown on farms.
Domestic animals are those that are kept by humans as a pet, work
animal, food source, or source of fibre such as wool. Domestic animals
are not permitted.
Mounted specimens are not permitted- no matter how life-like they
The Nature definition excludes feral animals.
A feral animal is one that has escaped from a domestic situation and is
living wild; or one that is descended from such animals. For example,
in Australia there are feral dogs, cats, pigs, horses, cattle, donkeys,
camels, goats, buffalo, deer, pigeons, and many other species. The fact
that an animal is "wild" and "living in the wild" does not necessarily
make it an acceptable subject in a Nature photography competitions.
Zoologists make a distinction between feral animals and introduced species. Introduced species are those that were never domesticated but which now exist in locations other than where they originated, often because they were brought there by humans. Examples in Australia are foxes, rabbits and cane toads. It is quite common for many introduced species (such as rabbits and foxes) to be referred to
as “feral” but, strictly speaking they are not feral if they are not descendant from domesticated ancestors. The Nature definition does not exclude images of introduced species.
The Nature definition allows images of landscapes and geologic formations.
Geology has many sub-fields of study and there is nothing in the definition to suggest that any areas of geology should be excluded. Therefore, acceptable subjects include:
• Landscapes and seascapes (that do not contain any human elements unrelated to the nature story).
• Landforms resulting from natural weathering and erosion.
• Rivers, lakes and waterfalls.
• Rock structures.
• Volcanoes, various forms of lava, boiling mud pools and geysers.
• Minerals and naturally formed crystals.
Images of gemstones, crystals, rocks or other geological objects that have been reshaped by humans are not acceptable in Nature competitions.
The Nature definition allows images of natural forces and weather phenomena.
The definition gives hurricanes and tidal waves as examples of natural forces. Other examples could include:
• Atmospheric and weather phenomena (including rainbows, lightning, cloud formations and auroras).
• Extreme weather events such as heavy seas, floods, dust storms, cyclones and tornadoes.
• Earthquakes and tsunamis.
• Rain, snow or hail.
The Nature definition limits the presence of human elements.
The definition permits “human elements” in Nature images under just three circumstances:
(a) When the human elements are “integral parts of the nature story”.
(b) When the human elements are present in an image depicting natural forces.
(c) Scientific banding, tagging and radio collars.
This image is acceptable because the brick wall is an
integral part of the nature story. The image shows how
the wasp has adapted its behaviour to utilise the human
Different judges are likely to interpret this part of the
Nature definition in different ways. For example, this
image clearly contains a 'human element' (the fence) and
the question becomes "is the fence an integral part of the
I believe that the answer is "Yes" because this is a male
trying to attract a mate with his song and the logical thing
for him to do is sing from the highest vantage point he
could find. The fence happens to be running through
grassland where there were no trees - so he took
advantage of the 'human element' and it effectively became part of the nature story. However, a judge viewing this image would not be aware of the background story and may score the image low because of the fence.
This document was last updated on 8th May 2019. Please email me if you find any errors or wish to make any suggestions for improvement.