Photo Contest

Sixth Annual Photography Contest: Nature Nearby

Helping Hoosiers Find New Parks, Nature Preserves, and Agritourism Adventures

Our theme this year is: Nature Next Door. More on that below, plus loads of details about the contest!

Ready to enter your photo? Click here to enter!

NEW THIS YEAR: Kid-friendly age categories (and Separate Winners for Youth and Adults). 

Kids 18 and under can enter the youth contest. Folks 19 and older must enter the adult contest.  See information below for category descriptions.  We’ll judge each age group entries separately with each age group receiving their own “best in show” and grand prize.  Photos will be included in the online and travelling exhibit!

Last year’s grand prize was a youth entry by Joshua Chastain.  He writes:  “To me, the photo contest was a big opportunity.  I really had a lot of fun creating the photo.  I learned how important Earth Day was.”  

Amateur photographers of all ages can submit photos these categories:

  • Barns, crops, and livestock
  • Forests, creeks, and wetlands
  • Wildlife and wildflowers (or other flora)
  • People in nature
  • Architecture in nature (how architecture and nature have been combined)

More about Our Theme: Nature Next Door!

We want you to find new places to explore to capture just the right photograph…or how your family ended up exploring a new place together by accident. This year, we’re leaning into Hoosier’s desire to explore new places. With COVID-19, people are sticking close to home (which is good!). Visiting natural areas (state parks, nature preserves, etc.) and agritourism sites (like pumpkin patches, vineyards, and other outdoor farm destinations) offers one of the safest options for still being adventurous amidst the pandemic. Hence our theme for the 2021/22 contest and exhibit: Explore Next Door. Our contest will challenge you to visit a new place, start snapping photos, and consider how natural beauty contributes to your community. 

Click here for an interactive map of public natural areas you can explore in southeast Indiana.

And:

Click here agritourism sites like pumpkin patches, vineyards, and more.

Four Rules for Youth and Adult Entries:

1. The photo must be taken by an amateur photographer and in Indiana, ideally at a place you visited for the first time.
2. The goal of this year’s contest is to help Hoosiers think about natural areas close to home to consider how natural beauty contributes to your relationship with nature and your community.
3. Deadline to enter is October 31, 2021.
4. You’re welcome to submit multiple photos!

More about the Categories:

  • Barns, crops, and livestock  (Take pictures of barns, crop plants/fields, or farm animals in a natural setting.)
  • Forests, creeks, and wetlands  (Take pictures of leaves, bark, trees-dead or alive, etc.; water features such as waterfalls, running water in creeks, creek beds/rocks, reflections in water, etc.; standing water areas such as ponds, lakes, puddles, etc.)
  • Wildlife and wildflowers (or other flora) (Take pictures of animals, such a insects, birds, fish, snakes, tracks, frogs/toads/salamanders, spiders, worms, snails, furry animals, etc. and plants or things like plants, such as wildflowers, fallen leaves, mushrooms, lichen, fruit, seeds, etc.)
  • People in nature  (Take pictures of people participating in nature such as hiking, boating, journaling, painting, dreaming, playing, cloud watching, sit spotting, etc.)
  • Architecture in nature (how architecture and nature have been combined)  (Take pictures of objects that have a natural use to them and in a natural setting, even if they are man-made, such as a bee house, bird house, rock walls, gardens for nature, or even natural architecture examples such as homes made by animals, nests, crawdad stacks, fallen trees that provide a structural use, etc.)

To enter, simply fill out this short form and upload your photo. If you have any problems uploading your photo, email [email protected].

How the Contest Works

Our judges will select winners by the end of the year, and we will exhibit the winners this winter – look for an online exhibit and a traveling exhibit, too! Details to come on our photo exhibit venues.  


The twelve photos (six from youth and six from adults) will be selected for our traveling exhibit will be blown up and mounted. These “Best of Show” photographers will receive their mounted photo as a prize at the end of the travelling exhibits. During the exhibits, we will ask the public to vote for a Grand Prize youth entry and a Grand Prize adult entry. The two Grand Prize winning photos will receive a one-year membership to Oak Heritage Conservancy.


The photo contest is made possible by a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

The contest and exhibit are a partnership with Oak Heritage Conservancy (we create nature preserves in southeast Indiana) and George Rogers Clark Land Trust (they’re a community group that focuses on protecting working farmland in southern Indiana). Many thanks to the Boards of both groups for all of their hard work making this contest and exhibit a reality!

2020 Grand Prize Winner + Hoosiers Weigh in on Making “Earth Day Every Day”

Grand Prize Winning photo by Joshua Chastain. Joshua is a middle school student who wants to be a wildlife biologist when he grows up.

“Everyone can do something to help care for the earth each day.”

“I want a better earth for future generations.”

Over 200 area residents shared their opinions in a recent survey about conservation and nature. They talked about ways they help protect the natural world every day, from the basics, like recycling and using less water, to projects like planting more native trees and shrubs around their home, adding native wildflowers to their flower beds, supporting conservation with their votes, or installing solar panels.

The survey was part of Oak Heritage Conservancy’s annual Nature and Farm Photo Contest. While voting for a grand prize winner, residents also weighed in with their thoughts about the year’s theme, “Earth Day Every Day.”

“We know this survey isn’t a complete cross section of Indiana, but we were still encouraged by how many Hoosiers told us they value protecting natural areas and open spaces like small family farms,” says Liz Brownlee, Executive Director of Oak Heritage. The nonprofit protects natural areas across southeast Indiana, and opens them to hikers, birdwatchers, and other visitors. Their partners on the project, George Rogers Clark Land Trust, protect working farmland.

Each year, the two groups host a Nature and Farm Photo Contest to get Hoosiers thinking about how natural areas and farms contribute to the beauty and character of Indiana. This year, they added a “Youth” category – and the Grand Prize Winner was actually a youth entry. Joshua Chastain, of Westport, is entering seventh grade this Fall. His photo earned the top spot out of 27 photos featured in the online exhibit (photos below).

Joshua wants to be a wildlife biologist when he grows up. He loves wildlife of all sorts – especially turtles. His winning photo was a close up of a turtle native to Indiana, a red-eared slider. Joshua takes the “Earth Day Every Day” pledge to heart.

“I save turtles and crawdads when I see them on the road by picking them up and moving them the direction they are going. I also catch insects, fish, and other creatures and study them.  Then I release them.”

Joshua’s mom, Jennifer Chastain, said “I am amazed at Joshua’s love of nature and his natural gift with spotting unusual and rare wildlife and plants.  He also has an uncanny knack for handling insects, frogs, toads, and other animals without harming them.   My husband, Derek, teaches Biology and has encouraged him to explore nature.  There are a lot of other adults and teachers in Joshua’s life that encourage him to learn about and love nature also.” 

Joshua wasn’t the only one to take on an “Earth Day Every Day” challenge. After voting for a Grand Prize Winner, area residents also selected a challenge that fit their lives. Most people decided to plant native trees, shrubs or wildflowers – or visit the farmer’s market to buy local food.

“Eating local is a super way to care for the planet,” says Brownlee. “Most food travels over 1,500 miles to get to our plates. That doesn’t make any sense when farmers here in Indiana are growing lots of good food, from vegetables to honey, meat, popcorn, mushrooms and more. And a lot of those small farmers really love the land where they farm. They care for wildlife habitat on their land, including forests and wetlands. We can reduce our ‘food miles’ and the carbon emissions all that hauling creates – and support local farmers who are caring for the land on family farms. Plus, it tastes so much better when it’s fresh!”

If people want to celebrating Earth Day Every Day, Oak Heritage hosts programs around southeast Indiana, including hikes and other events on their preserves. On July 21, they will host a volunteer event building trails at Webster Woods Nature Preserve in Lexington, Indiana. To RSVP, visit www.oakheritageconservancy.org/events.

The photo contest is made possible by the Indiana Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

2020 Best in Show Photos


2019 Contest Results: Hoosiers Say Nature Matters to Their Communities

“We all need to be outside. Nature is our foundation.”

“Natural areas are a getaway. They give us time to unplug and be free.”

“Having nature and somewhere to explore nature makes the community more beautiful.”

“Nature adds to the whole grand picture of life.”

“Protecting greenspace areas is critical to improving and maintaining high quality of life. It inspires play, exercise and overall well-being.”

Photo by Sheena Grim

These are just a few of the quotes from the 1,292 Hoosiers who voted for a Grand Prize Winner in Oak Heritage Conservancy’s annual Nature and Farm Photo Contest.

This year’s entries showed kids playing in a clear creek on the family farm, a tree swallow feeding its young at a wildlife refuge, old barns with a sunset in the background, the milky way above a covered bridge, and other common – but beautiful – sites from around Indiana.

The Grand Prize winning photo was submitted by Sheena Grim of New Albany. Her photo shows sunrise over a foggy Ohio River, with a metal bridge in the background.

“Nature allows everyone to relax,” says Grim. “Taking pictures of nature allows me to take a break from my busy life.” Her photo received almost 200 votes. Clearly, she caught people’s attention by focusing on this intersection between people and nature.

When people voted for their favorite photo, they were also invited to chime in about how they thought nature contributed to their community.

“We believe whole-heartedly that nature is part of what makes a community special, but we were curious what others thought,” says Liz Brownlee, Executive Director of Oak Heritage. The group has nature preserves scattered around southeast Indiana. Some of the preserves include amenities for the community, like hiking trails and regular nature events.

Natural areas, trails, and other natural amenities can be part of a community’s “sense of place,” says Brownlee.

“Sense of place” is a relatively new idea, but basically, it’s what makes a community stand out. It’s the mix of the land, the history, the people, the art, the farms, the stores, the stories, and the natural world that are unique to that place.”

“People want to spend time in communities that have a sense of place,” she adds, either as visitors or residents. These communities often have a mixture of the arts, public walking trails, parks, independent restaurants, a sense of history, community events, and more.

Photo by Steve Robert Simmons

One question the survey asked was: “Do you think protecting more natural areas can help a community’s ‘sense of place’”? Over 95 percent of people said yes.

“This definitely is not a scientific survey,” says Brownlee. “But we’re encouraged that so many Hoosiers spoke up and said that nature is a key part of what makes their communities strong – and that they want to protect more special places in their communities.”

People can turn that desire into action by getting involved with conservation says Andy Kain, president of Oak Heritage Conservancy.

“Our members fuel conservation in southeast Indiana. Their $25 and $40 memberships add up, and they help create nature preserves, hiking trails, and nature programs for kids.”

Anyone can join their group – and each year, the Grand Prize Winner of the photo contest receives a membership as their prize.

“Sheena is joining a growing community of nature-lovers,” says Kain. “We hope that many more people will follow her lead. Right now, we’re the first 50 new members to join get a free, limited edition Oak Heritage t-shirt so that they can tell the world that they value nature in their community.”

Oak Heritage protects natural areas, like forests and wetlands, that are free for the public to visit and enjoy. They have nature preserves with hiking trails and host nature events, like butterfly walks and scavenger hunts. Their partner on the photo contest, George Rogers Clark Land Trust, helps farmers protect their land as working farmland.

The photo contest is made possible by the Indiana Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


Oak Heritage Conservancy protects the special places that make southeast Indiana unique – and we host programs that get people outside in nature.

Click to learn more about the natural areas we’ve protected forever, for you to enjoy or to learn about our upcoming events in nature. Or better yet – get involved with our conservation work. You can help protect the special places in southeast Indiana.

George Rogers Clarks helps farmers protect their land from development and subdivision. Learn more at https://www.grclt.org/.

The photo contest is made possible by the Indiana Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Many thanks to the these groups for making the arts come alive in southeast Indiana.