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Lockdown dives produce winning nature snap of leafy seadragon

Patrick McDonald, September 2, 2021 6:30PM News Corp Australia Network

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This image, called Dance at Dawn, captures two kangaroos playing on the beach. It was taken by UK photographer Michael Eastwell at Cape Hillsborough National Park in Queensland. Picture: Michael Eastwell/SA Museum media_cameraThis image, called Dance at Dawn, captures two kangaroos playing on the beach. It was taken by UK photographer Michael Eastwell at Cape Hillsborough National Park in Queensland. Picture: Michael Eastwell/SA Museum


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An unscheduled stay led to a unique bond between artist and subject for the winning entry in the 2021 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition.

Camouflaged* in a shallow reef off South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, the leafy seadragon came to trust NSW photographer Scott Portelli’s presence during multiple diving sessions.

It is among an array of stunning images – from silhouetted* boxing kangaroos, to an airborne whale and a kookaburra family huddling in the snow – in this year’s finalists exhibition.

media_cameraScott Portelli was named the overall winner for his shot, Leafy Night, of a leafy seadragon at Second Valley in South Australia. Picture: Scott Portelli/SA Museum

Mr Portelli took his $10,00 prize-winning photograph, titled Leafy Night, during March 2020, when the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions halted his planned year-long journey around Australia.

“The nationwide lockdown was declared and we were stuck for six weeks at a small campground in the Fleurieu Peninsula. This ended up being a blessing in disguise,” he said.

“After several encounters with one particular seadragon it appeared to become unperturbed* by my presence and I was able to compose* a shot that tightly captured its eyes, features and appendages* front on.”

Competition judges Narelle Autio, Trent Parke and Stavros Pippos said Mr Portelli’s image “transformed the seadragon from a tiny sea creature into the illusion* of a mythical* beast”.

Mr Portelli said he wanted to show the creature’s intricate* details in a different way.

“I wanted to capture the essence* of this delicate* and vulnerable* species that are only found in the south of Australia,” he said.

“The more we understand the ocean and its inhabitants the more people will feel connected and take action to protect our ocean creatures.”

media_cameraThis shot, by Rachelle Mackintosh, is called In-flight Entertainment and captures a humpback whale calf breaching in Sydney Harbour. Picture: Rachelle Mackintosh/SA Museum
media_cameraPhotographer Jordan Robbins used a slow shutter speed for The Turtle Vortex, which shows a green sea turtle at Lady Elliot Island in Queensland Picture: Jordan Robins/SA Museum

The Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year is an annual competition that is open to photographers of all ages, skill levels and nationalities. It asks people to submit images of fauna, flora or landscapes in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and the New Guinea regions.

As well as Mr Portelli’s overall winning entry, 10 category winners and runners-up were announced for 2021. Their shots are being exhibited at the SA Museum in Adelaide until October 31, before moving to the Australian Museum in Sydney until January 2022.



  • camouflaged: blended in with the surrounds and difficult to see
  • silhouetted: show as a dark shape or outline against a brighter background
  • unperturbed: not worried or concerned
  • compose: create
  • illusion: idea or belief that is not real
  • mythical: imaginary, not real
  • appendages: parts that are added or attached to something larger or more important
  • intricate: very complex or detailed
  • essence: the most important part of something
  • delicate: fragile, easily damaged
  • vulnerable: at risk of being harmed


Nature’s fury and beauty captured in winning photos

Snapshots capture happy quokkas

How to be a junior wildlife photographer


  1. What creature is the overall winning photograph of?
  2. What is the name of the photographer who took the photograph?
  3. What is the name of the winning photograph?
  4. Why did the photographer find himself stuck in South Australia?
  5. How often is the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition held?


1. Photo Gallery
What beautiful photographs were entered into this competition! If you had to choose three that you could hang in your family home, which three would they be? Give a description of them, why you love the photo and why you would choose to frame and hang them at your place. You can view more of the photographs at


Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: The Arts, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
Work out how many pictures are from each region or country.

Out of the total number of shortlisted entries how many are from Australia?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Mathematics

Beautiful Pictures with Beautiful Words
Imagine being either visually impaired or not able to see the beautiful pictures that come out of the National Geographic photo competition. Maybe you are on the phone to Nanna and you really want to share your favourite picture with her. How do you do it?

You need to describe it in clear and specific detail of course!

Let’s try: pick your favourite picture from the article and list four things that really stand out in it. Label these in order of 1-4, with No. 1 being the top highlight for you. Then under each feature you have chosen, list two reasons why it stands out to you.

Now you have enough key points, and the order in which to describe your favourite picture by sharing the features you really want to highlight.

Have a go at verbally describing your picture to a friend. Start by introducing which picture you selected (My favourite picture is …). Then continue by explaining your No. 1 feature with its two reasons why it stands out (I chose it because …). Use a time connection (next, then, secondly) or a reinforcing connective (furthermore, in addition to, as well as) to link to the next feature on your list. Continue on until you have explained all four features and why. How did it sound?

Mapping out the key points and then verbally practising your responses is a fantastic way to prepare to write. Try it on your next piece of text for school. I bet your teacher will be very impressed with your response.

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