• Alberta's Badlands

    Called “Alien World”, this photo of Alberta's Badlands in the winter won the grand prize in the Authentic Alberta Photo Contest. (Photo: Yu Sheng)

If you haven’t been lucky enough to visit Alberta, you may only think of it as the land of oil and mountains. But there’s much more to this picturesque province, with its vast and varied landscape. From bridges to city skylines to rugged wilderness full of wildlife, there’s plenty of visual eye candy and abundant photography opportunities.

This may be why there was a tremendous response to the Authentic Alberta Photo Contest. The tough job of narrowing down the thousands of entries to the few winners fell to our judging panel consisting of Nancy Smith, Travel Alberta's social media manager, Paul Politis, an Ottawa photographer and Canadian Geographic representative and Mike Beedell, a Chelsea, Que. photographer of stunning landscape and wildlife imagery.

The judges explain why the winning photos stood out.

Grand Prize winner: Alien World

NS: The Badlands are one of the most unique landscapes in Alberta. Although I've seen many captivating photos of the area taken in summer, this image was truly unique, with the snow accentuating the erosion. The colour and angle were both impactful and left a lasting impression with me.

PP: I like the veins of snow that lead the eye into the photograph, and the monochromatic colours. It certainly looks like an alien world!

MB: Alien World won the Grand Prize because of its excellent composition, intriguing erosion patterns and monochromatic colours. The snow that fills in the eroded soil turns nature’s patterns into trees or river basins in the imagination.

(Photo: Victor Liu)

Travel Portraits winner: Camping on the Edge

NS: Banff National Park is an iconic destination. This travel portrait taken at night offers a unique pairing of the beautiful landscape and stunning starry sky, highlighting the Milky Way. I loved how the person is so captivated by the spectacular scene before him instead of retreating for the night to his tent.

PP: Great long exposure. The orange tent stands out nicely against the blue, and the beam of light directs you to appreciate the starry sky.

MB: The image offers a sense of exploration and awe at watching a night sky while camped in an inspiring landscape. Yet, there is a subtle reference to humanity — perhaps a few hours' walk away — in the distance where a town glows in the bottom third of the photograph.

(Photo: Robert Berdan)

Authentic Experiences winner: Can’t Lose my Hat

NS: This photo captured the small town rodeo experience to perfection! Rodeo cowboys are brave souls and the horses are solid competitors in the rodeo venue. I love the energy and perfect timing of this photo.

PP: The photographer tripped the shutter at the perfect time to capture this funny photo.

MB: It is a superb decisive moment shot of a quintessential Albertan activity — rodeo riding! The bucking bronco’s muscles are in full flex as the cowboy is catapulted towards an unknown landing (and likely many visits to his chiropractor). Note the cowboy’s elegant style of holding onto his hat as he performs his ass-over-teakettle descent to earth.

(Photo: Jana Sneep)

Wildlife in Alberta winner: Hungry Starling

NS: I have never seen starlings as close as this photographer was able to get in this beautiful image. The colour and designs in the feathers are stunning!

PP: An example of a photo snapped at the exact right time. It really communicates how hungry they are!

MB: It’s wonderful depiction of a bird’s habitat and the coming of a new and hungry generation. Starlings, who are often considered a lowly bird, are beautifully depicted here. Note all the beautiful colour details on the parent’s feathers and the yearning of the chicks for a mouthful of whatever goodies the parent is about to regurgitate into their mouths. But not before the starling takes one more look at the photographer to make sure the best profile is captured!

(Photo: Victor Liu)

Breathtaking Landscapes winner: Starry Night

NS: The location of this photo is Abraham Lake and the photographer was able to capture the incredible night sky, star trails and mystical frozen bubbles that are so interesting. The combination of these elements made this an incredible, breathtaking landscape for me.

PP: Great long exposure with a nice sense of motion thanks to the star trails.

MB: Starry Night wins the Breathtaking Landscapes category with a superb time-exposure capturing the starlight trails above a frozen alpine lake. The razor sharp details of the air bubbles in the frozen ice, the feeling of solitude and the magic of camping in wild places is all conveyed here.

To see the runner-up and honourable mention photos, visit the Authentic Alberta Photo Contest website.