The photos you loved most in 2022

By Nicky Catley, Photo Editor Australian Geographic December 20, 2022
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The stories behind the photos that ran riot on our social feeds this year.

In 2022 we shared images from some of the country’s leading photographers, and a slew of newcomers, on our social channels, and in return, you showered them with love.

The following images are the ones you couldn’t get enough of.

Eastern water dragon photographed on the Illawarra escarpment in NSW by Keelan Orrock.

“The water dragon brings the ancient natural world into the modern urban sphere,” says photographer Keelan Orrock. “It’s a nudge to the human species, a reminder that we share our spaces with creatures that have been here for 20-million-plus years. Being a common sight in most neighbourhoods with a water source, they were one of the first animals I became infatuated with. Seeing myself in the reflection of this dragon’s eye was a special moment. A reminder of where my love for the natural world started; as a kid chasing lizards through the bush, barefoot.

“I was walking through the rainforests that hug the base of the Illawarra escarpment, Dharawal/Wodi Wodi country. With only my macro lens in hand, I was crawling through the leaf litter searching for fungi to photograph. I glanced forward and was met with the soul-piercing stare of a large male eastern water dragon. His eye appeared as a ring of fire amongst the leaf litter, and being early morning and quite cool, he was in no rush to go anywhere. I had ample time to crawl nice and close, which presented an opportunity to capture all of the detail visible to the naked eye, and then some.

“I am a nature photographer and my work aims to draw elements of the natural world, which generally sit in our periphery. I split my time between artisan sourdough baking, nature photography and writing about the natural world. I have a deep connection to all elements of nature; flora, fauna and fungi. Capturing the magic of ecology in single images is my favourite type of photography. A blend of art and science.”


A fever of Australian cownose rays (Rhinoptera neglecta) and diver by Peter Hutchins, Cabbage Tree Bay in Manly.

“On an early morning dive in late June, a fever of cownose rays appeared in the bay right underneath myself and my dive partner Emilie Pettersson,” says Peter Hutchins.

“Starting off as a pleasant morning dive in late June, with heaps of schooling fish and excellent water visibility, we went out to the [Fairy] Bower break and to our surprise we both saw maybe two cownose rays fly past into deeper waters. Thinking that any subsequent sightings would be over we continued our surface scouting in about 8m of water towards the famous Bower pool. Then, there they were in crystal clear water skimming a sandy bottom. About 75 various hued cownose rays, gliding in formation around and under us. Slow and methodical, graceful and mesmerising.

“The whole event lasted for more than an hour, with the fever sometimes splitting in two. Absolutely magical to watch from above, and if approached and anticipated correctly, you can dive down and wait on the bottom for them to fly by providing that once-in-a-lifetime eye-to-eye experience.”

Sony A7III, Sony AF 16-35mm f/4, F/8.0, 1/400, ISO 800, Seafrogs housing, handheld.


Rainbow Ballet photography of a black jacobin (Florisuga fusca) by Christian Spencer.

Australian photographer Christian Spencer’s hummingbird series was captured over four years in Brazil. According to Christian there are only a few days each year when the sun aligns with the migration of the birds to capture this prism effect. The breathtakingly fast beating of hummingbirds’ wings in the sunlight forms a rainbow in the air.

Christian began painting in Adelaide in 1996 and moved to a station in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia, where he used his photography as a reference point for painting.


Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) photographed by Brook Pyke on the Ningaloo Reef, WA.

“To photograph the biggest shark in the sea is by no means an easy feat,” says Brooke. “Luckily for me they’re mostly not worried by humans at all so swimming side by side with one is easy, but you need to swim fast. My favourite angle to capture is a top down photo so that I can fully capture the beautiful spot patterns of the whale shark’s skin as I have managed with this shot. To do this I swam directly above it, kicking as hard as I could to keep up with it, angling the camera downwards. For this photo I was lucky that the shark swam over a shallow section of reef and the white sand below created a perfect contrast and you properly see the elegant shape of them. Photographing them over deep ocean often means their appearance camouflages with the water so it’s difficult to get a nice amount of contrast.”

Brooke grew up in a small town in Victoria. “I’ve always loved the ocean and during my childhood I spent a lot of time in and around the water. As many fellow Australians can probably relate, the ocean is one of our greatest playgrounds and many of us have a close relation to it from a young age. If you had asked me years ago where I thought I’d end up as an adult, becoming an underwater photographer on Ningaloo Reef would have surprised me.

“I bought my first underwater camera back in 2014 and began to teach myself the basics of underwater photography. I spent hours in the water, learning on the go through experimentation. I am fully self taught. Dreaming of turning my new-found passion into a career, I sought out locations where underwater photography was a possible full-time job. This landed me in Exmouth, where I now live and work.”

Canon R6, Canon 8-15mm Fisheye Lens, Nautical Housing and Glass Dome Port. 1/400s. f9  ISO320


Female spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) with eggs photographed in Tasmania by Matt Testoni.

“Spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus) are a critically endangered fish with only a thousand or so individuals believed to be left,” says photographer Matt Testoni. “They live exclusively in the south of Tasmania and their grumpy faces made me instantly a huge fan. Over the year I visited them dozens of times, however breeding season is when your mind really is blown away by them. The mothers lay their eggs on a stalked ascidian [sea squirt] and sit by them for weeks at a time keeping guard. The mother pictured in the photo was so close to her eggs the whole time, which is possibly a sign that it was her first brood. Other larger handfish mothers tend to wander around within 5 or 10cm of the eggs while the smaller and perhaps more inexperienced mothers keep a very tight watch over their babies. 

“Using an adaption, called a snoot, that funnels strobe light I was able to light her and her eggs up like an actress on a stage. It took lots of patience and years of buoyancy control to be able to hold the camera in one hand and the snoot in another, but after a fair amount of practice it all came together. 

“I’m based in the south of Tasmania and am currently studying fish communities as part of my Marine Biology Masters Degree at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS). I’ve always loved wildlife and while doing a dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef I decided to buy a small camera to document the journey. From there I fell in love with photographing the underwater world.

“While I do occasionally take above-water photos, nearly all my work is exclusively below the sea. Experiencing animals underwater is something that continues to inspire me. unlike above-water encounters, everything is so foreign and often fish and other animals are extremely curious and will regularly come in for a closer look at the strange underwater creature that’s suddenly appeared in their world.”


Kilsby Sinkhole by Adam Stern near Mount Gambier, SA.

“The dive spot in the middle of a sheep paddock in Mt Gambier is a sinkhole with some of the most crystal clear water in the world!” says Adam Stern. “I have been running freediving training camps there for a few years and am lucky enough to have seen the sinkhole in different seasons, times and conditions. In the middle of summer, in the middle of the day, the sun shines from directly overhead and sends a single beam of light into the sinkhole. It’s one of the most magical sites I have ever seen underwater. Because the water is so clear I was able to swim 60 metres away from the diver and capture this shot of them inside the beam of light, as if they were being abducted!

“I’m a competitive freediver and the Australian freediving champion. I bought a camera in 2015 to take photos for social media and as time went on I fell in love with underwater photography. I love how the underwater landscape dwarfs the humans within it. Most of the photos I take aim to show the insignificance of the diver amongst the expansive underwater world. Because I more or less travel full-time on the competitive circuit I’m constantly diving in spectacular locations and I take my camera with me everywhere to capture it all.”

Sony A7s Mark 2 for the photos with a Nauticam Housing


Forest dragon (Lophosaurus spinipes) by Isaac Wishart, Springbrook National Park, Queensland.

I am lucky to work in some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in Australia,” says Isaac Wishart. “Working as an Ecological Restoration Specialist, I have the opportunity to see some of the rarest and most beautiful flora and fauna in my local area. This forest dragon is one I managed to photograph while working on a private property that bordered Springbrook NP. I always carry my camera on me for these special encounters.”


The Big Gun by Ben Broady in the Kimberley, WA.

“Revolver, aka The Big Gun, is the highest single-drop waterfall in the Kimberley, which is situated on Miriwoong and Gija land,” says Ben Broady. “Revolver in full flood is a sight to behold, often creating it’s own micro climate directly above the falls from all the mist and spray. Revolver is nestled in the Carr Boyd Ranges on the Western Edge of Lake Argyle.”


Gecko by Brooke Pyke, Warroora Station, WA

“This night I went out with a torch searching for geckos to photograph,” says Brooke. “I often find them walking up my windows at night, but that’s usually the smaller ones. I wanted to find some different species. Looking around in the red dirt and shrubs of the Ningaloo coast, I found this fellow searching for his dinner. Using a flash and 100mm macro lens I managed to quickly get a cute portrait. Needless to say he posed perfectly for my camera.” 


Daffy by Vikrant Deshpande photographed in Perth.

“Daffy is the name of this female peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) who was rescued by my friend David McMahon,” says Vikrant Deshpande. “David is training Daffy with the skills required for her survival in the world.”

“I was born and grew up in the central part of India. I come from a family of wildlife enthusiasts and spent my childhood viewing wildlife in the central Indian forests. I always wanted to share my wildlife experiences with the world because not everyone can go to the forests to view wildlife. I am a mechanical engineer who migrated to Australia in 2008 and now work in Perth. I’m fascinated by Australia’s birdlife and always try to capture different bird behaviours, often travelling long distances in search of new species.”


Early Bird by Zoe Martin.

Zoe took this photo early in 2022 at a little lookout near Echo Point in Katoomba, NSW. She says she was trying to capture the beautiful fog when she heard the cockatoos stirring in the gums behind. “As the sun cracked the horizon, they flew from the trees right over my head, and I pointed my camera and hoped for the best.” Zoe grew up in Katoomba and then served in the Australian Defence Force for almost a decade.

“After leaving the services, photography became more than just taking photos; it became a form of therapy – a way to find peace and calm the mind. Being out in nature also helped; nature is very healing. I also hope to be a full-time photographer; for now, hiking and taking pictures is a lot of fun.”

Sony A7Riii , Sony 20mm 1/100 sec, f4 , Iso 300


Aurora Treescape by James Garlick in Tranmere looking over the River Derwent, Hobart, Tasmania.

“I just love the range of different colours that were dancing around in the sky, especially the blues, which I think is always a bonus when you get to witness them,” says photographer James Garlick. “Also in this shot you can see Venus poking through the branches as it gets ready to disappear below the horizon.

“Growing up I always liked taking photos. It wasn’t until a friend taught me the basics of using an SLR film camera that the passion really kicked off. Long story short, I ended up taking a strong interest in portrait photography and started my own business as a wedding and portrait photographer.

“Then one night back in June 2012 a fellow photographer contacted me saying ‘apparently there’s going to be an Aurora tonight, do you want to come and photograph it?’ I happily obliged! When we reached our beach destination the place lit up and light moved across the night sky, and it was like nothing I had seen before. From then on I was hooked on chasing the aurora and night photography.”

CANON 5DmkIII +16-35 2.8 lens 3200iso 13secs

Facebook – Jamesgarlickphotographer

Red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) by Keelan Orrock, Royal National Park, NSW.

“I was on a walk through the dry sclerophyll forests of Royal National Park, Dharawal country, in early spring,” Says Keelan. “It had rained the night before, though the day cleared bright and early. The sun was hitting the Hawkesbury sandstone, which lines the creeks that dribble through the sclerophyll. The overall temp was cool, though on the sandstone it was incredibly warm and I wasn’t the only one here that was aware of this. I glanced down and there she was – my favourite of all the venomous snakes in Australia, in a perfect coil, soaking every up every drop of sunshine she possibly could. That stunning glossy black with the ever-striking red is a colour combination I’ll forever marvel over.”


Thunderstorm photographed in Broome, WA, by Matt Moreton-Deakin.

“This year has been without a doubt the most amazing and electrically charged wet season during my 10 years in Broome,” says Matt Moreton-Deakin.


Garma Festival by Melanie Faith Dove, East Arnhem Land, NT.

“This image of toddler Joban Yunupingu is one of my favourites, and most successful,” says Melanie Faith Dove. “It has been widely shared and published in both mainstream and social media, and has even been represented in a children’s book. This special moment really struck a chord; a split-second encapsulating an ancient story passing down through the generations, spanning tens of thousands of years. There were many photographers shooting that day, but nobody else took this shot, proving that everyone has a unique eye. I love the challenge of capturing the decisive moment and communicating my vision with the broader world.

“I have been a documentary photographer for more than 25 years, working for newspapers and magazines, authoring several books, and more recently scaling back to work with a select few organisations that I deeply respect, one being the Yothu Yindi Foundation. I have had the absolute honour, privilege and joy of witnessing, learning from, and documenting its annual Garma Festival in Northeast Arnhem Land since 2015. Garma is Australia’s leading Indigenous cultural exchange event and attracts thousands of people from around the nation and the world.”

Rufous (Pilbara) grasswren (Amytornis whitei whitei) photographed by Chris Haskett, Newman, WA.

“I was on a six-week birding trip to WA from Adelaide and drove to Newman to a spot near the lookout where I knew the birds were,” says Chris Haskett. “After seeing the birds just before sunset I went back early morning for some photos. The background was spinifex and red Pilbara rocks while the birds were in soft shadow. They were hopping all around the gully and I noticed a termite mound had whitewash, so I was hoping it was a regular perch spot for the birds. After setting up for a shot and waiting, the bird perched perfectly for me. There were also four other birds in the family group also.”


The dramatic profile of the Western Arthurs in Tasmania by Cameron Blake.

Cameron Blake is a wilderness photographer in Tasmania. Well known for his photography workshops exploring rugged regions, he was schooled in photography from an early age, as his father worked for many years with Rudolph Gunz, an Olympus Optical distributer in Melbourne.


Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus) photographed by Owen Lismund.

“I am a keen naturalist, wildlife photographer and field ecologist based in Melbourne, Victoria,” says Owen Lismund. “My interest in birds started at a young age, when I became curious about what species occurred in my local area, and grew from there. I started photographing birds with a point-and-shoot camera during this period and am drawn to wildlife photography because it’s a fun and challenging way of documenting all the wildlife I see. It’s also rewarding to share this with other people and hopefully increase the public’s awareness of and appreciation for the natural world. Nowadays I’m often out looking for wildlife in my spare time, which has led me to see a lot of amazing animals and places, and have plenty of good experiences along the way. I have been fortunate enough to work as a field ecologist and I am also currently doing research on Australian lizards.

“This image was achieved with a bit of planning and a lot of good luck! I was on a fieldwork trip with my mate Dan Terrington and on a free night we were staying not far from an area where plains-wanderers regularly occur. We went for a quick spotlight in some good-looking native grassland habitat and within 10 minutes, barely 100 metres from the car we found this bird virtually at our feet. I took a few shots and then we let her continue on her way. It was easily the quickest I’d ever found one of these birds after a lot of nights out surveying for them over the past few years. I had previously gained an understanding of this birds’ habits through helping PhD student Dan Nugent with his fieldwork, who has been doing important work studying this species and their ecology.”


Stardust by astrophotographer Wil Godward, South Australia.

“The summer Milky Way arch shines its brightest over a barren salt lake in the South Australian Outback, one of the darkest locations in the world, with nothing but the stars to light up the landscape,” says Wil Godward. “So many objects to spot in this image: the emission nebula Barnard’s Loop around the Orion constellation and the Gum Nebula, which shines its bright red glow. The large and small Magellanic Clouds. The brightest star in our night sky Sirius, the planet Mars and the star cluster Pleiades. My favourite part of this image is the red air glow seen above the horizon. This is caused by chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere. 

“I committed to a 12-hour return trip to photograph this one photo. Was it worth it? Yes! This shot took over an hour to complete and many more hours to process. So blessed to be able to access these amazing skies.”


Yellow-tailed black-cockatoos (Zanda funerea), Bruny Island, Tasmania, photographed by Luke Tscharke.

“I was driving along a road on Bruny Island and saw a flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos eating seeds from a banksia plant on the side of the road,” says Luke Tscharke. “Usually by the time you safely pull over and get out of the car, the birds fly off and you miss the shot. However, on this occasion, I was lucky that they stayed put and continued with their antics. I could get some great clear shots of their behaviour with a nice soft background and the lighting was just right. Proof that it pays to give it a go, even if sometimes you get disappointed!”


Flame robin (Petroica phoenicea), Warbuton, Victoria, photographed by Deepak Kumar.

Deepak Kumar was on the hunt for a pink robin but couldn’t secure a good shot with the cloudy conditions. He spotted this flame robin foraging on the road, pulled over and spent an hour with the bird.

“I work as a nurse in Melbourne and have been in this profession since 2011,” he says. “I started taking bird photos in early 2019 and got serious about it in 2020.

“I grew up exploring nature and the wildlife around me. I love birds in particular because I love the challenges that bird photography presents. I love the long drives, exploring wilderness away from concrete jungles, and the peace and quiet are some of the aspects of bird photography that I love.”

Nikon Z9 & AF-S Nikkor 600mm F4.