The shortlist for the 2020 Sony World Photography Awards is full of gobsmacking photos

Sony’s annual photography awards are always a superb excuse to drink in some absolutely unbelievable photographs, spanning all sorts of categories and subject matters, and the 2020 shortlist is no exception to that rule.

That list of contenders was recently unveiled for the Open category of the awards, which is the section that’s open to all comers and entrants. The winners won’t be unveiled until early June, but until then we’ve got plenty of time to enjoy browsing the amazing selection of photos.

Clean lines

There’s something hugely satisfying about the lines of colour and texture in this wintery photograph, with the various strata of the building drawing the eye differently, while the two shuttered windows actually look much like a pair of heavy-lidded eyes themselves.



The division between metropolis and green space is rarely as clear and obvious as in this aerial picture taken in Guangzhou, China. The clustered, crowded buildings are mirrored by the overgrowth of the trees and plants, with that clear dividing road between the two. 

Bridge to nowhere 

This cove in Newfoundland has countless fishing baskets waiting to be used on a pier, piled up in their multitudes. The prominence of timber in the construction of the pier makes this photo have an almost historical feeling to it. 


It’s almost inconceivable to us that this is a photograph, not a painting, so gorgeous and smooth is the imagery. There’s no overbearing sharpness or clarity here, just superb colour and a wonderfully chosen point of view. 

Land to sea 

This Icelandic vista has a mind-blowing range of colours and textures to take in, as water runs out to sea over various types of rock and silt, taking on peculiar and memorable tones as it does so. The ripples on the surface of the water in the middle of the frame are extremely pleasing, too. 


This rower’s pose, fashion and hairstyle all combine to make her seem somehow out of time – it’s credible that this photo could have been taken in any of the last multiple decades, we’d argue. It’s a superb portrait capturing her taking a breath as she works. 


This looks like a nice, simple exploration of light and darkness until you look more closely through the car’s windows and see that there’s far more to interpret. What are those otherworldly lights? What’s going on inside the car? All these are up to your imagination. 


The historical techniques used to take this photo shine through in the soft, monochromatic look of it. The contrast between the far cow, viewed from the side, and its closer friend looking directly into the lens, is nice, while the seascape in the distance is enigmatic. 


This action shot from the Palkhi Festival in Pandharpur, India, is bustling with energy and happiness, the sole drummer rising above the crowd to steal your focus while the foregrounded clapping hands frame the entire shot. 


The setting sun provides gorgeous lighting for this motion-capturing shot of a boat being piloted with a bit of fun in mind, and the endlessly random ripples and eddies it leaves in its wake are eye-catching. 

Ablaze with colour

The day of the dead is a well-known festival, but its costumes and pageantry don’t get any less entertaining to observe, as this extraordinarily colourful costume demonstrates. The look she’s serving the camera with could scare anyone. 

Taking the plunge

There’s nothing quite like the pure joy of a dog enjoying playtime, and this shot also shows off the sheer chaos that groups of pooches can foster. There’s a lot going on, but the core of the image is that dog frozen mid-dive as it jumps back into the pool, clearly for neither the first nor the last time. 


Planned demolitions make for satisfying viewing in video form, provided everything goes right, but this amazing frame shows that they can be just as awesome in photographic form. The setting sun is the perfect ingredient to tie it all together with great colour. 


It took us absolutely ages to work out what on earth was happening here, but once you clock that the blurred orange sheen in the top of the frame is falling snow, things start to make more sense in terms of perspective. 


This image is a stunning evocation of the quiet resonance of places of worship, helped by the clean quality of its morning light and the total lack of people in the frame. It looks like a truly calm space in which to think. 


This mind-bending sculpture is very real – it’s called 38° Parallelo by Mauro Staccioli, and the black and white photography here makes it stand out all the more from the natural landscape in which it’s set. 

Crashing wave

Those of us in the UK know this sort of image all too well from annual storms battering our coastlines, but this is a particularly artistic version, with the cracks in the sea wall catching the eye once you look away from the wave itself. 


If you know much about fish you might be confused by what’s poking out of this little guy’s mouth. Sadly for him, it’s a tongue-eating parasite, so not exactly the happy-go-lucky photo you might have first taken this for. 

Seeing right through you

Staying with the ocean, this negative image of a bizarre octopus was taken at night, but looks for all the world like a still from a laboratory environment. It’s completely weird in a really captivating way. 

Midair dogfight

Seagulls can be mighty possessive of any potential food, as we know all too well from trying to eat chips at the seaside, but the way these three are fighting over an utterly helpless starfish is amazing. The timing required to get this shot beggars belief. 

Still and serene

With this photo, meanwhile, it must have been more about patience, waiting for a lack of disturbance to be able to capture the totally still landscape and these stunning dancing mangrove trees in Indonesia. 


This Brazilian dancer’s hair, hat and skin tone combine wonderfully to make a delicate palette for this image, while the way her hair blocks her face creates a shield of anonymity. 

Fantasy forest

This looks for all the world like a shot straight out of Tolkien’s Fangorn Forest, not a lane in Tenerife, but the latter is the reality of the situation. That mist is perfect for evoking memories of countless fantasy novels. 


This frame is simply saturated in subtly different shades of red, a portrait of a Theyyam ritual in India. The costume is elaborate, delicate and hugely complex.


Not all portraits of parenthood require humans, and the bond between this baby Orangutan and its mother is clear to see at a glance. The amusing grimace on mum’s face is a picture of perseverance, meanwhile.

Historically new

We love this portrait of a young man in South Africa, his oversized jacket seeming to say a lot about the expectations he’s been saddled with, while the arid landscape behind him is chastening, too.

The void

We find this image almost menacing, as a result of that yawning black void creeping down from the top of the frame as these men blithely take selfies and take photos on their phones.

Negative landscape

This photo captures an Alpine landscape using infrared technology to present a colourscape unlike anything any human eye would normally see, and leaving you with the impression of an almost alien landscape. 

Groom with a view

Another beautiful shot of parenting in action, this mutual grooming by a young cheetah and its mother showcases the duality of big cats – terrifying hunters one moment, and adorable oversized fluffballs the next.

Silent witnesses

This shot of Extinction Rebellion protestors on the London Underground feels like an impactful statement on modern times – not least because of the fact that they’re being quietly ignored by most of the commuters in the shot. 

Absolute squad

This huge gang of rare cownose rays, on the Ningaloo Reef off Australia, produces an amazing image where the group almost appear to be moving as one seething ball of ray.

Flat earth

We love this jaw-dropping photograph for how it draws your eye to the horizon, where you’re confronted with the immediate rise of that range of mountains at the back of the frame. It’s an amazing landscape, that’s for sure. 

Frozen wave

This ice cave is so smooth and shiny that it almost looks like a riptide wave that’s been frozen in time. The two hikers leaving it give you valuable context on just how massive it is, too.

Smiling in the rain

There’s nothing like a rainy day at a festival to showcase human spirit – conditions that should breed misery bounce off people having the time of their lives, like these girls capturing the moment with a selfie. 


The look this girl is giving the camera just screams power, while the amazing outfit she’s wearing is nearly limitlessly interesting to look at. Her hair is stunningly made up, while lens-flare style bubbles on the frame are a great, odd touch. 

Unstill life

This still life looks like it must have taken ages to organise, if the cat’s body language is anything to go by. It’s offbeat and coy, that banana taped to the wall a possible reference to the great modern art story of 2019. 


This mountainous landscape, photographed from above, reveals an amazing range of colours emanating from the river carving out a valley in the middle of the frame. 

Reflecting on it

We’re entranced by the beauty of this shot, from the gentle slope and that still iceberg to the slightly rippling reflections of them both. It’s got a strong environmental message to hit home with, as well.


This unbelievable display is created by some 17,300 students in North Korea, moving as one, just as the regime directs them. It’s an astonishing site, beautifully captured, while the fact they’re creating a rainbow feels grimly ironic. 

Fighting the good fight

Firefighting often feels like pushing back against a powerful inanimate beast, but the blackness of this photograph also makes the fight look more hopeless than it is. The gushing black smoke and blackened rooftop are opressive.

Silicon valley

You could be forgiven for thinking this was a picture of a microchip or some other piece of technology, but it’s actually the side of a building, artfully shot to remove its context and look like something it isn’t.

Clear light

This study of light and colour has a variety of enticing textures and shades to give up, with that strong shaft of light beaming through its centre at an angle. 


This is an image that appears beautiful until you piece together that it’s not a natural phenomenon. It’s actually from a salt mine, showing the impact that human shave on huge landscapes. 

City 17

The brutalism of this shot, and the architecture it captures, are both memorable. You might assume it’s somewhere more totalitarian or industrialised than the ancient city of Athens, where it was actually shot. 

All the pretty horses

This beautiful shot is perfectly framed with three horses each owning their slice of the photograph, while the colour of the sky and mountains at the top are almost improbably gorgeous. 

Paradise on earth

We end with a slice of paradise, an aerial shot of Exuma which makes us yearn for a proper holiday. The blue of the ocean and the white of the sand is utterly transporting.