COURTESY PAUL SOUDERThe grand-prize winning image in “BigPicture” at the California Academy of Sciences is Paul Souders’ “The Luckiest Penguin.”

COURTESY PAUL SOUDERThe grand-prize winning image in “BigPicture” at the California Academy of Sciences is Paul Souders’ “The Luckiest Penguin.”

Nature photography show a first at Cal Academy

“BigPicture,” the first major photo exhibition in the California Academy of Sciences’ 161-year history, was worth the wait.

The collection showcases winning images from the academy’s inaugural BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition, which, organizers say, “was established to celebrate and illustrate the rich diversity of life on Earth and inspire action to protect and conserve it.”

Some 45 images taken by acclaimed nature, wildlife and conservation photographers from 12 countries — selected by an international panel of professional photographers and photo editors from more than 6,300 submissions — make up the show.

The center of the exhibit in the academy’s lobby is the $5,000 grand prize-winning photo by Paul Souders of Seattle with the spoiler title, “The Luckiest Penguin.” The photo — a leopard seal in hot pursuit of a Gentoo penguin in flight in Antarctic waters — depicts the suspense of the chase; the title gives away what happened next, the penguin getting away.

Gregory Farrington, the academy’s executive director, says the winning photo “captures Darwin’s brilliant insight into how life evolves and survives — which is what the California Academy of Sciences is all about. To survive, the leopard seal needs to eat, but the penguin needs to escape. The fastest and best-adapted creatures prevail and are able to pass on their genes, and so life evolves and adapts.”

Souders has more than one image in the show. Also on view is “The Ice Bear,” a shot of a polar bear peering from beneath a hole in melting sea ice in Canada’s Hudson Bay. The picture, which won first place in the invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles and marine mammals category, also earned National Geographic magazine’s 2013 Photo of the Year award.

“The wildlife in Antartica are quite comfortable with human presence. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see the world in a near-pristine state,” says Souders.

First place “BigPicture” winners in other categories include Colorado-based photographer Morgan Heim’s “Beast in the Garden,” of a mountain lion (conservation); Italian photographer Emanuele Biggi’s “Curvy King,” of an Alpine ibex (land mammals); and Australia’s Ray Collins’ “Snow Mountain,” of the ocean near Wollongong (landscapes, waterscapes, plant life).

Emphasizing the exhibit’s significance, Academy Chief of Science and Sustainability Meg Lowman says, “Visual storytelling is critical in explaining science and conservation issues to the public in a compelling and impactful way, particularly to children. Each of these photos tells an amazing story, and this exhibit is a striking example of how the academy seeks to explain and educate our visitors about global sustainability issues through vivid, engaging exhibits.”

IF YOU GO

BigPicture

Where: California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 2

Tickets: $24.95 to $34.95

Contact: (415) 379-8000, www.calacademy.orgArt & MuseumsartsBigPictureCalifornia Academy of Sciencesnature photography

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