An Army reservist has won the landscape category in the National Geographic Traveller Photography Awards 2023.
Captain Sam Davies, 30, from the National Reserve Headquarters of the Royal Artillery, scooped the award for his aerial image which showed an armed forces boat navigating icebergs in Greenland.
My role on the expedition was to capture for the JSASTC how adventurous training, and particularly offshore sailing, is really good intense training that makes you a better soldier Captain Davies, National Reserve Headquarters of the Royal Artillery
This is the second major photography award for a serving soldier in recent months.
In December 2022 British Army photographer Corporal Rob Kane’s image of Pathfinders jumping by freefall parachute into Exercise Swift Response was chosen as the best image captured by NATO last year.
In August 2022, Sam joined an armed forces sailing expedition, Exercise Arctic Express 22, as a photographer/videographer.
Sam was one of 16 members of the armed forces on board a 70-foot yacht, belonging to the Joint Services Adventure Sail Training Centre (JSASTC), as it sailed from Iceland, across the Denmark Strait, to Greenland.
“My role on the expedition was to capture for the JSASTC how adventurous training, and particularly offshore sailing, is really good intense training that makes you a better soldier.
“The first 48 hours were incredibly rough, the worst seas I’ve ever been in. Every member of the boat, bar the skipper, was physically sick.
“We sailed through the night in stormy weather then suddenly as we got closer to Greenland the storm broke.
“But we were still in this thick bank of fog, and we started seeing big, looming icebergs drifting past us.
The captain asked if I could put my drone up, which I had with me for filming purposes, to try and find a way through the ice CAPTAIN DAVIES, NATIONAL RESERVE HEADQUARTERS OF THE ROYAL ARTILLERY
“Then the fog bank broke and we got through the other side of it into bright sunshine, crystal blue waters and a field of icebergs and little ice chunks as far as the eye could see.
“We had to get through this treacherous, constantly shifting three kilometre ice field to reach the port town where we were going to stay.
“The captain asked if I could put my drone up, which I had with me for filming purposes, to try and find a way through the ice.
“So we got the drone up in the air and we had a guy half way up the mast looking out while I called out directions to the captain. I was filming and shooting the whole time because I didn’t want to miss out on the pictures.
“Shooting top-down aerial perspectives is something I love, and I knew the shot could be special. I hoped to capture the insignificance of our 70ft yacht between these enormous icebergs and reveal how much ice lay beneath the surface.
“Lining up the moving boat and ice was tricky. As my fingers froze and the drone’s battery drained, it all came together, and I had time for just one shot.
“I breathed a huge sigh of relief to finally see my drone land safely back on board after a nerve-wracking landing.”
Five members of the expedition to Greenland were from the Royal Engineers who used it as training for a trip to South Georgia later this year.
Eighteen photographers made the shortlist for the National Geographic Traveller Photography Awards, now in their 11th year, with categories for travel, wildlife, urban settings, people, food, landscape and portfolio.
Of Sam’s photo which was shortlisted for the landscape category, the judges said they liked ‘the simplicity of the image and the placement of geometric shapes against the negative space of the sea’.
Sam said he was shocked to find out he had won the prestigious award:
“I had to read the email a few times to check that I hadn’t got it wrong. When it sunk in, I was very proud of how far I’ve come. It’s been nice to get so much positive feedback and comments from people.”
My desire for action and adventure led me to a career as an officer in the British Army, where I served for five years. CAPTAIN DAVIES,
NATIONAL RESERVE HEADQUARTERS OF THE ROYAL ARTILLERY
“My passion for photography started as early as my passion for the outdoors.
“My desire for action and adventure led me to a career as an officer in the British Army, where I served for five years.
“I got my first camera while I was in the Light Dragoons. And when I really fell in love with photography was when I was taking pictures of soldiers on exercises. That was the lightbulb moment for me that made me realise I could do this.
“Doing photography in the Army was the perfect place to learn and practice and develop my passion into a craft because there are some amazing stories, characters and events in the Army.
“From missiles firing against starry skies, to emotional portraits of exhausted soldiers, I honed my skills in every way I could to try and do these moments justice.
“When I left the regular Army, I had the confidence and a portfolio to go out and focus on photography full-time.”
After leaving the regular Army two and a half years ago, Sam has been working as an adventure, landscape and travel photographer and filmmaker, successfully juggling his work with his commitments as an Army reservist.