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The year’s best smartphone photography

We love a good photo answer here at PopPhoto. In just the last month, we’ve already reported on the Sony World Photography Awards, the Close-up Photographer of the Year, and the Leica Women’s Foto Project. And now the winners of the 2021 Mobile Photography Awards are here to help keep up our batting average!

First launched in 2011, the annual Mobile Photography Awards are in their eleventh running this year. They’re a little bit more divisive than, say, the World Photography Awards as they come not just with an entry fee but also a requirement that you allow the resale of your shots under MPA’s terms. (Want to know how to tell a good answer apart from a money/rights grab? Read up here!)

Judging for this year’s contest was handled by a jury of six individuals:

  • Rodrigo Rivas, past winner, freelance photographer and Category Expert of Photography & Video at creative community Domestika
  • Evgeny Tchebotarev, co-founder and CEO of NFT marketplace Sloika.xyz
  • Dominika Koszowska, past winner, doctoral student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland
  • Dan Liu, past winner, independent photographer & visual artist
  • Glenn Homann, past winner and iPhone photographer
  • Manuela Matos Monteiro, author and artist founder of the New Era Museum

Entry rates for 2021’s contest were between $7-15 per shot depending upon the number of images, or if entering the photo essay category, a fee of $29 per group of shots. As well as the entry fee, contestants were also required to allow their prints to be sold at a post-contest exhibition showing at least 20 of the best shots, with only a 50% profit share for the photographer after printing costs are subtracted.

Yet despite those requirements, the Mobile Photography Awards don’t seem to be having any trouble attracting entries of a suitably high standard, as beautifully demonstrated by the winners for 2021, each of which can be seen below:

grandprize

“Sweet,” Liu KunKun, Grand Prize Winner, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards.

As the overall winner, Liu was praised for “a great mastery of geometry and perspective” by MPA Jury Member Rodrigo Rivas. All eight of his bold, eye-catching creations of him can be seen in hig-resolution here.

photo essay

Photo by Vince Keresnyei, 1st Place Winner, Photo Essay, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards
© Vince Keresnyei, 1st Place Winner, Photo Essay, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Vince Keresnyei

Photography is frequently at its most powerful when both photographer and subject are on the same page. That was certainly true for Keresnyei and his subject, Adrienn, both of whom suffer a predisposition towards panic attacks and a desire to live without pills where possible. That shared connection on both sides of the lens gives this series a feeling of rawness and helps surface the difficulty of their shared struggles.

Architecture, Design and Still Life

Photo by Kuanglong Zhang, 1st Place Winner, Architecture |  Design |  Still Life, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards.
“The Observatory,” by Kuanglong Zhang, 1st Place Winner, Architecture | Design | Still Life, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Guanglong Zhang

Zhang’s composition would have been beautiful and eye-catching enough as it was, but the addition of the bird and its shadow really seal the deal. A beautiful example of great timing and making the most of unanticipated changes in your scene.

black and white

Photo by Svetlin Yosifov, 1st Place Winner, Black & White, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards.
“Caro Boy,” by Svetlin Yosifov, 1st Place Winner, Black & White, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Svetlin Yosifov

Boy, do we ever want to know the backstory behind this striking monochromatic portraiture. From the expression on the boy’s face to the epic lighting in the background, we get why this one was a category winner.

Landscapes and Wildlife

A b&W photo of a waterfall.
“Holy Stream,” by Shinya Itahana, 1st Place Winner, Landscapes & Wildlife, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Shinya Itahana

Long exposures of waterfalls are ten a penny, but Itahana’s beautifully dreamy waterfall photo stands out thanks to the contrasty setting, the monochrome rendition, and most of all, that crisp, sharp branch in the foreground.

Macro and Details

A close-up of a bee on a flower.
“Big Bumble,” by James Peck, 1st Place Winner, Macro & Details, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © James Peck

An attractive subject captured with razor-sharp crispness. We can’t imagine this was an easy shot as the bumblebee doubtless didn’t linger for long on this spiky-looking bit of foliage, before departing in search of still more pollen.

People

Three older women laughing with great joy.
“Old Age Joy!,” by Anh Vu Do, 1st Place Winner, People, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Anh Vu Do

The sense of joy is palpable not just on these women’s faces, but also in their playful pose.

Portraits and Self-Portraits

A boy in a tub next to a window streaming in blue light.
“Life Style,” by Angelica Loustaunau, 1st Place Winner, Portraits & Self-Portraits, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Angelica Loustaunau

Loustanau’s picture captures a pensive expression on the young boy’s face that initially had us wondering what burdens the world might have placed upon his shoulders… and then we saw the splashing bathwater. Clearly, even in his moment of reflection on him, he’s still a kid at heart. We feel relief.

silhouettes

A women in a triangular hat moves through a yellow alley with heavy shadows.
“Street Cleaner,” by Jason Liu, 1st Place Winner, Silhouettes, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. ©Jason Liu

This bold and eyecatching piece has to be one of our personal favorites on the list. It’s clearly a photograph, evident in the texture in that vivid yellow wall, yet everything else about this shot tricks your eyes into seeing it two-dimensionally. This gives it an almost hand-drawn feel. Very cool!

street-photography

The shadow of a person on a beige wall.
“Where are You?,” by Roy Pan, 1st Place Winner, Street Photography, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. ©Roy Pan

Pan’s shot is all about those shadows, something the title hints at. More specifically, the woman’s outline reveals a tale that’s perhaps only imagined and yet no less evocative for that fact. Is she perhaps on her phone, lost and trying to find a friend in a maze of walls, windows, and walkways?

The Darkness and Noir

The silhouette of a man walking down the street.
“Same time!,” by Wai Ying Kwok, 1st Place Winner, The Darkness | Noir, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Wai Ying Kwok

Another use of silhouette, albeit one that’s very different from the previous shot. As one character ascends the escalator above, the outline of another strides purposefully forwards, one shadow soon to disappear as it vanishes within another.

Travel/Adventure and Transportation

The Holi celebration, this image shows a crowd of people in coated in pink, purple and yellow dyes.
“Festival of Colors,” by Azim Khan Ronnie, 1st Place Winner, Travel/Adventure & Transportation, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Azim KhanRonnie

What better way to celebrate Holi, the ancient Hindu festival of colors, than this chaotic, fun shot? Not only is it replete with vibrant color, it also does a great job communicating just how densely packed-in all those sweaty, dye-stained revelers really are.

Visual FX and Digital Art

A photo illustration showing a man's head exploding with flowers.
“Mind of Garden,” by Erika Brothers, 1st Place Winner, Visual FX & Digital Art, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Erika Brothers

What a fun peek into Brothers’ world this gives us. We’re thinking her subject of her is n’t the only one with butterflies and flowers on their mind. Meanwhile, ours is equally concerned as we wonder what, if anything, is the relevance of that time on the clock?

Water, Snow and Ice

A beach scene from above with just one person playing in the water and sand.
“On the Beach,” by Junbiao Cai, 1st Place Winner, Water | Snow | Ice, 2021 Mobile Photography Awards. © Junbiao Cai

If you want a shot of water, the beach seems like a great place to be. Take your pick: Glassy-smooth tide pools? Gently-flowing tidal streams? Little ripples, big waves, Cai’s shot has it all, interspersed with soft, sandy islets whose outline must have changed from one second to the next. We wish we were there exploring right now too!

More inspiration

And that brings us to the end of the winners’ list. If you want even more inspiration, be sure to click the titles for each individual category (in the photo captions), which will take you to a list of winners and runners-up for that specific grouping.

No information has yet been disclosed as to how you can enter next year’s awards, but we’d imagine that information will be on the MPA’s website in the not-too-distant future!

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