More than 150 people from around the world turned out for an international photography festival showcasing the beauty of the Arava region of southern Israel.
The Planet Arava 2 festival, which was sponsored by the Hevel Eilot Regional Council, included a prize competition in a variety of categories: birds and mammals, landscape, astronomy, macro photography, and story in succession.
The festival, held last weekend, also included a range of photography workshops. All the photos were taken in the Arava - illustrating the unique nature of the area, and increasing awareness about the protection of the region.
According to the festival's organizers, approximately 500 photographs made it to the last stage of the competition, with the winners picked by festival's judges.
First prize went to Omri Yosef Omessi from Eilat, who won thanks with his series of photos depicting the oil spill at Evrona Nature Reserve in December of 2014.
"The disaster struck at night, and when dawn came, I was there by chance to see the scale of the disaster," said Omessi, who worked as a ranger for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
"I came to the areas I know usually overflow during flood season, and then a river of black oil flowed in, the sight and smell were both horrible," says Omessi, "first you're in shock, but then you understand you're standing in a historical moment , and as a photographer, I understand the value of documenting even the most difficult sights."
Ron Tzur claimed first prize in the birds and mammals category.
Tzur is behind a project to film wildlife using special field cameras equipped with motion sensor and deployed all over the Arava.
"It is every photographer's dream to become a sort of 'fly on the wall' in the wonderful world of wildlife," said Tzur.
"One of the photos depict a common fox walking in the warm starlit night, with the very first rays of sunshine behind him, signaling the end of his nocturnal search for food." Explains Tzur.
According to the photographer, even after a few weeks, the animals' intrigue with the cameras hasn't waned, "a fox cub came to check out the camera up close, with one of his parents watching carefully from afar."
Second place in the birds and mammals category went to Aviv Etzion, who spent two years photographing field rabbits in the Evrona Nature Reserve.
"This year there's been quite a few sightings of rabbits; one of them is probably still feeding her young," says Etzion.
"I was able to take a few pictures of her during her afternoon break thanks to the weather, landscape, and local camouflage."
Third place in the birds and mammals category went to Gadi Shamila, for his image of a red-rumped wheatear bird.
The winner of the macro category was Eran Gissis with his photo of a male Sinai agama lizard, taken in the mountainous area of Eilat.
During their reproduction season, the male Sinai agama turn particularly colorful, and they owe their name to the area they were first discovered in, the Sinai Desert.
Shamila also claimed second place with his photo of a short-fingered gecko near Kibbutz Samar.
Third place in the macro category went to Aviv Etzion, who managed to capture a meeting between an ant and an Arabian horned viper.
"Interaction between snakes and ants is something I've come across quite a few times, and I find it particularly interesting, the curious ant met the snake, and went about its business," Etzion said.
In the Story in Sequence category, Etzion won again with his photo of two black-winged stilts at the bird sanctuary in Eilat.
"Out of 30 pictures, I chose five that I fell best represent the courting ritual of the black-winged stilts, and the mating that followed," he said. "It was very exciting seeing the tenderness and connection between the two."
Second place in Story in Sequence went to Oded Peretz for his photos of two male spiny-tailed lizards fighting on the outskirts of Eilat.
Third place in the Story in Sequence category went to Ofer Bar Yanai, who photographed a spectacular flood of the Roded stream in the southern mountains of Eilat.
In the View and Astronomy category, Ari Baltinester took first place for his photo of the Sands of Samar, an expanse of sand dunes in the Arava.
Second place in View and Astronomy went to Erez Herrnstadt.
Third place in View and Astronomy went to Nikolai Lukin Cofitov.