Jim Picôt, “Love Heart of Nature” (2020), Avoca Beach (Australia). Winner of the Drone Photo Awards 2020 (all images courtesy of the Drone Photo Awards 2020)

Love them or loathe them, drones have democratized aerial photography, once an elaborate and costly operation. These flying robots, which have become increasingly affordable in recent years, are contentious as they pose dangers to privacy and security but also allow photographers to capture impressive images from viewpoints that they couldn’t reach before. A sign of their newfound role as a legitimate form of photography is the annual Drone Photo Awards, a section of the Siena International Photo Awards, which announced its 2020 winners on September 21.

The contest, divided into nine categories spanning urban landscapes to wildlife, responded to the events of 2020 with a new category dedicated to images that capture the impact of the coronavirus pandemic with haunting photos of deserted cities. Several other images captured protests around the world in a year marked by political unrest.

Bachir Moukarzel, “lockdown dubai” (2020). Dubai’s empty highways during the Covid-19 lockdown
Mauro Sciambi, “100” (2020). A commended photo in the Abstract category (location unspecified)

The competition is open to all photographers, and organizers say they receive tens of thousands of entries from professionals and amateurs each year.

This year, the first place went to Australian photographer Jim Picôt, who photographed a salmon school in Australia forming a giant heart shape, with a shark swimming ominously inside.

Israeli photographer Tomer Appelbaum won the category “Empty Cities: Life Under Covid-19” with a photo of a socially distanced protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s Covid-19 shutdown of businesses.

Tomasz Kowalski, “Alien Structure on Earth” (2020). An aerial shot of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur
Levent AteŞ, “Corona” (2020). A socially distanced Friday prayer in Istanbul, Turkey

In the “Urban” category, Polish photographer Tomasz Kowalski won with “Alien Structure on Earth.” The aerial shot captures the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, also known as Petronas Twin Towers, from a mesmerizing point of view.

The 45 awarded photos will be showcased in the exhibition Above Us Only Sky,  scheduled from October 24 to November 29 at the Accademia dei Fisiocritici in Siena, Italy.

Rex Zou, “Sunrise on the Top” (2020). The second tallest building in Shanghai shrouded in clouds during sunrise
Víctor Vargas, “Panecillo” (2020). The images captures the Virgin of El Panecillo monument in Quito, Ecuador
Ignacio Medem, “Bouncing Waves” (2020). A commended photo in the Nature category (location unspecified)

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...