In 1981 Chris gained a Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society (the highest level of distinction) for his work in black and white cave photography. Later honours include the Peter M. Hauer Award from the National Speleological Society in the USA for significant speleological history research (1993), the Giles Barker Award for excellence in cave photography (1997), the Tratman Award for speleological publications (twice, in 1997 and, jointly with Judith Calford for Descent magazine, in 2008), and the Spelean Arts and Letters Award (1998).
The annual caving conference in the UK, Hidden Earth, includes a photo salon where he has won the Premier Trophy, the UK’s top cave photography award, 11 times (most recently in 2019) in addition to taking first place in individual print categories 17 times (monochrome), 7 times (projected image), 10 times (cave life category, latterly named ‘cave science’) and 2 times (colour print), as well as many second and third placements plus 20 merits and 16 distinctions (these being introduced in 2011), and twice the delegate ballot for the best of all works on display. In 2019 he won four of the five categories as well as the delegate ballot.
He has taken first place in the Spanish International Speleological Salon four times and received thirteen first place awards for Best in Show in the National Speleological Society Photo Salon, plus 45 ribbons for distinctions and merits. In the 2016 international EuroSpeleo event, of the five salon categories Chris won three with first places in the colour print, cave life and projected image sections, plus a further three distinctions.
In 1997 he won the Outdoor Writers’ Guild/Fuji Professional Award for Photographic Excellence with his book Images Below, and in 2013 the renamed Outdoor Writers and Photographers’ Guild Award for Excellence in the Photography category, sponsored by the outdoor clothing company of Páramo. The judges’ comment on the set of cave photographs was: ‘This portfolio comprised excellent quality photography with compositional and technical technique and was professionally and thoughtfully presented. Every photograph stood out on its own.’ The following year, 2014, his portfolio of caving images was Highly Commended and then in 2015, with the award still sponsored by Páramo, he again took first place. The judge’s comment was that the portfolio: ‘Demonstrates powerful composition, excellent use of scale, the ability to work with people, styling and colour coordination of the model and excellent use of lighting’.
In October 2016 a portfolio from a single day’s shoot in Bridge Cave, South Wales, won the photography category again and drew the following judge’s comment: ‘Chris’s caving photography, continues to be the yardstick by which this award can be measured. His images show a technical mastery of camera and lighting technique, which must now be expected in contemporary professional photography. At the same time he is able to consider sensitive composition, paying close attention to line, shape and form to convey a sense of place and a sense of adventure in his work and importantly, because he is often working literally in the dark, Chris is able to pre-conceive his images and make them happen. These are not “snapshots” and demonstrate a professional and rigorous approach to creating a visual narrative.’
This was followed by another winning entry in the Award for Excellence in October 2017 with a portfolio titled The Abode of the Clouds, a set of caving photographs shot during that year’s expedition to Meghalaya, India. In 2018 the winning entry was with The River Cave of Xe Bang Fai, being a set of caving photos taken in Laos, and in 2019 the winning entry was a set of caving images from New Mexico.
For 2020 the entry came from the set on Japanese caves and again took first place, the sixth in a row. The judges commented: ‘Once again Chris Howes is the very well deserved winner. He has a clear theme, powerful imagery, great use of lighting and models with the bonus that these are scenes that you don’t see every day. His imagery is visually arresting, fresh, impactful, powerful and achieves great storytelling. We particularly liked the use of the macro shot showing the invertebrate life of a cave.’
The 2017 UIS International Congress of Speleology in Sydney, Australia, ran a cave photo contest: one picture won the Cavers in Action section and in the Caves and Karst section one image was Highly Commended while another of Deer Cave won the section, then went on to take the highest award of the competition, the Best of Show, as chosen by delegate ballot. The congress meets every four years.