The results of this year’s Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year have been announced and some of the winning entries released. All images taken from the BBC News website and are copyright of the respective photographers. Text from the official WPotY website, where many of the images are available to order as a print. Here are my personal favourites from this year’s crop of prize-wining and specially commended images. If you want a larger view then just click on an image.
Penguins, it’s always penguins. If you want to win something in a wildlife photography competition then you need to get yourself to the Antarctic with a waterproof camera and some thermal clothing!
OVERALL WINNER: This was the image Paul had been so hoping to get: a sunlit mass of emperor penguins charging upwards, leaving in their wake a crisscross of bubble trails. The location was near the emperor colony at the edge of the frozen area of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. It was into the only likely exit hole that he lowered himself. He then had to wait for the return of the penguins, crops full of icefish for their chicks. Paul locked his legs under the lip of the ice so he could remain motionless, breathing through a snorkel so as not to spook the penguins when they arrived. Then it came: a blast of birds from the depths. They were so fast that, with frozen fingers, framing and focus had to be instinctive. ‘It was a fantastic sight’, says Paul, ‘as hundreds launched themselves out of the water and onto the ice above me’ – a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I’ll never forget.
WINNER YOUNG WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER: Harvest time at Owen’s grandparents’ farm draws in the birds of prey to feed on the fleeing small mammals, and it also attracts Owen, with his camera at the ready. ‘Seeing this red kite with an aeroplane in the distance was a moment I couldn’t miss,’ says Owen. The shot is symbolic for him for two reasons. It was taken at the centre of the Bedfordshire site chosen for London’s third airport back in the late 1960s. ‘Opposition to the planned airport stopped it going ahead, which is why I can photograph the wildlife on the farm today.’ At the same time, British red kites also faced extinction following centuries of persecution. But following reintroductions, numbers have increased dramatically, spreading east from the Chilterns.
Nikon D90 + 300mm f4 lens + 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1000 sec at f5.6; ISO 500; Manfrotto monopod.
It almost looks like a stuffed squirrel but the soft lighting in this image is brilliant. The reflection of the squirrel in the mirror adds an extra dimension to the shot and I think the silhouette of its hands gives it more character.
WINNER URBAN WILDLIFE: Once, some 40 or so years ago, a family of 13 people lived in this cottage in Suomusjärvi, Salo, Finland. They have long gone, but though the building has fallen into disrepair, it is still a winter home to many woodland creatures, including this red squirrel, which lives in the attic. Kai has spent the past 15 years documenting the secret life of such places. ‘Deserted buildings are so full of contradictions,’ he says. ‘I am fascinated by the way nature reclaims spaces that were, essentially, only ever on loan to humans.’
Nikon D3S + 70-200mm f2.8 lens; 1/30 sec at f4; ISO 1800; hide
It’s all in the eyes! This great shot is full of menace and the low light and contrasting colours adds to the overall effect.
WINNER ANIMAL PORTRAIT One evening, while walking along the riverbed of the Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida, USA, one evening, Larry came across a group of alligators. It was the dry season, and they had been gorging on fish trapped in the pools left behind as the water receded from the river. One big alligator had clearly eaten its fill. ‘It wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry,’ says Larry. ‘So I set my tripod and camera up about seven metres in front of him and focused on his eyes.’ Just after sunset, Larry set his flash on the lowest setting to give just a tiny bit of light, enough to catch the eyeshine in the alligator’s eyes. Like cats, an alligator has a tapetum lucidum at the back of each eye – a structure that reflects light back into the photoreceptor cells to make the most of low light. The colour of eyeshine differs from species to species. In alligators, it glows red – one good way to locate alligators on a dark night. The greater the distance between its eyes, the longer the reptile, in this case, very long.
Nikon D2X + 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 lens; 8 sec at f8; ISO 200; SB-800 flash; Gitzo 3125 tripod; Manfrotto 468RC2 Ball Head.
The overall winner in this category was some penguins leaping about in the air, a great shot but something I’ve seen a few times before in galleries etc. This shot however is fantastic and is a great capture of the speed and drama of a Golden Eagle in action. Run fox, run!
SPECIALLY COMMENDED BEHAVIOUR BIRDS: Stefan hiked for five kilometres in thick snow in the Sinite Kamani National Park in Bulgaria to reach a hide known to be a golden eagle hotspot. It was one of the coldest winters in recent years, and using a vehicle was out of the question. On the second day, he spent a long while watching a golden eagle eating a carcass. ‘I was able to get some great portrait shots,’ says Stefan, ‘but what happened next took me by surprise.’ A red fox sidled up and tried to snatch the meal, but the eagle was having none of it. ‘After a short, fierce spat, the fox fled with the eagle literally hard on its heels.’ A golden eagle can kill prey even bigger than a fox, but with a carcass to defend, the eagle was almost certainly just trying to scare the fox away rather than grab it.
The face of the baby gazelle says it all and I’m sure we’ll all had days at work where we feel like it does 🙂
WINNER BEHAVIOUR/MAMMALS: When a female cheetah caught but didn’t kill a Thomson’s gazelle calf and waited for her cubs to join her, Grégoire guessed what was about to happen. He’d spent nearly a decade studying and photographing cheetahs in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and he knew that the female’s behaviour meant one thing: a hunting lesson was due to begin. The female moved away, leaving the calf lying on the ground near her cubs. At first, the cubs took no notice of it. But when it struggled jerkily to its feet ‘the cubs’ natural predatory instincts were triggered,’ says Grégoire. ‘Each cub’s gaze locked on to the calf as it made a break for freedom.’ The lesson repeated itself several times, with the cubs ignoring the calf when it was on the ground and catching it whenever it tried to escape – ‘an exercise that affords the cubs the chance to practise chases in preparation for the time they’ll have to do so for real.’
Nikon D3 + 300mm f2.8 lens; 1/1250 sec at f2.8 (-0.7 e/v); ISO 400.
I couldn’t finish a post without including a black and white image and so here is the winner of that category. It is such a simple image but it is really eye catching. It goes to show that you don’t need to travel to far off lands or even get close to your subject to capture a winning image. I does make me wonder just how few pixels you could devote to an animal to still call it a wildlife shot 🙂
WINNER NATURE IN BLACK AND WHITE: This steep, ploughed field, in Burgenland, Austria, with a ribbon of dazzling yellow oilseed rape on the horizon and a swathe of green to the side, was just what Robert was looking for. ‘But it lacked a focus point’, he says. As if on cue, a brown hare entered stage right from the grass and sat motionless on the furrowed soil. ‘But once I saw the image in black and white,’ says Robert, ‘not only was the stark geometry highlighted but also the small hare became the centre of the composition rather than being lost among the colour.’
Canon EOS-1D Mark III + 500mm f4 lens; 1/640 sec at f11; ISO 250.