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Wildlife Photographer of the Year - Sneak Preview

Many thanks to the Natural History Museum for inviting me and allowing me to display 15 of the winning images and captions here. The winning images are just the tip of the iceberg - in fact if you're anything like me, you might actually prefer some of the runner up shots - all the more reason to get down there and see them in-person. It really is one of the world's very best photography exhibitions.

Winning images and their stories

Creation by Laurent Ballesta, France

Winner, Underwater

Laurent Ballesta (France) peers into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exit their milky cloud of eggs and sperm.

For five years Laurent and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks hunting the fish.

Spawning happens around the full moon in July, when up to 20,000 fish gather in Fakarava in a narrow southern channel linking the lagoon with the ocean. Overfishing threatens this species, but here the fish are protected within a biosphere reserve.

Nikon D5 + 17–35mm f2.8 lens at 17mm 1/200 sec at f11 ISO 1600 Seacam housing Seacam strobes1/200 sec at f11 ISO 1600 Seacam housing Seacam strobes

Road to ruin by Javier Lafuente, Spain

Winner, Wetlands - The Bigger Picture

Javier Lafuente (Spain) shows the stark, straight line of a road slicing through the curves of the wetland landscape.

By manoeuvring his drone and inclining the camera, Javier dealt with the challenges of sunlight reflected by the water and ever-changing light conditions. He captured the pools as flat colours, varying according to the vegetation and mineral content.

Dividing the wetland in two, this road was constructed in the 1980s to provide access to a beach. The tidal wetland is home to more than a hundred species of birds, with ospreys and bee-eaters among many migratory visitors.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 10.3mm f2.8 lens 1/500 sec at f2.8 (+0.3 e/v) ISO 100

Reflection by Majed Ali, Kuwait

Winner, Animal Portraits

Majed Ali (Kuwait) glimpses the moment a mountain gorilla closes its eyes in the rain.

Majed trekked for four hours to meet Kibande, an almost-40- year-old mountain gorilla. ‘The more we climbed, the hotter and more humid it got,’ Majed recalls. As cooling rain began to fall, Kibande remained in the open, seeming to enjoy the shower.

Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, and are found at altitudes over 1,400 metres in two isolated populations – at the Virunga volcanoes and in Bwindi. These gorillas are endangered due to habitat loss, disease, poaching and habitat disruption caused by human activity.

Nikon Z6 + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 200mm 1/320 sec at f6.3 ISO 640

Cool time, from Land time for sea bears by Martin Gregus, Canada / Slovakia

Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award


Martin Gregus (Canada/Slovakia) shows polar bears in a different light as they come ashore in summer.

On a hot summer’s day, two female polar bears took to the shallow intertidal waters to cool off and play. Martin used a drone to capture this moment. For him, the heart shape symbolises the apparent sibling affection between them and ‘the love we as people owe to the natural world’.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 28mm f2.8 lens; 1/400 sec at f3.2; ISO 100

Portfolio Story:

Martin spent three weeks on his boat using various techniques to photograph polar bears around Hudson Bay. Polar bears are mostly solitary and, while living on sea ice, can be dispersed over vast areas. Coming ashore in summer, they live mainly off their fat reserves and, with less pressure to find food, become much more sociable. While not wanting to detract from their plight in the face of climate change, Martin wanted to show polar bears in a different light.

Head to head by Stefano Unterthiner, Italy

Winner, Behaviour: Mammals

Stefano Unterthiner (Italy) watches two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem.

Stefano followed these reindeer during the rutting season. Watching the fight, he felt immersed in ‘the smell, the noise, the fatigue and the pain’. The reindeer clashed antlers until the dominant male (left) chased its rival away, securing the opportunity to breed.

Reindeer are widespread around the Arctic, but this subspecies occurs only in Svalbard. Populations are affected by climate change, where increased rainfall can freeze on the ground, preventing access to plants that would otherwise sit under soft snow.

Nikon D5 + 180–400mm f4 lens at 400mm 1/640 sec at f4 ISO 3200

Where the giant newts breed by João Rodrigues, Portugal

Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles

João Rodrigues (Portugal) is surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in the flooded forest.

It was João’s first chance in five years to dive in this lake as it only emerges in winters of exceptionally heavy rainfall, when underground rivers overflow. He had a split second to adjust his camera settings before the newts swam away.

Found on the Iberian Peninsula and in northern Morocco, sharp-ribbed newts (or salamanders) are named after their defence strategy. They use their pointed ribs as weapons, piercing through their own skin and picking up poisonous secretions, then jabbing them into an attacker.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + Tokina 10–17mm f3.5–4.5 lens at 16mm 1/200 sec at f13 ISO 320 Aquatica housing two INON Z-330 flashes

Spinning the cradle by Gil Wizen, Israel/Canada

Winner, Behaviour: Invertebrates

Gil Wizen (Israel/Canada) finds a fishing spider stretching out silk from its spinnerets to weave into its egg sac.

Gil discovered this spider under loose bark. Any disturbance might have caused the spider to abandon its project, so he took great care. ‘The action of the spinnerets reminded me of the movement of human fingers when weaving,’ Gil says.

These spiders are common in wetlands and temperate forests of eastern North America. More than 750 eggs have been recorded in a single sac. Fishing spiders carry their egg sacs with them until the eggs hatch and the spiderlings disperse.

Canon EOS 7D + Laowa 100mm f2.8 lens 1/100 sec at f10 ISO 200 Macro Twin Lite flash

The intimate touch by Shane Kalyn, Canada

Winner, Behaviour: Birds

Shane Kalyn (Canada) watches a raven courtship display.

It was midwinter, the start of the ravens’ breeding season. Shane lay on the frozen ground using the muted light to capture the detail of the ravens’ iridescent plumage against the contrasting snow to reveal this intimate moment when their thick black bills came together.

Ravens probably mate for life. This couple exchanged gifts – moss, twigs and small stones – and preened and serenaded each other with soft warbling sounds to strengthen their relationship or ‘pair bond’.

Nikon D500 + 200–500mm f5.6 lens at 420mm 1/1250 sec at f7.1 ISO 900

Rich reflections by Justin Gilligan, Australia

Winner, Plants and Fungi

Justin Gilligan (Australia) creates the reflection of a marine ranger among the seaweed.

At the world’s southernmost tropical reef, Justin wanted to show how careful human management helps preserve this vibrant seaweed jungle. With only a 40-minute window where tide conditions were right, it took three days of trial and error before Justin got his image.

Impacts of climate change, such as increasing water temperature, are affecting the reefs at an ever-increasing rate. Seaweed forests support hundreds of species, capture carbon, produce oxygen and help protect shorelines.

Nikon D850 + Sigma 15mm f2.8 lens 1/160 sec at f13 ISO 400 Nauticam housing twin Ikelite DS161 strobes + sync cord

Nursery meltdown by Jennifer Hayes, USA

Winner, Oceans: The Bigger Picture

Jennifer Hayes (USA) records harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice.

Following a storm, it took hours of searching by helicopter to find this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. ‘It was a pulse of life that took your breath away,’ says Jennifer.

Every autumn, harp seals migrate south from the Arctic to their breeding grounds, delaying births until the sea ice forms. Seals depend on the ice, which means that future population numbers are likely to be affected by climate change.

Nikon D4 + 24–120mm f4 lens 1/640 sec at f9 ISO 200

Grizzly leftovers by Zack Clothier, USA

Winner, Animals in their Environment

Zack Clothier (USA) discovers a grizzly bear has taken an interest in his camera trap.

Zack decided these bull elk remains were an ideal spot to set a camera trap. Returning to the scene was challenging. Zack bridged gushing meltwater with fallen trees, only to find his setup trashed. This was the last frame captured on the camera.

Grizzlies, a subspecies of brown bears, spend up to seven months in torpor – a light form of hibernation. Emerging in spring, they are hungry and consume a wide variety of food, including mammals.

Nikon D610 + 18–35mm f3.5–4.5 lens at 25mm 1/160 sec at f10 (-1.7 e/v) ISO 1000 two Nikon SB-28 flashes self-made camera-trap system

Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Dome home by Vidyun R Hebbar, India

Winner, 10 Years and Under

Vidyun R Hebbar (India) watches a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by.

Exploring his local theme park, Vidyun found an occupied spider’s web in a gap in a wall. A passing tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaw) provided a backdrop of rainbow colours to set off the spider’s silk creation., Tent spiders are tiny – this one had legs spanning less than 15 millimetres. They weave non-sticky, square-meshed domes, surrounded by tangled networks of threads that make it difficult for prey to escape. Instead of spinning new webs every day, the spiders repair existing ones.

Nikon D5000 + 85mm f3.5 lens 1/250 sec at f5 ISO 200 Manfrotto tripod

Sunflower songbird by Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco, Spain

Winner, 11-14 Years

Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco (Spain) enjoys the splendour of the sunflowers and a melodious warbler singing its heart out.

As light faded at the end of a warm May afternoon, Andrés’s attention was drawn to a warbler flitting from flower to flower. From his hide in his father’s car, Andrés photographed the singer, ‘the king of its territory’.

Melodious warblers are one of more than 400 species of songbird known as Old World warblers, which each have a distinctive song. The song of a melodious warbler is a pleasant babbling and without the mimicked sounds that other warblers sometimes make.

Fuji X-H1 + XF 100–400mm f4.5–5.6 lens 1/280 sec at f5.6 (-1 e/v) ISO 400

High-flying jay by Lasse Kurkela, Finland

Winner, 15-17 Years

Lasse Kurkela (Finland) watches a Siberian jay fly to the top of a spruce tree to stash its food.

Lasse wanted to give a sense of scale in his photograph of the Siberian jay, tiny among the old-growth spruce-dominated forest. He used pieces of cheese to get the jays accustomed to his remotely controlled camera and to encourage them along a particular flight path.

Siberian jays use old trees as larders. Their sticky saliva helps them glue food such as seeds, berries, small rodents and insects high up in the holes and crevices of the bark and among hanging lichens.

Nikon D5 + 14–24mm f2.8 lens 1/800 sec at f4 (+0.7 e/v) ISO 6400 Vello remote control

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London

Not all winning categories are represented here as publication is limited to 15.

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