Celebrating its 50th year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has just announced the winners for 2014. I have each of the stunning winning photos from all the adult categories to share with you.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition provides a global showcase of the very best nature photography. The competition is co-sponsored by the UK’s Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.
above: Sir David Attenborough and Kate Middleton presented the highest award of the evening to Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols for his image of lionesses and cubs resting on a kopje near a favorite watering hole in Serengeti National Park (shown at the top of this post).
The 2014 Grand Winners, by Category
MAMMALS- Alexander Badyaev, Russia/USA:
The mouse, the moon and the mosquito
Alexander was taking his daily hike along a trail in the Blackfoot Valley, western Montana, USA, when he noticed a giant puffball mushroom starting to inflate. Squirrels, chipmunks and mice began exploring and scent-marking the surface of the oversized fungus leaving it covered with tiny prints. Alex returned to the spot during a full Moon, when the puffball had reached its maximum size. He lay on the ground, watching and waiting, entertained by the dozens of small animals exploring the puffball. The most frequent visitors were deer mice, which scampered around, sometimes pausing to check on their surroundings. To avoid disturbing the animals, and to preserve the sense of place, Alex used the Moon as his backlighting. He relied on a long exposure and a gentle pulse of flash to show the curve of the fungus and to capture the frantic activity. When one deer mouse paused for a moment to investigate a persistent mosquito, the perfect midnight puffball scene was created.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 105mm lens; 2.5 sec at f14; ISO 250; Canon 430EX II flash.
BIRDS – Bence Máté, Hungary:
Herons in time and space
Bence had set up his hide to overlook Lake Csaj in Kiskunság National Park, Hungary. He had a specific image in mind and had planned to use both artificial and natural light. His subject was the shy grey heron. To overcome the various technological challenges of a night-time shot, he had built two timing devices for his camera to execute the single exposure. One device moved the focus, while the other adjusted the aperture within a single frame, so both the herons and the stars were in focus. It took 74 nights in the hide before the conditions were right and it all came together. The surface of the lake was still, reflecting the stars, and the sky was clear and motionless. Just after midnight, the seven stars of the Plough (part of the Ursa Major constellation) slid into position above the glow of a distant town. Bence took the shot, with both the stars and herons sharp, but with traces of the birds’ movement leaving ghostly impressions against the sky. Blending technology and passion in a masterful manner, Bence had finally created a picture that he had planned for many years – of herons imprinting their images in time and space.
Nikon D800 + Sigma 15mm f2.8 lens; 32 sec (1 sec at f10, then 31 sec at f2.8) + two custom-made gadgets; ISO 2000; four flashes; tripod; hide.
AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES – Raviprakash SS, India:
During the Indian monsoon season, green vine snakes often venture near houses. In this case one slithered just a few metres away from Raviprakash’s front door in Karnataka, in the heart of the Western Ghats. The snakes are attracted by the lizards and frogs that shelter among the vegetables and flowers in his garden. In the past two or three years he has ‘mastered the skill of identifying them amid a mass of green’. This snake appeared to be a plant at first glance – it was even swaying in the breeze. ‘A vine snake tends to spend a considerable amount of time in the same location,’ says Raviprakash. ‘It will wait for prey with divine concentration,’ before freezing in position once it has its prey in sight. The main challenge was to show the snake from this unusual perspective, without disturbing its concentration. Raviprakash says, ‘The green vine snake is one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. Each time I photograph one, it looks ever more beautiful.’
Nikon D5000 + 85mm lens; 1/400 sec at f6.3; ISO 200.
INVERTEBRATES – Ary Bassous, Brazil
Night of the deadly lights
On still, humid nights, the old termite mounds on the savannah of Emas National Park, central Brazil, sparkle with eerie green lights. These are the bioluminescent lures of click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the mounds. When conditions are right, they poke out of their tunnels. Shining their ‘headlights’, they wait for prey – usually flying termites that emerge on humid evenings to mate and look for new places to colonise. Ary lit this mound with a flashlight and kept the shutter open for 30 seconds to blur the insects’ flashes. This resulted in small pools of intense colour if the larvae remained still, or starbursts if they wriggled. Some adult beetles were flying, painting their flight paths against the starry sky. The orange glow of two towns and streaks of lightning were visible in the distance. To catch the peak of the phenomenon, which occurs after the first wet season rains and lasts for only a couple of weeks, Ary would stay in the park overnight. Despite occasional ‘bouts of crippling fear’ at the thought of jaguars and other dangerous animals that might be out after dark, he says the experience and resulting pictures were worth it. He achieved a shot he had been trying to capture for nearly a decade.
Nikon D800 + 16–35mm f4 lens at 16mm; 30 sec at f5.6; ISO 3200; Manfrotto Carbon One 440 tripod + Acratech ballhead; Maglite flashlight.
PLANTS AND FUNGI – Christian Vizl, Mexico
Glimpse of the underworld
Water lilies stretch up to the light through a layer of green mist in the Aktun Ha cenote, a huge sinkhole on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Aktun Ha is part of a great ring of thousands of cenotes, created when the limestone bedrock collapsed to expose the subterranean groundwater. Christian has been photographing the cenotes for the past 10 years. What makes Aktun Ha special is its underwater garden. The water is crystal clear, except in summer when an algal bloom several metres thick can develop beneath the surface. Christian settled on the bottom of the cenote to compose a picture of this still, silent underworld garden. The challenge was to balance the artificial with the natural light. The intensity and angle of the strobe illumination had to be just right. He wanted to bring out the texture of the leaves, flushed pink through ageing, without detracting from the natural light filtering down through the algae, or overexposing the skittish silvery fish. The resulting picture hints at why the ancient Maya considered cenotes to be sacred places and thought of water lilies as plants of the underworld.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 15mm lens; 1/160 sec at f14; ISO 200; 2 x Inon Z-240 strobes.
UNDERWATER SPECIES – Indra Swari Wonowidjojo, Indonesia
During a new Moon, the lights from the bagans (semi-mobile fishing platforms) in Cenderawasih Bay in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, attract shoals of fish into the nets of local fishermen. The lights act as a signal to filter-feeding whale sharks, which have learned to suck on the nets to extract the fish. It’s an easy meal, so easy that the whale sharks sometimes need to be shooed away from the nets, though some fishermen will feed them. Up to 10 whale sharks can cruise around a bagan at any one time, and the location is now becoming a dive hotspot. Attracted by the spectacle, Indra spent a few days diving there. As a huge whale shark – at least nine metres long – glided by on one dive, she noticed another swimming a little deeper, in a different direction. She swam quickly to position herself above both of them when their paths crossed. She adjusted her strobe output and ISO so the great fish would both be sufficiently illuminated. ‘The sharks will happily swim straight into you, gently nudging you out of their way,’ she says. ‘The fishermen see them as good omens and often jump in and swim with them.’ Elsewhere in Asia, these massive animals, the world’s largest fish, continue to be hunted.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 17–40mm lens; 1/100 sec at f11; ISO 640; Nexus housing + Inon z240 strobes.
EARTH’S ENVIRONMENTS – Francisco Negroni, Chile
As the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic complex began erupting, Francisco travelled to Puyehue National Park in southern Chile, anticipating a spectacular light show. But what he witnessed was more like an apocalypse. He watched, awestruck, from a hill quite a distance to the west of the volcano. Flashes of lightning lacerated the sky, while the glow from the molten lava lit up the smoke billowing upwards, illuminating the landscape. ‘It was the most incredible thing I’ve seen in my life,’ Francisco says. Volcanic lightning (also known as a dirty thunderstorm) is a rare, short‑lived phenomenon. It is probably caused by static electrical charges resulting from fragments of red‑hot rock, ash and vapour crashing together high in the volcanic plume. The Puyehue-Cordón Caulle eruption spewed 100 million tonnes of ash high into the atmosphere, causing widespread disruption to air travel in the southern hemisphere. Volcanic activity continued at a lesser level for a year, spreading a layer of ash over the region.
Nikon D300 + Sigma 70–200mm f2.8 lens; 1/541 sec at f2.8; ISO 200; tripod; remote control.
BLACK AND WHITE (also the Grand Title Winner)- Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols, USA
The last great picture
Nick set out to create an archetypal image that captured the essence of lions in a time long gone, before they were under such threat. The Vumbi pride in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park are a ‘formidable and spectacularly co-operative team,’ Nick says. Here the five females lie at rest with their cubs on a kopje (a rocky outcrop). Shortly before he took the shot, they had attacked and driven off one of the pride’s two males. Now they were lying close together, calmly sleeping. They were used to Nick’s presence as he’d been following them for nearly six months, so he could position his vehicle close to the kopje. He framed the vista with the plains beyond and the dramatic late afternoon sky above. He photographed the lions in infrared, which he says ‘cuts through the dust and haze, transforms the light and turns the moment into something primal, biblical almost’. The chosen picture of lions in Africa is part flashback, part fantasy. Nick got to know and love the Vumbi pride. A few months later, he heard they had ventured outside the park and three females had been killed.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 24–70mm f2.8 lens at 32mm; 1/250 sec at f8; ISO 200.
NATURAL DESIGN – Patrik Bartuska, Czech Republic
Patrik’s goal was to photograph a group of beautiful Banggai cardinalfish, which are found only in the waters off Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are endangered because of overfishing for the aquarium trade. Patrik encountered this scene while diving in the Lembeh Strait to the north. The contrasts of movement and texture entranced him – the anemone’s soft tentacles swaying in the current and the flicks of the angular, patterned fish sheltering within them. During his trip he mostly came across small groups of adults gathered around the coral. But he was after a group associating with an anemone. During the day juveniles use the anemones’ tentacles for protection, either avoiding their stings or being in some way unaffected by them. It took many dives before he found this large grouping. It appeared to Patrik like an underwater fire display, the tentacles like licking flames and the fish like erratic sparks. To capture the moving pattern he chose to shoot from above. Holding his position in the current, he waited for the fish to move so he could frame the composition.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 16–35mm f2.8 lens; 1/8 sec at f9; ISO 320; Seacam housing; Seaflash strobes.
New and Special Awards
SPECIAL AWARD: TIMELAPSE – Paul Klaver, The Netherlands
One winter afternoon in the Dutch Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, Paul discovered the still-warm body of a red deer doe. He photographed its eye ‘to capture her fading spirit’. Then he decided to let the camera run overnight. It captured shadows of reeds and a spark of light as the deer’s eye caught the Moon before freezing solid. He was inspired to take more time-lapse images in the reserve, capturing snow shrouding a kingfisher in white and a frozen tree in starlight. The result is a moving tribute to natural rhythms, revealing scenes that otherwise would be impossible to witness.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + range of lenses (14 to 100mm); different interval and dissolve times (1 to 30 seconds); raw files processed in After Effects, sequence edited in Premiere Pro.
SPECIAL AWARD: THE WORLD IN OUR HANDS (Positive or negative, images portraying our interaction with and impact on nature.)- Bruno D’Amicis, Italy
The price they pay
Bruno found a teenager selling a three-month-old fennec fox in a village in southern Tunisia. The pup was from a litter that he had dug out of a den in the Sahara Desert. Catching or killing wild fennec foxes is illegal in Tunisia, but it is still widespread. Bruno was working on a long-term project to investigate the issues facing endangered species in the Sahara. He gained the confidence of villagers in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco and discovered widespread wildlife exploitation, including the hunting and capture for commercial trade and traditional medicine. He also discovered that the causes, and therefore the solutions, are complex. Contributory factors include high unemployment, poor education, lack of enforcement of conservation laws, ignorant tourists and tour companies, habitat destruction, and the sociopolitical legacy of the Arab Spring revolts. But Bruno is convinced that change is possible. He believes that thought‑provoking images can help raise awareness among tourists and highlight what’s happening to the Sahara’s fragile environment.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 17–40mm f4 lens at 38mm; 1/160 sec at f4; ISO 400.
NEW SPECIAL AWARD: PORTFOLIO (Recognizing a body of work and the dedication to a specific subject or particular approach.) – Tim Laman, USA
The following portfolio represents just some of the stunning images comprising Tim Laman’s 10-year project to photograph every one of the 39 species of birds-of-paradise of New Guinea, Australia, and the nearby islands, and record their courtship displays. Undertaken with Cornell Lab biologist Ed Scholes, the project sought to vividly illustrate the concept of sexual selection first proposed by Charles Darwin. See it here.
SPECIAL AWARD: WILDLIFE PHOTOJOURNALIST OR THE YEAR – Brent Stirton, South Africa
(Single images that together tell a powerful story, judged on individual quality and narrative power).
See all of Brent’s images from this series here
A tourist at Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan, was so desperate to get a close-up of this young Japanese macaque in a natural hot spring that she held her phone ever nearer to her subject. Suddenly, the monkey snatched the device from her hand and retreated to the middle of the water to examine its prize. Marsel, who was leading a photographic tour at the time, saw the chance for a striking picture. His main challenge was the steam rising from the 42˚C water into the freezing air. ‘I wanted a really low angle,’ he explains, ‘but that meant getting close to the water. My lens was cold and kept fogging up, making focussing almost impossible.’ At first, the macaque just fumbled with the gadget. It had no idea what it had stolen but was nonetheless pleased with its new toy. It even managed to let the built-in flash go off a few times. When it finally held the phone just as a human would, looking intently at the screen, Marsel was ready to capture the image he had envisaged. Japanese macaques are thought to display culture, where a learned behaviour (most famously washing food) is passed on to other troop members and their descendants. But it remains to be seen if future generations of tech-savvy macaques emerge.
There is a major exhibition of these photos at the Natural History Museum that tours worldwide throughout the year. These winning images also appear on the NMH website, in BBC Wildlife Magazine and publications worldwide. As a result, the photographs are now seen by millions.