Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018
Lounging leopard by Skye Meaker, South Africa
Grand Title Winner 2018, 15-17 Years Old
Mathoja was dozing when they finally found her, lying along a low branch of a nyala tree. And she continued to doze all the time they were there, unfazed by the vehicle. ‘She would sleep for a couple of minutes. Then look around briefly. Then fall back to sleep,’ says Skye. Mathoja’s home is Botswana’s Mashatu Game Reserve, which Skye and his family regularly visit, always hoping to see leopards, though they are notoriously elusive. In Bantu language, Mathoja means ‘the one that walks with a limp’. Skye calls her Limpy. She limps because of an injury as a cub, but otherwise she is now a healthy eight-year-old, and she remains the calmest of leopards around vehicles. Though she dozed just metres away from Skye, she blended into the background, the morning light was poor, leaves kept blowing across her face, and her eyes were only ever open briefly, making it hard for Skye to compose the shot he was after. Finally, just as she opened her eyes for a second, the overhead branches moved enough to let in a shaft of light that gave a glint to her eyes, helping him to create his memorable portrait.
Canon EOS-1D X + 500mm f4 lens; 1/80 sec at f4; ISO 1250.
The golden couple by Marsel van Oosten, The Netherlands
Grand Title Winner 2018, Animal Portraits
A male Qinling golden snub-nosed monkey rests briefly on a stone seat. He has been joined by a female from his small group. Both are watching intently as an altercation takes place down the valley between the lead males of two other groups in the 50-strong troop. It’s spring in the temperate forest of China’s Qinling Mountains, the only place where these endangered monkeys live. They spend most of the day foraging in the trees, eating a mix of leaves, buds, seeds, bark and lichen, depending on the season. Though they are accustomed to researchers observing them, they are also constantly on the move, and as Marsel couldn’t swing through the trees, the steep slopes and mountain gorges proved challenging. Whenever he did catch up and if the monkeys were on the ground, the light was seldom right. Also, the only way to show both a male’s beautiful pelage and his striking blue face was to shoot at an angle from the back. That became Marsel’s goal. It took many days to understand the group’s dynamics and predict what might happen next, but finally his perseverance paid off with this gift of a perfect situation, with a perfect forest backdrop and perfect light filtering through the canopy. A low flash brought out the glow of the male’s golden locks to complete the perfect portrait.
Nikon D810 + Tamron 24–70mm f2.8 lens at 24mm; 1/320 sec at f8; ISO 1600; Nikon SB-910 flash.
Pipe owls by Arshdeep Singh, India
Winner 2018, 10 Years and Under
Huddled together at the opening of an old waste-pipe, two spotted owlets look straight into Arshdeep’s lens. He and his father had been driving out of Kapurthala, a city in the Indian state of Punjab, going on a birding trip, when he saw one of them dive into the pipe. His father didn’t believe what he’d seen but stopped the car and backed up. It wasn’t long before one of the owlets popped its head out. Guessing this might be a nest site and keen to photograph such an unusual setting, Arshdeep begged to borrow his father’s camera and telephoto lens. Using skills accrued from photographing birds since he was six years old, Arshdeep rested the lens on the car’s open window and waited. He wasn’t at eye level, though. Realizing that if the window was half open, he could place the lens at the right height, he knelt on the seat and waited. It wasn’t long before the curious owlet – less than 20 centimetres (8 inches) high – put its head out again, closely followed by the larger female. Framing the pair off-centre, and using a shallow depth of field to isolate them from the building behind, he created a characterful portrait of a species that has adapted to urban life.
Nikon D500 + 500mm f4 lens; 1/1600 sec at f4 (-0.7 e/v); ISO 450.
Duck of dreams by Carlos Perez Naval, Spain
Winner 2018, 11-14 Years Old
The long-tailed ducks were the most beautiful Carlos had ever seen. In fact, it had been the sea ducks that he most wanted to see when the family planned their holiday to Norway. They were staying on the Varanger Peninsula, on the northern coast of the Barents Sea. But to get close enough to photograph the ducks meant booking a floating hide in the harbour and an early-morning boat, so he and his mother and father would be in the hide before sunrise, before the ducks flew in to feed. It was March, and still bitterly cold, and lying on his belly on the floor of the hide, he felt he might gradually freeze. But the discomfort was worth it. As the light broke, the ducks flew in – eider ducks and long-tailed ducks in their breeding plumage. The only sound was the water lapping against the hide as the ducks dived for fish. He focused on one male that was resting after feeding. An overcast sky muted the dawn light and allowed Carlos to capture the subtle colours of the duck’s plumage, and reflected lights from the village added a golden sparkle to the ripples, caught in a perfect frame.
Nikon D7100 + 200–400mm f4 lens at 400mm; 1/320 sec at f4; ISO 1000.
Blood thirsty by Thomas P Peschak, Germany/South Africa
Winner 2018, Behaviour: Birds
When rations run short on Wolf Island, in the remote northern Galápagos, the sharp-beaked ground finches become vampires. Their sitting targets are Nazca boobies and other large birds on the plateau. Boobies thrive here, nesting among dense cactus thickets and fishing in the surrounding ocean, but the finches have a tougher time. The island has no permanent water and little rainfall. The finches – among the species that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution – rely on a scant diet of seeds and insects, which regularly dries up. Pecking away at the base of booby flight feathers with their sharp beaks – a trait that may have evolved from feeding on the birds’ parasites – they drink blood to survive. ‘I’ve seen more than half a dozen finches drinking from a single Nazca booby,’ says Tom. Rather than leave and expose their eggs and chicks to the sun, the boobies appear to tolerate the vampires, and the blood loss doesn’t seem to cause permanent harm. Working on a climate-change story (the Galapagos may offer an early warning of the effects on biodiversity of global changes), Tom had secured a rare permit to land on the island. He made it up the steep cliffs, scrambling over loose rocks to reach the plateau. For maximum impact, he shot the bloody scene at bird’s eye level to capture the one female feeding and another waiting just behind.
Nikon D5 + 16–35mm f4 lens; 1/200 sec at f20; ISO 160; Profoto B1X 500 AirTTL flash.
Mud-rolling mud-dauber by Georgina Steytler, Australia
Winner 2018, Behaviour: Invertebrates
It was a hot summer day, and the waterhole at Walyormouring Nature Reserve, Western Australia, was buzzing. Georgina had got there early to photograph birds, but her attention was stolen by the industrious slender mud-dauber wasps, distinctive with their stalk-like first abdominal segments. They were females, busy digging in the soft mud at the water’s edge, and then rolling the mud into balls to create egg chambers to add to their nearby nests. A female builds her external nest completely out of mud, cylindrical chamber by chamber, which cement together into one mass as the mud hardens. She provisions each of the dozen or more cocoon-like chambers with the paralyzed bodies of orb‑weaving spiders, laying one egg on the first spider in each chamber – usually a soft-bodied species, which is easy for a newly hatched larva to eat. To get a good angle on the industrious mud‑daubers, Georgina lay in the mud, pre‑focused on a likely flight path and began shooting whenever a wasp entered the frame. It took hundreds of attempts to achieve her ideal shot, of two slender mud-dauber wasps, each displaying an aspect of their quintessential mud-handling skills.
Canon EOS-1D X + 600mm f4 lens + 1.4x extender; 1/4000 sec at f8; ISO 1000.
Kuhirwa mourns her baby by Ricardo Núñez Montero, Spain
Winner 2018, Behaviour: Mammals
Kuhirwa, a young female member of the Nkuringo mountain gorilla family in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, would not give up on her dead baby. What Ricardo first thought to be a bundle of roots turned out to be the tiny corpse. Forced by the low light to work with a wide aperture and a very narrow depth of field, he chose to focus on the body rather than Kuhirwa’s face. Guides told him that she had given birth during bad weather and that the baby probably died of cold. At first Kuhirwa had cuddled and groomed the body, moving its legs and arms up and down and carrying it piggyback like the other mothers. Weeks later, she started to eat what was left of the corpse, behaviour that the guide had only ever seen once before. Kuhirwa’s initial reactions to her bereavement echo responses to death seen in other species. From elephants stroking the bones of dead family members to dolphins who try to keep dead companions afloat, there is an abundance of credible evidence that many animals – ranging from primates and cetaceans to cats, dogs, rabbits, horses and some birds – behave in ways that visibly express grief, though individual reactions vary. Kuhirwa’s behaviour can be understood as mourning, without the need to speculate about her thoughts.
Nikon D610 + 70–300mm f4.5–5.6 lens at 185mm; 1/750 sec at f5; ISO 2200.
Night flight by Michael Patrick O’Neill, USA
Winner 2018, Under Water
On a night dive over deep water – in the Atlantic, far off Florida’s Palm Beach – Michael achieved a long-held goal, to photograph a flying fish so as to convey the speed, motion and beauty of this ‘fantastic creature’. By day, these fish are almost impossible to approach. Living at the surface, they are potential prey for a great many animals, including tuna, marlin and mackerel. But they have the ability to sprint away from danger, rapidly beating their unevenly forked tails (the lower lobe is longer than the upper one) to build enough speed to soar up and out of the water. Spreading their long, pointed pectoral fins like wings, flying fish can glide for several hundred metres (more than 650 feet). At night, they are more approachable, moving slowly as they feed on planktonic animals close to the surface. In a calm ocean, Michael was able to get closer and closer to this individual, which became relaxed in his presence. In the pitch black, he tried various camera and light settings, all the while keeping track of both his subject – a mere 13 centimetres (5 inches) long – and his dive boat. The result is his ‘innerspace’ vision of a flying fish.
Nikon D4 + 60mm f2.8 lens; 1/8 sec at f16; ISO 500; Aquatica housing; two Inon Z-220 strobes.
Crossing paths by Marco Colombo, Italy
Winner 2018, Urban Wildlife
A shadowy movement caught Marco’s eye as he drove slowly through a village in the Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park in Italy’s Apennine Mountains. It was late evening, and he thought there was a chance that it might be a Marsican brown bear rather than a deer waiting to cross the road. Stopping the car, he switched off the lights to avoid stressing the animal. He had just a few minutes to change lenses and prepare to take a shot through the windscreen before the bear walked out of the shadows and across the road, disappearing into the dark of the woods. Though the light was poor, the backdrop made up for it, complete with nature-tourism posters. Most Marsican brown bears – an isolated, unaggressive and critically endangered subspecies – stay well away from humans. A few individuals, though, venture into villages to raid vegetable gardens and orchards, especially in the run-up to winter hibernation, when they need to lay down fat. This puts them at risk of being hit by cars, of retaliatory poisoning and of harassment: video clips have appeared on social media made of bears being chased by cars. With just 50 or so bears remaining, every death is a disaster. Coexistence is possible, but only if a respectful distance is maintained. Electric fences around orchards help deter the bears from coming into the villages, and education can protect both the bears and the nature tourism they attract.
Nikon D700 + 28–70mm lens at 70mm; 1/50 sec at f4; ISO 6400; MaGear harness.
Windsweep by Orlando Fernandez Miranda, Spain
Winner 2018, Earth’s Environments
Standing at the top of a high dune on Namibia’s desert coastline, where mounds of wind-sculpted sand merge with crashing Atlantic waves, Orlando faced a trio of weather elements: a fierce northeasterly wind, warm rays of afternoon sunshine and a dense ocean fog obscuring his view along the remote and desolate Skeleton Coast. Such eclectic weather is not unusual in this coastal wilderness. It is the result of cool winds from the Benguela Current, which flows northwards from the Cape of Good Hope, mixing with the heat rising from the arid Namib Desert to give rise to thick fog that regularly envelopes the coast. As it spills inland, the moisture from this fog is the life-blood for plants and insects in the dry dunes. Orlando framed his shot using as a focal point the sharp ridge of sand snaking out in front, ensuring that the sweep of wind-patterned dunes to his right remained in focus, and kept the distant fog‑shrouded coast as a mysterious horizon.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 110mm; 1/500 sec at f11; ISO 100.
The vision by Jan van der Greef, The Netherlands
Winner 2018, Black and White
Perfectly balanced, its wings vibrating, its tail opening and closing, with its tiny feet touching the spike for just an instant, an eastern mountaineer hummingbird siphons nectar from the florets of a red-hot-poker plant. Positioned by the flower, Jan had anticipated the bird’s behaviour. For a number of days he had been stationed in the garden of his hotel in southern Peru, observing hummingbirds. He noticed that an eastern mountaineer – a species found only in Peru, characterized by its long, black-and-white forked tail – would rotate around the red-hot-poker spikes as it fed. He also saw that, when the bird moved behind a spike and its tail closed for a moment, a beautiful cross appeared. Determining to capture this strange vision, he staked out a spot underneath a single red-hot-poker plant (native to Africa, where it is pollinated by nectar‑drinkers such as sunbirds). It proved to be the hummingbird’s preferred garden source of energy-rich nectar. The low position of his wheelchair allowed him to set the spike against the sky, framing it with a dark surround of bushes. It took two half days to get the perfect shot, setting his camera to capture 14 frames a second, as the cross appeared for just a fraction of a second before its creator, with a burst of power, went on to the next flower on its route.
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II + 500mm f4 lens; 1.4x III extender; 1/5000 sec at f5.6; ISO 4000; Gitzo tripod + Jobu gimbal head.
The ice pool by Cristobal Serrano, Spain
Winner 2018, Creative Visions
On a cloudy day – perfect for revealing textures of ice – Cristobal scoured the Errera Channel on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The constant current through this relatively calm stretch of water carries icebergs of all shapes and sizes. These mighty chunks of frozen fresh water have broken off (calved) from glaciers, ice shelves or larger icebergs. Their beauty – towering above the water and looming even larger beneath – is familiar, but their impact from above, less so. Selecting one that looked promising – about 40 metres (130 feet) long and rising up to 14 metres (46 feet) tall) – Cristobal launched his low-noise drone and flew it high over the top, so as not to disturb any wildlife that might be using it for resting. The drone’s fresh perspective revealed an ice carving, whittled by biting winds and polar seas. Warmer air had melted part of the surface to create a clear, heart-shaped pool, within the sweeping curves of ice. The sculpture was set off by the streamlined forms of a few crabeater seals, in dark shades following their summer moult, and simply framed by the deep water.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro Plus + 8.8–24mm f2.8–11 lens; 1/120 sec at f4.5; ISO 100.
Signature tree by Alejandro Prieto, Mexico.
Winner 2018, Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Story
A male jaguar sharpens his claws and scratches his signature into a tree on the edge of his mountain territory in the Sierra de Vallejo in Mexico’s western state of Nayarit. The boundary-post has been chosen with care – the tree has soft bark, allowing for deep scratch marks that are a clear warning, backed by pungent scent, not to trespass. Alejandro set up his custom-built camera trap some 6 metres (20 feet) up the tree and returned every month to change the batteries. Eight months elapsed before the jaguar eventually returned to this corner of his realm to refresh his mark. Jaguars need vast territories to have access to enough prey. But in Mexico, habitat is being lost at a rapid rate as forest is cleared for crops or livestock or for urban development, and much of what remains is fragmented. The loss of even a small area of habitat can cut a jaguar highway between one part of a territory and another and isolate the animal to such an extent that it cannot feed itself or find a mate.
Nikon D3300 + Sigma 10–20mm lens; 1/200 sec at f9; ISO 200; home-made waterproof camera box; two Nikon flashes + plexiglas tubes; Trailmaster infrared remote trigger.
Dream duel by Michel d’Oultremont, Belgium
Winner 2018, Rising Star Portfolio Award
As storm clouds gathered over the Ardennes forest in Belgium, Michel hid behind a tree under a camouflage net. It was the best spot for viewing any action on the ridge – a place he knew well – but he needed luck for all the elements to come together. The thrilling sound of two red deer stags, roaring in competition over females, echoed through the trees, but infuriatingly the action was taking place further down the slope. Well matched, neither challenger was giving way, and the contest escalated into a noisy clash of antlers. For years, Michel had wanted to picture this highlight of the rut in the dramatic light of dusk, but the stags were never in quite the right place at the right time. At last, the stags appeared on the ridge, antlers locked, silhouetted. Michel had time to capture the clash – through branches of the tree to create the atmosphere – before the light faded and he had to leave the fighters, still locked in battle.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 400mm f2.8 lens + 2x extender; 1/400 sec at f8; ISO 400; Gitzo tripod + Uniqball head.
Now in its fifty-fourth year, Wildlife Photographer of the Year is a showcase for the world’s best nature photography. The competition is run and developed by the Natural History Museum.The exhibition opens at the Natural History Museum on Friday 19 October. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html
With the power to inspire curiosity and wonder, the images showcase wildlife photography as an art form, whilst challenging us to consider our place in the natural world, and our responsibility to protect it.
This year’s competition attracted over 45,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across 95 countries.
The next competition opens for entries on Monday 22 October and closes on 13 December 2018. The competition is open to photographers of all ages and abilities. Find out more here: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/wpy/competition.html
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