After 50,000 entries from 90 different countries, the winning images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest have been announced and the photos are not only breath-taking, but also tell the story of conservation in 2017.
At a ceremony at the prestigious Natural History Museum in London, the Overall winner was revealed as Brent Stirton, who took the top honour for an image entitled ‘Memorial to a species’, which captured a recently shot and de-horned black rhino in South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve. The striking, yet brutal, image showcases perfectly how wildlife photography can raise awareness on conservation crisis and how we need honest and real photography more than ever. One of the competition’s judges, Roz Kidman Cox commented on Brent’s image; “To make such a tragic scene almost majestic in its sculptural power deserves the highest award. There is rawness, but there is also great poignancy and therefore dignity in the fallen giant.”
Now in its 53rd year, the awards are seen as the pinnacle of the wildlife photography and the competition’s website receives over half a million hits per month. Winning images not only feature at an exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum, but are also toured worldwide.
Other winners in the competition included Daniël Nelson, who was awarded the title of Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 for his mesmerising portrait of a young western lowland gorilla from the Republic of Congo. Judges commented that Daniël’s image, entitled ‘The good life’, ‘captures the inextricable similarity between wild apes and humans, and the importance of the forest on which they depend.’
The winner of the Behaviour: Invertebrates category was Australian photographer, Justin Gilligan, who captured an underwater masterpiece entitled, ‘Crab surprise’ using his Nikon D810 paired with a 15mm f/2.8 lens. He commented on his image; ‘I noticed an odd shape in the distance, moving among the writhing crabs. It was a Maori octopus that seemed equally delighted with the unexpected bounty. Though large – the biggest octopus in the southern hemisphere, with muscular arms spanning up to 3 metres (10 feet) and knobbly, white-spotted skin – it was having trouble choosing and catching a crab.’
Peter Delaney was announced as the winner of the Animal Portraits category for his image, entitled ‘Contemplation’. Peter commented that his subject, a chimpanzee from Uganda’s Kibale National Park, was posing to attract a mate. He said; ‘Photographing in a rainforest with dim light and splashes of sunlight means your exposure settings are forever changing. Keeping my camera at its optimum ISO setting meant low shutter speeds, and as the park authorities don’t allow tripods and monopods, getting a sharp image with a hand‑held camera was a challenge,’
Gerry Pearce was named as the winner of the Behaviour:Birds category for his image entitled ‘The incubator bird’ which captured an Australian brush turkey, which build impressive nests for their eggs. Gerry spent four months observing the bird before using a Canon 7D MkII with an 18-200mm lens and two flashguns to shoot his image.
French photographer. Laurent Ballesta, was declared winner of the Earth’s Environments category for his mind blowing image, entitled ‘The ice monster’. Laurent was with an expedition team when he was silenced by the magnitude of the Antarctic ice shelves and, as only 10% of the shelves are visible out of the water, he decided to brave the ocean to capture the striking frame, using a Nikon D4s paired with a 13mm lens and a Seacam underwater housing.
Brazilian photographer, Marcio Cabral, took top honours in the Animals In Their Environment category for this sparking frame, which is actually Click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the termite mounds, poking out and flashing their bioluminescent ‘headlights’ to lure in prey – the flying termites. While shooting with a Canon 5DS R, a giant anteater oblivious of Marcio in his hide, began to attack the tall, concrete-mud mound with its powerful claws, after the termites living deep inside.
Luxembourg-based photographer Eilo Elvinger was named the winner of the Black & White category for her fine-art mono frame of two polar bears. Entitled ‘Polar pas de deux’, the image was captured while Eilo’s ship was anchored in the icy waters off Svalbard, in Arctic Norway. Eilo spotted a polar bear and her two-year-old cub in the distance, slowly drawing closer. Polar bears can smell prey from nearly a kilometre away and as they neared the ship, they were diverted to a patch of snow soaked in leakage from the vessel’s kitchen and began to lick it. Eilo commented; ‘I was ashamed of our contribution to the immaculate landscape and of how this influenced the bears’ behaviour.’ She captured the image using a Canon 1DX with a 200-400mm lens.
Aaron Gekoski picked up the Wildlife Photojournalist: Single Image award for his dramatic frame, entitled ‘Palm-oil survivors’. The picture showed three generations of Bornean elephants edge their way across the terraces of an oil-palm plantation being cleared for replanting. Captured using a Nikon D700 with an 80-200mm lens, the image brought awareness to the elephant’s plight as in Borneo it’s estimated there are no more than 1,000–2,000 left.