Digital photography has changed the world as we know it. That may sound like a grand statement, but it’s not far from the truth.
Moments are captured in real time. There is no development process. No waiting.
Within minutes, or seconds, images can be shared online, offering them to a larger audience than ever before.
Many photographers have their own niche, but it is wildlife photographers and film makers that have fed my passion for the natural world; outside of the world I have seen with my own eyes. Sometimes you need other’s eyes to show you what you may have missed, or would not ordinarily have the opportunity to see.
Every year, when the winners of the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year are announced I sit and stare in awe at some of the images captured. I wonder what lengths the photographers have had to go to to get ‘the shot’. What they’ve had to go through, who they’ve had to sweet-talk, who’ve they’ve had to convince. I love to know the story behind the photograph.
Co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is now in its 49th year and recently revealed the winners. This year, the competition has garnered 43,000 photos from 96 different countries.
Depicting the candid beauty and often harsh reality of nature, the images serve to raise awareness and appreciation of our surroundings. It is because there are people willing to sit in freezing temperatures, put themselves in danger, stretch their boundaries, sate their curiosity that we are given the privilege of seeing these amazing moments.
Here are three of the top title winners:
Essence of Elephants
WINNER: Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 – Grand Title Winner
PHOTOGRAPHER: Greg du Toit, South Africa
Ever since he first picked up a camera, Greg has photographed African elephants. “For many years,” he says, “I’ve wanted to create an image that captures their special energy and the state of consciousness that I sense when I’m with them. This image comes closest to doing that.”
The shot was taken at a waterhole in Botswana’s Northern Tuli Game Reserve, from a hide (a sunken freight container) that provided a ground-level view. Greg chose to use a slow shutter speed to create the atmosphere he was after and try “to depict these gentle giants in an almost ghostly way.” He used a wide-angle lens tilted up to emphasise the size of whatever elephant entered the foreground, and chose a narrow aperture to create a large depth of field so that any elephants in the background would also be in focus.
Greg had hoped the elephants would turn up before dawn, but they arrived after the sun was up. To emphasise the mysterious nature of these enigmatic subjects, he attached a polarising filter and set his white balance to a cool temperature. The element of luck that added the final touch to his preparation was the baby elephant, which raced past the hide, so close that Greg could have touched her. The slow shutter speed conveyed the motion, and a short burst of flash at the end of the exposure froze a fleeting bit of detail.
WINNER: The Wildlife Photojournalist Award
PHOTOGRAPHER: Brent Stirton, South Africa
An undercover ranger in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park responds to news of an elephant death by de-tusking the corpse at dawn. The elephant was killed by a single spear stroke. Most are shot. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is desperately under-resourced and simply cannot keep pace with the poachers.
“With more than 25,000 elephants killed each year and an African elephant population possibly no more than 500,000, it is no longer enough to vilify the poachers without understanding the truth behind much of the illegal trade.”
Since the ban on the international commercial trade in ivory in 1989, hundreds of thousands of elephants have been slaughtered and many millions of dollars’ worth of illegal ivory has been traded. Much of this fuels a market that has largely escaped criticism: religion. Whether Catholic, Buddhist or Muslim, worshippers manifest their devotion through ivory carvings. These icons are blessed by monks and priests and gifted between heads of state. No ivory-trafficking kingpin has ever been caught, and this centuries-old trade continues unabated. Every piece of ivory bought marks the death of an elephant. Brent worked with a writer for three years collecting the visual evidence for a story for National Geographic, describing it as 90 per cent investigation and 10 per cent photography – and an epiphany for him.
Mother’s Little Headful
WINNER: Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year (11-14 Years)
PHOTOGRAPHER: Udayan Rao Pawar, India
One night, Udayan camped near a nesting colony of gharials on the banks of the Chambal River – two groups of them, each with more than 100 hatchlings. Before daybreak, he crept down and hid behind rocks beside the babies. “I could hear them making little grunting sounds,” says Udayan. “Very soon a large female surfaced near the shore, checking on her charges. Some of the hatchlings swam to her and climbed onto her head. Perhaps it made them feel safe.”
It turned out that she was the chief female of the group, looking after all the hatchlings. Though he saw a few more females and a male, they never came close. Gharials were once found in rivers all over the Indian subcontinent. Today, just 200 or so breeding adults remain in just 2 per cent of the former range. “The Chambal River is the gharial’s last stronghold,” says Udayan, “but is threatened by illegal sand-mining and fishing.”
Of the winners and honorable mentions, 100 images have been shortlisted and appear in the current exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London. It will run there until March 2014, then take to the road and showcase the photos in Canada, China, Australia and a number of cities in Europe.
A full list of the winners is available on the NNM website.
The exhibition is open daily from 10:00hrs to 17:50hrs
Child and concessions £6
Family £33 (up to 2 adults and 3 children).
Free for Members, Patrons and children aged 3 and under.
*All prices include an optional donation to the museum.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 will be accepting entries on 9 December 2013 for 12 weeks.
So get clicking!
*With thanks to the Natural History Museum, BBC Worldwide and the photographers of Wildlife Photographer of the Year for allowing us to publish their photos and stories.