Winners of the Wildlife photographer of the Year competition
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The winners of the 55th annual Wildlife photographer of the Year competition were announced earlier this week during a ceremony at the Natural History Museum, in London, which develops and produces the international event.
Over 48,000 images were submitted from 100 countries. The 19 category-winning images will be on display at an exhibition that opens Friday, October 18th, at the National History Museum before touring across the United Kingdom and internationally to locations including Canada, Spain, the USA, Australia and Germany.
The Grand Title Winner, titled ‘The Moment’ and captured by Chinese photographer Yongqing Baoas, is a humorous shot of a Himalayan marmot being scared by a Tibetan fox determined to find food for its three young cubs.
Winner, Wildlife photographer of the Year
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Winner 2019, Grand Title Winner: The Moment by Yongqing Bao
About the photo: This Himalayan marmot was not long out of hibernation when it was surprised by a mother Tibetan fox with three hungry cubs to feed. With lightning-fast reactions, Yongqing captured the attack – the power of the predator baring her teeth, the terror of her prey, the intensity of life and death written on their faces.
As one of the highest-altitude-dwelling mammals, the Himalayan marmot relies on its thick fur for survival through the extreme cold. In the heart of winter it spends more than six months in an exceptionally deep burrow with the rest of its colony. Marmots usually do not resurface until spring, an opportunity not to be missed by hungry predators.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS-1D X + 800mm f5.6 lens; 1/2500 sec at f5.6 (+0.67 e/v); ISO 640; Manfrotto carbon-fibre tripod + 509HD head
Winner, Young Wildlife photographer of the Year
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About the photo: Cruz was on a night dive with his dad when he saw a pair of bigfin reef squid in the shallow water. One swam off but Cruz quickly adjusted his camera and strobe settings, knowing that the opportunity was too good to miss. He shot four frames of the remaining squid before it too disappeared into the inky blackness.
Bigfin reef squid are masters of camouflage, changing their body colour and pattern using their reflective and pigmented skin cells. They also alter their appearance to help them communicate. During courtship, males and females display complex patterns to indicate their willingness to mate.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 100mm f2.8 lens; 1/125 sec at f29; ISO 200; Ikelite DS161 strobe; Aquatica 5D Mk II Pro housing
Winner, Animals in their Environment
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Winner 2019, Animals in their Environment: Snow-Plateau Nomads by Shangzhen Fan, China
About the photo: A small herd of male chirus makes its way to the relative warmth of the Kumukuli Desert. These nimble antelopes are high-altitude specialists found only on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau. For years, Shangzhen made the long, arduous journey to observe them there. Here he drew the contrasting elements of snow and sand together.
Underneath their long hair, chirus have a light, warm underfur called shahtoosh. It grows tightly against their skin and can only be harvested by killing and skinning the chirus. Protection since the 1990s has seen their once-decimated numbers increase, but there is still demand – primarily from Westerners – for shahtoosh shawls.
Gear and specs: Nikon D5 + 600mm f4 lens; 1/1250 sec at f6.3 (+0.3 e/v); ISO 125; Gitzo GT5532S 6X tripod
Winner, Animal Portraits
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About the photo: Ripan was photographing a red weaver ant colony when he spotted this slightly strange individual. It may have the face of an ant but its eight legs give it away – on closer inspection Ripan discovered that it was an ant-mimicking crab spider. By reverse mounting his lens, Ripan converted it to a macro capable of taking extreme close-ups.
Many spider species imitate ants in appearance and behaviour. Infiltrating an ant colony can help them prey on unsuspecting ants or avoid being eaten by predators that dislike ants. This particular spider, says Ripan, seemed to be roaming around the colony, looking for a solitary ant that it could grab for a meal.
Gear and specs: Nikon D500 + 18–55mm lens (reverse mounted); 1/160 sec; ISO 200; Godox V860II flash
Winner, Behavior: Amphibians and Reptiles
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About the photo: Every spring for more than a decade, Manuel followed the mass migration of common frogs. He took this image by immersing himself and his camera in a large pond where hundreds of frogs had gathered. There he waited until the moment arrived for the picture he had in mind – lingering frogs, harmonious colours, soft, natural light and dreamy reflections.
Rising spring temperatures bring common frogs out of their winter shelters. They head straight to water to breed, often returning to where they were spawned. Though widespread across Europe, their numbers are thought to be declining due to habitat degradation from pollution and drainage of breeding sites.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 17–40mm f4 lens at 20mm; 1/640 sec at f8 (+0.7 e/v); ISO 800; Seacam housing
Winner, Behavior: Birds
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About the photo: Audun carefully positioned this tree branch, hoping it would make a perfect lookout for a golden eagle. He set up a camera trap and occasionally left road-kill carrion nearby. Very gradually, over the next three years, this eagle started to use the branch to survey its coastal realm. Audun captured its power as it came in to land, talons outstretched.
Golden eagles typically fly at around 50 kilometres per hour but can reach speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour when diving for prey. This, along with their sharp talons, makes them formidable hunters. Normally they kill small mammals, birds, reptiles or fish, but they also eat carrion and have been known to target larger animals too.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 11–24mm f4 lens at 11m; 1/2500 sec at f14 (-1 e/v); ISO 800; Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT flash; Camtraptions motion sensor; Sirui tripod
Winner, Behavior: Invertebrates
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Winner 2019, Behavior: Invertebrates: The Architectural Army by Daniel Kronauer, Germany/USA
About the photo: By day this colony of army ants raided their surrounds, mostly hunting other ant species. At dusk they moved on, travelling up to 400 metres before building a nest for the night. Positioning his camera on the forest floor, Daniel was wary of upsetting thousands of venomous army ants. ‘You mustn’t breathe in their direction,’ he says.
Army ants alternate between nomadic and stationary phases. These ants are in a nomadic phase, building a new nest each night using their own bodies. The soldier ants interlock their claws to form a scaffold while the queen stays inside in a network of chambers and tunnels. During the stationary phase they will stay in the same nest while the queen lays new eggs.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS 7D + 16–35mm f2.8 lens at 16mm + extension ring; 3.2 sec at f22; ISO 100; Canon Speedlite flash
Winner, Behavior: Mammals
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About the photo: The guanaco turns, terrified, his last mouthful of grass flying in the wind as a female puma attacks. For Ingo, this is the culmination of months of work tracking wild pumas on foot, enduring extreme cold and biting winds. After an intense four-second struggle, the guanaco escaped with his life, leaving the puma to go hungry.
Because they are so abundant in Patagonia, guanacos are common prey of pumas. These big cats are solitary and hunt by patiently stalking before they pounce. Their robust hind legs allow them to take on animals bigger than themselves but they can also feed on smaller animals, such as rodents and birds.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS-1DX Mark II + 600mm f4 lens; 1/3000 sec at f4; ISO 1000; Gitzo tripod
Winner, Urban Wildlife
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About the photo: On Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan, brown rats scamper between their home under a tree grille and a pile of rubbish bags full of food waste. Lighting his shot to blend with the glow of the street lights and operating his kit remotely, Charlie captured this intimate, street-level view.
Urban rat populations are rising fast worldwide and their association with spreading disease in humans inspires fear and disgust. Rats are smart and capable of navigating complex networks such as subway systems. Being powerful swimmers, burrowers and jumpers makes these rodents particularly well suited to city living.
Gear and specs: Sony α7R III + 16–35mm f4 lens at 24mm; 1/20 sec at f11; ISO 4000; Sony flash; PocketWizard trigger
Winner, Earth’s Environments
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About the photo: Red-hot lava from Kīlauea volcano instantly boils the cool Pacific Ocean where they meet at the Hawaiian coast. As Luis’s helicopter flew along the coastline a sudden change in wind direction parted the plumes of steam to reveal the fiery river. Quickly framing his shot through the helicopter’s open door, he captured the tumultuous creation of new land.
As the lava boils the seawater, it produces acid steam and tiny shards of glass, which combine to create a lava haze or ‘laze’. This eruption was Kīlauea’s largest in 200 years. For three months in 2018, lava spewed from the summit and surrounding fissures, eventually destroying over 700 homes and solidifying to create hundreds of acres of new land.
Gear and specs: Sony α7R III + 100–400mm f4.5–5.6 lens at 196mm; 1/4000 sec at f5.6; ISO 800
Winner, Black and White
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About the photo: In a winter whiteout a lone American bison briefly lifts its head from its endless foraging. Max purposefully slowed his shutter speed to blur the snow and ‘paint lines across the silhouette of the bison’. Slightly overexposing the shot and converting it to black and white accentuated the simplicity of the wintry scene.
Swinging their huge heads from side to side, American bison sweep away snow with their muzzles to eat the grasses and sedges buried beneath. Originally a common sight, their largescale slaughter for meat and hides brought them close to extinction in the nineteenth century. But populations are recovering and wild American bison now thrive in national parks.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS-1D X + 100–400mm f5.6 lens at 200mm; 1/15 sec at f22 (+1 e/v); ISO 100
Winner, Wildlife Photojournalism
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Winner 2019, Wildlife Photojournalism: Another Barred Migrant, Alejandro Prieto, Mexico
About the photo: It took Alejandro two years to take the perfect photo of a male jaguar. Under a luminous, star-studded Arizona sky, he projects it onto a section of the US–Mexico border fence to symbolise ‘the jaguar’s past and its possible future presence in the United States. If the wall is built,’ he says, ‘it will destroy the jaguar population in the United States.’
Jaguars are mainly found in South America but historically also roamed the southwest of the United States. Over the past century, hunting and habitat destruction have resulted in the species disappearing from this area. Any hope of establishing a breeding population in this region rests on the contentious border remaining partially open.
Gear and specs: Nikon D850 + Sigma 14–24mm f2.8 lens at 16mm; 30 sec at f2.8; ISO 1600; remote control; Gitzo tripod; Epson projector
Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award
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About the photo: Entwined in each other’s thick spiral horns, two male Dall sheep pause during a fierce clash. For years, Jérémie had dreamed of photographing pure-white Dall sheep against a snow-clad alpine backdrop. Lying in the snow nearby, he battled with strong winds, heavy snow and bitterly cold temperatures, determined to capture this moment of both ‘purity and power’.
Dall sheep thrive in arctic and subarctic regions of the world. They depend on steep, rugged cliffs and outcrops to provide them with places to escape from predators, while using nearby open grass and meadows to feed. In winter they favour areas with strong winds that remove snow and expose forage.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 400mm f2.8 lens; 1/1600 sec at f2.8 (+1.3 e/v); ISO 500
Winner, Plants and Fungi
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Winner 2019, Plants and Fungi: Tapestry of life by Zorica Kovacevic
About the photo: Festooned with bulging orange velvet, trimmed with grey lace, the arms of a Monterey cypress tree weave an otherworldly canopy over Pinnacle Point, in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California. This tiny, protected coastal zone is the only place in the world where natural conditions combine to conjure this magical scene.
Though the Monterey cypress is widely planted (valued for its resistance to wind, salt, drought and pests), it is native only on the Californian coast in just two groves. Its spongy orange cladding is in fact a mass of green algae spectacularly colored by carotenoid pigments, which depend on the tree for physical support but photosynthesize their own food. The algal species occurs widely, but it is found on Monterey cypress trees only at Point Lobos, which has the conditions it needs – clean air and moisture, delivered by sea breezes and fog. The vibrant orange is set off by the tangles of grey lace lichen (a combination of alga and fungus), also harmless to the trees.
After several days experimenting, Kovacevic decided on a close-up abstract of one particular tree. With reserve visitors to this popular spot confined to marked trails, she was lucky to get overcast weather (avoiding harsh light) at a quiet moment. She had just enough time to focus-stack 22 images (merging the sharp parts of all the photos) to reveal the colorful maze in depth.
Gear and specs: Nikon D850 + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 112mm; 1/4 sec at f8; ISO 64; Really Right Stuff tripod + ballhead.
Winner, Under Water
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Winner 2019, Under Water: The garden of eels by David Doubilet
About the photo: The colony of garden eels was one of the largest David Doubilet had ever seen, at least two thirds the size of a football field, stretching down a steep sandy slope off Dauin, in the Philippines – a cornerstone of the famous Coral Triangle.
Doubilet rolled off the boat in the shallows and descended along the colony edge, deciding where to set up his kit. He had long awaited this chance, sketching out an ideal portrait of the colony back in his studio and designing an underwater remote system to realize his ambition. It was also a return to a much-loved subject – his first story of very many stories in National Geographic was also on garden eels.
These warm-water relatives of conger eels are extremely shy, vanishing into their sandy burrows the moment they sense anything unfamiliar. David placed his camera housing (mounted on a base plate, with a ball head) just within the colony and hid behind the remnants of a shipwreck. From there he could trigger the system remotely via a 12-meter (40-foot) extension cord.
It was several hours before the eels dared to rise again to feed on the plankton that drifted by in the current. He gradually perfected the set-up, each time leaving an object where the camera had been so as not to surprise the eels when it reappeared. Several days later – now familiar with the eels’ rhythms and the path of the light – he began to get images he liked. When a small wrasse led a slender cornetfish through the gently swaying forms, he had his shot.
Gear and specs: Nikon D3 + 17–35mm f2.8 lens at 19mm; 1/40 sec at f14; ISO 400; Seacam housing; aluminum plate + ballhead; remote trigger; Sea & Sea YS250 strobes (at half power).
Winner, Wildlife Photojournalist Story Award
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About the photo: For 17 years Riku has performed skits three times a day in front of large audiences in a theatre in Japan. The appeal of these traditional and popular performances lies in the anthropomorphic appearance of the trained macaques. It took Jasper a long time to gain permission to take pictures of the performance, and he was appalled that an animal once considered a sacred mediator between gods and humans was now being ridiculed for commercial gain.
Gear and specs: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 24–70mm f2.8 lens; 1/160 sec at f10 (-1.7 e/v); ISO 2000
Winner, Wildlife photographer Portfolio Award
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About the photo: Stefan was lucky to find this isolated couple courting – many pairs had already mated by the time conditions allowed him to access this remote spot. The serene backdrop of sea ice and a distant stranded iceberg softly lit by the setting sun gives no hint that the Antarctic winter is about to intensify.
Emperor penguins form a new bond each year and are monogamous for the season. Males perform a courtship call until chosen by a female. The female lies on the sea ice and signals that she is ready before the male climbs onto her back. ‘The male struggled to keep his balance,’ says Stefan.
Gear and specs: Nikon D810 + 400mm f2.8 lens; 1/400 sec at f5.6; ISO 800