The winners of the internationally acclaimed Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition were announced amid much excitement at a gala awards ceremony at the Natural History Museum in London.
Now in its 48th year, the competition attracted more than 48,000 entries from 98 countries, with Paul Nicklen’s Bubble-jetting emperors, a spectacular image of the chaotic underwater world of emperor penguins at the edge of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, claiming the overall title of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Paul remained motionless, his legs locked under the ice, waiting for the penguins. Suddenly the birds blasted from the depths and, with frozen fingers, Paul instinctively captured this incredible image. ‘It was a fantastic sight,’ says Paul. ‘Hundreds launched themselves out of the water and on to the ice above me. It was a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I’ll never forget’.
Competition judge and esteemed underwater photographer David Doubilet, remarked, ‘This image draws us in for a glimpse of the emperor penguin’s private world at the end of the earth. I love this image because it shows perfectly organised, infinite chaos. My eyes linger over it trying to absorb everything that’s going on here.’
Teenager Owen Hearn, from the UK, proved to be a high-flier as he was hailed Veolia Environnement Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his image Flight paths, featuring a resplendent red kite mirroring a distant plane, captured on his grandparents’ farm.
This shot is especially symbolic as the photo was taken on the site originally chosen for London’s third airport in the late 1960s, when British red kites faced extinction. Opposition to the airport and the reintroduction of red kites to the UK means the birds now fly freely and Owen could snap this stunning image.
‘It’s not unusual to see me leaving the house at dawn or lying in a hedge at 9.30 at night waiting to take that perfect shot,’ says Owen. ‘I sent in this image as I think it’s unique. I feel very proud that one of the images taken on my grandparents’ farm was so successful’.
Judge Jari Peltomaki, an acclaimed wildlife photographer specialising in birds, said of the image, ‘The kite is looking straight at the camera and the aeroplane is perfectly positioned. All this against the white sky makes this image a winner. The photographer must have worked hard to get this image – and when you work hard you might just get very lucky one day.’
The two images were selected from eighteen individual category winners, depicting nature at its finest, from displays of peculiar animal behaviour to stunning landscapes. Judged by a panel of industry-recognised professionals, the images, submitted by professional and amateur photographers alike, were selected for their creativity, artistry and technical complexity.
The Eric Hosking Portfolio Award
At 1,800 metres in the mountains of Canada’s Banff National Park, bighorn sheep are forced to scrape down into the snow with their hooves to reach the grass below. Vladimir watched the hardy herd from the shelter of a clump of trees. At first, he took a series of portraits. But then he realised that the context was missing. By using a wide-angle lens he could show the whole herd in its environment. Vladimir worked out which way the herd was heading and then ‘walked up the slope and sat right in their path. They saw me, but they weren’t bothered,’ he says. ‘They simply walked around me and continued on their way uphill.’
Vladimir knew something was watching him. Dawn was still hours away, but he could make out the outline of what looked like a small spiky bush. ‘Then, as I approached, I realised that the bush was in fact a beast.’ Vladimir, who was looking for nocturnal animals in Banff National Park, Canada, lay down on the ground and waited for the porcupine to feel at ease again. ‘I had to use a slow shutter speed and maximum aperture opening, along with a narrow flash beam,’ he says. ‘I was lucky that light from the boathouse added warmth to the scene on that cold morning and illustrated just how dark it was.’ After a few minutes, the porcupine stood up on its back legs, took one last look at Vladimir and ambled off towards the wood, melting into the darkness.
Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Canada, is renowned for its beautiful colour. The milky turquoise-blue tint is caused by light bouncing off silt suspended in the water – glacial milk – the result of the grinding action of the glaciers that feed it. ‘On clear days, the light in the morning and in the evening is too weak to capture its beauty,’ says Vladimir. ‘During the day, the light is too harsh.’ The solution, he decided, was to wait for a snowfall to soften the light. But that proved logistically challenging. ‘In spring, the lake vanishes beneath the ice,’ he says. ‘In autumn, it snowed only twice.’ But on one of those occasions, Vladimir was able to get there in time to catch the brief lull just after one snowstorm and before the next. The light was perfect, he says, ‘with the sun setting over the horizon and on the opposite side, a new storm front approaching’.
As the full moon sunk below the horizon on one side of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada, the morning sun edged its way up at the other. The phenomenon occurs just once a month, and Vladimir was determined to photograph both celestial bodies simultaneously. ‘I chose a fisheye lens because its wide angle meant that I could include much of the sky as well as the dramatic landscape.’ He was lucky with the weather. Shortly after taking the shot, the clouds thickened and hid the sun for the remainder of its dawning.
The Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species
Kim has been filming African wild dogs at Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve for more than four years. He knows one pack intimately. ‘I have travelled with them, on foot, in the pack itself, running with them as they hunt. It’s a privilege, and it’s given me a true insight into their life.’ Kim has also witnessed first hand the many threats that have made African wild dogs endangered, including increased conflict with humans and domestic animals (poachers’ snares, habitat loss, traffic and disease). ‘At times, it’s heartwrenching,’ he says. ‘My mission is to dispel the myth that they’re a threat and help raise awareness oftheir plight.’ African wild dogs require huge territories, and so protecting them can protect entire ecosystems. When this picture was taken, the pack had travelled four kilometres to the Sosigi Pan, only to find it totally dried up. ‘The mosaic of mud seemed to epitomise the increasingly fragmented world this puppy is growing up in.’
The World in Our Hands Award
Anna was on a boat in Svalbard – an archipelago midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole – when she saw this polar bear at around four in the morning. It was October, and the bear was walking on broken-up ice floes, seemingly tentatively, not quite sure where to trust its weight. She used her fisheye lens to make the enormous animal appear diminutive and create an impression of ‘the top predator on top of the planet, with its ice world breaking up’. The symbolism, of course, is that polar bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival, and year by year, increasing temperatures are reducing the amount of ice cover and the amount of time available for the bears to hunt marine mammals. Scientists maintain that the melting of the ice will soon become a major problem for humans as well as polar bears, not just because of rising sea levels but also because increasing sea temperatures are affecting the weather, sea currents and fish stocks.
Animals in Their Environment
Ole had photographed polar bears more than a hundred times before around the islands of Svalbard, northern Norway, but on this particular summer evening, everything came together to sum up the bear and its ice environment. ‘The landscape, the shape of the ice floe, the shape of the bear and the footprints were just perfect,’ says Ole. Drifting ice is normal for midsummer in the region. But, says Ole, two weeks later, all the ice around Svalbard had melted, much earlier than in previous years. ‘I hope the picture also makes people think about an environment that is disappearing faster than most of us realise and appreciate the scary future most polar bears are facing, with ever-thinner ice or no ice at all.
Paul was not the only mammal lying patiently in wait on the edge of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, to greet the explosion of emperor penguins. Leopard seals – measuring up to three and a half metres long – were almost certainly lurking at the edge of the ice ready to grab a meal. The penguins were therefore exiting as fast as possible. They can sky-rocket up to two metres high out of the water, landing well clear of the edge. ‘I also kept an eye out for leopard seals myself,’ says Paul. ‘I’d previously had one hit me square in the face when I was five metres from the ice edge, knocking me down and stunning me. Luckily it realised that I wasn’t a penguin and slipped back into the icy water.’ The penguins’ survival is vital to that of their two-month-old chicks, hungrily waiting some 10 kilometres away at the Cape Washington colony. With full bellies, the penguins toboggan to the colony, where they regurgitate the food to their respective single chicks. They then head back to the Ross Sea for another three-week stint at sea.
When a female cheetah caught but didn’t kill a Thomson’s gazelle calf and waited for her cubs to join her, Grégoire guessed what was about to happen. He’d spent nearly a decade studying and photographing cheetahs in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and he knew that the female’s behaviour meant one thing: a hunting lesson was due to begin. The female moved away, leaving the calf lying on the ground near her cubs. At first, the cubs took no notice of it. But when it struggled jerkily to its feet ‘the cubs’ natural predatory instincts were triggered,’ says Grégoire. ‘Each cub’s gaze locked on to the calf as it made a break for freedom.’ The lesson repeated itself several times, with the cubs ignoring the calf when it was on the ground and catching it whenever it tried to escape – ‘an exercise that affords the cubs the chance to practise chases in preparation for the time they’ll have to do so for real.’
Behaviour: Cold-blooded Animals
Motionless but alert, a yacare caiman waits, ‘like a small tyrannosaurus’ for fish to come within snapping reach, says Luciano. Caimans are usually seen floating passively on the surface. Under the water, it’s another story. It’s this secret life that has fascinated Luciano ever since he first came face to face with a caiman while snorkelling. Once he’d recovered from the shock, he realised that the reptile was neither aggressive nor fearful – and that he could approach it. Luciano now regularly documents the underwater life of caimans in the shallow, murky waters of Brazil’s Pantanal (the biggest wetland in the world), which contains the largest single crocodilian population on Earth. Caimans can grow to be three metres in length. Most aren’t aggressive, but some individuals can be. ‘The safest way to get close is when they are concentrating on a shoal of fish,’ says Luciano. ‘While I was concentrating on this caiman emerging from the gloom, I had a field biologist with me all the time.’ The result was ‘the picture that’s been in my imagination since my father first showed me a caiman 25 years ago’.
This was the image Paul had been so hoping to get: a sunlit mass of emperor penguins charging upwards, leaving in their wake a crisscross of bubble trails. The location was near the emperor colony at the edge of the frozen area of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. It was into the only likely exit hole that he lowered himself. He then had to wait for the return of the penguins, crops full of icefish for their chicks. Paul locked his legs under the lip of the ice so he could remain motionless, breathing through a snorkel so as not to spook the penguins when they arrived. Then it came: a blast of birds from the depths. They were so fast that, with frozen fingers, framing and focus had to be instinctive. ‘It was a fantastic sight’, says Paul, ‘as hundreds launched themselves out of the water and onto the ice above me’ – a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I’ll never forget.
Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Some of the tallest buildings in London surround the docklands at the heart of the business and financial district of Canary Wharf. As Eve walked along the wharf, a bird caught her eye. It was a black-headed gull, of which there are many in the city. But this one was resting on a very remarkable area of water. Eve realised that she was looking at reflections of the straight lines of the nearby office block, distorted into moving swirls. ‘The effect was so unusual – it gave a beautiful setting for an urban wildlife image.’ Like all true photographers, Eve had noticed what others most often fail to see, even when it’s right in front of them.