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WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR

A picture of lazing lions won the overall shot in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 but the breadth of images across the competition, now in its 50th year, was truly astounding.

Over 42,000 people from 96 countries entered this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The 13 categories were split into two sections: Adult and Young.

American photographer Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols was named the competition’s overall winner for his captivating composition of lions resting in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Shortly before he took the shot, the lions had attacked and driven off one of the two pride males before lying closely together. Nick followed the pride for six months, which meant the lions were used to his presence and he was able to position his vehicle close to the kopje. Shot in the late afternoon sun, Michael photographed them in infrared, which he says, ‘cuts through the dust and haze, transforms the light and turns the moment into something primal, biblical almost’.

Stinger in the sun, Carlos Perez Naval, Winner '10 Years and Under' and overall 'Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year'

Stinger in the sun, Carlos Perez Naval, Winner ’10 Years and Under’ and overall ‘Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year’

Aware of eight year-old Carlos Perez Naval’s presence, the common yellow scorpion is flourishing its sting as a warning. Carlos had found it basking on a flat stone in a rocky area near his home in Torralba de los Sisones, northeast Spain – also a place that he goes to look for reptiles.The late afternoon sun was casting such a lovely glow over the scene that Carlos decided to experiment with a double exposure (his first ever) so he could include the sun. 

Green dragon, Will Jenkins, Winner '11 to 14 Years'

Green dragon, Will Jenkins, Winner ’11 to 14 Years’

Relaxing by the hotel at the end of a Costa Rican family holiday, Will Jenkins was planning on a day hanging out by the pool and surfing – that was until the green iguana jumped down from the hotel roof. ‘I love stories about dragons, and I wanted a big picture for my wall that would make me smile every day,’ he says. ‘I also wanted to impress my dad and brother with a shot of the biggest iguana I’d ever seen’. Selecting a wide aperture to make his subject stand out, Will carefully focused on its eye. ‘The iguana sunbathed for about 20 minutes before heading to the beach. It made me realize that you should always have your camera with you, just in case.’

The long embrace, Anton Lilja,  Winner '15 to 17 Years'

The long embrace, Anton Lilja, Winner ’15 to 17 Years’

Hearing that masses of common frogs were gathering in a flooded gravel pit near his home in Västerbotten, Sweden, Anton set out to photograph the mating spectacle. Lying down on the bank at eye level with the water, he became fascinated by the light bouncing off the spawn and the water, which by now was vibrating with the activity of the frogs. Experimenting with his flash, he achieved the effect he wanted just as a pair of frogs in amplexus popped up right in front of the camera, the male revealing his throat to be flushed with blue. They stayed posed amid the glossy wobbliness, allowing Anton time to compose his shot.

Snowbird, Edwin Sahlin, Finalist '15 to 17 Years'

Snowbird, Edwin Sahlin, Finalist ’15 to 17 Years’

Cheese and sausage are what Siberian jays like – so Edwin discovered on a skiing holiday with his family in northern Sweden. Whenever they stopped for lunch, he would photograph the birds that gathered in hope of scraps. On this occasion, while his family ate their sandwiches, Edwin dug a pit in the snow deep enough to climb into. He scattered titbits of food around the edge and then waited. To his delight, the jays flew right over him, allowing him to photograph them from below and capture the full rusty colours of their undersides more clearly than he had dared hope.

Touché, Jan van der Greef, Finalist 'Birds'

Touché, Jan van der Greef, Finalist ‘Birds’

A focus of Jan van der Greef’s trip to Ecuador was the astonishing sword-billed hummingbird – the only bird with a bill longer than its body (excluding its tail). Its 11cm bill is designed to reach nectar at the base of equally long tube-shaped flowers, but Jan discovered that it can have another use. One particular bird had a regular circuit through the forest, mapped out by its favourite red angel trumpet flowers and bird-feeders near  Jan’s lodge. To get to the bird-feeders, it had to cross the territory of a fiercely territorial collared inca. Rather than being scared off, once or twice a day ‘it used its bill to make a statement’. To capture one of these stand-offs, Jan set up multiple flashes to freeze the hummingbirds’ wing-beats – more than 60 a second – and finally captured the precise colourful moment.

Little squid, Fabien Michenet, Finalist 'Underwater Species'

Little squid, Fabien Michenet, Finalist ‘Underwater Species’

Planktonic animals are usually photographed under controlled situations, after they’ve been caught, but Fabien Michenet is fascinated by the beauty of their living forms and aims to photograph their natural behaviour in the wild. Night-diving in deep water off the coast of Tahiti, in complete silence apart from the occasional sound of dolphins, and surrounded by a mass of tiny planktonic animals, he became fascinated by this juvenile sharpear enope squid. Just 3cm long, it was floating motionless about 20m below the surface, probably hunting even smaller creatures that had migrated up to feed under cover of darkness. Its transparent body was covered with polka dots of pigment-filled cells, and below its eyes were bioluminescent organs. Knowing it would be sensitive to light and movement, Fabien gradually manoeuvred in front of it, trying to hang as motionless as his subject. Using as little light as possible to get the autofocus working, he finally triggered the strobes and took the squid’s portrait before it disappeared into the deep. 

Apocalypse, Francisco Negroni, Winner 'Earth's Environments'

Apocalypse, Francisco Negroni, Winner ‘Earth’s Environments’

Straight after the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic complex began erupting, Francisco travelled to Puyehue National Park in southern Chile, anticipating a spectacular light show. But what he witnessed was more like an apocalypse. From his viewpoint – a hill quite a distance to the west of the volcano – he watched, awestruck, as flashes of lightning lacerated the sky and the glow from the molten lava lit up the smoke billowing upwards and illuminated the landscape. ‘It was the most incredible thing I have seen in my life,’ he says. Volcanic lightning (also known as a ‘dirty thunderstorm’) is a rare, short‑lived phenomenon probably caused by the static electrical charges resulting from the crashing together of fragments of red‑hot rock, ash and vapour high in the volcanic plume. The Cordón Caulle eruption spewed 100 million tonnes of ash high into the atmosphere, causing widespread disruption to air travel in the southern hemisphere. Volcanic activity continued at a lesser level for a year, spreading a layer of ash over the region.

The price they pay, Bruno D'Amicis, Winner 'World in our Hands'

The price they pay, Bruno D’Amicis, Winner ‘World in our Hands’

A teenager from a village in southern Tunisia offers to sell a three-month-old fennec fox, one of a litter of pups he dug out of their den in the Sahara Desert. Catching or killing wild fennec foxes is illegal in Tunisia but widespread, which Bruno D’Amicis discovered as part of a long-term project to investigate the issues facing endangered species in the Sahara. He gained the confidence of villagers in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco and discovered widespread wildlife exploitation, including hunting and capture for commercial trade and traditional medicine. He also discovered that the causes and therefore the solutions are complex and include high unemployment, poor education, lack of enforcement of conservation laws, ignorant tourists and tour companies, habitat destruction and the socio-political legacy of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolts. But Bruno is convinced that change is possible – that tourism has a part to play and that thought‑provoking images can help raise awareness among tourists as well as highlight what’s happening to the fragile Sahara Desert environment.  

The longline lottery, Rodrigo Friscione Wyssmann, Finalist 'World in our Hands'

The longline lottery, Rodrigo Friscione Wyssmann, Finalist ‘World in our Hands’

 It had clearly been a monumental struggle: the young great white shark’s jaw jutted out at an ugly angle, evidence of how it had fought to escape from the hook before finally suffocating. Rodrigo came upon the grim sight off Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico, after noticing that a fisherman’s buoy had been dragged below the surface by a considerable weight. The hook was on a long line of hooks, set to catch blue and mako sharks. ‘I was deeply shocked. Great whites are amazing, graceful and highly intelligent creatures. It was such a sad scene that I changed the image to black and white, which felt more dignified.’ Such surface‑baited longlines may stretch for miles and are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of animals every year, many of them endangered. 

See all the winners and finalists at the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road SW7 5BD. The exhibition runs from 24 October 2014 until 30 August 2015. Adults £12.60, child and concession £6.30, family £34.45; nhm.ac.uk

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