Friday, 2 November 2012

2012 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition

The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year is owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.  The images from the competition shown in this blog are reproduced by kind permission of these organisations, so please do not copy them from here.

It hardly seems long since I wrote one of my first ever blog posts for my OCA course after I attended the 2011 World Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum in February this year, but already the 2012 competition has been judged and the winners are again on show at the museum.  There are 48,000 entries for the competition, including a couple from me (not winners!), and it is regarded as the premier wildlife photography event.  It never ceases to amaze me the lengths to which some photographers have gone to obtain their images and the amount of work that is needed to capture the rarest moments, although the competition offers categories for urban wildlife and various others that give all of us a chance without plunging to the depths of the Arctic Ocean or wherever!  The technical standards achieved throughout are remarkable and it represents the pinnacle of what is attainable, with the bar getting higher every year.

The 2012 winner was Paul Nicklen’s Bubble-jetting emperors and shows emperor penguins in the Ross Sea in Antarctica surging to the surface from beneath the ice as they rush for safety.  I think this is a very complex image that takes some time to digest and work your way around; there is so much going on with birds near and far appearing in the image as different sizes – I think that for me is what makes this image so compelling as the eye tries to make sense of the perspective and work out over what distance it is actually looking.  The clarity of the water and intense blue of the ocean, coupled with the bubble trails, make it a remarkable setting and the yellow colour accents of the feathers behind the eye really demand attention.
Paul Nicklen / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Nicklen also won the Birds/Behaviour category with Frozen Moment, again working with the emperors and their attempts to get back to the ice and escape the leopard seals lurking below.  I actually preferred this photograph to Bubble-jetting emperors for its closeness, focus on a single intimate moment in time and the great technical achievement to capture the image in the first place.  The bird which is exiting the water is frozen in mid air by the shutter speed, as are the water droplets, and its framing aginst the distant ice cliff adds to the impact of the image.
Paul Nicklen / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Another image on the flying theme was Ofer Levy’s Fly-by drinking of a grey-headed flying fox skimming the water surface to drink.  I have tried this shot with swallows taking insects hatching from a lake surface and it was a remarkable achievement to nail this one – getting a bat with its tongue sticking out was the icing on the cake!
Ofer Levy / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Anna Henly’s Ice matters speaks volumes for the potential fate of polar bears as the arctic sea ice recedes each year and the life of these creatures is held ever more in the balance.  This was a really symbolic image in that the fragmented ice floes almost seem to represent what is fast becoming a marginal existence for the polar bears and in a way allude to how their world is becoming more and more fractured and uncertain.  The use of the fisheye lens seems to add to the frailty of the bear placing it as it does in the middle of the vast expanse of shattered ice.

Anna Henly / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
There were, as always, many absolutely stunning images in the exhibition, and one of my favourites was Luciano Candisani’s Into the mouth of the caiman as the creature waits for fish to come within reach.  The intensity of the lighting was what attracted me to this image as well as the murkiness of the water hiding much of the scene and consequently maintaining focus exclusively on the business end of the animal.  Finally, Practice run from Grégoire Bouguereau depicts a group of cheetah cubs watching a Thomson’s gazelle calf running away .. but all is not what it seems.  Events as told by the photographer related that the mother of the cubs had actually caught the gazelle, but had not killed it, and released it for the cubs to practice their hunting skills.  The gazelle is in sharp focus running towards the camera and is perfectly set off against the four cubs which are beyond the depth of field, although this does not detract from the intensity of their gaze.  The triangular shape of the players in the scene with the apex heading towards the camera engages the viewer in the action and it is an even more impressive image seen 'live'.
Although there are categories in WPOTY for various forms of portraiture, the most stunning and popular photographs are invariably ones that show dynamic action with lots of movement and energy to capture the imagination of the viewer.  There are a couple of truisms in wildlife photography and both allude to the capture of the decisive moment in the narrative of whatever the photographer is seeking to capture.  Firstly, if all you can think of as a caption as you press the shutter is just the name of the animal, don’t bother, and secondly that to get winning wildlife images you need to photograph the 3 Fs .. that’s feeding, fighting and … I can’t quite recall the third .. !
Luciano Candesani / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Gregoire Bouguereau/ Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012


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