Winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013

2013: Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Winners of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition were just announced where more than 43,000 images from 96 countries were whittled down to just eighteen. Now in its 49th year, the competition showcases the very best in nature photography and is led by two UK institutions, the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.

The overall grand prize went to photographer Greg du Toit from South Africa who took the magnificent, almost painterly photo (above), he calls Essence of Elephants. The photographer had been shooting African elephants since he first picked up a camera and it was his goal to “to create an image that captures their special energy and the state of consciousness that I sense when I'm with them.” Shot from ground-level at a waterhole in Botswana's Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Greg captured the “gentle giants in an almost ghostly way.”

The shortlist includes 100 photos that are first separated into two age groups – Adult and Young – and then by category like Animal Portraits, Underwater World and Creative Vision. Out of all those images, here were the top 18 that we loved the most.

2013: Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Grand Title Winner

Mother's Little Headful
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.
Photo: Udayan Rao Pawar (India)


2013: 15-17 Years – Winner

Last Light
Not one but four strokes of luck helped Mateusz fulfil his dream of photographing a long-eared owl. He was out looking for owls in Lofer, Austria, one frosty winter evening when he saw a shape tucked into the branches of a spruce. As he approached, he realized that it was a long-eared owl. But it was too far within the tree to photograph. Then came his first stroke of luck: ‘I then saw that there was a second owl nearby. It was roosting on an exposed branch, and I could see it clearly.' Mateusz was lucky in a second way, too, because the owl was dozing, and he was able to get very close. But it was so high up that the angle was wrong. Time for lucky stroke number three: ‘I looked around and there, in exactly the right place, was a bench.' By balancing on the high back, he was able to frame the image he wanted. But there wasn't enough light. Then came stroke of luck number four: after 30 minutes, the clouds parted to release the last of the sun's rays. ‘I got the photo you could only dream of,' the owl framed by the frost-encrusted tree, its soft plumage lit by the last of the evening light.
Photo: Mateusz Piesiak (Poland)


2013: 15-17 Years – Commended

Harvest Gold
Late one July evening, walking slowly along the edge of a wheat field near his village – Cousset, in Switzerland – looking for subjects to photograph, Etienne noticed ‘a little ball' stuck to an ear of wheat. ‘To my surprise,' says Etienne, ‘it was a harvest mouse, nibbling the grain.' Etienne approached until he was a few metres away and managed to photograph the tiny mouse at various angles before it scuttled back down the wheat stalk. ‘The meeting was brief but extraordinary,' he adds. ‘This was my favourite out of all the portraits,' showing it eating, its prehensile tail helping it to balance.
Photo: Etienne Francey (Switzerland)


2013: 15-17 Years – Runner-up

Freeze Frame
Etienne spotted this stoat, in its full winter colours, crossing a lane close to his home in Switzerland. It went into a snow-covered field at high speed and started jumping back and forth, presumably looking for signs of mice or rabbits. Etienne lay down in the snow and waited for it to reappear. When the stoat burst back into view about 10 metres away, Etienne had his camera ready. ‘The stoat didn't seem to be spooked by me and continued jumping around,' he says. ‘But it was a miracle that I managed to catch it in the air, at its highest point, and that I got it all in the frame, and in focus, too. I never expected to come home with such a picture.'
Photo: Etienne Francey (Switzerland)


2013: Animal Portraits – Joint Runner-up

It was midday, and Peter had arrived at a waterhole in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. Scores of white-backed and lappet-faced vultures covered an eland carcass, squabbling over the meat. ‘Two things hit me simultaneously,' says Peter. ‘The vile stench of rotting flesh and the intense buzz of flies.' The white-backed vultures were surprisingly violent as they vied for the best feeding positions. This particular individual had backed off from a fight but was about to re-enter the fray. Covered in dust, wings spread, head lowered, it reminded Peter of a gladiator in his chariot, lining up for a charge. Its picture is a portrayal of the true character of this feisty bird.
Photo: Peter Delaney (Ireland)


2013: Behaviour: Mammals – Runner-up

Bad Boys
The target of these Celebes crested macaques is not the flying cricket but a big male macaque just ahead of them. Andrew was documenting the macaques to raise awareness of these critically endangered primates – found only on Sulawesi and nearby islands – as his contribution to an Indonesian-based conservation project. He was on the beach, concentrating on photographing the male, who was gazing peacefully out to sea, when suddenly the peace was shattered by noise from behind. ‘I turned round to see these young males charging. They were screaming, kicking up gravel and making as big a show as possible, their faces full of expression. I had just one chance to capture the energy and passion of the display, as in seconds it was all over. The dominant male stood his ground, took just three paces forward, and the group's bravado crumbled. All four members of the rebellion turned tail and ran.'
Photo: Andrew Walmsley (United Kingdom)


2013: Animals in their Environment – Winner

The Water Bear
The fact that most images of polar bears show them on land or ice says more about the practical difficulties faced by humans than it does about the bears' behaviour. With adaptations such as thick blubber and nostrils that close, polar bears are, in fact, highly aquatic, and they spend most of their time hunting seals on sea ice and are capable of swimming for hours at a time. Paul took his Zodiac boat to Hudson Bay, Canada, in midsummer to rectify this bias. He scouted for three days before he spotted a bear, this young female, on sea ice some 30 miles offshore. ‘I approached her very, very slowly,' he says, ‘and then drifted. It was a cat-and-mouse game.' When the bear slipped into the water, he just waited. ‘There was just a flat, world of water and ice and this polar bear swimming lazily around me. I could hear her slow, regular breathing as she watched me below the surface or the exhalation as she surfaced, increasingly curious. It was very special.'
Photo: Paul Souders (USA)


2013: Underwater Worlds – Runner-up

Lionfish Bait
Here a lionfish is attacking a huge shoal of silversides and cardinalfish swirling in a huge baitball. ‘The synchrony was mesmerising, but the scene was a real challenge to photograph,' says Alex. ‘I had to make sure that I didn't overexpose the shiny, silver scales or create “noise” by highlighting particles in the water, while all the time being aware of the site's strong currents.' His determination paid off. He captured an intimate view of the agitated, swirling baitball, with the dazzling predator poised stage right.
Photo: Alex Tattersall (United Kingdom)


2013: Eric Hosking Portfolio Award – Winner

The Flight Path
Connor's photography draws on the wilderness skills he acquired over a childhood spent largely outdoors. This female barred owl had a territory near his home in Burnaby, British Columbia. He watched her for some time, familiarising himself with her flight paths until he knew her well enough to set up the shot. ‘I wanted to include the western red cedar and the sword ferns so typical of this Pacific coastal rainforest.' Setting up his camera near one of the owl's favourite perches, linked to a remote and three off-camera flashes, diffused and on low settings, he put a dead mouse on a platform above the camera and waited for the swoop that he knew would come. ‘She grabbed the mouse, flew back to her perch and began calling to her mate. It is one of the most exciting calls to hear in the wild.'
Photo: Connor Stefanison (Canada)


2013: Eric Hosking Portfolio Award – Winner

Three black dots – one beak, two eyes – were what Connor was looking for: a ptarmigan in full winter plumage. Having scoped out suitable white-tailed ptarmigan habitat, at 3,000 metres in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, he and his friend, kitted out in mountain gear and snowshoes, were on a long search for the snow-camouflaged bird. After fruitless hours following tracks and droppings and facing into a bone-chilling wind, Connor finally spotted his three black dots. When he realised that the ptarmigan was moving towards sprigs of willow to feed on the buds, he composed his shot, anticipating that the bird would carry on walking into the frame. By placing it at the edge of the frame, the ptarmigan became a hidden bonus in a beautiful snow scene.
Photo: Connor Stefanison (Canada)


2013: Eric Hosking Portfolio Award – Winner

Hot-Spring Magic
Hot springs bubble up through the limestone that was once an ancient inland sea, building a series of shallow, white travertine terraces in the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Cyanobacteria living in the geothermal water tint the travertine in shades of brown, red-orange and green. It was cold on the morning that Connor visited, and thick steam swirled around the dead trees, with their bases engulfed by travertine and snow on their windward sides. Using a long exposure, Connor caught the scene's mystical atmosphere.
Photo: Connor Stefanison (Canada)


2013: Wildscapes – Winner

The Cauldron
Flying towards the volcano, the cloud of ash, smoke and steam was so thick that he couldn't see the crater. But every so often, a strong wind blew the clouds away, and he could see a 200-metre-high fountain of lava spouting out of the crater and fast-flowing, molten rivers of lava running down it (some of these would travel 10 kilometres, sweeping away everything in their path). As gusts of hot air buffeted the helicopter, Sergey worked fast, strapped to the open door. ‘I just kept shooting, kept changing lenses and camera angles, knowing I had this one chance, hoping that I'd take one image that might do justice to what I was witnessing.' That was indeed his last chance. At 1am a new explosion happened, the ground rumbled, huge lava bombs threatened the campsite, and a heavy rain of ash and smoke made it impossible to take pictures. Says Sergey, ‘I have been to many places and I have seen many extraordinary things, but witnessing the Plosky Tolbachik eruption deeply impressed me.'
Photo: Sergey Gorshkov (Russia)


2013: Wildscapes – Runner-up

Ice Aurora
The plan was to drive out to photograph the northern lights over the icebergs in Jkulsrln, Iceland. But when she arrived, the sky was thick with cloud. ‘Not expecting anything extraordinary, I set up close to the car, which was not an ideal location,' says Ellen. So when the clouds suddenly parted, revealing a breathtaking aurora borealis, she grabbed her gear and ran, stumbling in the dark, down to the water's edge. ‘I was lucky,' she says. ‘The aurora kept swirling, and I had time to set up again..,This was my favourite image – the swirl of the clouds complementing the unusual colours in the aurora, all mirrored in the lagoon.'
Photo: Ellen Anon (USA)


2013: Wildscapes – Runner-up

The Greeting
The remains of trees half-submerged in Lake Kariba, the world's largest (by volume) artificial lake, stand sentry around a spit of land. They are ghostly reminders of an ecosystem that was flooded in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the construction of the massive Kariba Dam across the Zambezi River, between Zimbabwe and Zambia. As the lake formed, some 6,000 large animals, including elephants, were relocated as part of Operation Noah, many of them to Matusadona National Park. The lake forms the northern boundary of the park, which is very remote. ‘Most people get around by boat,' says Richard. ‘We were the first visitors to our camp for five years.'
Photo: Richard Packwood (United Kingdom)


2013: Creative Visions – Winner

Snow Moment
When photographing the famous Japanese macaques around the hot springs of Jigokudani, central Japan, Jasper had become fascinated by the surreal effects created by the arrival of a cold wind. Occasionally, a blast would blow through the steam rising off the pools. If it was snowing, the result would be a mesmerizing pattern of swirling steam and snowflakes, which would whirl around any macaques warming up in the pools. But capturing the moment required total luck – for Jasper to be there when the wind blew and for the monkeys to be in the pool. For that luck to arrive, he had to wait another year. Returning the next winter, he determined to get the shot he'd been obsessing about. He set up using a polariser to remove reflections from the water and create a dark contrasting background, and got ready to use fill-flash to catch the snowflakes. ‘As it kept snowing, I stood there, willing the wind to pick up. I felt it just had to happen – sometimes you can push your luck if I you just wait long enough.' But as the steam started swirling above the water, there wasn't a monkey in sight. ‘All of a sudden one adult appeared and jumped on a rock in the middle of the pool. When I started shaking off the snow, I knew this was the moment.'
Photo: Jasper Doest (The Netherlands)


2013: Creative Visions – Runner-up

Fish-eye View
Miniature, underwater landscapes fascinate Theo, particularly ones in fast-flowing streams and brooks. On the day he took this picture, he was experimenting with the effects under a small waterfall in a brook near his home in the Netherlands. Kneeling in waders and holding his camera under water, he shot looking up through the effervescent surface below the fall, using the bubbles to frame the scene of autumn trees. ‘I love taking pictures that show a fresh perspective on nature,' says Theo. His biggest challenges were not being able to look through the viewfinder to see what he was doing and avoiding having his head appear in the wide angle of the frame.
Photo: Theo Bosboom (The Netherlands)


2013: Nature in Black and White – Commended

Giant with Sunbeams
Alex took this shot in open water in the Caribbean Sea, off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, while swimming among a huge aggregation of whale sharks. The sharks were feasting on millions of tuna eggs. One picture he had decided on was a back-lit silhouette that would show the bow waves generated by these enormous animals – the world's biggest fish – as they push through the water, scooping up food in their giant mouths. When he spotted the fin of an approaching shark with the sun behind it, he dived down, held his breath and waited for the eight-meter animal to pass overhead so he could shoot it back-lit, with the sunbeams spearing into the water along its flanks. ‘As serene as the moment looks,' says Alex, ‘I was bursting for air. The combination of excitement and awe didn't help, or the fact that I had five meters of water and a shark between me and the surface. But the result was definitely worth it.'
Photo: Alexander Mustard (United Kingdom)

Wildlife Photographer of the Year website

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