Jill Glenn visits the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Natural History Museum at Tring
While the headline pictures of the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition are usually familiar by the time the show reaches Tring (the winners are, after all, announced in the middle of October), it’s nevertheless a real pleasure to see them in the flesh, as it were, and to see the additional pictures whose fame has not spread so far. The Wildscapes series, for example, which face you as you come through the door into Gallery 2, deliver serious impact and stunning colours. The category brief – to reflect the scale and magnitude of our land, sky and seas, as well as the diverse and breathtaking effect of the natural forces that sculpt these environments – is well satisfied here. The winner is The Cauldron, shown left, but I defy you not to be moved by the runner-up, Ice Aurora, the northern lights over the icebergs in Jökulsárlón, Iceland, taken by American Ellen Anon, or indeed by The Pull of the Sea (same photographer), commended in the same category.
And don’t miss the Nature in Black & White Category, relegated sadly to the entry corridor; you can’t stand back far enough to see them as well as you might like, but the ‘skilful use of the black-and-white medium to enhance a striking competition’ is certainly in evidence. The winning shot, The Greeting, by UK photographer Richard Packwood, records his chance encounter with two elephants on a sand spit in remote Lake Kariba with its half-submerged skeletal trees standing sentry; it is surreal and very lovely… but I didn’t envy the judges having to choose between it and Swan Lake, commended, by Per-Gunnar Ostby, Norway (whooper swans in swirling mists at Lake Kussharo on Hokkaido, Japan's northern island) or Shot in the Dark, by South African Andrew Schoeman, awarded Runner-Up: two male lions on patrol in the Timbavati Nature Reserve, caught in the headlight of an approaching vehicle. It demonstrates perfectly how being in the right place at the right time with the right equipment plays such a part in these amazing shots. We may not be able to travel where some of these intrepid photographers go, but a few minutes up the A41 to Tring will help us look over their shoulders and share their experiences…
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Essence of Elephants by Greg du Toit (South Africa) – Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 & Animal Portraits winner
Du Toit has been photographing African elephants since he first picked up a camera. The picture was taken at a waterhole in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana. He used a slow shutter speed to try to capture their special energy, and 'to depict these gentle giants in an almost ghostly way'.
Detail from 'The Cauldron'
The Cauldron by Sergey Gorshkov (Russia) – Wildscapes winner 2013
Gorshkov had long been hoping that Plosky Tolbachik, one of two volcanoes in the Tolbachik volcanic plateau in central Kamchatka, Russia, would erupt – and on 29 November 2012, it began, 36 years after its last eruption. “So I dropped everything and went.”
The only way to approach it was by helicopter. Flying towards the volcano, the cloud of ash, smoke and steam was so thick that he couldn’t see the crater, but periodically a strong wind would blow the clouds away and he could see a 200m-high fountain of lava spouting out of the crater, and fast-flowing, molten rivers of lava running down it, sweeping away everything in their path.
Detail from 'Mother's Little Headful'
Mother's Little Headful by Udayan Rao Pawar (India) – Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013
Udayan Rao Pawar is 14, and has grown up in Madhya Pradesh, central India, surrounded by wildlife. This is one of the last strongholds of the once common gharial crocodile– just 200 or so breeding adults now remain – and Udayan camped near a nesting colony on the banks of the Chambal River to capture this picture.
Before dawn he crept down to hide behind rocks beside the babies. “I could hear them making little grunting sounds… 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.”
Detail from 'The Water Bear'
The Water Bear by Paul Souders (US)
– Animals in their Environment winner 2013
We’re more accustomed to seeing images of polar bears out of the water – on ice or land – than under it, but that’s largely because of the difficulty of taking photographs of them in an enviroment to which they are supremely well adapted.
Paul Souders remedied the dearth of underwater polar bear pictures by taking his Zodiac boat to Hudson Bay, Canada, in midsummer. After three days he spotted this young female, on sea ice about 30 miles offshore. The light that gives the shot such power is the midnight sun filtered through smoke from forest fires raging farther south – a symptom of the warming Arctic and the greatest threat facing the polar bear.
Detail from 'The Spat'
The Spat by Joe McDonald (US) – Mammals Behaviour winner 2013
Jaguars are solitary animals and usually only come together to mate. Waiting for hours in a boat on the Three Brothers River in Brazil’s Pantanal, Joe McDonald could hear them in the jungle, but could see nothing.
When the female walked down to the river, he was grateful for the photo opportunity. She quenched her thirst and lay down in the sand – and then the male appeared. After drinking and scent-marking he approached the female, who rose, growled and charged, slamming him back into the bushes as he reared up to avoid her outstretched claws. His own claws were sheathed.
Those hours in the hot sun left McDonald with a rare image and a deep sense of awe.