The Natural History Museum's annual competition and exhibition, Wildlife Photographer of the Year, is the longest-running and most prestigious nature and wildlife photography competition. It has been recognising the world's best nature photography every year since 1965.
What began 56 years ago as a magazine competition with just 361 entries has blossomed into one of the world's most prestigious photography awards, with over 45,000 entries each year and a touring exhibition seen by millions around the world.
This year, the competition, which also has a Young Wildlife Photographer of the year category, open to photographers aged 17 and under, saw 10-year-old Vidyun R Hebbar from India win the top prize!
Here's a better view of the winning entries:
Please click on the images for a better look.
Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards
Winner, 10 Years and Under
Vidyun R Hebbar watches a tent spider as a rickshaw passes by.
Exploring his local theme park, Vidyun found an occupied spider's web in a gap in a wall. A passing rickshaw provided a backdrop of rainbow colours to set off the spider's silk creation.
Tent spiders are tiny -- this one had legs spanning less than 15 millimetres. They weave non-sticky, square-meshed domes, surrounded by tangled networks of threads that make it difficult for prey to escape.
Instead of spinning new webs every day, the spiders repair existing ones.
Equpiment used: Nikon D5000 + 85mm f3.5 lens 1/250 sec at f5 ISO 200 Manfrotto tripod
Winner, 11-14 Years
Andres Luis Dominguez Blanco enjoys the splendour of the sunflowers and a melodious warbler singing its heart out.
As the light faded at the end of a warm May afternoon, Andres's attention was drawn to a warbler flitting from flower to flower. From his hideout in his father's car, Andres photographed the singer, 'the king of its territory'.
Melodious warblers are one of more than 400 species of songbirds known as Old World warblers, which each have a distinctive song.
The song of a melodious warbler is a pleasant babbling and without the mimicked sounds that other warblers sometimes make.
Equpiment used: Fuji X-H1 + XF 100–400mm f4.5–5.6 lens 1/280 sec at f5.6 (-1 e/v) ISO 400
Winner, 15-17 Years
Lasse Kurkela watches a Siberian jay fly to the top of a spruce tree to stash its food.
Lasse wanted to give a sense of scale in his photograph of the Siberian jay, tiny among the old-growth spruce-dominated forest. He used pieces of cheese to get the jays accustomed to his remotely controlled camera and to encourage them along a particular flight path.
Siberian jays use old trees as larders. Their sticky saliva helps them glue food such as seeds, berries, small rodents and insects high up in the holes and crevices of the bark and among hanging lichens.
Equpiment used: Nikon D5 + 14–24mm f2.8 lens 1/800 sec at f4 (+0.7 e/v) ISO 6400 Vello remote control
Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards
Winner, Animals in their Environment
Zack Clothier discovers a grizzly bear has taken an interest in his camera trap.
Zack decided these bull elk remains were an ideal spot to set a camera trap. Returning to the scene was challenging. Zack bridged gushing meltwater with fallen trees, only to find his setup trashed. This was the last frame captured on the camera.
Grizzlies, a subspecies of brown bears, spend up to seven months in torpor – a light form of hibernation. Emerging in spring, they are hungry and consume a wide variety of food, including mammals.
Equipment used: Nikon D610 + 18–35mm f3.5–4.5 lens at 25mm 1/160 sec at f10 (-1.7 e/v) ISO 1000 two Nikon SB-28 flashes self-made camera-trap system
Winner, Animal Portraits
Majed Ali glimpses the moment a mountain gorilla closes its eyes in the rain.
Majed trekked for four hours to meet Kibande, an almost 40-year-old mountain gorilla. 'The more we climbed, the hotter and more humid it got,' Majed recalls. As cooling rain began to fall, Kibande remained in the open, seeming to enjoy the shower.
Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorilla and are found at altitudes over 1,400 metres in two isolated populations – at the Virunga volcanoes and in Bwindi. These gorillas are endangered due to habitat loss, disease, poaching and habitat disruption caused by human activity.
Equipment used: Nikon Z6 + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 200mm 1/320 sec at f6.3 ISO 640
Winner, Behaviour: Invertebrates
Gil Wizen finds a fishing spider stretching out silk from its spinnerets to weave into its egg sac.
Gil discovered this spider under loose bark. Any disturbance might have caused the spider to abandon its project, so he took great care. 'The action of the spinnerets reminded me of the movement of human fingers when weaving,' Gil says.
These spiders are common in wetlands and temperate forests of eastern North America. More than 750 eggs have been recorded in a single sac. Fishing spiders carry their egg sacs with them until the eggs hatch and the spiderlings disperse.
Equipment used: Canon EOS 7D + Laowa 100mm f2.8 lens 1/100 sec at f10 ISO 200 Macro Twin Lite flash
Winner, Behaviour: Bird
Shane Kalyn watches a raven courtship display.
It was midwinter, the start of the ravens' breeding season. Shane lay on the frozen ground using the muted light to capture the detail of the ravens' iridescent plumage against the contrasting snow to reveal this intimate moment when their thick black bills came together.
Ravens probably mate for life. This couple exchanged gifts -- moss, twigs and small stones -- and preened and serenaded each other with soft warbling sounds to strengthen their relationship or 'pair bond'.
Equipment Used: Nikon D500 + 200–500mm f5.6 lens at 420mm 1/1250 sec at f7.1 ISO 900
Winner, Behaviour: Mammals
Stefano Unterthiner watches two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem.
Stefano followed these reindeer during the rutting season. Watching the fight, he felt immersed in 'the smell, the noise, the fatigue and the pain'. The reindeer clashed antlers until the dominant male (left) chased its rival away, securing the opportunity to breed.
Reindeer are widespread around the Arctic, but this subspecies occurs only in Svalbard. Populations are affected by climate change, where increased rainfall can freeze on the ground, preventing access to plants that would otherwise sit under soft snow.
Equipment used: Nikon D5 + 180–400mm f4 lens at 400mm 1/640 sec at f4 ISO 3200
Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles
Joao Rodrigues is surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in the flooded forest.
It was Joao's first chance in five years to dive in this lake as it only emerges in winters of exceptionally heavy rainfall, when underground rivers overflow. He had a split second to adjust his camera settings before the newts swam away.
Found on the Iberian Peninsula and in northern Morocco, sharp-ribbed newts (or salamanders) are named after their defence strategy. They use their pointed ribs as weapons, piercing through their own skin and picking up poisonous secretions, then jabbing them into an attacker.
Equipment used: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + Tokina 10–17mm f3.5–4.5 lens at 16mm 1/200 sec at f13 ISO 320 Aquatica housing two INON Z-330 flashes
Winner, Natural Artistry
Alex Mustard finds a ghost pipefish hiding among the arms of a feather star.
Alex had always wanted to capture this image of a juvenile ghost pipefish but usually only found darker adults on matching feather stars. His image conveys the confusion a predator would likely face when encountering this kaleidoscope of colour and pattern.
The juvenile's loud colours signify that it landed on the coral reef in the past 24 hours. In a day or two, its colour pattern will change, enabling it to blend in with the feather star.
Equipment used: Nikon D850 + Trioplan 100mm f2.8 lens 12mm extension tube ND8 filter FIT +5 close-up lens 1/250 sec at f2.8 ISO 80 Subal housing two Retra strobes
Winner, Oceans: The Bigger Picture
Jennifer Hayes records harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice.
Following a storm, it took hours of searching by helicopter to find this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. ‘It was a pulse of life that took your breath away,' says Jennifer.
Every autumn, harp seals migrate south from the Arctic to their breeding grounds, delaying births until the sea ice forms. Seals depend on the ice, which means that future population numbers are likely to be affected by climate change.
Equipment used: Nikon D4 + 24–120mm f4 lens 1/640 sec at f9 ISO 200
Winner, Plants and Fungi
Justin Gilligan creates the reflection of a marine ranger among the seaweed.
At the world's southernmost tropical reef, Justin wanted to show how careful human management helps preserve this vibrant seaweed jungle. With only a 40-minute window where tide conditions were right, it took three days of trial and error before Justin got his image.
Impacts of climate change, such as increasing water temperature, are affecting the reefs at an ever-increasing rate. Seaweed forests support hundreds of species, capture carbon, produce oxygen and help protect shorelines.
Equipment used: Nikon D850 + Sigma 15mm f2.8 lens 1/160 sec at f13 ISO 400 Nauticam housing twin Ikelite DS161 strobes + sync cord
Laurent Ballesta peers into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exit their milky cloud of eggs and sperm.
For five years Laurent and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks hunting the fish.
Spawning happens around the full moon in July, when up to 20,000 fish gather in Fakarava in a narrow southern channel linking the lagoon with the ocean.
Overfishing threatens this species, but here the fish are protected within a biosphere reserve.
Equipment used: Nikon D5 + 17–35mm f2.8 lens at 17mm 1/200 sec at f11 ISO 1600 Seacam housing Seacam strobes1/200 sec at f11 ISO 1600 Seacam housing Seacam strobes
Winner, Urban Wildlife
Gil Wizen finds a venomous Brazilian wandering spider hiding under his bed.
After noticing tiny spiders all over his bedroom, Gil looked under his bed. There, guarding its brood, was one of the world's most venomous spiders. Before safely relocating it outdoors, he photographed the human-hand-sized Brazilian wandering spider using forced perspective to make it appear even larger.
Brazilian wandering spiders roam forest floors at night in search of prey such as frogs and cockroaches. Their toxic venom can be deadly to mammals including humans, but it also has medicinal uses.
Equipment used: Canon EOS 7D + 14mm f2.8 lens 1/250 sec at f11 ISO 400 Macro Twin Lite flash
Winner, Wetlands - The Bigger Picture
Javier Lafuente shows the stark, straight line of a road slicing through the curves of the wetland landscape.
By manoeuvring his drone and inclining the camera, Javier dealt with the challenges of sunlight reflected by the water and ever-changing light conditions. He captured the pools as flat colours, varying according to the vegetation and mineral content.
Dividing the wetland in two, this road was constructed in the 1980s to provide access to a beach. The tidal wetland is home to more than a hundred species of birds, with ospreys and bee-eaters among many migratory visitors.
Equipment used: DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 10.3mm f2.8 lens 1/500 sec at f2.8 (+0.3 e/v) ISO 100
Adam Oswell draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform underwater.
Although this performance was promoted as educational and as exercise for the elephants, Adam was disturbed by this scene. Organisations concerned with the welfare of captive elephants view performances like these as exploitative because they encourage unnatural behaviour.
Elephant tourism has increased across Asia. In Thailand, there are now more elephants in captivity than in the wild. The Covid-19 pandemic caused international tourism to collapse, leading to elephant sanctuaries becoming overwhelmed with animals that can no longer be looked after by their owners.
Equipment used: Nikon D810 + 24–70mm lens 1/640 sec at f2.8 ISO 1250
Winner, Photojournalist Story Award
Brent Stirton profiles a rehabilitation centre caring for chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade.
The director of the centre sits with a newly rescued chimp as she slowly introduces it to the others. Young chimps are given one-to-one care to ease their psychological and physical trauma. These chimps are lucky. Less than one in ten are rescued after having seen the adults in their group killed for meat. Most have experienced starvation and suffering.
Equipment used: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 16–35mm lens; 1/250 sec at f5.6; ISO 400
Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award
Martin Gregus shows polar bears in a different light as they come ashore in summer.
On a hot summer's day, two female polar bears took to the shallow intertidal waters to cool off and play. Martin used a drone to capture this moment. For him, the heart shape symbolises the apparent sibling affection between them and ‘the love we as people owe to the natural world'.
Equipment used: DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 28mm f2.8 lens; 1/400 sec at f3.2; ISO 100
Winner, Portfolio Award
Angel Fitor provides an intimate look into the lives of cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika.
Two male cichlid fish fight jaw to jaw over a snail shell. Inside the half-buried shell is a female ready to lay eggs. For three weeks Angel monitored the lake bed looking for such disputes. The biting and pushing last until the weaker fish gives way. This struggle was over in seconds but lasted just long enough for Angel to get his winning shot.
Equipment used: Nikon D800 + Sigma APO Macro 150mm f2.8 lens; 1/200 at f9; ISO 200; Anthis Nexus housing; Retra strobes
Published with kind permission from The Natural History Museum, London
Photographs curated by Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com