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Wildlife Photographer of the Year is one of the biggest annual photography competitions around, with a sizeable top prize, an awards ceremony in London’s Natural History Museum (which all the category winners are flown in for), and a globetrotting exhibition. The winners of the 57th competition have just been announced and the shots are—predictably—utterly stunning. 

Let’s look at a few of our favorite photos that “explore the natural world in all its fragility and diversity and tell the story of a planet under pressure.”

The categories

Winner: Animals in their Environment
Winner: Animals in their Environment
Title:
Grizzly leftovers
About the image: 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. Zack Clothier

This year’s competition saw more than 50,000 photos entered across a number of categories. 

There were 12 single image categories:

  • Animals in their Environment
  • Animal Portraits
  • Behavior: Birds
  • Behavior: Invertebrates
  • Behavior: Mammals
  • Oceans – The Bigger Picture
  • Plants and Fungi
  • Natural Artistry
  • Underwater
  • Urban Wildlife
  • Wetlands – The Bigger Picture
  • Photojournalism
Highly commended: Urban Wildlife
Highly commended: Urban Wildlife
Title:
Lynx on the threshold
About the image: After months of waiting, Sergio’s carefully set camera trap finally gave him the picture he wanted: a young Iberian lynx perfectly framed in the doorway of an abandoned hayloft on a farm in Spain. Sergio Marijuán

And three multiple image categories:

  • Photojournalist Story Award
  • Rising Star Award (Aged 18-26)
  • Portfolio Award (Aged 27 and over)

The Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award ran at the same time. There were three age-group categories:

  • 10 Years and Under
  • 11-14 Years
  • 15-17 Years

For more on the specific requirements for each category, check out the Wildlife Photographer of the Year website

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Adult Grand Title Winner
Adult Grand Title Winner
Title:
Creation
About the image: 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. Laurent Ballesta

French underwater photographer Laurent Ballesta picked up the Grand Title for his photo of camouflage groupers laying their eggs on the shores of French Polynesia. It took Ballesta five years to get the shot since the groupers only spawn once a year during a full moon in July. 

Creepy crawlies

Winner: Urban Wildlife
Winner: Urban Wildlife
Title: The Spider Room
About the image: 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. Gil Wizen

Am I including this shot because it won the “Urban Wildlife” category? Or because I’m horrified by it and want to share the pain? That’s up to you to decide. Either way, Gil Wizen’s photo of the Brazilian wandering spider—one of the world’s most venomous spiders—that he found under his bed is exceptional.

Winner: Behaviour - Invertebrates
Winner: Behavior – Invertebrates
Title:
Spinning the cradle
About the image: 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. Gil Wizen

Wizen obviously has a thing for spiders as he also won the “Behavior: Invertebrates” category with this photo of a slightly-less-horrifying fishing spider that he didn’t find under his bed. 

Catching fish

So many of the photos in the competition show how human activity is harming wildlife, but there were two shots that jumped out at me because I saw them so close together. 

Highly commended: Behavior - Birds
Highly commended: Behavior Birds
Title:
Slippery catch
About the image: Sven had often walked the sandy shores of Amrum island. As the tide retreated, fish became concentrated in channels leading back to the sea. These were magnets for Arctic terns, which repeatedly flew high then dived down after the escaping fish. Arctic terns have some of the longest migrations in the world. They take small fish from the surface of the water or by plunging into it. Populations are threatened by food shortages caused by increasing sea temperatures and overfishing. Sven Sturm

In the first, Sven Sturm’s highly commended shot in the “Behavior: Birds” category. An arctic tern aggressively pursues a small fish.

Highly commended: Oceans - The Bigger Picture
Highly commended: Oceans The Bigger Picture
Title:
Net Loss
About the image: Marine biologist Audun was on an expedition at sea with the Norwegian coastguard when he spotted this floating mass of dead and dying herring. On the horizon bobbed a fishing boat, which had overloaded and burst its nets. Overfishing—catching fish faster than their populations can recover—is one of the biggest threats to ocean ecosystems. It is estimated that a third of global fish stocks are being exploited at unsustainable levels. Audun Rikardsen

And in the second, Audun Rikardsen’s highly commended shot in the “Oceans—A Bigger Picture” category, thousands of dead herring float in the wake of a fishing boat that had overloaded and burst its nets. 

Individually, each photo is great, but together they show a horrifying picture of human impact. 

Learning from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year gallery

Highly commended: Urban Wildlife
Highly commended: Urban Wildlife
Title:
Flamingo outlook
About the image: Nayan captured this spectacle after monitoring the tide tables. In 2020 reduced human activity due to Covid-19 lockdowns meant record numbers of birds at the wetland and exceptionally clear air. ‘I have never seen such blue skies in Mumbai,’ Nayan says. The flamingos arrive in December from the neighboring state of Gujarat and depart the following June. They move close to the city during high water when mangrove creeks are too flooded for them to feed. This wetland is now threatened by development. Nayan Khanolkar

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards are also a great opportunity to learn. Each of the 100 featured photos has a short write-up about how the photographer captured the image; what camera, settings and other gear they used; and the animals it features. It’s truly a great way to see the effort and planning that goes into capturing some of these stunning images.

Winner: Behavior - Mammals
Winner: Behavior – Mammals
Title:
Head to Head
About the image: 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. Stefano Unterthiner

The filters in the gallery are also really good. You can use them to explore the last 11 years of winners, all with the same great write-ups. You can even share your filtered selections with your friends: here’s a gallery of all the winners available online. 

How to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition

Highly commended: Photojournalism
Highly commended: Photojournalism
Title: Monkey for use
About the image: For Perttu, the stance and expression of this monkey ‘summarise the animal’s position in the situation.’ Most items for sale at the market were dead animals or their parts, with just a few that were live. Perttu Saksa

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition will run from Oct. 15, 2021, to June 5, 2022, in the Natural History Museum in London. Tour dates for the UK have been announced. However, we’re still waiting on international dates.

How to enter next year’s contest

Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s 58th competition opens on Oct. 18, 2021, and runs until Dec. 9, 2021. It costs £30 (~$41)to enter up to 25 photos. The prizes are substantial: £10,000 (approximately $13,750 at time of posting) for the overall winner, and £1,250 (approximately $1,750) plus a trip to London for category winners.

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