The best wildlife photography of 2021
The 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards have been announced. And our favorite winning shots include an aquatic elephant, dueling reindeer, a brood of spiders, and hungry grizzlies.
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.”
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
- Urban Wildlife
- Wetlands – The Bigger Picture
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the first, Sven Sturm’s highly commended shot in the “Behavior: Birds” category. An arctic tern aggressively pursues a small fish.
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
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.
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
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.