The winners of the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition have been revealed, chosen from more than 50,000 entries from 95 countries, and with Australians among them.
French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta was announced as this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his image, Creation, which captures camouflage groupers exiting their milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia.
Every year, for five years, Laurent and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night so as not to miss the annual spawning, which only takes place around the full Moon in July.
After dark, they were joined by hundreds of grey reef sharks hunting the groupers in packs.
Chair of the judging panel, writer and editor Rosamund Kidman Cox, said: “The image works on so many levels. It is surprising, energetic, and intriguing and has an otherworldly beauty.
“It also captures a magical moment — a truly explosive creation of life — leaving the tail-end of the exodus of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.”
Doug Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum said: “This year’s grand title winner reveals a hidden underwater world, a fleeting moment of fascinating animal behaviour that very few have witnessed.
“In what could be a pivotal year for the planet, with vital discussions taking place at COP15 and COP26, Laurent Ballesta’s Creation is a compelling reminder of what we stand to lose if we do not address humanity’s impact on our planet.
“The protection provided to this endangered species by the biosphere reserve highlights the positive difference we can make.”
Colourful web captures Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year prize
Vidyun R Hebbar, 10, was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 prize for his colourful image, Dome home, which shows a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by.
Vidyunfirst featured in the competition when he was just eight years old and loves to photograph the often-overlooked creatures that live in the streets and parks near his home in the city of Bengaluru, India.
“It’s such an imaginative way of photographing a spider,” Kidman Cox said.
“The picture is perfectly framed, the focus is spot on. You can see the spider’s fangs and the crazy weave of the trap, the threads like some delicate nerve network linked to the spider’s feet.
“But the really clever bit is the addition of a creative backdrop — the bright colours of a motorised rickshaw.”
Natalie Cooper, a researcher with the Natural History Museum and jury member, said: “The jury loved this photo from the beginning of the judging process.
“It is a great reminder to look more closely at the small animals we live with every day, and to take your camera with you everywhere,” she said. “You never know where that award-winning image is going to come from.”
Australians claim prizes
The two grand title winners were selected from 19 category winners, with Australians claiming prizes in two of them: Justin Gilligan in Plants and Fungi, and Adam Oswell in Photojournalism.
A number of Australians were highly commended for their entries.
Discussing Oswell’s winning image, photographer and competition jury member Staffan Widstrand said it was an “image that poses existential questions. Is this fun? Is this an attraction? Should we bring our children to such places?”
Photographer and competition jury member Britta Jaschinski described Gilligan’s photo as a “beautiful window into one of the planet’s most important ecosystems. A lovely composition and a new approach to draw attention to what we need to protect.”
This year’s competition saw three new categories added, including Oceans — The Bigger Picture and Wetlands — The Bigger Picture, to shine a spotlight on the crucial ecosystems.
In an intensive process, each entry was judged anonymously by a panel of experts for its originality, narrative, technical excellence and ethical practice.
Displayed alongside insights from Natural History Museum scientists and experts, the 100 images will be showcased in lightbox displays at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, opening on October 15, 2021, before touring across the UK and internationally to venues in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany and the US.
The 58th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will open for entries from photographers of all ages, nationalities and levels on Monday, October 18.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.