Polish spring spawning common toad (Bufo bufo)
A brown bear emerges from the waters of Lake Kuril Kamchactka – Russia after having caught a large salmon.
Location: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania Name: Lion, Panthera leo Description: C-Boy, foreground, a blackmaned male, and his coalition partner Hildur hunker down in the rain. They travel with the Vumbi Pride, a plains pride of 5 females. C-Boy and Hildur were once resident males of a better territory but were pushed out by a coalition of 4 males called the Killers. Close bonds between the males is important in providing an allied defense against intruders. 33 Sharing a shower COMMENDED: Animals in Their Environment Michael Nichols, National Geographic USA Scientists have long thought that the main reason that lions band together is to hunt that food, essentially, is the evolutionary force behind their social bonds. Recently, though, it has emerged that the close bonds between males are moulded by another pressure: the actions of mutual rivals. C-Boy, a black-maned male lion, and his coalition partner Hildur, once controlled a superior territory in Tanzanias Serengeti National Park, but they were deposed by a squad of four males known to researchers as the Killers. Nick came across C-boy and Hildur hunkered down in the rain. Though he had spent many months photographing Serengeti lions, he had spent most of his time with larger prides of females. I had never before seen these two senior coalition males together, he says. They were used to the car that Nick was in, so he was able to use a simple zoom lens and ambient light. The rain isnt as unwelcome as their expressions suggest: when water is scarce, the closely bonded pair lick drops from their own and each others fur. Canon EOS-1D X + 70-200mm f2 lens; 1/350 sec at f2.8; ISO 400.
Two male lions hunker down in the long bleached grass of the Serengeti plains as water soaks through their proud manes. Their expression says it all. The duo are outcasts and allies, usurped by a four-strong rival coalition nicknamed the ‘Killers’. A quick insight into the lion’s predatory world attached to a lasting image caught by one of the entrants to the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
I was lucky enough to be invited along to the preview of this year’s event at the Newcastle Centre For Life – what a treat. Each year amateurs and professionals submit the best of their shots for the judges and the range of work on display is breathtaking. Categories include behaviour, animals in their environment and a special portfolio award named after notable British bird photographer Eric Hosking.
Each image demonstrates a different technical skill. A brown bear thrashes his live catch from side to side furiously as salmon race past on either side in the hope of spawning up-river. Abundance means that bears often only take one bite out of their prey before moving on to the next quick kill.
Orange sunlight diffracts on water and a lone frog waits patiently for sunset. Two gannets dance in courtship and the male throws a garland of meadow flowers around his mate’s neck. Hours of patient waiting from the photographer and for some it is a life’s work.
Each picture tells its own tale and one of the joys of the competition is picking a favourite. Below are three of this year’s category winners. Click on them to see the technical information on each shot.
Creative Visions Winner Snow moment Jasper Doest (The Netherlands) When photographing the famous Japanese macaques around the hot springs of Jigokudani, central Japan, Jasper had become fascinated by the surreal effects created by the arrival of a cold wind. Occasionally, a blast would blow through the steam rising off the pools. If it was snowing, the result would be a mesmerising pattern of swirling steam and snowflakes, which would whirl around any macaques warming up in the pools. But capturing the moment required total luck – for Jasper to be there when the wind blew and for the monkeys to be in the pool. For that luck to arrive, he had to wait another year. Returning the next winter, he determined to get the shot he’d been obsessing about. He set up using a polariser to remove reflections from the water and create a dark contrasting background, and got ready to use fill-flash to catch the snowflakes. ‘As it kept snowing, I stood there, willing the wind to pick up. I felt it just had to happen – sometimes you can push your luck if I you just wait long enough.’ But as the steam started swirling above the water, there wasn’t a monkey in sight. ‘All of a sudden one adult appeared and jumped on a rock in the middle of the pool. When I started shaking off the snow, I knew this was the moment.’ Nikon D4 + 24-70mm f2.8 lens at 55mm + polarising filter; 1/100 sec at f11; ISO 1600; Nikon SB-800 flash.
Behaviour: Mammals Winner. The spat Joe McDonald (USA) For several hours, the noisy sounds of courtship and mating were all Joe was treated to as he sat, sweltering in the hot sun, in a boat on the Three Brothers River in Brazil’s Pantanal. So when the female jaguar finally emerged from the undergrowth and walked down to the river to drink, Joe was grateful for the photo opportunity. But that was just a start. After slaking her thirst, the female flopped down on the sand. Then the male appeared. After drinking and scent-marking, he approached the female, who was lying in what appeared to be a pose of enticement. At least, that’s what both Joe and the male thought. She rose, growled and suddenly charged, slamming the male back as he reared up to avoid her outstretched claws. His own claws were sheathed. ‘I couldn’t believe the energy and intensity of those three seconds,’ says Joe. The pair then disappeared into the undergrowth to resume their courtship, leaving Joe with a sense of awe and a rare, winning image. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 lens at 170mm; 1/640 sec at f5; ISO 800.
Winner – Animal Portraits Essence of elephants Greg du Toit (South Africa) Ever since he first picked up a camera, Greg has photographed African elephants. ‘For many years,’ he says, ‘I’ve wanted to create an image that captures their special energy and the state of consciousness that I sense when I’m with them. This image comes closest to doing that.’ The shot was taken at a waterhole in Botswana’s Northern Tuli Game Reserve, from a hide (a sunken freight container) that provided a ground-level view. Greg chose to use a slow shutter speed to create the atmosphere he was after and try ‘to depict these gentle giants in an almost ghostly way.’ He used a wide-angle lens tilted up to emphasise the size of whatever elephant entered the foreground, and chose a narrow aperture to create a large depth of field so that any elephants in the background would also be in focus. Greg had hoped the elephants would turn up before dawn, but they arrived after the sun was up. To emphasise the ‘mysterious nature’ of these ‘enigmatic subjects’, he attached a polarising filter and set his white balance to a cool temperature. The element of luck that added the final touch to his preparation was the baby elephant, which raced past the hide, so close that Greg could have touched her. The slow shutter speed conveyed the motion, and a short burst of flash at the end of the exposure froze a fleeting bit of detail. Nikon D3s + 16-35mm f4 lens + polarising filter; 1/30 sec at f22; ISO 800; Nikon SB-900 flash + SC28 remote cord; mini-tripod; Nikon cable-release.
If you live in or around Newcastle then I seriously suggest you go down to take a look – it is there until March 2014. Strolling around the exhibition looking at incredible wildlife photography is simply one of the best ways to spend a few spare hours. Life is holding the event in conjunction with London’s Natural History Museum so, if you are not a north east native, the pictures can be viewed on the NHM website.