From spawning fish and ravenous grizzly bears to battling reindeer and kissing ravens, the year’s best wildlife photography will leave you breathless.
It’s that awesome time of year when we get to marvel at the best wildlife photos from the past 12 months. The Natural History Museum in London develops and produces the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which dates back to 1965. As we’ve come to expect from this annual competition, the winning selections are all remarkable accomplishments in their own right. Each submission, of which there were over 50,000 this time around, was assessed anonymously by a panel of judges and evaluated according to “originality, narrative, technical excellence and ethical practice,” according to an emailed press release.
This year’s contest involved 19 different categories, including some new ones, such as “Oceans — The Bigger Picture” and “Wetlands — The Bigger Picture.” And in keeping with tradition, the competition also awarded two grand title winners: the overall wildlife photographer of the year and young wildlife photographer of the year.
The top 100 images will go on display at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition hosted by London’s Natural History Museum starting October 15, 2021.
The award for best image in the Animals in their Environment category went to Zack Clothier from the United States. Clothier strategically placed a camera trap next to the remains of a bull elk in hopes of capturing something interesting — which he clearly did. Clothier arrived on the scene only to find that his camera trap was completely trashed. This was the last frame captured by the device.
The spider in the room
YIKES! I have to say, this is among the best uses of forced perspective I’ve ever seen. Israeli-Canadian photographer Gil Wizen spotted the Brazilian wandering spider, along with a brood of baby spiders, beneath his bed, and he managed to take this striking photo prior to fleeing this horror show of a situation. Yes, forced perspective makes the momma spider look much bigger than she is, but even at the size of a human hand, this highly venomous spider is upsettingly large. This image received top prize in the Urban Wildlife category.
This is the best image in the age 11-14 category. The photo, taken by Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco from Spain, shows an Old World warbler standing atop a sunflower as it sings its song.
Head to head
Stefano Unterthiner from Italy observed two Svalbard reindeer battling for access to females, in a photo that won top prize in the Behaviour: Mammals category.
Where the giant newts breed
The winning image for Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles was awarded to João Rodrigues of Portugal. He caught the copulating salamanders in a flooded forest that only appears during winters of exceptional rainfall.
The intimate touch
The winning image in the Behaviour: Birds category was taken by Shane Kalyn from Canada. The ravens were partaking in pair-bonding activities, which included the sharing of gifts (like moss, twigs, and pebbles), preening, and serenading each other with warbling sounds.
The elephant in the room
Adam Oswell from Australia took this photo of a submerged juvenile elephant at a zoo in Thailand. “Although this performance was promoted as educational and as exercise for the elephants,” Oswell was “disturbed by this scene,” according to the press release. These types of performances are considered exploitative, given how they showcase unnatural behaviours of animals. Oswell won the Photojournalism category for the image.
Biologist and photographer Laurent Ballesta from France won the overall prize for this photograph, titled “Creation.” The image, which also won top prize in the Underwater category, shows several grouper fish swimming through a cloudy mixture of sperm and eggs in Fakarava, French Polynesia.
‘The image works on so many levels,” Rosamund Kidman Cox, chair of the judging panel, said in a press release. “It is surprising, energetic, and intriguing and has an otherworldly beauty. It also captures a magical moment — a truly explosive creation of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.”
A mountain gorilla closes its eyes in the rain. The striking image, taken by Kuwaiti photographer Majed Ali, won top prize in the Animal Portraits category.
Vidyun Hebbar from India won the 10 Years and Under category for this photo of a tent spider as a tuk-tuk, or motorised rickshaw, passes by in the background. Tent spiders are quite small, featuring legs under 15 millimetres in length, and their webs are conglomerations of threads that make it difficult for prey to escape.
The winning image in the Oceans: The Bigger Picture category was awarded to Jennifer Hayes from the United States. Her image shows an expanse of fractured sea ice, onto which dozens of female harp seals gave birth. In a press release, Hayes said the scene, accented in red by birthing blood, was “a pulse of life that took your breath away.”
This photo of a Siberian Jay earned Lasse Kurkela from Finland the top prize in the age 15-17 category. These birds stash their food, such as seeds, berries, bugs, and rodents, atop old trees, with help from their sticky saliva.
The Rising Star Portfolio Award went to Martin Gregus, a Slovak-Canadian photographer. Gregus used an aerial drone to capture the two female polar bears swimming and playing in the shallow intertidal zone.
Spinning the cradle
Gil Wizen, who took the frightening under-bed photo the Brazilian wandering spider, also won the Behaviour: Invertebrates category. This winning photo shows a fishing spider stretching out silk from its spinnerets to create an egg sac. Wizen stumbled upon the scene after removing a piece of loose bark.
A pair of male cichlid fish battle over rights to a snail shell. Angel Fitor from Spain won the Portfolio Award for the photo, taken in Lake Tanganyika, one of the oldest of the East African Great Lakes.