Last night the great and the good in the world of photography descended on the Natural History Museum to celebrate the Wildlife photographer of the year awards.
The Duchess of Cambridge, a keen photographer and patron of the Natural History Museum, was there to award the prize to US photographer Michael 'Nick' Nichols, whose beautiful black and white shot of a pack of lions in who are part of the Vumbi pride in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
Nick followed the pack for six months, so by the time he took the shot they were used to his presence. His piece also won the black and white category.
Other winners included photographer Raviprakash S S, whose image of a green vine snake, metres outside his front door in Karnataka India, won the amphibians and reptiles category.
Another beautiful shot is the birds category winner, which is a shot of herons with the night sky above. It took the talented photographer 74 nights for the right conditions to appear in order to take the picture. He also used two timing devices to get the right image too.
In the gallery below you can see more of the overall winners and some of our favourite pictures from the finalists too, including one incredible picture taken by a UK photographer in the 11-14 year old category.
See more on the Natural History Museum's website here nhm.ac.uk
Winner: Amphibians and Reptiles category
Photographer: Raviprakash S S, India
Title: Divine snake
During the Indian monsoon season, green vine snakes often venture near houses. In this case one slithered just a few metres away from Raviprakash’s front door in Karnataka, in the heart of the Western Ghats. The snakes are attracted by the lizards and frogs that shelter among the vegetables and flowers in his garden. In the past two or three years he has ‘mastered the skill of identifying them amid a mass of green’. This snake appeared to be a plant at first glance – it was even swaying in the breeze. ‘A vine snake tends to spend a considerable amount of time in the same location,’ says Raviprakash. ‘It will wait for prey with divine concentration,’ before freezing in position once it has its prey in sight. The main challenge was to show the snake from this unusual perspective, without disturbing its concentration. Raviprakash says, ‘The green vine snake is one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. Each time I photograph one, it looks ever more beautiful.’
Winner: Birds category
Photographer: Bence Máté, Hungary
Title: Herons in time and space
Bence had set up his hide to overlook Lake Csaj in Kiskunság National Park, Hungary. He had a specific image in mind and had planned to use both artificial and natural light. His subject was the shy grey heron. To overcome the various technological challenges of a night-time shot, he had built two timing devices for his camera to execute the single exposure. One device moved the focus, while the other adjusted the aperture within a single frame, so both the herons and the stars were in focus. It took 74 nights in the hide before the conditions were right and it all came together. The surface of the lake was still, reflecting the stars, and the sky was clear and motionless. Just after midnight, the seven stars of the Plough (part of the Ursa Major constellation) slid into position above the glow of a distant town. Bence took the shot, with both the stars and herons sharp, but with traces of the birds’ movement leaving ghostly impressions against the sky. Blending technology and passion in a masterful manner, Bence had finally created a picture that he had planned for many years – of herons imprinting their images in time and space.
Finalist: Birds category
Photographer: an van der Greef, The Netherlands
Winner: Plants and Fungi category
Photographer: Christian Vizl, Mexico
Title: Glimpse of the underworld
Water lilies stretch up to the light through a layer of green mist in the Aktun Ha cenote, a huge sinkhole on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Aktun Ha is part of a great ring of thousands of cenotes, created when the limestone bedrock collapsed to expose the subterranean groundwater. Christian has been photographing the cenotes for the past 10 years. What makes Aktun Ha special is its underwater garden. The water is crystal clear, except in summer when an algal bloom several metres thick can develop beneath the surface. Christian settled on the bottom of the cenote to compose a picture of this still, silent underworld garden. The challenge was to balance the artificial with the natural light. The intensity and angle of the strobe illumination had to be just right. He wanted to bring out the texture of the leaves, flushed pink through ageing, without detracting from the natural light filtering down through the algae, or overexposing the skittish silvery fish. The resulting picture hints at why the ancient Maya considered cenotes to be sacred places and thought of water lilies as plants of the underworld.
Grand title winner: Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
Photographer: Carlos Perez Naval, Spain
Title: Stinger in the Sun
This common yellow scorpion is flourishing its sting as a warning. Carlos had found it basking on a flat stone in a rocky area near his home in Torralba de los Sisones, northeast Spain – a place he often visits to look for reptiles. The late afternoon Sun was casting such a lovely glow over the scene that Carlos decided to experiment with a double exposure for the first time so he could include it. He started with the background, using a fast speed so as not to overexpose the Sun, and then shot the scorpion using a low flash. But he had to change lenses, using his zoom for the Sun, which is when the scorpion noticed the movement and raised its tail. Carlos then had to wait for it to settle before taking his close-up, with the last of the light illuminating its body.
Winner: Invertebrates category
Photographer: Ary Bassous, Brazil
Title: Night of the deadly lights
On still, humid nights, the old termite mounds on the savannah of Emas National Park, central Brazil, sparkle with eerie green lights. These are the bioluminescent lures of click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the mounds. When conditions are right, they poke out of their tunnels. Shining their ‘headlights’, they wait for prey – usually flying termites that emerge on humid evenings to mate and look for new places to colonise. Ary lit this mound with a flashlight and kept the shutter open for 30 seconds to blur the insects’ flashes. This resulted in small pools of intense colour if the larvae remained still, or starbursts if they wriggled. Some adult beetles were flying, painting their flight paths against the starry sky. The orange glow of two towns and streaks of lightning were visible in the distance. To catch the peak of the phenomenon, which occurs after the first wet season rains and lasts for only a couple of weeks, Ary would stay in the park overnight. Despite occasional ‘bouts of crippling fear’ at the thought of jaguars and other dangerous animals that might be out after dark, he says the experience and resulting pictures were worth it. He achieved a shot he had been trying to capture for nearly a decade.
Finalist: 11 to 14 Years category
Photographer: Will Jenkins, UK
Title: Green Dragon
Winner: Natural design category
Photographer: Patrik Bartuska, Czech Republic
Title: Cardinal sparks
Patrik’s goal was to photograph a group of beautiful Banggai cardinalfish, which are found only in the waters off Sulawesi, Indonesia. They are endangered because of overfishing for the aquarium trade. Patrik encountered this scene while diving in the Lembeh Strait to the north. The contrasts of movement and texture entranced him – the anemone’s soft tentacles swaying in the current and the flicks of the angular, patterned fish sheltering within them. During his trip he mostly came across small groups of adults gathered around the coral. But he was after a group associating with an anemone. During the day juveniles use the anemones’ tentacles for protection, either avoiding their stings or being in some way unaffected by them. It took many dives before he found this large grouping. It appeared to Patrik like an underwater fire display, the tentacles like licking flames and the fish like erratic sparks. To capture the moving pattern he chose to shoot from above. Holding his position in the current, he waited for the fish to move so he could frame the composition.
Winner: Overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Photographer: Michael 'Nick' Nichols
Title: The Last Great Picture
Nick set out to create an archetypal image that captured the essence of lions in a time long gone, before they were under such threat. The Vumbi pride in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park are a ‘formidable and spectacularly co-operative team,’ Nick says. Here the five females lie at rest with their cubs on a kopje (a rocky outcrop). Shortly before he took the shot, they had attacked and driven off one of the pride’s two males. Now they were lying close together, calmly sleeping. They were used to Nick’s presence as he’d been following them for nearly six months, so he could position his vehicle close to the kopje. He framed the vista with the plains beyond and the dramatic late afternoon sky above. He photographed the lions in infrared, which he says ‘cuts through the dust and haze, transforms the light and turns the moment into something primal, biblical almost’. The chosen picture of lions in Africa is part flashback, part fantasy. Nick got to know and love the Vumbi pride. A few months later, he heard they had ventured outside the park and three females had been killed.
Winner: Earth’s Environments category
Photographer: Francisco Negroni, Chile
As the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic complex began erupting, Francisco travelled to Puyehue National Park in southern Chile, anticipating a spectacular light show. But what he witnessed was more like an apocalypse. He watched, awestruck, from a hill quite a distance to the west of the volcano. Flashes of lightning lacerated the sky, while the glow from the molten lava lit up the smoke billowing upwards, illuminating the landscape. ‘It was the most incredible thing I’ve seen in my life,’ Francisco says. Volcanic lightning (also known as a dirty thunderstorm) is a rare, short‑lived phenomenon. It is probably caused by static electrical charges resulting from fragments of red‑hot rock, ash and vapour crashing together high in the volcanic plume. The Puyehue-Cordón Caulle eruption spewed 100 million tonnes of ash high into the atmosphere, causing widespread disruption to air travel in the southern hemisphere. Volcanic activity continued at a lesser level for a year, spreading a layer of ash over the region.