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Wildlife Photographer Of The Year
The first competition was held in 1965 when none other than Sir David Attenborough handed over the first title of Wildlife Photographer Of The Year (see a pic here). Since its first humble beginnings the WPY (Wildlife Photographer Of The Year) awards have grown into the literal Oscars of world wildlife photography. With 48 000 entries this year from across the globe, images from photographers of almost a hundred different nationalities are represented. Both professional and amateur photographers compete to be included in the winning portfolio which contains just 100 images and represents the biodiversity on planet earth. There are a number of factors which make this competition unique and below I outline a few of these...
There are lots and lots of photography competitions out there so why is the WPY, now run solely by the British Natural History Museum (NHM), the most prestigious of them all? Well, for one, each photographer's entries are anonymous. This means that your name is not attached to the image at any stage in the competition and this allows the judges to judge anonymously. The WPY therefore offers a level playing field but what is more, the competition is open to anyone, from any nation. The National Geographic Nature Photographer Of The Year, for example, only allows entries from certain nations and does not take entries from any African nations. Don't believe me, see the rules here.
The WPY is not only open to the world but it is also open to both amateur and professional photographers alike. But, this alone does not make it the most prestigious nature competition in the world, what does, is that the biggest names in the business enter the competition. In recent years, National Geographic legends have appeared on the podium including the Photographic Editor At Large for National Geographic. Nat Geo's big assignment photographers enter each year.
Add to the above that each year a select panel of judges consisting of industry leaders get together to judge the competition, and with no names attached, the judges select only 100 images. These photographs are chosen from a wide range of categories but when all is said and done, only 100 images are included in the final exhibit. These top 100 are revealed at a prestigious gala dinner in London each year and attending this dinner is very much rubbing shoulders with the 'who is who' of the international nature photography scene (see a short video of the awards here). I was lucky enough to be there in 2014 when Sir David Attenborough again presented the awards, alongside Kate Middleton, The Duchess Of Cambridge, who is a patron of the NHM (see pics here). In the past years I have met the editor of the BBC Wildlife Magazine at the gala dinner and I even had the National Geographic editor give me her card.
Another critical element, helping make the NHM WPY the most coveted competition in world wildlife photography, is that should your image make it to the final round of judging, each photographer has to send through the RAW file. This RAW file is inspected to check the authenticity of the moment and if it does not meet the strict criteria of the rules, it is disqualified. The RAW files and GPS co-ordinates are used to confirm that the subject in question is wild and free and that no Photoshop cloning has taken place. The WPY is one of the last places in the world where the authenticity of an image is checked.
But, it is not only the above listed criteria that makes the NHM WPY truly special. It is also not the fact that each year the top 100 winning images get printed in a special coffee-table book. What makes this competition truly unique is that the ultimate aim is to champion the beauty and vulnerability of our natural world. The chief goal each year is not to give photographers a pat on the back, rather, it is to assemble a breathtaking exhibit showcasing planet earth. This exhibit is hosted by the NHM in London and each year people queue around the block to get in! In fact, the exhibit has become so popular that you need to book a time slot to view it and what makes it so incredibly powerful is that the people attending the exhibit are literally 'the man on the street'. This competition uses photography to celebrate the diversity and beauty of our planet, reaching members of the public in a very effective way. This is the chief and end goal of the competition, making it truly special. Other competitions often have secret agendas, wanting to use the competition to elevate the sponsors and the business interests of the organizers. Very often these competitions use the platform of a photo competition to collect images from photographers to be used for marketing purposes. The WPY collects images to champion and showcase the diversity and fragility of our planet and they do this more effectively than any other competition, and they have done so for over 50 years now.
I am very pleased to announce that my image (seen below) titled Wild Dog Pack has placed in the Black and White category of this year's competition which is in its 53rd year. As such, my image will tour as part of the WPY 53 Exhibition to no fewer than 60 venues across 6 continents, where the exhibit will reach millions. I am very grateful that this is the 6th image I have had place since my first winning image in 2009 (seen at the very start of this article), which also placed in the black and white category. All of my awarded images appear in this post and while I will not make it to the gala dinner in London this year as I will be on safari, this post is my way of celebrating.
Caption: Wild Dogs are a critically endangered species and impala are their favourite prey. It was dusk in Mana Pools National Park (Zimbabwe) when this pack of wild dogs caught an impala close to my campsite. I frantically grabbed my camera and set my settings to manual. The wild dogs had made the kill in a dry riverbed and a large cloud of dust soon enveloped the scene as a result of the killing frenzy. The shadows of the pack members were cast onto the dust, and in this photograph these shadows become a metaphor, illustrating the larger-than-life personalities of my subjects. It is my hope that this image will remind people of the beauty and mystery of one of Africa's most enigmatic predators and one of the most endangered too.
(Nikon D4s, 80-400mm lens, F8 1/320th ISO 3200, Mana Pools National Park Zimbabwe)
View all the WPY 53 winning images and exhibit details here...
In 2013 I won the overall title of Wildlife Photographer Of The Year. See the image here...
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©Copyright. Greg du Toit Safaris & Photographic. 2013