Blast furnace

Alexandre Hec, FRANCE
Finalist, Land
Eruption at Kilauea, Hawaii.

When the lava flow from Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island periodically enters the ocean, the sight is spectacular, but on this occasion Alexandre was in for a special treat. Kilauea (meaning ‘spewing’ or ‘much spreading’) is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, in constant eruption since 1983. As red-hot lava at more than 1,000 ̊C (1,832 ̊F) flows into the sea, vast plumes of steam hiss up, condensing to produce salty, acidic mist or rain. Alexandre witnessed the action and returned in an inflatable the following evening to find that a new crater had formed close to the shore. Capturing the furious action in a rough sea was no easy task. From 100 metres (328 feet) away, he was blasted with heat and noise – ‘like a jet taking off’. In a moment of visibility, his perseverance paid off, with a dramatic image of glowing lava being tossed some 30 metres (98 feet) into the air against the night sky. Nikon D300 + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 70mm; 1/350 sec at f4; ISO 800.

Splitting the catch

Audun Rikardsen, NORWAY
Finalist, The Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Single Image
Some fishermen may use the whales to localize the herring shoals. Likewise, many whales have during the years learned the sounds from specific fishing boat when they retrieve their fishing gear, and thereby seek to the boats with the hope to get a “free meal”. This is seemingly a win-win-situations for both parties, but some whales also actively tries to steal the fish form the fishing gear, which can in some cases destroy both the fishing gear and the herring caches. This has led to a debate about the fishing quotas and the interactions between whales and fishing boats. These interactions have also lead to an increasing number of accident where the whales have been entangled in the fishing gear. I developed my own underwater housing to be able to take split pictures like this under very low light conditions. Ordinary underwater housings for split pictures will not work due to several optical challenges during low light conditions. (some dust/ flare due to salt crustal on the underwater housing glass is removed in the digital post-processing). Canon 5DIII, Canon 11-24 f4; 1/200 sec; f/6,3; ISO 640, self made underwater housing, Lee filter 1.2.

Sometimes it’s the fishing boats that look for the killer whales and humpbacks, hoping to locate the shoals of herring that migrate to these Arctic Norwegian waters. But in recent winters, the whales have also started to follow the boats. Here a large male killer whale feeds on herring that have been squeezed out of the boat’s closing fishing net. He has learnt the sound that this type of boat makes when it retrieves its gear and homed in on it. The relationship would seem to be a win-win one, but not always. Whales sometimes try to steal the fish, causing damage to the gear, and they can also become entangled in the nets, sometimes fatally, especially in the case of humpbacks. The search for solutions is under-way, including better systems for releasing any whales that get trapped. Having grown up in a small coastal fishing community in northern Norway, Audun has always been fascinated by the relationship between humans and wildlife. And for several years, he has been trying to document the interactions between whales and fishermen. A specially designed, homemade underwater camera housing allows him take split‐level pictures in low light. But he needs to get close to a whale, though not close enough to disturb it or be dragged under a boat’s side propeller. So having the fishermen’s permission to snorkel by their boats has been as important as being tolerated by the whales. Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 11– 24mm f4 lens at 11mm + 1.2 Lee filter; 1/200 sec at f6.3; ISO 640; custom- made housing.

Golden relic

Dhyey Shah, INDIA
Finalist, 10 years and under
Gee’s Golden Langur, India’s old primates are now in endangered category and increasing human population becoming really concern losing their habitats. Few of them are survived on peacock Island near Guwahati in North East area of India. Conservation status: IUCN : Endangered Camera : Canon 500d Lens : canon 55-250 Place : Guwahati,India

With fewer than 2,500 mature adults left in the wild, in fragmented pockets of forest in northeastern India (Assam) and Bhutan, Gee’s golden langurs are endangered. Living high in the trees, they are also difficult to observe. But, on the tiny man-made island of Umananda, in Assam’s Brahmaputra River, you are guaranteed to see one. Site of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the island is equally famous for its introduced golden langurs. Within moments of stepping off the boat, Dhyey spotted the golden coat of a langur high up in a tree. The monkey briefly made eye contact and then slipped away. Today, there are just six left on the island, and, with much of the vegetation having been cleared, the leaf-eating monkeys are forced to depend mainly on junk food from visitors. Canon EOS 500D + 55–250mm f5.6 lens; 1/250 sec at f5.6; ISO 1250.

The disappearing fish

Iago Leonardo, SPAIN
Finalist, Reptiles, Amphibians and Fish

In the open ocean, there’s nowhere to hide, but the lookdown fish – a name it probably gets from the steep profile of its head, with mouth set low and large eyes high – is a master of camouflage. Recent research suggests that it uses special platelets in its skin cells to reflect polarized light (light moving in a single plane), making itself almost invisible to predators and potential prey. The platelets scatter polarized light (common under water), depending on the angle of the sun and the fish, doing a better job than simply reflecting it like a mirror. This clever camouflage works particularly well when viewed from positions of likely attack or pursuit. What is not yet clear is whether the fish can increase its camouflage by moving the platelets or its body for maximum effect in the ocean’s fluctuating light. The lookdowns’ disappearing act impressed Iago, who was free-diving with special permission around Contoy Island, near Cancun, Mexico. Using only natural light, he framed them against a shoal of grey grunt to highlight the contrast between them. Canon EOS 5D + 20mm f2.8 lens; 1/320 sec at f11; ISO 400; Ikelite housing.

Swarming under the stars

Imre Potyó, HUNGARY
Finalist, Invertebrates
After a few decades, the Danube mayfly (Ephoron virgo) have returned to the river Danube, probably due to the increasing water quality. The fantastic mass swarming of these mayflies is one of the most exciting phenomenon for me. My image was taken in a dark, near-natural bank of Rába river (a tributary of the Danube) with long exposure, flash and flashlight. Unfortunately, the lamp-lit bridges have negative influence to them, because they are attracted to the lamps, become exhausted, lay their eggs to the asphalt roads of the bridge and perish immediately. The team of the Danube Research Institute in cooperation with the Environmental Optics Laboratory plan to solve this biooptical and environmental problem. This image is very precious to me as I can draw the attention to these spectacular water insects and their complex ecological light trap, which endanger their survival. Rába river, Hungary. Nikon D90, Sigma 17-70 mm, f/2.8-4.5 1.3 sec, f/14, ISO 800, 17 mm.

Imre was captivated by the chaotic swarming of mayflies on Hungary’s River Rába and dreamt of photographing the spectacle beneath a starlit sky. For a few days each year (at the end of July or beginning of August), vast numbers of the adult insects emerge from the Danube tributary, where they developed as larvae. On this occasion, the insects emerged just after sunset. At first, they stayed close to the water, but once they had mated, the females gained altitude. They filled the air with millions of silken wings, smothering Imre and his equipment in their race upstream to lay their eggs on the water’s surface. Then they died, exhausted, after just a few hours. This ‘compensatory flight’ – sometimes as far as several kilometres upstream – is crucial to make up for the subsequent downstream drift of the eggs and nymphs, and luckily for Imre, it was happening under a clear sky. To capture both the mayflies and the stars, he created an in-camera double exposure, adjusting the settings as the exposure happened. A flashlight added the finishing touch, tracing the movement of the females on their frantic mission. Nikon D90 + Sigma 17–70mm f2.8–4.5 lens at 17mm; double exposure 1.3 sec at f14 and 30 sec at f3.2; ISO 800; in‐camera flash; flashlight; Manfrotto tripod + Uniqball head.

Grub time

Finalist, 15-17 years old
Black-naped Oriole

In parks and gardens in many parts of Asia, the loud, fluty whistles and striking plumage of black‐naped orioles are familiar to suburban residents. While on a morning jog in the Malaysian town of Sungai Petani, Kim spotted an oriole nest high up in a mango tree in a fruit orchard. Keeping watch on the tree every morning for 10 days, she finally saw that the two partially fledged chicks had fluttered down from their small hammock-like nest and were perched on a branch. Returning with a hide, she set it up with a view straight to the branch, which was almost at eye-level, and then waited. Her reward came when one of the adults flew in with a beakful of food at the perfect angle, providing the perfect composition. Nikon D4 + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 200mm; 1/1000 sec at f5.6; ISO 640.

Playing pangolin

Finalist, Black and White
A young lion tries to figure out a way through a pangolins defences.

Lance had tracked the pride for several hours before they stopped to rest by a waterhole, but their attention was not on drinking. The lions (in South Africa’s Tswalu Kalahari Private Game Reserve) had discovered a Temminck’s ground pangolin. This nocturnal, ant-eating mammal is armour-plated with scales made of fused hair, and it curls up into an almost impregnable ball when threatened. Pangolins usually escape unscathed from big cats (though not from humans, whose exploitation of them for the traditional medicine trade is causing their severe decline). But these lions just wouldn’t give up. ‘They rolled it around like a soccer ball,’ says Lance. ‘Every time they lost interest, the pangolin uncurled and tried to retreat, attracting their attention again.’ Spotting a young lion holding the pangolin ball on a termite mound close to the vehicle, Lance focused in on the lion’s claws and the pangolin’s scratched scales, choosing black and white to help simplify the composition. It was14 hours before the pride finally moved off to hunt. The pangolin did not appear to be injured, but it died shortly after, probably not just from the stress of capture but also from being out in the heat all day. Canon EOS 5DS R + 500mm f4 lens; 1/1600 sec at f4; ISO 1600.

Beware a mother bear

Mikhail Shatenev, RUSSIA
Finalist, 15-17 years old
(Brown Bear) North Karelia, Finland 1/1000 sec; f/7,1; ISO 1000 Canon EOS 60D, EF300mm f/4L IS USM

It was his second night without sleep, and Mikhail had to force himself to keep his eyes open and fixed on the swampy coniferous taiga around the hide. He was in bear-watching country, a remote region of Kainuu, Finland, and the hide was just a few hundred metres from the Russian border. The chances of seeing a brown bear were mixed. On the one hand, bait had been placed near the hide, and there are 20–25 bears which forage in the region. But it was April, and not all the bears would have left their dens, most of which are in Russia. But Mikhail was lucky, and his vigilance paid off. A female with two cubs came by to check out the hide. She was jittery and had reason to be. In the spring, hungry males emerging from hibernation will attack small cubs. When a raven landed too close to a cub, she roared and lunged at it, giving Mikhail the dynamic shot he was after. Canon EOS 60D + 300mm f4 lens; 1/1000 sec at f7.1; ISO 1000.

Nosy neighbour

Sam Hobson, UK
Finalist, Urban
The red fox is perhaps one of the most familiar wild animals that thrives in an urban environment, but often a fleeting glimpse is all we get. Foxes may live alongside us in towns and cities, but they have learnt to be wary of man and often hide in the shadows. I spent a summer gaining the trust of a family of foxes in Bristol and found that if I introduced anything new to their environment, the curious cubs would quickly become interested and investigate it thoroughly. This gave me an opportunity to capture some incredibly intimate portraits of these friendly fox cubs - I left my camera positioned on a wall in their territory and fired it remotely when this bold cub poked his nose up to investigate.

Sam knew exactly who to expect when he set his camera on the wall one summer’s evening in a suburban street in Bristol, the UK’s famous fox city. He wanted to capture the inquisitive nature of the urban red fox in a way that would pique the curiosity of its human neighbours about the wildlife around them. This was the culmination of weeks of scouting for the ideal location – a quiet, well-lit neighbourhood, where the foxes were used to people (several residents fed them regularly) – and the right fox. For several hours every night, Sam sat in one fox family’s territory, gradually gaining their trust until they ignored his presence. One of the cubs was always investigating new things – his weeping left eye the result of a scratch from a cat he got too close to. ‘I discovered a wall that he liked to sit on in the early evening,’ says Sam. ‘He would poke his head over for a quick look before hopping up.’ Setting his focus very close to the lens, Sam stood back and waited. He was rewarded when the youngster peeked over and, apart from a flick of his ear, stayed motionless for long enough to create this intimate portrait. Nikon D800 + 17–35mm f2.8 lens at 17mm; 1/6 sec at f4.5; ISO 800; Nikon SB-700 + SB-800 flashes; PocketWizard Plus III remote release; Manfrotto tripod.

Collective courtship

Scott Portelli, AUSTRALIA
Finalist, Invertebrates
The Aggregation of Giant Australian Cuttlefish is rare event that can only be seen at a certain time of year, where thousands of cuttlefish compete for mating rights. a vivid display of colours and textures is what entices the opposite sex to mate.

Thousands of giant cuttlefish gather each winter in the shallow waters of South Australia’s Upper Spencer Gulf for their once-in-a-lifetime spawning. Males compete for territories that have the best crevices for egg‐laying and then attract females with mesmerizing displays of changing skin colour, texture and pattern. Rivalry among the world’s largest cuttlefish – up to a metre (3.3 feet) long – is fierce, as males outnumber females by up to eleven to one. A successful, usually large, male grabs the smaller female with his tentacles, turns her to face him (as here) and uses a specialized tentacle to insert sperm sacs into an opening near her mouth. He then guards her until she lays the eggs. The preoccupied cuttlefish (the male on the right) completely ignored Scott, allowing him to get close. A line of suitors was poised in the background, waiting for a chance to mate with the female (sometimes smaller males camouflage themselves as females to sneak past the male). Scott’s hours in the cold water were finally rewarded when the onlookers momentarily faced the same way, and he framed the ideal composition. Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 15mm f2.8 lens; 1/200 sec at f18; ISO 320; Seacam housing; two Ikelite DS161 strobes.

Termite tossing

Willem Kruger, SOUTH AFRICA
Finalist, Birds
Exact location: Near the northern entrance to the 14ht borehole, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa Description – This image was near the northern entrance to the 14th borehole water hole, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. We saw group of Southern Yellow Hornbill birds foraging on the ground as we drive pass the entrance to the waterhole. They were feeding on termites and it was interesting to see how the termite was thrown into the air and then the bird catches it again in order to swallow it. One of the birds came close my vehicle and it was catching termite after termite. Eventually this one bird ended up about 6 meters from my vehicle and I did some macro photography with my 600mm lens as the bird was tossing the termites in the air in order to swallow it. No baiting was used.

Termite after termite after termite – using the tip of its massive beak like forceps to pick them up, the hornbill would flick them in the air and then swallow them. Foraging beside a track in South Africa’s semi-arid Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the southern yellow-billed hornbill was so deeply absorbed in termite snacking that it gradually worked its way to within 6 metres (19 feet) of where Willem sat watching from his vehicle. Though widespread, this southern African hornbill can be shy, and as it feeds on the ground – mainly on termites, beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars – it can be difficult for a photographer to get a clear shot among the scrub. The bird feeds this way because its tongue isn’t long enough to pick up insects as, say, a woodpecker might, and though its huge bill restricts its field of vision, it can still see the bill’s tip and so can pick up insects with precision. What Willem was after, though, was the hornbill’s precision toss, which he caught, after a 40-minute, 40°C (104°F) wait. Nikon D3S + 600mm f4 lens; 1/5000 at f4; ISO 800; Kirk WM-2 window mount + Benro GH-2 Gimbal tripod head.

The world-renowned exhibition opens on 21 October at the Natural History Museum in London, which runs the annual competition.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is a global platform for the world’s best nature photography, showcasing the planet’s most extraordinary and revelatory sights. This year’s competition was the most competitive to date – attracting almost 50,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across 95 countries.

Judged by a panel of international experts, winning images are selected for their creativity, originality and technical excellence. The exhibition will feature the highly-anticipated collection of 100 exceptional images, revealing the astonishing diversity of life on our planet and highlighting our crucial role in protecting it. The images will also embark on an international tour spanning six continents, bringing the majesty and wonder of the natural world to millions.

Exhibition information

Dates and times: Friday 21 October 2016 – Summer 2017, 10.00–17.50 (last admission 17.15)

To book tickets:

Prices: Adult £15.00*, child and concession £7.50*, family £41.00*

Free for Members, Patrons and children under four Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000