Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020

Every year the Natural History Museum (London) sponsors a competition and exhibition titled Wildlife Photographer of the Year. It is by far the world's most prestigious competition in nature photography and often (but not always) the winners are working pros from the likes of National Geographic. This year's winners were announced last week and the exhibition opened over the weekend.

I have seen it in person twice and it is stunning. The entire large gallery has blackened walls and ceilings and all 100 images are displayed as large format (maybe 20x24 inch?) backlit transparency prints. They also produce a hardcover book with the 100 selected images (I have the last eight years and plan to get this one). They received almost fifty thousand entries (each entrant can submit up to 25 images). These were culled to less than four thousand entries for the final round of judging. This was the first year I entered and one of my images did make that final round (but sadly was not chosen). Ironically I think the one that made it is the only one I took on Nikon; I recently switched from Canon and I believe my other entries were older Canon shots. I have not looked at how many of the 100 were taken on Nikon, but I suspect in the coming years we will start to see the Nikon 500PF lens appear more often.

There is an increasing number of trail cam photos in the competition, including this year's overall winner (Siberian tiger). Personally I feel this should be a separate category (alongside the other categories) and that trail cam photos should not be allowed to be entered in every category. It seems wrong to me that the person named wildlife photographer of the year was not even present at his camera to take the picture, but just got lucky that a tiger triggered the camera itself doing something interesting.

Here is the link: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2020/october/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2020-winning-images.html

Comments

  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,353Moderator
    I too am a fan and have seen the exhibition in the flesh. I also agree that although the winning shot was stunning, it would be more deserved if the photographer was present!
    Always learning.
  • flipflip Posts: 153Member
    Sergey (first place winner), is a Nikon user and I believe a Nikon ambassador (former?). For a while I followed his wildlife work from the Arctic and Russia.

    I see no difference between cam imaging and Stephen Dalton's trail blazing images of the 60's of insects (and frogs in motion) in flight using Hasselblad and Leica cameras and lenses. The cameras and high intensity flash systems were triggered every time an insect intersected with the maze of infrared lights that were set up in the terrariums. Dalton won much notoriety and many awards for his work and I don't recall criticism for his not releasing the shutter manually.

    Should we deny drone imaging equal footing with images snapped by a photog from a plane or heli. A great image is that, setting aside those where gross manipulations from pasting of various cutouts is used.

    The fact that Sergey had enough knowledge of the subject, its habits and what might attract it nearer the cam setup, is sufficient for me to lump this category of work with photog initiated shutter release images. Sergey is famous for an image of a red fox in the air about to pounce on a lemming and of Ruffs (of various colors) dancing in the air fighting off competition, the winner to mate a receptive Reeve. I remember the latter well as he used the Nikon D300s which was an inspiration for me to try the camera. Great camera for wildlife which I still have on the shelf but rarely use in deference to the D8.. series.
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,353Moderator
    I take your point about the insects, but not the drone shot point. The photographer has to do all he normally does plus fly the drone - not the same really.
    Always learning.
  • snakebunksnakebunk Posts: 938Member
    In my mind the winning photograph of the tiger has too much clarity (I guess that's what it is). What do you think?
  • photobunnyphotobunny Posts: 274Member
    It looks a wee bit like a digital painting. But who knows what the original file and colours looked like.
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,353Moderator
    I have seen quite a lot of that 'dark' style of post, and definitely think it looks unnatural which I would have expected the judges to have disliked.

    Regarding this:
    flip said:

    Sergey (first place winner), is a Nikon user and I believe a Nikon ambassador (former?). For a while I followed his wildlife work from the Arctic and Russia.

    I see no difference between cam imaging and Stephen Dalton's trail blazing images of the 60's of insects (and frogs in motion) in flight using Hasselblad and Leica cameras and lenses. The cameras and high intensity flash systems were triggered every time an insect intersected with the maze of infrared lights that were set up in the terrariums. Dalton won much notoriety and many awards for his work and I don't recall criticism for his not releasing the shutter manually.

    Should we deny drone imaging equal footing with images snapped by a photog from a plane or heli. A great image is that, setting aside those where gross manipulations from pasting of various cutouts is used.

    The fact that Sergey had enough knowledge of the subject, its habits and what might attract it nearer the cam setup, is sufficient for me to lump this category of work with photog initiated shutter release images. Sergey is famous for an image of a red fox in the air about to pounce on a lemming and of Ruffs (of various colors) dancing in the air fighting off competition, the winner to mate a receptive Reeve. I remember the latter well as he used the Nikon D300s which was an inspiration for me to try the camera. Great camera for wildlife which I still have on the shelf but rarely use in deference to the D8.. series.

    I have thought some more about the point that flip was making and I do think it is not the 'obtaining' of a picture by a machine that we should be applauding, but the personal skill and tenacity shown by a photographer with his finger on the button making decisions about exposure and composition.

    Always learning.
  • MrFotoFoolMrFotoFool Posts: 144Member
    As for the "look" or "style" of the winning image, I do know this competition is very strict in not allowing extensive editing. All finalists are required to submit the original RAW file (or slide or negative if it was shot on film). For the tiger image to have won, the edited version must have been close to what the original camera file looks like.
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,353Moderator
    edited October 23
    The rules state the following and sticking to the rules, one would easily be able to adjust a less dramatic image to look like the winning image:

    (5) Digital adjustments including tone and contrast, burning, dodging, cropping, sharpening, noise reduction, minor cleaning work (e.g. removal of sensor dust or scratches on transparencies/scans, removal of chromatic aberration), HDR, stitched panoramas, focus stacking are permitted providing that they comply with the Competition’s principles of authenticity – a true representation of nature - so that they do not deceive the viewer or misrepresent the reality of nature, or what was originally captured by the camera.
    Post edited by spraynpray on
    Always learning.
  • MrFotoFoolMrFotoFool Posts: 144Member
    Interesting that they allow HDR because I thought they considered that too severe of a manipulation.
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,353Moderator
    I think they are more interested in whether the image is a composite.
    Always learning.
  • manhattanboymanhattanboy Posts: 1,001Member

    I too am a fan and have seen the exhibition in the flesh. I also agree that although the winning shot was stunning, it would be more deserved if the photographer was present!

    I think part of the problem by banning trail cam photos is that many would just lie and say they were present and shot the image.

    @MrFotoFool link to your image here. Would be nice to see what almost won, along with the story of when you were shooting it.
  • MrFotoFoolMrFotoFool Posts: 144Member


    @MrFotoFool link to your image here. Would be nice to see what almost won, along with the story of when you were shooting it.

    Thanks for your interest. Here is the link (though I am about to redo my categories so not sure how long this will be valid): https://fineartamerica.com/featured/pouncing-coyote-fred-hood.html
    I was on a three day wildlife trip with my cousin (also a photographer) in Point Reyes National Seashore (California). We found a coyote walking parallel to the road and drove slowly at his pace. He stopped at the top of a hill just above the road and we pulled over. He was looking intently at what I presume was a rodent burrow and we were waiting for him to pounce. When he did I rapid fired (D850 body with 500PF lens), but my poor cousin chose that exact moment to look down and check his settings, so he missed it.
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,353Moderator
    HAH! That's brilliant! :D
    Always learning.
  • flipflip Posts: 153Member
    Looking at the Tiger image, though there may be a touch more contrast added and the image darkened a bit, my take away is this was shot late afternoon, where the low angle and the warm intensity of the light creates deep shadows and strong, warm color on the highlights. The darkness of trees can mess up the 18% grey tone camera meter eval so perhaps the photographer underexposed to compensate, meaning the camera would overexpose if metering on a dark tree.

    Frankly, I know of no cameras sophisticated enough to have multiple compensation program settings for different ev, direction of light etc for auto triggering. So my guess is to avoid overexposure, he chose to underexpose due to the dark tree. As opposed to others who suggest one should default to slight overexposure without blowing out highlights, I find that slight underexposure is preferred so that highlight detail is not lost by overexposure. I read that it took him 11 months of effort to obtain the image - talk about infinite patience.

    If you look at the image of the two wasps (Canon 100 macro) which was one of the winners, this was set up similarly to Stephen Dalton's from the 70s. Without a whole lot of luck, no human that I am aware of has the sensory perception and reaction reflexes to shoot such an image by manually releasing the shutter. Infrared beams again were used, so no human intervention in the taking. Yet it won an award.

    What was more instructive to me was two other notable images, one of a beetle and ant at gnawing at it's leg, and the Columbian landscape in the fog. Both images were taken with very dated APS-C cameras, the latter with the 12 MP D300 at f22. The image is quite beautiful IMO.

    Lastly, note the photographer of the beetle image used ring flash and a Tamron 90mm macro. I have used that "D" lens for years even for landscape work, the color and edge to edge sharpness for both landscape and macro (most notably with D850) are quite remarkable.
  • MrFotoFoolMrFotoFool Posts: 144Member
    Interesting note about dated cameras. When I saw my first WPOY exhibition in person in London in 2009, the image I found the most appealing was a grainy and artistically blurred b&w dusk shot of a lion taken with cheap (non professional) 35mm film.
  • SearcySearcy Posts: 623Member
    edited November 17
    There is an artist here in Nashville named Penny Felts who shoots only with old Polaroids. Her work is brilliant and filled with funky artifice. The equipment is important but in the end its the image that matters.

    (Penny Felts Photo)
    kara
    Post edited by Searcy on
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