High praise for Australians at 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The winners of the Natural History Museum’s 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition have just been announced, having been selected from more than 50,000 across 95 countries.
Creation by Laurent Ballesta, France, Winner, Underwater. Laurent Ballesta (France) peers into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exit their milky cloud of eggs and sperm. For five years Laurent and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks hunting the fish. Spawning happens around the full moon in July, when up to 20,000 fish gather in Fakarava in a narrow southern channel linking the lagoon with the ocean.
Overfishing threatens this species, but here the fish are protected within a biosphere reserve. Nikon D5 + 17–35mm f2.8 lens at 17mm 1/200 sec at f11 ISO 1600 Seacam housing Seacam strobes1/200 sec at f11 ISO 1600 Seacam housing Seacam strobes.
© Laurent Ballesta (France). Creation. Winner, Underwater and 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Laurent Ballesta peers into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exit their milky cloud of eggs and sperm. For five years, Ballesta and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks hunting the fish. Spawning happens around the full moon in July, when up to 20,000 fish gather in Fakarava in a narrow southern channel linking the lagoon with the ocean. 

The 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year was French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta for his image, Creation. The image, that captures camouflage groupers exiting their milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia. Every year, for five years, Laurent and histeam returned to this lagoon, diving day and night so as not to miss the annual spawning that only takes placearound the full moon in July.

Chair of the judging panel, writer and editor, Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox OBE says, ‘The image works on so many levels. It issurprising, energetic, and intriguing and has an otherworldly beauty. It also captures a magical moment –a truly explosive creation of life –leaving the tail-end of the exodus of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.’

The two Grand Title winners were selected from 19 category winners, with this year’s competition seeing three new categories added, including ‘Oceans - The Bigger Picture’ and ‘Wetlands - The Bigger Picture’ to shine a spotlight on these crucial ecosystems.

Dome home by Vidyun R Hebbar, India, Winner, 10 Years and Under. Vidyun R Hebbar (India) watches a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by.
© Vidyun R Hebbar (India). Dome home. Winner, 10 Years and Under. Vidyun R Hebbar watches a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by.

Ten-year old Vidyun R. Hebbar was named the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 for his image, Dome home, of a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by. Vidyun first featured in the competition when he was just eight years old and loves to photograph the often-overlooked creatures that live in the streets and parks near his home in the city of Bengaluru, India.

Australian winners and finalists

A number of Australians were recognised in the 2021 competition with two taking out top honours, along with Highly Commended awards being received in five categories.

Wildlife photographer Justin Gilligan took out the the Plants and Fungi category with his portrait, Rich Reflections, which depicts a marine ranger admiring seaweed off the coast of Lord Howe Island.

Rich reflections by Justin Gilligan, Australia, Winner, Plants and Fungi Justin Gilligan (Australia) creates the reflection of a marine ranger among the seaweed. At the world’s southernmost tropical reef, Justin wanted to show how careful human management helps preserve this vibrant seaweed jungle. With only a 40-minute window where tide conditions were right, it took three days of trial and error before Justin got his image. Impacts of climate change, such as increasing water temperature, are affecting the reefs at an ever-increasing rate. Seaweed forests support hundreds of species, capture carbon, produce oxygen and help protect shorelines. Nikon D850 + Sigma 15mm f2.8 lens 1/160 sec at f13 ISO 400 Nauticam housing twin Ikelite DS161 strobes + sync cord.
© Justin Gilligan (Australia). Rich reflections. Winner, Plants and Fungi. Justin Gilligan creates the reflection of a marine ranger among the seaweed. At the world’s southernmost tropical reef, Gilligan wanted to show how careful human management helps preserve this vibrant seaweed jungle. With only a 40-minute window where tide conditions were right, it took three days of trial and error before Gilligan got his image. Impacts of climate change, such as increasing water temperature, are affecting the reefs at an ever-increasing rate. Seaweed forests support hundreds of species, capture carbon, produce oxygen and help protect shorelines.

Adam Oswell won the Photojournalism category, with his image,Elephant in the Room, of a young elephant performing underwater for crowds in Thailand.

Elephant in the room by Adam Oswell, Australia, Winner, Photojournalism. Adam Oswell (Australia) draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform under water.
Although this performance was promoted as educational and as exercise for the elephants, Adam was disturbed by this scene. Organisations concerned with the welfare of captive elephants view performances like these as exploitative because they encourage unnatural behaviour. Elephant tourism has increased across Asia. In Thailand there are now more elephants in captivity than in the wild. The Covid-19 pandemic caused international tourism to collapse, leading to elephant sanctuaries becoming overwhelmed with animals that can no longer be looked after by their owners. Nikon D810 + 24–70mm lens 1/640 sec at f2.8 ISO 1250.
© Adam Oswell (Australia). Elephant in the room. Adam Oswell draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform under water. Although this performance was promoted as educational and as exercise for the elephants, Oswell was disturbed by this scene. Organisations concerned with the welfare of captive elephants view performances like these as exploitative because they encourage unnatural behaviour. Elephant tourism has increased across Asia. In Thailand there are now more elephants in captivity than in the wild. The COVID-19 pandemic caused international tourism to collapse, leading to elephant sanctuaries becoming overwhelmed with animals that can no longer be looked after by their owners.

Australians receiving Highly Commended awards included Caitlin Henderson (Behaviour: Invertebrates), Douglas Gimesy (Behaviour: Mammals), Juergen Freund (Plants and Fungi), Christian Spencer (Natural Artistry), Douglas Gimesy (Photojournalism).

Displayed alongside insights from Natural History Museum scientists and experts, the 100 images will be showcased in spectacular lightbox displays at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, opening on 15 October 2021, before touring across the UK and internationally, including to Australia.

The 58th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries on Monday, 18 October. All the details for entry will appear on the competition website.

Category winners

Category winners appear below, but to check out all the finalists, follow this link.

Bedazzled by Alex Mustard, UK Winner, Natural Artistry Alex Mustard (UK) finds a ghost pipefish hiding among the arms of a feather star. Nikon D850 + Trioplan 100mm f2.8 lens 12mm extension tube ND8 filter FIT +5 close-up lens 1/250 sec at f2.8 ISO 80 Subal housing two Retra strobes.
© Alex Mustard (UK). Bedazzled. Winner, Natural Artistry. Alex Mustard finds a ghost pipefish hiding among the arms of a feather star.
Sunflower songbird by Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco, Spain, Winner, 11-14 Years Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco (Spain) enjoys the splendour of the sunflowers and a melodious warbler singing its heart out.
© Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco (Spain). Sunflower songbird. Winner, 11-14 Years. Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco enjoys the splendour of the sunflowers and a melodious warbler singing its heart out.
Face-off, from Cichlids of Planet Tanganyika by Angel Fitor, Spain, Winner, Portfolio Award. Angel Fitor (Spain) provides an intimate look into the lives of cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika. Two male cichlid fish fight jaw to jaw over a snail shell. Inside the half-buried shell is a female ready to lay eggs. For three weeks Angel monitored the lake bed looking for such disputes. The biting and pushing lasts until the weaker fish gives way. This struggle was over in seconds but lasted just long enough for Angel to get his winning shot. Nikon D800 + Sigma APO Macro 150mm f2.8 lens; 1/200 at f9; ISO 200; Anthis Nexus housing; Retra strobes.
©  Angel Fitor (Spain). Face-off, from Cichlids of Planet Tanganyika. Winner, Portfolio Award. Angel Fitor provides an intimate look into the lives of cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika. Two male cichlid fish fight jaw-to-jaw over a snail shell. Inside the half-buried shell is a female ready to lay eggs. For three weeks Fitor monitored the lake bed looking for such disputes. The biting and pushing lasts until the weaker fish gives way. This struggle was over in seconds, but lasted just long enough for Fitor to get his winning shot.
The healing touch, from Community care by Brent Stirton, South Africa, Winner, Photojournalist Story Award. Brent Stirton (South Africa) profiles a rehabilitation centre caring for chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + 16–35mm lens; 1/250 sec at f5.6; ISO 400.
© Brent Stirton (South Africa). The healing touch, from Community care. Winner, Photojournalist Story Award. Brent Stirton profiles a rehabilitation centre caring for chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade.
The spider room by Gil Wizen, Israel/Canada, Winner, Urban Wildlife. Gil Wizen (Israel/Canada) finds a venomous Brazilian wandering spider hiding under his bed. After noticing tiny spiders all over his bedroom, Gil looked under his bed. There, guarding its brood, was one of the world’s most venomous spiders. Before safely relocating it outdoors, he photographed the human-hand-sized Brazilian wandering spider using forced perspective to make it appear even larger. Brazilian wandering spiders roam forest floors at night in search of prey such as frogs and cockroaches. Their toxic venom can be deadly to mammals including humans, but it also has medicinal uses. Canon EOS 7D + 14mm f2.8 lens 1/250 sec at f11 ISO 400 Macro Twin Lite flash.
©  Gil Wizen (Israel/Canada). The spider room. Winner, Urban Wildlife. Gil Wizen finds a venomous Brazilian wandering spider hiding under his bed. After noticing tiny spiders all over his bedroom, Wizen looked under his bed. There, guarding its brood, was one of the world’s most venomous spiders. Before safely relocating it outdoors, he photographed the human-hand-sized Brazilian wandering spider using forced perspective to make it appear even larger. Brazilian wandering spiders roam forest floors at night in search of prey such as frogs and cockroaches. Their toxic venom can be deadly to mammals including humans, but it also has medicinal uses.
Spinning the cradle by Gil Wizen, Israel/Canada Winner, Behaviour: Invertebrates Gil Wizen (Israel/Canada) finds a fishing spider stretching out silk from its spinnerets to weave into its egg sac. Canon EOS 7D + Laowa 100mm f2.8 lens 1/100 sec at f10 ISO 200 Macro Twin Lite flash.
© Gil Wizen ( Israel/Canada). Spinning the cradle. Winner, Behaviour: Invertebrates. Gil Wizen finds a fishing spider stretching out silk from its spinnerets to weave into its egg sac.
Road to ruin by Javier Lafuente, Spain, Winner, Wetlands - The Bigger Picture. Javier Lafuente (Spain) shows the stark, straight line of a road slicing through the curves of the wetland landscape. By manoeuvring his drone and inclining the camera, Javier dealt with the challenges of sunlight reflected by the water and ever-changing light conditions. He captured the pools as flat colours, varying according to the vegetation and mineral content. Dividing the wetland in two, this road was constructed in the 1980s to provide access to a beach. The tidal wetland is home to more than a hundred species of birds, with ospreys and bee-eaters among many migratory visitors. DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 10.3mm f2.8 lens 1/500 sec at f2.8 (+0.3 e/v) ISO 100.
© Javier Lafuente (Spain). Road to ruin. Winner, Wetlands - The Bigger Picture. Javier Lafuente shows the stark, straight line of a road slicing through the curves of the wetland landscape. By manoeuvring his drone and inclining the camera, Lafuente dealt with the challenges of sunlight reflected by the water and ever-changing light conditions. He captured the pools as flat colours, varying according to the vegetation and mineral content. Dividing the wetland in two, this road was constructed in the 1980s to provide access to a beach. The tidal wetland is home to more than a hundred species of birds, with ospreys and bee-eaters among many migratory visitors. 
Nursery meltdown by Jennifer Hayes, USA Winner, Oceans: The Bigger Picture Jennifer Hayes (USA) records harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice. Nikon D4 + 24–120mm f4 lens 1/640 sec at f9 ISO 200.
© Jennifer Hayes (USA). Nursery meltdown. Winner, Oceans: The Bigger Picture Jennifer Hayes records harp seals, seal pups, and the blood of birth against melting sea ice.
Where the giant newts breed by João Rodrigues, Portugal, Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles João Rodrigues (Portugal) is surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in the flooded forest. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV + Tokina 10–17mm f3.5–4.5 lens at 16mm 1/200 sec at f13 ISO 320 Aquatica housing two INON Z-330 flashes.
©  João Rodrigues (Portugal). Where the giant newts breed. Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles. João Rodrigues is surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in the flooded forest.
High-flying jay by Lasse Kurkela, Finland, Winner, 15-17 Years. Lasse Kurkela (Finland) watches a Siberian jay fly to the top of a spruce tree to stash its food.
© Lasse Kurkela (Finland). High-flying jay. Winner, 15-17 Years. Lasse Kurkela watches a Siberian jay fly to the top of a spruce tree to stash its food.
Reflection by Majed Ali, Kuwait, Winner, Animal Portraits. Majed Ali (Kuwait) glimpses the moment a mountain gorilla closes its eyes in the rain. Nikon Z6 + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 200mm 1/320 sec at f6.3 ISO 640.
© Majed Ali (Kuwait). Reflection. Winner, Animal Portraits. Majed Ali glimpses the moment a mountain gorilla closes its eyes in the rain.
Cool time, from Land time for sea bears by Martin Gregus, Canada / Slovakia, Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award. Martin Gregus (Canada/Slovakia) shows polar bears in a different light as they come ashore in summer. On a hot summer’s day, two female polar bears took to the shallow intertidal waters to cool off and play. Martin used a drone to capture this moment. For
him, the heart shape symbolises the apparent sibling affection between them and ‘the love we as people owe to the natural world’. DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 28mm f2.8 lens; 1/400 sec at f3.2; ISO 100.
© Martin Gregus (Canada / Slovakia). Cool time, from Land time for sea bears. Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award. Martin Gregus shows polar bears in a different light as they come ashore in summer. On a hot summer’s day, two female polar bears took to the shallow intertidal waters to cool off and play. Gregus used a drone to capture this moment. For him, the heart shape symbolises the apparent sibling affection between them and ‘the love we as people owe to the natural world’.
The intimate touch by Shane Kalyn, Canada Winner, Behaviour: Birds Shane Kalyn (Canada) watches a raven courtship display. Nikon D500 + 200–500mm f5.6 lens at 420mm 1/1250 sec at f7.1 ISO 900.
© Shane Kalyn (Canada). The intimate touch. Winner, Behaviour: Birds Shane Kalyn watches a raven
courtship display.
Head to head by Stefano Unterthiner, Italy, Winner, Behaviour: Mammals Stefano Unterthiner (Italy) watches two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem. Nikon D5 + 180–400mm f4 lens at 400mm 1/640 sec at f4 ISO 3200.
© Stefano Unterthiner (Italy). Head to head. Winner, Behaviour: Mammals Stefano Unterthiner watches two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem.
Grizzly leftovers by Zack Clothier, USA, Winner, Animals in their Environment Zack Clothier (USA) discovers a grizzly bear has taken an interest in his camera trap. Nikon D610 + 18–35mm f3.5–4.5 lens at 25mm 1/160 sec at f10 (-1.7 e/v) ISO 1000 two Nikon SB-28 flashes self-made camera-trap system.
© Zack Clothier (USA). Grizzly leftovers. Winner, Animals in their Environment. Zack Clothier discovers a grizzly bear has taken an interest in his camera trap.

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