Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

After a hectic few weeks, I finally got chance the other night to look through the portfolio book of this year’s WPoY competition. This has always been the Oscars of the wildlife photography community and with such intense competition, anyone who gets an image within a sniff of the finals is to be congratulated. Quite simply, it’s the best competition of its kind in the world.

That said, I found myself a tad disappointed on filtering through the images. It wasn’t that they weren’t beautifully conceived, crafted and executed; it was a general lack of impact. And let’s be honest here, it’s impact that makes a good image great. In fairness, I don’t think the standard was any less than in previous years; probably quite the opposite. What’s changed I think, is expectation, mine in particular. We see so much top quality material thesedays, it takes something truly exceptional to really hit you between the eyes, to etch itself on your mind. Worryingly I guess this invites the discussion on the future of the stand-alone still image: has it perhaps had its day? Not surprisingly I hope not, but I fear that as photographers, we need to prepare for life after the still.

For what it’s worth, my favourite three images (by some margin I have to say) were as follows:

1. The overall winner by Daniel Beltra. This is not only a compelling image, it signifies a willingness on the part of the judges to break the mould of the winning image, and I for one, applaud that.

2. Salmon Swipe by Paul Souders. The standard of underwater photography has rocketed in recent years and this is just a great image with behavioural interest and humour in equal measure.

3. Beavering by Louis-Marie Preau. It’s not easy to make a giant water rodent interesting and although I’ve seen this image previously, it’s just full of intrigue and again, a small dose of humour which is always a useful ingredient.

I think it’s the first time I’ve leaned so heavily towards the underwater images and perhaps it’s because we’re being shown new things about an environment that has always been a closed door for most of us.

My humble congratulations to all the runners and riders in this year’s awards. I’d be interested in your views as to where the still image is headed?

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10 thoughts on “Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

  1. Hi Pete

    Do you remember the report, “Branding Biodiversity”? In it, the authors encourage communicators to abandon the “extinction” message is favour of the “love” one. Beltra’s picture is powerful to our community but I don’t think it will cut it with the public. Given the chance, I would have presented it as one of a pair of pictures, the other being a picture of healthy brown pelicans in their natural habitat. The words? : Wild brown pelican (in habitat) and BP brown pelican (oiled birds). Gives viewers a better idea of what to think about what they’re seeing.



  2. PS. I know we are inclined to think that video is the way it’s going but there is still a place for the sorts of image I describe. But many of the WPOTY pictures now feel like half finished works to me.


  3. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head Pete in terms of the expectation factor. We are bombarded on a daily basis by stunning imagary. Each time expecting something a little better to stimulate the senses, than the last. I sat down and watched Frozen Planet the other night (being very much addicted to anything with young Mr Attenborough at the helm!) and realized in much the same way as you have commented on the still image scenario, I was becoming slightly blazĂ© about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it immensely, but one days time the footage would have had me sat on the edge of the sofa, going WOOOH!

    Maybe we are just conditioned to expect better and better each time?
    ………maybe, just maybe, those Northshots Workshops have raised our standards and expectations to a level that’s hard to keep bettering………

  4. I don’t follow this award or any other photo awards anymore. What with the cheating that went on with the Wolf pic and the recent blunder with Geoff Simpson’s images and the fact they offered to put the images through to the later stages because of it I have become a bit suspicious of the commercial style of these competitions now. That said I feel they are all wonderful images and the photographers certainly deserve praise for their work. To me the Pelican image has a lot of impact because there is an important story behind it. A lot of other images while beautiful, do not live in the memory very long simply because they do not really tell us anything. They are more of the “eye candy” variety of image.

    We do as a society seem to be suffering a kind of visual autism though, where we need higher and higher levels of stimulation to become interested or moved by what we see or read. (not my original thinking, I simply read it somewhere and it has stuck with me) We are constantly bombarded through TV, the web etc with good quality imagery and it is natural to expect the things that please us to continue. A bit like a drug addiction I suppose, it takes more and more to get the same high.

    As for the stills may have had their day and now its going to be video argument. I do not think it will be wholly one or the other. I shoot both nowadays and use video and stills (or both together) where I feel they work best. As long as there is going to be a mixture of printed media, online use, TV etc then both will be needed. Whether many of us will still be able to make a living through stills alone though is another matter.

    Sorry I have gone on a bit there haven’t I 🙂

  5. I dont have any real concerns.

    I see good images, I see bad images. I can tell them apart.

    I see good images with a story. I see good images without a story.

    But I’m not a casual member of the public, nor I would guess are many other visitors to this blog. We all have a visual literacy skill set thats well honed by virtue of being interested in images, making images, thinking about images and, in the case of some like PC also writing about images as well as taking them.

    Truth is that the images we might be ‘punch drunk’ viewing will still impact considerably on many many people. Thats a good thing in my opinion.

    Recent discussions here and on Niall B’s blog mentioned ‘conservation photographers’ a term I despise because its been adopted by (way too) many and no-one has yet picked up on the all too obvious spelling mistake, and as a consequence their photography is still not going in the right direction.

    It should be ‘conversation photography’. (©John MacPherson)

    Laugh if you want, but I’m serious. Its arguably all about a dialogue between the photographer and the audience, the ‘conversation’ I refer to. But its also about a ‘conversation’ between the photographer and the subject. That fact escapes many would be ‘conversation photographers’.

    If you dont take the time to be fully conversant with your subject how can you expect to tell anything about it’s story?

    As PC often states – its all about the ‘story’, the narrative approach to image making, and for me that story can be led by still imagery, by video, or a combination of both. One good still can tell a story, or hint enough at the facts to prompt the viewer to pursue it further.

    So what makes a ‘good’ still?

    One that speaks to the viewer. And its ‘voice’ will only come from a photographer who has something to say. Its no coincidence that the stunning and memorable images come from photographers who take the time to understand their subjects, to read the literature, to put in the hours and who get to ‘know’ their subjects, and whose knowledge informs their work. And if that work is politically/environmentally timely and significant then so much the better.

    The winning image has all of that.

    And art too.

    Which is why its the winner.

  6. John, that’s brilliant. I am now declaring myself a Conversation Photographer! 100% bang on.

    You waste far too much time on web sites like this!


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