Photographers Tell How They Took These Incredible, Award-Winning Wildlife Pictures

The amazing Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 exhibition is currently on show at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

It features more than 100 breathtaking images chosen from among 40,000 entries. The photos which reveal the extraordinary diversity of nature, from baby crocodiles to fighting vultures and dolphins at play, as well as the precarious future they face.

Australian photographer Justin Gilligan is among those honoured in the highly renowned international competition for his photograph of grey nurse sharks.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide and is on show until 1 June 2014.

Here are six of the winning photographs, with the photographers explaining how they were taken

WINNER: The Eric Hosking Portfolio Award

The flight path, by Connor Stefanison, Canada

Connor Stefanison/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013

Connor lives in British Columbia, took up photography five years ago and now just 22, he is is finishing a degree in ecology and conservation and is planning to work as a biologist and eventually as a full-time wildlife photographer.

This female barred owl had a territory near his home in Burnaby, British Columbia. He watched her for some time, familiarising himself with her flight paths until he knew her well enough to set up the shot.

“I wanted to include the western red cedar and the sword ferns so typical of this Pacific coastal rainforest.”

Setting up his camera near one of the owl’s favourite perches, linked to a remote and three off-camera flashes, diffused and on low settings, he put a dead mouse on a platform above the camera and waited for the swoop that he knew would come. “She grabbed the mouse, flew back to her perch and began calling to her mate. It is one of the most exciting calls to hear in the wild.”

Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 16-35mm f2.8 lens at 16mm; 1/13 sec at f8; ISO 1600; Canon 580 EXII flash + Canon 580 EX flash + Canon 430 EX II flash; Vello FreeWave Plus wireless remote shutter; tripod.

WINNER: The Eric Hosking Portfolio Award

Lucky pounce by Connor Stefanison, Canada

Connor Stefanison/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

“Anticipating the pounce – that was the hardest part,” says Connor, who had come to Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA, in search of wildlife as much as the spectacular landscape. He had found this fox, his first ever, on his last day in the park. It was so absorbed in hunting that Connor had plenty of time to get out of the car and settle behind a rock. It quartered the grassland, back and forth, and then started staring intently at a patch of ground, giving Connor just enough warning of the action to come. When it sprung up, Connor got his shot. And when it landed, the fox got his mouse.

Equipment: Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 500mm f4 lens at 500mm; 1/2500 sec at f8; ISO 500.

COMMENDED: The Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species

Twin hope by Diana Rebman, USA

The hike to the mountain gorillas was particularly arduous that day.

“Consistent rain made the ground very slippery and the hillside was so steep it felt vertical,” Diana says. The gorilla group ahead finally settled to feed. “What made all the physical effort worth it was to see the mother with her two babies.”

This is only the fifth set of twins ever to be reported in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The mother was a natural with her six-month-old infants, nursing them while feeding herself. When the silverback leader of the group chased her from a nettle patch, she vocalised at him, loudly, but moved on.

“In this picture, she is still tense from the encounter and continues to glance across at him while she eats. Her twins, in the comfort of their mother’s strong arms, appear blissfully ignorant,” Diana explains.

The twins’ future, though, remains uncertain. The mountain gorilla is officially listed as critically endangered. Habitat loss, poaching and disease are still threats, and the gorillas are also at risk from warring rebel factions active in their range, affecting not only the animals but also the rangers and the tourism revenue that funds their protection.
Equipment: Nikon D7000 + 70-200mm f2.8 lens; 1/160 sec at f5 (-0.3 e/v); ISO 1600.

JOINT RUNNER-UP: Animal Portraits

Curiosity and the cat by Hannes Lochner, South Africa

Hannes has spent nearly five years perfecting his remote wireless technology to photograph intimate portraits of wild African animals, by night especially. In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari, South Africa, he set up one camera near a waterhole, hiding it from lions especially, which might play with it or carry it off.

On this particular evening, he was settled in his vehicle, just as the sun was setting and the dust in the air creates a special kind of Kalahari light, when a pride of lions arrived. By repeatedly clicking the shutter, he coaxed the ever-curious cubs forward. This bold individual gazed into the camera lens as it stepped forwards to sniff the strange object. “All the camera settings were on manual and I had pre-focused. So I could do no more than hope I had judged the lighting and angle correctly,” Hannes explains.

He had, capturing the intimate portrait and the eye-contact he was after.

Equipment: Nikon D3 + 16-35mm f4 lens; 1/60 sec at f16; ISO 3200; Nikon R1C1 strobe; Pocket Wizard XX00 wireless remote.


Sockeye catch by Valter Bernardeschi, Italy

Valter Bernardeschi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013

Each year between July and September, millions of sockeye salmon migrate from the Pacific back up rivers to the fresh waters of Lake Kuril, to spawn in the waters where they were born.

This volcanic crater lake, in the South Kamchatka Sanctuary in the Russian Far East, is the largest sockeye salmon spawning ground in Eurasia. The annual glut attracts Kamchatka brown bears from the surrounding forests to feast on the fish and fatten up for hibernation.

Following the example of the bears, Valter waded into the icy water to get the right perspective and to wait for an action moment – a real test of physical endurance.

By doing so, “I almost became one of them,” and “in the silence of the Garden of Eden I did not think about anything else”.

This bear reared up some three metres on its hind legs and scanned the water for fish. Suddenly it pounced on a female salmon swollen with roe, the force sending a string of crimson eggs spinning out of her body.

Equipment: Nikon D4 + 200-400mm f4 lens at 250mm; 1/8000 sec at f4; ISO 720; Gitzo GT3530s tripod.

WINNER: Behaviour: Cold-blooded Animals

Dive buddy by Luis Javier Sandoval, Mexico

Luis Javier Sandoval/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013

The beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, near Cancún are traditional nesting sites for the endangered green turtle.

But as Cancún has also grown as a holiday and dive resort, development has reduced the area available to turtles. Today, though, many nest sites are protected, there are turtle hatcheries to help numbers increase, and there is publicity to help local people and resort owners value the natural riches of the region.

Luis earns enough from tourism photography to allow him time to document his beloved wildlife.

“The turtles are so used to seeing people in the water that they think we’re just part of the environment,” says Luis, which means he has been able to get to know individuals, recognising them from the markings on their faces.

“This metre-long female, grazing on seagrass, took no notice of me, apart from glancing up briefly.”

Recently, Luis has noticed what he suspects may be a new threat: at certain times of the year, a yellowish alga covers some of the seagrass. The suspicion is that the algal growth is the result of sewage from the resort, which has already affected the coral. What is clear is that the turtles avoid eating it.

Equipment: Nikon D7000 + 10-17mm Tokina fisheye lens at 17mm; 1/125 sec at f10; ISO 100; Sea & Sea YS-120 DUO strobes; Aquatica housing + TLC Arm Set.

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