Photo: Luciano Candisani / Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
The winners of the Veolia Environment Photographer of the Year Competition, owned by the Natural History Museum in London and BBC Worldwide, were announced this week. The competition, now in its 48th year, features powerful images of nature (and sometimes its destruction), including a moonset at sunrise, a polar bear stranded on an ice floe and endangered Bengal tigers.
One-hundred winning photographs were culled from 48,000 entries from 98 countries.
Here are some of the stories behind the award-winning images. You can see more photographs at the Natural History Museum website.
Motionless but alert, a yacare caiman waits, 'like a small tyrannosaurus' for fish to come within snapping reach, says Luciano.
Caimans are usually seen floating passively on the surface. Under the water, it's another story. It's this secret life that has fascinated Luciano ever since he first came face to face with a caiman while snorkelling. Once he'd recovered from the shock, he realised that the reptile was neither aggressive nor fearful -- and that he could approach it. Luciano now regularly documents the underwater life of caimans in the shallow, murky waters of Brazil's Pantanal (the biggest wetland in the world), which contains the largest single crocodilian population on Earth.
Caimans can grow to be three metres in length. Most aren't aggressive, but some individuals can be. 'The safest way to get close is when they are concentrating on a shoal of fish,' says Luciano. 'While I was concentrating on this caiman emerging from the gloom, I had a field biologist with me all the time.' The result was 'the picture that's been in my imagination since my father first showed me a caiman 25 years ago.'
Luciano Candisani /Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Kim has been filming African wild dogs at Zimbabwe's Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve for more than four years. He knows one pack intimately. 'I have travelled with them, on foot, in the pack itself, running with them as they hunt. It's a privilege, and it's given me a true insight into their life.'
Kim has also witnessed first hand the many threats that have made African wild dogs endangered, including increased conflict with humans and domestic animals (poachers' snares, habitat loss, traffic and disease). 'At times, it's heart- wrenching,' he says. 'My mission is to dispel the myth that they're a threat and help raise awareness of their plight.'
African wild dogs require huge territories, and so protecting them can protect entire ecosystems. When this picture was taken, the pack had travelled four kilometres to the Sosigi Pan, only to find it totally dried up. 'The mosaic of mud seemed to epitomise the increasingly fragmented world this puppy is growing up in.'
Kim Wolhuter/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Cristóbal found this great circling shoal of grunt fish in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, and watched it over two days. He would dive down and then sit on the sandy bottom some 20 metres below the surface to watch.
'With the sky behind the fish ball,' he says, 'it looked like a shimmering body of energy. I just needed a focal point to get the picture I was after.' A pelagic cormorant was also watching the fish, and now and then it would shoot a hole through the ever-tightening baitball (tightening in response to the predator), making it easier for it to pick off individual fish.
Cristóbal tried to predict the angle that the cormorant would use. After many attempts, using a fisheye lens and strobes to illuminate the fish and the sandy bottom, he got the shot.
Cristóbal Serrano/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
At 1,800 metres in the mountains of Canada's Banff National Park, bighorn sheep are forced to scrape down into the snow with their hooves to reach the grass below.
Vladimir watched the hardy herd from the shelter of a clump of trees. At first, he took a series of portraits. But then he realised that the context was missing. By using a wide-angle lens he could show the whole herd in its environment.
Vladimir worked out which way the herd was heading and then 'walked up the slope and sat right in their path. They saw me, but they weren't bothered,' he says. 'They simply walked around me and continued on their way uphill.'
Vladimir Medvedev/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
One evening, while walking along the riverbed of the Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida, USA, Larry came across a group of alligators. It was the dry season, and they had been gorging on fish trapped in the pools left behind as the water receded from the river. One big alligator had clearly eaten its fill. 'It wasn't going anywhere in a hurry,' says Larry. 'So I set my tripod and camera up about seven metres in front of him and focused on his eyes.'
Just after sunset, Larry set his flash on the lowest setting to give just a tiny bit of light, enough to catch the eyeshine in the alligator's eyes. Like cats, an alligator has a tapetum lucidum at the back of each eye -- a structure that reflects light back into the photoreceptor cells to make the most of low light.
The colour of eyeshine differs from species to species. In alligators, it glows red -- one good way to locate alligators on a dark night. The greater the distance between its eyes, the longer the reptile, in this case, very long.
Larry Lynch/eolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Hans had photographed the extinct Maelifell volcano, icon of the Icelandic highlands, many times. On this occasion, though, he wanted to show it towering over the massive Myrdalsjökull Glacier, through which it emerged some 10,000 years ago.
Today the cone is cloaked not in ice but in a type of cushion moss, which is a coloniser of lava and is vibrant green when wet. Hans also wanted to set the glowing green cone against the sea of volcanic soil surrounding it, encircled by the ice-water streams flowing down from the glacier.
To do this, the pilot had to fly much lower and closer than usual. In fact, the plane went so fast, says Hans, 'that I managed only one single frame. It was like trying to shoot clay pigeons.'
Hans Strand/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Anna was on a boat in Svalbard -- an archipelago midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole -- when she saw this polar bear at around four in the morning. It was October, and the bear was walking on broken-up ice floes, seemingly tentatively, not quite sure where to trust its weight.
She used her fisheye lens to make the enormous animal appear diminutive and create an impression of 'the top predator on top of the planet, with its ice world breaking up'. The symbolism, of course, is that polar bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival, and year by year, increasing temperatures are reducing the amount of ice cover and the amount of time available for the bears to hunt marine mammals.
Scientists maintain that the melting of the ice will soon become a major problem for humans as well as polar bears, not just because of rising sea levels but also because increasing sea temperatures are affecting the weather, sea currents and fish stocks.
Anna Henly/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Paul was not the only mammal lying patiently in wait on the edge of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, to greet the explosion of emperor penguins. Leopard seals -- measuring up to three and a half metres long -- were almost certainly lurking at the edge of the ice ready to grab a meal. The penguins were therefore exiting as fast as possible. They can sky-rocket up to two metres high out of the water, landing well clear of the edge. 'I also kept an eye out for leopard seals myself,' says Paul. 'I'd previously had one hit me square in the face when I was five metres from the ice edge, knocking me down and stunning me. Luckily it realised that I wasn't a penguin and slipped back into the icy water.'
The penguins' survival is vital to that of their two-month-old chicks, hungrily waiting some 10 kilometres away at the Cape Washington colony. With full bellies, the penguins toboggan to the colony, where they regurgitate the food to their respective single chicks. They then head back to the Ross Sea for another three-week stint at sea.
Paul Nicklen/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
This was the image Paul had been so hoping to get: a sunlit mass of emperor penguins charging upwards, leaving in their wake a crisscross of bubble trails. The location was near the emperor colony at the edge of the frozen area of the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
It was into the only likely exit hole that he lowered himself. He then had to wait for the return of the penguins, crops full of icefish for their chicks. Paul locked his legs under the lip of the ice so he could remain motionless, breathing through a snorkel so as not to spook the penguins when they arrived.
Then it came: a blast of birds from the depths. They were so fast that, with frozen fingers, framing and focus had to be instinctive. 'It was a fantastic sight', says Paul, 'as hundreds launched themselves out of the water and onto the ice above me' -- a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I'll never forget.
Paul Nicklen/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
In winter, the 22-kilometre-long estuary of the Ría Celestún on Mexico's Yucatán peninsula attracts thousands of Caribbean flamingos, which congregate here to feed on the microscopic life in the shallow, briny water.
These flamingos -- the largest and pinkest of the five species -- also use their time in the estuary to engage in synchronous courtship dancing as a prelude to breeding. To get the aerial shot that he wanted that would show the beauty of the mass aggregation of flamingos, with the birds appearing as if one organism, Klaus joined biologists on a regular flamingo count.
'Taking images out of the door of a plane flying in narrow circles is a challenge,' says Klaus. But lenses with image stabilisers helped overcome the vibration problem, and 'the photography in this situation was all about capturing the beauty of pattern, form and colour.'
Klaus Nigge/eolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.