I was very critical of last year’s competition. Or more specifically, critical of the judges.
That blog post has become my most viewed blog post since I started writing some occasional wildlife-related thoughts on this website several years ago.
Many agreed with me it seems and I wasn’t alone in expressing my disappointment with the all-too-familiar winning images and all-too-familiar results in general.
I expect I might have ruffled a few feathers with my thoughts; and others who openly expressed disappointment in the choice of winning images also (I hear) feel that they had perhaps upset a few people.
Let's try again.
Please note before reading this that the words below are my personal opinions only. Photography competitions are incredibly subjective in nature and what one judge likes, another will not.
I am not a wildlife photography judge. I am no art critic. I have taken a few wildlife photographs in the last few years, some of which have been quite successful in lesser competitions and some of which have divided opinion. I know my may around a camera (DSLRs and bridges) and know a little bit about set-ups and what kit and or techniques (both technical and field craft-wise) to occasionally get lucky and get a half decent shot – something that was (after all) intended.
Those are my only qualifications to write a critique on the biggest, best, most famous wildlife photography competition in the world – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, run by the Natural History Museum in London. A competition (by the way) which I’ve never entered (as I don’t consider my photographs to be of sufficiently-high quality).
So again – these are simply my personal thoughts only.
First the good news.
Finally, the competition organisers have added a couple of new categories – including the (MUCH needed) invertebrate category. The vast majority of wildlife on our planet has no backbone, so to omit the vast majority of subjects in an international competition for so long was beyond me (and others, as described earlier in this post).
Did the WPOTY management listen to our criticisms last year then? Perhaps. And perhaps it wasn’t just me and a few others that bent their ears. It matters not – the addition of an invertebrates category is a very welcome addition to this marvellous competition.
Secondly – there were some stunning images recognised and shown last night. If not winning images, some finalists.
My favourite images from WPOTY (in no particular order) might be:
“Winter hang-out” (an adult finalist in the mammals category).
The originality of this shot is something else. The blue hue. The eeriness. The fact that you have to work out what has been photographed. And then there’s the back story. For me – this should have either won the whole competition, or perhaps finished second (see below).
“Feral spirits” (an adult finalist in the birds category).
I tweeted about this shot when I heard it was (at least) a finalist. And I even contacted the photographer, Sam Hobson. I’m not sure I expressed myself very well (to him) but what I love about this photo is that anyone could take it – but only Sam has had the excellent vision and imagination to actually take it (not to mention the undoubted effort and hours involved).It’s utterly superb.
“Divine snake” (the adult winner of the reptiles and amphibians category)
Many people who know me and know what I like in terms of photography would suspect that I like this shot. A lot. The balls to include a lot of negative space in the frame and bold green colour are right up my street. Wonderful shot.
“Night of the deadly lights” (the adult winner of the invertebrates category)
One word. Beautiful.
“Sailing by” (an adult finalist in the invertebrates category)
Same word. Beautiful. (And also very technically-accomplished).
“Little squid” (an adult finalist in the invertebrates category)
Perhaps my favourite shot of all. For lots of reasons. One – the bold, clean simplicity of subject in jet black background. Two - the spellbinding beauty of the planktonic squid – composed of christmas lights by the look of it – it’s quite literally hypnotic. Three – there’s something a little alien about this shot. I think I might have called it “little alien” instead of “little squid”. I abhor science fiction films and novels but this (perversely) is science fact that looks like science fiction. Four – The photographer took this shot whilst night diving in deep water off the coast of Tahiti. Look, I’ve done a spot of snorkelling with moray eels and sting rays in the Maldives, but I could see them in the crystal clear, SUNLIT, water. I think I’d probably not get into the ocean at night if I couldn’t see anything. I’d be too scared! The photographer deserves and gets my huge respect (and not a little jealousy!) for having the balls to take this shot! Five – it reminds me a little of my daily swims in rural Turkey a few years ago, when I was transfixed by a tiny, multi-coloured shimmering cuttlefish I found each morning in the same spot – hanging motionless under a buoy about a quarter of a mile from the beach. And I love this shot for reminding me of those swims. Yes – this shot (in my opinion) should have won the entire competition.
“A long line in legs” (an adult finalist in the black & white category)
I honestly don’t know what it is specifically that I like about this shot. I just like it. Perhaps it’s the fact that the photographer has concentrated on form and texture and left out everything else. I think it’s a belter.
“Pauraque study”. (An adult finalist in the birds category).
Readers of this blog might know I have a soft spot for nightjars. I adore this detailed close-up.
“The Marsh at dawn”. (The winner of the rising star portfolio award.
Again - lots of negative space appeals to me personally. Michel D’Oultremont’s entire portfolio (with lots of negative space in each shot) is a treat for my eyes - the “Marsh at dawn” is possibly my third favourite image in the entire competition
“Angle poise”. (Junior winner of the 11-14 age group category).
Once again – a superbly, clean image. An image rather than a photograph (there is a difference I think). Technically-superb and taken by a child! (If only I could have afforded £2000 worth of photography kit when I was 12 years old?!)
Yes – those images above are my favourites from the finalists and winners this year – they’re inspirational shots and shots (I think) that cement WPOTY as (still) the best wildlife photography competition around.
Despite the below....
You may have noticed I’ve not picked any lions, leopards or monkeys in my favourites (and again – those animals have all done well in this year’s results).
Not because I don’t like photographs of lions, leopards or monkeys, mind.
I think some photographs of lions, leopards or monkeys can be superb.
Not perhaps unique any more, but technically-brilliant, and as images (rather than photographs), very aesthetically-pleasing indeed.
I personally find this lions shot uninspiring and technically poor (for many reasons). Not to mention the photographer's accompanying note to be pretentious to the point of my skin crawling.
Don’t believe me? Don’t agree?
Let the photographer speak for himself then about his shot - he thinks he has produced a “primal” image – “almost biblical”.
His words, certainly not mine.
I guess it might be “biblical” if there were a few half-chewed Christian legs lying around and a backdrop of a baying Roman crowd – but otherwise I think I’ll need the photographer to be quiet now and let me look at his photo without him whispering earnestly in my ear.
There should be no room in any art competition (be the medium photographs or paint) for the artist to comment on their own work.
Take the shot. Print it. Give the public some technical information if warranted, but otherwise let the public decide if its “biblical” or not.
A picture (in whatever medium) should paint a thousand words. We need to get back to the pictures please. Very often photographers aren’t too good at words.
Time was, I thought that judges wrote a little comment on the winning photographs at the WPOTY (if not the BWPA), rather than the photographer.
The judge should explain to the paying public how THEY came to choose it as a commended or winning image
That’s how it was, how it should be and I hope how it will be for the exhibition.
I’d certainly be interested to hear the judges’ opinion this year, on this shot if no others.... rather than a false and pretentious soliloquy, penned by (in this case) the professional National Geographic photographer himself.
Anyhoo, horizontally-challenged (check the horizon on the photo - sure it's taken with a wide-angled lens but it is very lop-sided) photographs of lions aside...
Back to the good news...
I may buy a copy of the “little squid” to hang in our house – and that will make it the ONLY wildlife photograph on our walls, that wasn’t taken by me. (It will obviously make it the best picture on our walls by some way too!).
I will certainly visit the WPOTY exhibition at my sister’s Natural History Museum and have certainly been inspired to dust down my old camera again and perhaps try and take a few photos myself this year.
Oh don’t worry...
I’ll ensure that they’re “biblical”....