I’m generally not given to critiquing the quite excellent (& world-reknowned) Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, owned (these days) by BBC Worldwide and the Natural History Museum.
I’m not given to critiquing it as it generally throws up a huge variety of stunning wildlife photographs, taken using a range of techniques by a huge range of international photographers, photographing a good variety of fauna and fauna.
Almost invariably it is a delight to see the winning and commended images each year.
It still is a delight this year - and I am not going to spend the next few minutes dissecting the actual images (well…. I’ll pick out a few of my favourites) but I will, if you’ll allow, level a criticism or two at the judges this year.
Yes, yes, I know. Wildlife photography competitions are pretty subjective in nature and what one judge likes, another will not – but I really think this big competition has taken a step back this year, unlike its smaller, poorer British (only) cousin, the BWPA which I reviewed a month or two ago.
There were around 43,000 images submitted to the big Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition this year – a huge number of images by any reckoning – and especially as rules stipulate that judges must be able to investigate the photographers’ RAW images (as well as JPEGs or TIFFs), in order to lay their beady eyes on the “original” shot – not so with many other competitions.
43,000 images and yet the same show-stopping subjects walk away with the spoils again.
Again. I’m not criticising the actual images themselves – they are belters – all of them.
What I refuse to believe though is that out of the 43,000 entries, the judges couldn’t find ONE image of an insect good enough to commend or have win a category.
In fact, of all the commended and winning entries, only one depicted a creature that didn’t have a backbone (the spider shot).
This begs the question (for me at least) - do the WPOTY judges have a backbone between them?
So….all bar one of the entire commended and winning images (displayed online at least) were of vertebrates. That’s a tiny percentage of the world’s fauna walking away with top dog honours. A real shame I think.
And of these vertebrates, we also got the same few vertebrates winning or being commended time after time (very often as in previous years, but a little more markedly-so this year).
Elephants, Amur leopards (or tigers), lions, bears, dolphins, crocodiles, birds of prey, macaques and ibex.
Now I suppose with categories like birds, mammals and animal portraits (not confined to vertebrates admittedly this one), you’ll get a few thousand vertebrate shots submitted, but there were plenty of other categories (creative visions, endangered species, black and white, animals in their environment, world in our hands etc…. that I might have expected to see a smattering of invertebrate shots included in the prize winners – maybe more than one anyway.
It’s also a little strange to have the only invertebrate shot winning the bird behaviour category. But maybe that’s just me being picky. (I happen to think that this shot, although showing me something I didn’t know is the worst shot (composition-wise) of the entire set of winning / commended images).
So why are big-backboned animals winning time after time?
Maybe these attractive animals bring in the punters. Rather like the Panda being the WWF’s weapon of choice, maybe elephants and lions are the WPOTY’s equivalent.
I delighted in the fact that the superb leaf-cutter ant shot won this prestigious competition three years ago – it was a stupendous shot, fully deserving of overall winner and a refreshing change from all the fur and hair which has dominated this competition recently.
I also happen to know that there are thousands upon thousands of “macro” or invertebrate photographers spending hour after hour in the field shooting the wee, but just as (if not much more so) spectacular insects and arachnids and entering these shots into competitions – which in many cases will reveal to exhibition visitors a slice of life that they didn’t know about or hadn’t seen (or appreciated) before.
But for this year at least, we will have to settle for shots of big cats chasing prey again, or elephants at watering holes. Magnificent shots yes, but I expected a little more from the best wildlife photography competition of them all.
Maybe next year….
Just in case any macro or invertebrate photographer is reading this and is dissuaded from entering their shots into next year's WPOTY competition (why bother if lions and tigers are the only subjects that the judges seem to favour) - I'd suggest the opposite you know.
This is a call to arms to all wee beastie snappers. Keep trying for that elusive shot of your favourite jumping spider leaping onto a fly (the technology exists to to take those shots now as does your patience I'm sure). Keep searching for that one-in-a-million shot of a digger wasp flying back to its nest with a sedated hoverfly in its grasp. Keep shooting the spectacular mini world and get your entries in for next year. You will only be ignored if you allow yourself to be ignored!
For the record and before I get accused of sour grapes by anyone who didn’t make it through my entire blog post above - as some people reading this might know, I have never entered this competition, at least…. not yet (my photos simply aren't good enough), nor did I enter the BWPA this year and nor (to be fair) have I taken many photographs of wildlife this year (too busy with young son) – I write all this as an interested observer, that’s all.
Please also note. The standard of the winning and commended images is truly amazing again – I am certainly not criticising the quality of the published images in this blog post - just the refusal of the judges to shed their blinkers….
My favourite images in this year’s crop are (in no particular order):
Wonderful shots indeed.
Why don’t you choose your own though?
I'm clearly not the only one who thinks like this...
Matt Cole blogs the same.
As does Richard "The bugman" Jones.