I know, I know. Six years ago now I moaned about the lack of invertebrates in winning/commended images in the prestigious WPOTY competition, run by the Natural History Museum in London.
That changed pretty quickly when invertebrate categories were included (the organisers of the competition CLEARLY read this blog!) but the following year I was even more damning of the earnest commentary to the winning photo (and not just the overall winner), penned by the photographer(s) himself (themselves). I mean... they called THEIR OWN IMAGE.... "almost biblical". Come off it!
Those two years aside, I try NOT to criticise the world's most prestigious wildlife photography competition, as the winning images are invariably breath-taking - and we all (four of us now) do visit the gallery at the NHM each year.
We won't this year though.
Because... and whisper this quietly if you need to... the quality of images that won or were commended are the worst ever. Easily.
I'll run through a few and what I find disappointing with them... but remember this is a subjective critique. You are entitled to disagree in the same way as you have a right to be wrong!
Let's go then.
Prepare to see the world through my eyes...
The overall winning shot. "The Moment"
Which has been reported the world over as a marmot being "surprised" or "spooked" by a fox.
I look firstly at wildlife photographs as a zoologist or amateur naturalist I suppose. I firstly try and ascertain (if it's not immediately obvious) what it is that I'm looking at, when I look at a successful image in the competition. And THEN I look at the artistic merit of the image.
And I'm BORED stiff of photographers (not videographers - you'll see why in a moment) ascribing human qualities/emotions/behaviours to their wildlife photograph - capturing a millisecond of action and then basically MAKING UP what the result of that image depicted.
Many people I know (who are admittedly less "into" wildlife than I am) will, if asked to say what was going on in the winning photograph, would agree with the hacks who have said "the groundhog/marmot/lemming/whatever it is.... is indeed being shocked/surprised/spooked by the fox/wolf/whatever it is".
Even the photographer said so. "This Himalayan marmot was not long out of hibernation when it was surprised by a mother Tibetan fox."
The image does seem to depict a surprised marmot.
But it isn't an image of a shocked/spooked/surprised marmot is it?
No. No it isn't.
It really isn't you know.
If it WAS a photo of a spooked marmot, the fox would be in the air, millimetres from the marmot with its own teeth bared.
But the fox isn't in that position at all!
No....what the image actually shows is a snap shot of a marmot FIGHTING FOR ITS LIFE. With mouth open wide either as a result of barking in pure fear/aggression/defence at the fox and or sheer muscular effort at the need to act IMMEDIATELY and with SPEED... just to survive.
The fox is the giveaway in this.
The female fox is not jumping on the marmot or even heading in its direction, even though it is almost on top of the marmot.
It has BEEN SEEN. And It KNOWS IT. It is now either circling 'round or backing off. The game is up.
If you look at the image that way (the way I describe, the CORRECT way), you'll see the marmot isn't at this moment, "surprised".
It's MID FIGHT (and probably, shortly, flight).
The photographer doesn't tell us what happened to the marmot. Or the fox.
My mortage goes on the fact that THIS marmot got away. Purely because it WASN'T "surprised".
"A Taste of Peace" by Charlie Hamilton James.
Look, perhaps I've never forgiven Charlie for marrying one of my childhood sweethearts (Philippa Forrester) but I ask you... do YOU think this image merits a commendation in the competition? It's a messy jungle with part of an elephant in the background. I look at it atnd I think... "meh".
The image itself, or rather the title of the image itself, only really makes sense when you read Charlie's accompanying explanatory notes. I'd suggest that if you need to read the notes to "get the image" (and even then I don't think the image is at all interesting to be honest), it should go on the "meh" pile of submitted images, rather than the "shortlisted" pile.
A lovely image you'd perhaps at first, think.
Until I tell you that you might like to read the photographer's notes again and realise (as I suspected from a quick glance at the tarsiers) that the photographer basically shone an LED torch at these VERY nocturnal mammals, to get his image. That sort of thing makes me very uncomfortable. Nocturnal animals have eyes that really shouldn't have torches shone into them - something that British wildlife photographers might like to remember when they take their cutesy photographs of hedgehogs/foxes etc.
OK then... two together.
The Personality category is always a little fraught for me. What do you mean by "personality"?
Do albatrosses have "personalities"? Or Pike. Or Nudibranchs?
Now, even though I'm ALL FOR invertebrates doing well in these competitions, SPIDERS simply don't have "personality"... so you can rule out this photo and this one too, from what I think is even apt in this category. Technically-superb shots for sure, (even if I've been taking similar types of images for a decade or more now) but these shots do not depict "personality". At least not in my view.
Oh go on then.
You tell ME what's so terribly wrong with this image.
(Answer at the end of this blog post!)*
Like I say, I try not to write about wildlife photography competitions on this blog, or if I do, I wax lyrical about some of the wonderful winning images that I picked out as my favourites. This year though, I have no favourites. I'm genuinely disappointed by most of the images.
That all said, I do want to find a thin silver lining to this particular gurt big black cloud.
For me, the inclusion of images of predators actually eating their prey ALIVE is something to be celebrated.
When I entered my (now infamous) photo of a cat eating a nestling, it was met with shock - across the board. It was no pretty image. It was awful to be honest... but you HAD TO LOOK AT IT. You couldn't NOT look at it. It (I'll blow my own trumpet here) had a remarkable power that image - although at the time I certainly didn't include that notion in my accompanying notes. And nor did I call it biblical!!! I was also told by very experienced wildlife photographers at the award ceremony that they loved that photo as it proved that a photo of something eating something else COULD do well in a competition - rather than just turn the judges and public off.
So I'm really pleased that THIS image "A bite to eat" did so well... and yes, I guess this IS my favourite image of this year's winners.
That's that then.
My thoughts on this year's 2019 WPOTY.
*What's wrong with the winning (or highly commended) photo of the great grey owls?
I'll tell you then....
The adult owl on the right has the end of its tail out of shot (whether it was never included or cropped out - it's unforgiveable).
Now I'm all for breaking the rules of photography. The golden ratio. Empty space. The rule of thirds etc.
But that, laydeez and gennelmen, is your basic CRIME against photography, so it is.
It's like a wedding photographer taking a group shot... but cutting off everyone's feet.
You just wouldn't pay them, would you? Let alone give them a prize!