Regular readers of this blog may remember that I used to cast my (relatively experienced) eye over the winning images in the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) and the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) competitions each year.
The 2023 BWPA winning images were announced in Bristol last night and I thought I'd take a few minutes to look at a few of those images (spoiler... some make me uncomfortable... and not in a good way) and one commended "peoples' choice" image in the WPOTY, announced earlier this year.
Firstly then, the 2023 BWPA winning and commended images.
I was commended for several of my images in the first three years of this British photography competition, but found less and less time to take and enter images after those three years due to my sons being born for example... and to be frank, less and less inclination to enter, after it became pretty clear that the same professional photographers were winning categories each year, for less than stellar photographs in many of our eyes.
Well... seems like ten years on, not a lot has changed. Ross Hoddinott is still winning awards each year for very pretty but very ubiquitous images of damselflies. We were taking images like this (some might say better images in fact) fifteen or twenty years ago. Hey ho.
Alex Mustard is still claiming winning/commended images for his underwater stuff. Good though it is, he is one of very few underwater photographers in the UK - and rather like Rangers or Celtic - if you end up winning every year, it all gets a bit tedious I think.
Andy Rouse, like Hoddinott, is still somehow getting his name mentioned as winner or highly commended each year for again, lilke Hoddinott, taking photos that many people were taking fifteen years ago and submitting every year alongside Rouse - and yet Rouse, Hamblin, Hoddinott, Danny green etc seemed to win each year. An anonymous competition? Nope. Never was.
Many of the images that won or were highly commended this year, seem at best to be the same sort of images as every year, (seal lying on beach, gannet fishing, a bee's face).
A bee's face?
Remind you of a certain commended image from FOURTEEN years ago (by someone you might have heard of?!).
Let's talk about the winning image. The photographer admits he was setting up a camera trap (or a remote release to be exact) but then suggests that he was there by the camera anyway, when the fox just ambled past (without even looking at him - my addition). Really?
Well look... that might have happened I guess... but to me, this photo REEKS of a staged, baited, camera trap photo. Urban life in the background, a pretty non-descript, messy foreground with tree stump and a low camera either triggered by the fox itself or triggered by the photographer, hidden somewhere very close by. I may be being unfair here, but to me at least, it appears that the photographer (a professional) knows about the understandable hoo-ha regarding winning wildlife photography competitions with camera trap submissions (you leave a camera somewhere hidden -the you bait the area with food, you leave, the animal. attracted by the bait, wanders in front of the camera and breaks an invisible infrared beam - the camera triggers, you get your winning shot). I am pretty uncomfortable with this sort of image winning wildlife photography competitions for a number of reasons - the main one being the animal took its own photo. The second reason being the whole area becomes a bit of a stage (and is altered to be a stage - more of that in a moment) But I'm even more uncomfortable with someone taking this sort of image and pretending they didn't.
And yes... I may be wrong. And if I am, I apologise. (I don't think I am, mind).
Let's continue with staged, baited camera trap images.
James Roddie makes a living from taking these sort of photos (among others, admittedly).
His Pine marten photo in "an abandoned cottage" makes me uncomfortable though too.
I would put some money on him stashing peanut butter or jam sandwiches under the cushions of this *cough* "abandoned cottage". He has plenty of other photos of this marten exploring other parts of the cottage too, on his website. Including indeed, even the lavatory pan of the cotttage. (The bait must be out of shot. Important that!).
Hmmmm. These then, to me at least, seem to be images designed to give the onlooker an insight into the secret, wild, hidden lives of these creatures.
I though, just see a stage. With a baited animal attracted to the stage. No real insight at all.
Again. I could be wrong. (I'm not!).
Remaining on camera trap images for a minute more - but moving competitions.
The image below was shortlisted for the "peoples' choice award" for the international Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition this year.
What do you think of it?
Let's put it another way.
What do you think of it when compared to another image. An image you may well, *ahem* recognise?
No contest is it? (I'll blow my own trumpet, even if you won't!).
And I took my photo myself, with my fat finger, unlike the Polish cat - which took its own photo.
Nope... I'm really not that fond of camera trap photos.
(By the way... the photo of the Polish cat taking a chaffinch into a dirty shed didn't eventually win the WPOTY peoples' choice award, thankfully).
Back to BWPA.
Another commended image makes me particularly uncomfortable. Really, really itchy.
A shot of a bittern, hiding in a summer reed bed.
Taken with a drone. it appears to look like?! A drone with a wide angled lens on - which makes the bittern look tiny - and the reeds hugely tall.
I can't tell whether the camera (on the drone?) has a flash too - but it appears it might have. Not sure on that.
What I AM sure of though, is that generally speaking, bitterns overwinter here in the UK. The reedbeds in winter do not look like those in that photo.
Which means the photo was taken in the breeding season and NOT in the winter.
Which would mean that bittern is one of the few that actually breed in the UK each year (and as such would be highly protected from being recklessly disturbed by a photographer, let alone one with a drone). The bittern is a Schedule 1 bird. HIGHLY PROTECTED by law.
Well... either that or the bittern isn't in the UK. And if that's the case, it is an image not taken in the UK and therefore outside the rules of the BRITISH wildlife photography awards rules.
See why this image, more than any of the others, makes me really uncomfortable.
Hate the fact that the judges chose a photograph of breeding schedule 1 bird, deliberately disturbed by again, the professional photographer (Tom Robinson) as a winning image.
The welfare of the wildlife I photograph is of paramount importance to me. (A quote from the front page of my website - this website).
I doubt Tom could (nor should) write the same on his website. (Check it out - tell me I'm wrong).
Are you reading this and thinking I'm just vomiting up sour grapes again?
You shouldn't be - especially with regards to that image of the bittern.
There ARE some photos I love in this year's BWPA competition.
I love the moody highland stag silhouette shot.
I love the honeybees shot.
I love the glow-worm shot too (although... yes... the cans of gin are very errrr... handily placed in the image, aren't they?!)
What do you think though?