The 2014 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the brainchild of London's Natural History Museum and the BBC, has recently announced its finalists ... and they are breathtaking. Below are eight of our favorite photos from the competition.
The exhibition is open at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London from October 24, to August 30, 2015.
David Clapp / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
At 2am, the intensity of the aurora light suddenly changed and a great burst pulsed across the sky in a totally unexpected formation. David had travelled to Iceland partly to photograph the auroras, choosing the Snaefellsnes Peninsula as the location because of its spectacular scenery.
Skating on sunlight
Herfried Marek / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
Herfried had set off to photograph grouse in the forest near his home in Styria, Austria. But he ended up being mesmerized by pond skaters. What first caught his eye were the patterns of light on the dark water of the forest pool, but then he started watching the designs created by the pond skaters. Photographing them was not easy: the bugs – less than a centimeter long – were constantly moving, and the changing light in the forest produced a kaleidoscope of patterns.
The elegant crowd
Jasper Doest / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
When Jasper saw the demoiselle cranes of Khichan in a BBC documentary, he was captivated – both "by the mass chaos of the vast gathering and their elegance." Some years ago, the villagers of Khichan, in Rajasthan, India, started putting grain out for the few dozen birds that stopped over on migration from their breeding grounds in Eurasia. Now thousands visit and winter in the region. At dawn, Jasper would join crane conservationist Seva Ram on the roof of his house overlooking a large enclosure erected to protect feeding cranes from stray dogs. "Rows of Vs would come from every direction, the birds descending into the dunes. Once one had entered the enclosure, others would follow. Soon, it was filled with a sea of cranes, turning their heads in synchrony."
Bernardo Cesare / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
A geological event half a billion years ago, at extreme heat deep within the continental crust, gave rise to this crystal formation. Bernardo uses photomicrographs (images taken through optical microscopes) to study rocks and minerals, as well as taking pictures with artistic intent.
The watchful cheetah
Matthew Smith / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
These are cnidarians – each a floating colony of four kinds of organisms, dependent on one another for survival. Rafts of them trapped in a sheltered bay offered Matt a chance to photograph them. On this attempt – one of many – he was in the water at sunrise, to catch both the eerie light and the clearer water brought in by high tide. A breeze pushed the animals along like tiny sailing boats, making framing tricky, and despite a wetsuit, Matt didn’t manage to avoid stings.
Marc Montes / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
Marc was trekking through the forest in the Val d’Aran, near his home in northern Spain – as usual, carrying his camera and keeping a lookout for animals – when he was thrilled to come across a large grass snake. "I have a great passion for reptiles, especially snakes," he says, "and it is rare to see this kind where I live." The grass snake, just over 3 feet long, was very alert and started moving.
Łukasz Bożycki / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014
It was a freezing January night when Łukasz found the three abandoned bunkers, built by Germans in the Second World War. He was working in the Puszcza Piska Forest, northern Poland, with his friend Piotr Tomasik, studying overwintering bats. For a week, they slept on the floor of an abandoned house. The bunkers were warmer – just above zero – though Łukasz couldn’t stop himself shivering. Inside were hibernating Daubenton’s bats, in complete torpor (one breath per 90 minutes).
To emphasize the eerie atmosphere, Łukasz set his camera to a cool-white balance and used his flashlight to illuminate one bat that was hanging from the ceiling, while Piotr lit the doorway with his light. ‘The trek back to the car a distance away in severe cold was a challenge,’ says Łukasz, who came down with pneumonia shortly afterwards. Sadly, Piotr later died. This picture is dedicated to him.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year is co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.