Many big annual events have needed to be rethought in 2020, but one that remains largely unaltered – with the exception of a virtual awards ceremony – is the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
The competition, now in its 56th year, is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. As usual the organisers tease out early publicity by releasing a batch of “Highly Commended” photographs from each of the 16 categories ahead of the announcement of winners and the opening of the exhibition in October.
This year only one of these preliminary images is diving-related, and that’s the winner of the Under Water category – “The Night Shift” by French photographer Laurent Ballesta.
“As darkness falls on the remote coral Fakarava Atoll, in French Polynesia, the molluscs begin to move,” Ballesta says of his wide-angle shot. “These large topshells reaching 15cm across the base spend the day hiding in crevices among corals, usually on the outer fringes of the reef, withstanding the strong currents and surf.
“At night, they emerge to graze on algal pavements and coral rubble. Their thick, cone-shaped shells, shown encrusted with algae, were so sought after – to make mother-of-pearl buttons, jewellery and other handicrafts – that the species was once the world’s most traded invertebrate. This led to its widespread decline, and it is now the focus of conservation efforts.
“Cruising behind these slow grazers is one of the reef’s top predators – a grey reef shark, nearly 2m long, capable of speeds of nearly 30mph and ready for a night’s hunting. It pinpoints prey (mostly bony reef fish) with its acute senses and often hunts in packs.”
Ballesta framed the night life stirring beneath the reflections of the reef, contrasting the close-up, angular topshells with the sleek predator behind. He used a Nikon D4S camera with 17-35mm f/2.8 lens, a Seacam housing and strobes with the settings 1/250th sec @ f/11 and ISO 800.