The overall winner of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2022 contest might not have been an underwater photographer (the winning subject was a bear) but last year’s grand title-holder Laurent Ballesta made his mark again by winning the Portfolio Award with his Pyramid of Life selection.
The French underwater photographer and biologist had undertaken a scientific expedition that took two years to plan and involved a team of scuba divers using specially developed kit. Ballesta’s 32 dives in water temperatures down to -1.7°C included the deepest, longest dive ever made in Antarctica.
His striking image Under Antarctic Ice shows a “living tower” of marine invertebrates on the 32m-deep seabed in Adelie Land. The central tree-shaped sponge was draped with life, from giant ribbon worms to sea stars (Nikon D810 + 13mm f/2.8 lens, Seacam housing, 2 Seacam strobes, 1/13th sec, f/16, ISO 800).
Last year Ballesta was crowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year with Creation, an image showing camouflage grouper exiting their milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia.
This year saw three underwater images among the 19 category winners in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, developed and produced by London’s Natural History Museum (NHM).
The scale of the contest is illustrated by the fact that 38,575 entries were received from 93 countries. They were judged anonymously by an international panel of experts looking for originality, narrative, technical excellence and ethical practice.
Triumphing in the Underwater category was another spectacular spawning image – Shooting Star by Tony Wu (USA/Japan), who captured the “reproductive dance” of a giant sea star in Kinko Bay, Kagoshima, Japan.
As he describes it, the water around him in the small, enclosed bay was filled with a galaxy of sperm and eggs from spawning sea stars – but he had only a macro lens fitted. He had to back up to squeeze the undulating star into his field of view.
The “dancing” posture of the sea stars is thought to help either release the eggs and sperm or to sweep them into the currents (Nikon D850 + 105mm f/2.8 lens, Nauticam housing; Backscatter Mini Flash 1 + Inon S2000 + Z240 strobes; RGBlue compact tripod, 1/250th sec, f/18, ISO 320).
The third underwater winner was Richard Robinson of New Zealand in the Oceans: The Bigger Picture category introduced last year, but he wasn’t diving when he took New Life for the Tohorā.
Hindered by poor visibility, Robinson used a polecam to photograph the whales as they gradually moved towards his boat at Deas Head in the Auckland Islands. He knew he was pushing his camera to its limits in the dark water, so was relieved to find that the image was pin-sharp.
When ready to mate, the female southern right whale rolls onto her back, requiring the male to reach his penis across her body – a process known by the Māori as tohorā. The New Zealand population was hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s so, as Robinson points out, every new calf offers new hope (Canon EOS 5DS R + 8–15mm f/4 lens at 15mm, Aquatica housimg, 1/640th sec, f/4; ISO 1600).
“Wildlife photographers offer us unforgettable glimpses into the lives of wild species, sharing unseen details, fascinating behaviours and front-line reporting on the climate and biodiversity crises,” commented NHM director Dr Doug Gurr. “These images demonstrate their awe of and appreciation for the natural world and the urgent need to take action to protect it.”
The redesigned flagship exhibition opens at the museum this Friday (14 October), positioning winning photographs among short videos, quotes from jury members and photographers and insights from museum scientists.
The exhibition, sponsored by global green energy company Ørsted, runs in London until 2 July, 2023. It is open daily from 10-5.50 and adult tickets cost £17. It will also tour the UK and internationally to venues in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, USA and more.
Next year’s entries
The 59th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries from photographers of all ages, nationalities and levels from Monday (17 October) until 8 December. Entrants to the adult competition pay £30 to enter up to 25 images (£35 in the final week), but those aged 17 and under can enter up to 10 images for free. Fees for adults entering from 50 countries are being waived. More information and entries here.
Also on Divernet: Teaser For Wildlife Photographer Of The Year