Ralph Schneider from south Germany travelled for seven hours by sleeper train to capture the milky way at the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps braving arctic sub-zero conditions, but the judging panel leapfrogged this captivating sight to present him with a highly commended citation for his monochrome portrait of a Weddell Seal that appeared to be taking a nap without a care in the world in the snow at this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) awards. Smiling, he says contentedly: “This is just what the world needs at this moment.”
Schneider, who entered the competition for the first time submitting 13 entries expressed his surprise that his sleeping seal had made such an impression on the judges. “You expect them to choose an action picture,” he explains, admitting that luck increasingly plays a great role in capturing extraordinary nature photography. “You need a calm weather, a clear perfect day and to be in the right place at the right time.”
But even the most fortunate wildlife enthusiast still needs to get to grips with the technical side of shooting at this level, uncompromising terrains, inclement weather and perhaps even avoid becoming the prey. Schneider kept his distance so as not to spook his subject, staying in a boat and shooting with a long 100-400m lense. The Weddell seal, so named after the region where they are mostly found, was still blissfully unaware of the shoot that will turn him into a superstar in one of the leading nature museums in the world. Plastered on hundreds of thousands of promotional materials and fluttering on giant banners.
Yongqing Bao won the prestigious WPOTY 2019 title for his gripping life and death struggle, The Moment, which frames the standoff between a Tibetan fox and a marmot. A powerful frame of both humour and horror, it captures the drama and intensity of nature. Frozen in a macabre dance that epitomises Henri Cartier- Bresson’s decisive moment dictum which distills the essence of a photograph.
Chair of the judging panel, Roz Kidman Cox explains: ‘Photographically, it is quite simply the perfect moment. The expressive intensity of the postures holds you transfixed, and the thread of energy between the raised paws seems to hold the protagonists in perfect balance. Images from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are rare enough, but to have captured such a powerful interaction between a Tibetan fox and a marmot – two species key to the ecology of this high-grassland region – is extraordinary.’
Like the changing seasons, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year founded in 1965 by BBC Wildlife Magazine, then called Animals, is a harbinger of Autumn and everywhere you look there are extraordinary images illustrating the rich tapestry of nature, earth’s biodiversity and animal behaviour. The Natural History Museum joined forces in 1984 to create the competition as it is known today.
The competition and exhibition ignites curiosity about the natural world by showcasing Earth’s extraordinary diversity and highlighting the fragility of wildlife on our planet. Using the unique emotive power of photography, the competition inspires people to think differently about their relationship with nature and become advocates for the planet.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year (www.nhm.ac.uk/wpy) from 18 October 2019 – Sunday 31 May 2020