Hailed as “the Oscars” of the nature photography world, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition takes centre stage at London’s Natural History Museum until September 2017. Entering it’s 52nd year, the awe-inspiring competition challenges amateur and professional photographers to capture their most inspiring shots of the natural world

The kaleidoscopic collection is a true marvel for the eyes; featuring everything from exotic landscapes to animals behaviours, set across a series of intimate portraits and dramatic landscape shots.  This year, the ever popular competition attracted 50,000 entries from 95 countries around the world – which an expert panel of judges then narrowed down to 100, based on artistic excellence, technical skill and and originality, across 19 different categories. Above all,  judges were seeking one star quality – the ability to challenge the viewer:

‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year highlights some of the big questions for society and the environment: How can we protect biodiversity? Can we learn to live in harmony with nature?”, stated Michael Dixon, the Director of The Natural History Museum.

He added: “The winning images touch our hearts, and challenge us to think differently about the natural world.”

But there could only be one winner – Entwined Lives by American Tim Laman took the crown for 2016’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year. The stunning shot is a tribute to the critically endangered Bornean chimpanzee, which is fast losing its habitat to agriculture and logging – combined with the threat of increased poaching for the illegal pet trade. Set in the Indonesian rainforest, the chimpanzee scales 100ft up a fig tree, it’s curious gaze cast upwards at the GoPro cameras which sit at the top of the plant, and were triggered remotely by Lamant.

It took Laman three days to rope climb the tree to set the GoPros in place. Captured using a wide angle perspective, the arresting shot gives us the impression of the creature being dwarfed by vast forest below – powerfully evoking the immensity of his habitat, and what we stand to lose if we don’t act now to save it. 10

Winning this year’s title for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year is Gideon King’s The Moon and the Crow, which depicts the veiny twigs of a sycamore tree silhouetted against dusky blue sky, a full moon peeping out between its branches.

The eerie snap, which was taken near 17-year old Gideon’s North London, home won high praise from Lewis Blackwell, Chair of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year jury, who stated, “If an image could create a poem, it would be like this. It should certainly inspire a few lines.”

Also featured heavily are breathtaking shots highlighting some major environmental issues of the modern world. Angel Filtor’s entrancing Dying of the Light, a solitary jellyfish rests motionless in Spain’s Mar Menor lagoon, with a bubble of air trapped under its umbrella. Flipped over by the wind, and no longer able to dive, the creature will soon die. As the season changes, cooling waters and autumn winds will blow across the water, wiping out vast swathes of the creature.  The shot – this year’s winner of the Invertebrates category – also references climate change, which has left the lagoon and its diverse eco-system increasing vulnerable. A whole host of issues is explored across the categories, including: overfishing, water pollution, land fragmentation and the exploitation of natural resources. 37

Dozens of captivating images also offer insights into weird and wonderful animal behaviours – from mating rituals to close encounters between predator and prey. In Mikhail Shatenev’s Beware a Mother Bear, a mighty Eurasian brown bear leaps mid-air, swiping its paw at a startled raven which has edged too close to her cubs. Captured in the snowy forests of Finland, the dramatic snap illustrates the fiercely protective instinct of female bears, particularly after the hibernation period. In the Invertebrates Category, finalist’s Imre Potyó’s entrancing Swarming Under the Stars shows a chaotic swarm of glowing mayflies fluttering wildly against a starlit sky, above Hungary’s River Rába. This dizzying display shows the insects’ mating process; after a year of living in the water, they are embarking on a race upstream to lay their eggs on the water.

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Amid action-packed shots, intimate and heartwarming portraits contemplate the relationship between man and animal. Motherless, another portrait by Laman shows orphaned baby orangutan being rescued by a vet, while a group of young children look on in concern. The bittersweet image casts reflection on our responsibility to counter the effects of deforestation. Over in the Urban category, UK finalist Sam Hobson’s Nosey Neighbour captures the playful, inquisitive nature of the urban red fox. Set at night on an empty residential street, the creature peeks over a wall, casting his steely gaze past the camera onto a distant, unseen object. The aim of the shot was to convey the creature’s ingenuity it ability to thrive in urban areas, while living side by side with humans.

Yound urban red fox (Vulpes vulpes) poking its head up over a wall. Bristol, UK. August

Other award categories included ‘Landscapes’, Plants and Fungi’, ‘Amphibians and Reptiles’, ‘Black and White’ and ‘Photostory’. Following its stint at the Natural History Museum, the exhibition will tour 64 other countries around the world.

Guaranteed to shock, inspire, and amaze in equal measure, these stunning images will challenge and redefine the the way you think about our amazing planet.

For more information and to buy tickets for the exhibition, please visit the Natural History Museum’s website.