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How Wildlife Photography Can Teach Us to Respect Nature

Each year, the prestigious Wildlife Photography of The Year competition honors the best wildlife photographers from around the world. The images taken by the winners allow us to stop and take a concerned look at our environment.

Spending long weeks tracking the Amur tiger in the forests of Siberia. Finding the right setting, the perfect and inconspicuous spot in which to set up your equipment without arousing the big cat’s suspicions. Knowing that you are highly unlikely to even get a glimpse of the solitary feline, as there are only 500 of them left in the forests of Russia. But you have a stubborn, single-minded objective: to photograph this endangered animal while you still can. And then, after ten long months of waiting, comes the moment of grace. Behold, right in front of you, the animal is rubbing against a tree trunk to leave behind a mixture of odor, hairs, and urine, i.e. vital information for the survival of the species. And that is how Sergey Gorshkov came to receive the Wildlife Photographer of The Year 2020 award.

Cover: © Sergey Gorshkov, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020

The prestigious competition organized by the British Natural History Museum has been rewarding the best wildlife photographers from around the world since 1965. What started out as just an award organized by Animals Magazine (now BBC Wildlife) is now a leading nature photography competition that receives more than 45,000 submissions per year. In forty-five years, the award has never strayed from its core mission: “to promote wildlife photography in order to serve the cause of animals and help protect them.” And this ambitious program becomes more necessary and more complex with every passing year.

For the 2020 edition, the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year has chosen to reflect on the Anthropocene, our historical era marked by natural and climatic changes brought about by human activity. The winning photos highlight the relationships of interdependence and resemblance between humans and nature in order to force us to look at what we are destroying and push us to take action. 

The winner in the “Animal Portraits” category, Mogens Trolle, reminds us of the great similarities that exists between us and primates. The young Proboscis monkey he photographed in profile has an expression of almost human serenity. This species, indigenous to the island of Borneo, is endangered and its populations are rapidly decreasing.

© Mogens Trolle, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020

To photograph animals, you have to go where they are, blend in with their natural habitat, and know how to be discreet. Sometimes, though, they are the ones who approach the photographer, as seen here in Alex Badyaev‘s stunning photo. The biologist who went to study the Cordilleran Flycatcher in the Rocky Mountains of Montana was surprised to find that the bird he was looking for had chosen to build its nest on the window of his own cabin. So Alex Badyaev hid his camera in the trunk of an old tree nearby and shot the animal remotely, from the comfort of his desk– a shot in which he too appears. A selfie with the object of his research!

© Alex Badyaev, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020

Nowadays, there is a lot more interaction between animals and people. On all continents, wild animals are hunted for the purposes of feeding us, clothing us or healing us, which can sometimes have tragic consequences, as we know all too well. The year 2020 has highlighted the dangers of trafficking in animal species and of illegal markets where viruses can spread from one species to another. This is the subject of Paul Hilton‘s photo, in which a pig-tailed macaque is seen chained to a cage in a Bali market. These dynamic and social primates are being driven out of their natural habitats by deforestation and sold as pets. The sad gaze of the captive monkey is made more expressive by the long exposure technique favored by the photographer.

© Paul Hilton, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020.

One of the particularities of Wildlife Photographer of The Year is that the competition aims to promote young photographers. All photographers, even the (very) young or inexperienced, are encouraged to participate. Andres Luis Dominguez Blanco is the winner of the under ten category. The young photographer is already exhibiting some of the qualities necessary for wildlife photography. Intrigued by the song of the Saxicola Rubicola (a species of sparrows), he asked his father to take him to a clearing where there were many of the birds. Crouching in the backseat of his father’s car, resting the lens on the car door through the open window, Andres Luis Dominguez Blanco waited. He noticed this beautiful male specimen, perched on a rod bending under its weight. From the glades of Andalusia, the photographer reproduced Sergey Gorshkov’s experience in the Siberian forests: the wait, the hope and the joy that all animal photographers know so well, and it was this experience that was showcased on the list of winners from Wildlife Photographer Of The Year.

© Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020

By Joy Majdalani

Joy Majdalani is a Lebanese writer and content creator based in Paris. She writes about technology, art, culture and social issues.

© Sam Sloss, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020

Do you feel that wildlife photography is your calling? You can submit your photos to the 2021 edition of Wildlife Photographer Of The Year until December 10, 2020, 11:30 GMT!

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