Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

The winning images in this year's WPOTY competition have been announced and, as ever, they are generally very impressive.

While I do like the overall winning image by Paul Nicklen, I personally much prefer his image in the 'Behaviour: Birds' category, as shown below:

'Frozen Moment' by Paul Nicklen

For me this image has everything. I love the frozen water drops, the light, the composition. A real 'wow' image in my opinion and certainly my favourite of all of the winning and commended images in this year's competition.

However, while many of the images in this year's competition are impressive, I do have a couple of reservations.

First, there are relatively few images with the 'wow' factor such as the one above. We are increasingly exposed to high quality wildlife images and TV footage on a daily basis and so perhaps it is just becoming more and more difficult to produce such images. But, to me, many of the images have a familiar feel to them. Even the overall winning image here bears more than a passing resemblance to Matt Doggett's winning image in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards. They are both excellent images but I suppose it's increasingly difficult to produce images that are truly unique. However, one reason that the images all feel fairly familiar is that they feature a relatively small number of species. Which brings me to my second point...

Of the 70+ winning and commended images in the adult categories of this year's competition, only one features an insect or other invertebrate. Is it any wonder that the images all feel slightly familiar when they are dominated by the usual mix of polar bears, penguins and big cats?

I find the neglect of insects and inverts difficult to understand.The judges are looking for original and unique images and so I would have thought that insects and their behaviour lend themselves to this far more than polar bears and penguins. Indeed, even the preamble to the 'Behaviour: Cold-Blooded Animals' category (which would obviously include insects and invertebrates) states that "This category offers plenty of scope for interesting photos because cold-blooded animals comprise the majority of animals on Earth and their behaviour is often little known".

Perhaps the judges would argue that they were presented with few highly quality macro images, but again this is difficult to understand given the vast number of such images that can be found on forums and elsewhere, combined with the good numbers of images that have featured in the competition in previous years. Indeed, I do normally rely on this competition to feature a few truly inspirational macro images each year (Bence Mate's winner from 2010 being a great example) and so it's very disappointing to see so few this year.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes I did enter the competition this year but obviously with no success.  :-D


  1. Completely agree, Matt. In fact I prefer BOTH of Paul Nicklen's other shots to the winning one!
    On the whole there's a lot of great images this year but some of the choices do puzzle me. Looking at the finalists in the Animal Portraits section I am left wondering 'Really? They were the best five entries? Surely not.' It's always subjective though.
    I didn't enter this year so I'll let them off! :-)

  2. Cheers Simon. I must admit I was also a little puzzled by the Animal Portraits category. I just don't 'get' some of them and I would imagine this is the category that receives the greatest number of entries. But it is entirely subjective, as you say.

  3. Funnily enough that was my fav image too.

    I have noticed with WPOTY unless you have been abroad and photographed bears/big cats/penguins or some other of the 'popular' wildlife its very hard to get anywhere.

    I do wonder if there is a bit of snobbery against macros, some seem to think it's what begineers do when they cant afford 'proper' telephoto lenses, perhaps even beneath them. If the competition isn't judged by people taht do macro then perhaps they don't like the images, even if it is just subconsciously.

  4. Hi Neil, I think you might be right, particularly on the latter point. The major competitions seem to be judged by individuals who have no knowledge, or appreciation, of macro. I hope this isn't an increasing trend as previously WPOTY did always feature some macro images.

  5. You have hit the proverbial nail on the head, Matt. I went to the press showing of the WPOTY images and had a sense of déja vu - too much ice and too many penguins was a comment made to me. I am surprised that there is no category for the small things and would argue vociferously against any numbskull who thought that top level macro work was 'easier' than any other nature photography.

    At WlldPhotos this year I gave one of my presentations on wide-angle macro and there were few other images that involved close-up work. The underlying theme was of not getting stuck in a rut and of experimenting -wide angle, stacking, MYN type shots and so on. I thing ignorance of subject is a big problem with judges in many competitions (as is visual illiteracy) and the winning entries in many competitions leave me cold - there is no sense of adventure and of pushing boundaries. In complete contrast, I was honored to be asked to judge the 'macro' category of the FotoCAM Spanish equivalent of WPOTY. I was staggered by the results and choosing finalists, let alone winners, was a daunting task.

  6. thanks for your comments Paul, it's interesting to see that your views are not disimilar to my own.

    The issue of experimenting is an interesting one in the context of WPOTY (and other major competitions) as their rules will obviously preclude any form of image stacking and, I assume, MYN type artificial backgrounds. I understand their reasoning but it does unfortunately limit the extent of 'boundary pushing' that is possible, particularly with regard to macro. But I suppose that's a whole new debate and given the recent controversies with the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition I don't think WPOTY will be relaxing its rules anytime soon!

    It's good at least to know that FotoCAM embraces macro.