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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 Winners
By Ian Bongso-Seldrup, October 12, 2021 @ 07:00 PM (EST)

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 and Winner, Underwater by Laurent Ballesta

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition has announced the 2021 winning images at a virtual awards ceremony live-streamed from London’s Natural History Museum—and it was an incredible year for underwater photography. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 title went to recent DPG Photographer of the Week Laurent Ballesta for his “explosive” image of camouflage groupers emerging from a cloud of eggs and sperm, which was captured in Fakarava, French Polynesia. Laurent used a Nikon D5 and a 17–35mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm in a Seacam housing with Seacam strobes.

DPG contributor Alex Mustard was the winner of the Natural Artistry category with a beautifully complex shot of a juvenile ghost pipefish hiding among the arms of a feather star. Interestingly, to achieve it, he used a Nikon D850 and a Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 lens in a Subal housing along with a 12mm extension tube, ND8 filter, FIT +5 close-up lens, and a pair of Retra strobes.

An underwater image took the Plants and Fungi category, as well, with well-known shooter Justin Gilligan creating the reflection of a marine ranger among the seaweed of Lord Howe Island, New South Wales, Australia. João Rodrigues captured the winning image in the Behavior: Amphibians and Reptiles category, an atmospheric image of a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in a flooded forest. Finally, the winner of the Portfolio Award was also an underwater shooter, Angel Fitor, who provided an intimate look into the lives of cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika, the oldest of the East African Great Lakes.

Hearty congratulations to all the winners! Check them out, below, among the other winning images.


Explosive creation: extraordinary underwater scene wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021

Selected from more than 50,000 entries from 95 countries, the winners of the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition were revealed today at an online awards ceremony.

French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta was announced as this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his enigmatic image, Creation, that captures camouflage groupers exiting their milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia. Every year, for five years, Laurent and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night so as not to miss the annual spawning that only takes place around the full moon in July. After dark, they were joined by hundreds of grey reef sharks, hunting the groupers in packs. Overfishing threatens this vulnerable species, but here the fish are protected within a special biosphere reserve.

Chair of the judging panel, writer and editor, Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox OBE says, ‘The image works on so many levels. It is surprising, energetic, and intriguing and has an otherworldly beauty. It also captures a magical moment – a truly explosive creation of life – leaving the tail-end of the exodus of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.’

Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum says, ‘This year’s Grand Title winner reveals a hidden underwater world, a fleeting moment of fascinating animal behaviour that very few have witnessed. In what could be a pivotal year for the planet, with vital discussions taking place at COP15 and COP26, Laurent Ballesta’s Creation is a compelling reminder of what we stand to lose if we do not address humanity's impact on our planet. The protection provided to this endangered species by the biosphere reserve highlights the positive difference we can make.’

Winner 2021, Natural Artistry by Alex Mustard

Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021

Ten-year old Vidyun R Hebbar was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 for his colourful image, Dome home, of a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by. Vidyun first featured in the competition when he was just eight years old and loves to photograph the often-overlooked creatures that live in the streets and parks near his home in the city of Bengaluru, India.

‘It’s such an imaginative way of photographing a spider. The picture is perfectly framed, the focus is spot on. You can see the spider’s fangs and the crazy weave of the trap, the threads like some delicate nerve network linked to the spider’s feet. But the really clever bit is the addition of a creative backdrop – the bright colours of a motorised rickshaw,’ says Rosamund ‘Roz’ Kidman Cox OBE.

Dr Natalie Cooper, a researcher with the Natural History Museum and jury member, says ‘The jury loved this photo from the beginning of the judging process. It is a great reminder to look more closely at the small animals we live with every day, and to take your camera with you everywhere. You never know where that award winning image is going to come from.’

Global platform

The two Grand Title winners were selected from 19 category winners that celebrate the captivating beauty of our natural world with rich habitats, enthralling animal behaviour and extraordinary species. This year’s competition saw three new categories added, including ‘Oceans - The Bigger Picture’ and ‘Wetlands - The Bigger Picture’ to shine a spotlight on these crucial ecosystems. In an intensive process, each entry was judged anonymously by a panel of experts for its originality, narrative, technical excellence and ethical practice.

Displayed alongside insights from Natural History Museum scientists and experts, the 100 images will be showcased in spectacular lightbox displays at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, opening on 15 October 2021, before touring across the UK and internationally to venues in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, USA and more.

The fifty-eighth Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will open for entries from photographers of all ages, nationalities, and levels on Monday 18 October 2021. The international jury of industry experts has been announced, and the entry fee for photographers entering from 50 countries will be waived.

Associate sponsors for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London are renewable energy company Ørsted and non-alcoholic spirits brand Seedlip.

Exhibition at Natural History Museum, London

  • Opens Friday 15 October 2021 and closes Sunday 5 June 2022.
  • The exhibition is open Monday – Sunday, 10.00-17.50 (last admission at 16.30), and weekends sell out quickly.
  • Adult tickets £17.25*, concession tickets £13.75*, and child £10.25* (*Prices including optional Gift Aid donation to the Museum.)
  • Book your tickets: www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year
  • #WPY57

Fifty-eighth Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

  • Opens for entries on Monday 18 October 2021.
  • Closing for entries at 11.30am GMT on Thursday 9 December 2021.
  • Entrants to the adult competition may enter up to 25 images for a £30 fee, which increases to £35 in the final week of the entry period from 11.30am GMT 2 December to 11.30am GMT 9 December.
  • An entry fee waiver has been introduced for photographers entering the adult competition who live in these 50 countries.
  • Entrants aged 17 and under may enter up to 10 images for free.
  • Find out how to enter: www.nhm.ac.uk/wpy/competition

Winner 2021, Plants and Fungi by Justin Gilligan

Winner 2021, Behavior: Amphibians and Reptiles by João Rodrigues

Winner 2021, Portfolio Award by Angel Fitor




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