Why you should visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition
As a jury member for Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023, Kathy Moran knows a lot about wildlife photography. Here, we ask her about the winning photographs, conservation and what makes the winners so visually striking and appealing
Photography can beautiful, but it can also highlight the need for change in the world. The theme of conservation has been prominent this year at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. An exhibition displaying the stunning photographs is on now at the Natural History Museum. The exhibition has a focus on conservation, which is becoming increasingly important in the face of climate change.
We spoke to Kathy Moran, the former deputy director of photography at National Geographic and jury chair for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, to ask her about the competition this year and how more people can connect with wildlife.
What characteristics make a winning wildlife photograph and how can those elements be applied?
There are several things that go into a winning photograph. You can tell a story in a single image, so that narrative element is really important. I also think about whether they captured a moment. Then aesthetics come in and I think about things like lighting.
In the context of a competition, there’s a lot of conservation messaging. One of the most memorable images for me is the Yellowstone Bison in the snow. It’s simply a beautiful image. The competition is focused on shining a light on challenges with conservation and this picture really shows that. The winning photo of the 10-and-under category was stunning too. I think we’ll see this kid again and again. He framed the spider in such a magical way.
What makes Laurant Ballesta's winning photograph of a luminous horseshoe crab in the Philippines so special?
The ancient mariner by Laurent Ballesta, France
Winner, Portfolio Award
Where I grew up in America on the Delaware Bay, you couldn’t throw a pebble without hitting a horseshoe crab, but they were dead on the shore. I don’t think anyone in the history of the competition ever entered a picture of a horseshoe crab before though. This thing that you usually see as a desiccated shell on the beach was brought to life. It just had this otherworldly sensibility.
"The kick of something like a horseshoe crab being elevated in this way knocked us over"
It was hovering above the sea floor with those fish around it like…guards. It wouldn’t be nearly as impactful without those three little fish. The kick of something like a horseshoe crab being elevated in this way knocked us over.
What is it like working on the Wildlife Photographer of the Year jury?
It’s strange being on a jury. You come in with all of your own opinions, but the real gift is having to listen to each other. You have to look at a photograph through someone else’s eyes. When you get to sit and really talk about the photos, it forces you to think and to stretch in a very different way.
It fascinates me when everyone agrees but one person has a different opinion and, when they voice that opinion, everything changes. This was a terrific jury. There was so much respect for each other and the photographers.
What are a few of your other favourite photographs from this year’s exhibition and why?
Obviously, Laurent’s photograph stood out. Another one that stayed with me was the category winner for Oceans: The Bigger Picture. It was a photo of an orca washed up by a photographer called Lennart Verheuvel. It’s a two-take frame. The lighting is beautiful, and the orca is beautiful, but then you see lacerations on the orca’s body. Your first impression is beauty, but then you realise what is going on.
Another one that really stood out to me was Bertie Gregory's picture, where the Orcas are rushing at the ice. I had seen the behaviour in photos by scientists, but I had never seen it depicted in such a beautiful and powerful way.
The theme of conservation seems more and more prevalent. Do you think that in this technological age, people should slow down and admire the natural world more?
Increasingly, we notice whether a photograph is celebratory or whether it’s shining a light on something. It’s inevitable now when looking at a picture to think about the challenges a landscape or an animal faces today.
"People need to focus on the natural world, as opposed to focusing on technology"
I spoke to some former winners of the competition and a lot of them said that they wanted to reach people with messages about conservation. They wanted to remind people to focus on the natural world, as opposed to focusing on technology.
Is AI making your job harder? There was the case of someone winning a photography competition by using an AI image earlier this year.
We have to be a lot more aware of AI now. One of the rules that elevates Wildlife Photographer of the Year is that photographers have to submit the raw file. We’ve engaged with an expert who examines these photos and we make sure they haven’t tampered with the picture. We make sure nothing has been added or removed. Moving forward, we’ve said “No AI. Keep it real.”
We have beautiful, diverse wildlife here in the UK. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start photographing the animals in their garden, local park or woods?
The Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Carmel Bechler, said that you don’t have to go far from home to take impactful photos. COVID-19 forced people to see the places close to them in a new way.
"Photography doesn't have to be dark, it can show solutions and humour too"
There is wildlife all around us, so I would say go outside and look around. And remember, it doesn’t always have to be dark. Photography can show solutions and humour too.
Finally, what’s your favourite animal and why?
It’s like picking a favourite child! I have to say, I have a soft spot for big cats!
Banner credit: Whales Making Waves by Bertie Gregory, UK. Winner: Behaviour: Mammals
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