Two possums peek from under a metal roof with cute, almost-cartoon like expressions of curiosity on their faces
Two possums peek from under a metal roof with cute, almost-cartoon like expressions of curiosity on their faces
Photo: Gary Meredith. All photos via The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year

12 Wildlife Photos That Will Change Your Perspective

Powerful selections from The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

For 65 years, the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has been a home for some of the world’s most powerful nature photography. This year’s competition has received more than 49,000 entries from across 86 different countries, and the winners will be exhibited at London’s Natural History Museum in South Kensington. In the run-up to the final judging, the museum has released a selection of Highly Commended photos that provide a captivating glimpse of the diversity and strength of the competition.

From a 13-foot male gharial crocodile giving a lift to his dozens of offspring in India to a rare red-shanked douc langur photographed by a 12-year-old in Vietnam, each photo tells a story about the wild beauty of a natural world, while many, such as the photos of wildfires and their aftermath, highlight the devastating threats it is facing.

1. “The Night Shift” by Laurent Ballesta (France)

Highly Commended, “Under Water”

An underwater photo of a shark swimming in a dark green and black reef full of pyramid like shell structures
An underwater photo of a shark swimming in a dark green and black reef full of pyramid like shell structures
A 6-foot grey reef shark pinpoints prey as darkness falls on the coral Fakarava Atoll in French Polynesia. Photo: Laurent Ballest

Using a wide angle, Laurent framed the night life stirring beneath the reflections of the reef, contrasting the close-up, angular topshells with the sleek predator behind.

2. “Amazon Burning” by Charlie Hamilton James (UK)

Highly Commended: “Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image”

A tall single tree stands tall amidst a background of burning brush and fire
A tall single tree stands tall amidst a background of burning brush and fire
A fire burns out of control in Maranhão state, northeastern Brazil. Photo: Charlie Hamilton James

A single tree remains standing — “a monument to human stupidity,” says Charlie, who has been covering deforestation in the Amazon for the past decade.

3. “Head Start,” by Dhritiman Mukherjee (India)

Highly Commended, “Behavior: Amphibians and Reptiles”

A male gharial crocodile lays in shallow water with 100+ small gharial babies sitting on his head, body, and surrounding wate
A male gharial crocodile lays in shallow water with 100+ small gharial babies sitting on his head, body, and surrounding wate
A 13-foot male gharial provides solid support for his numerous offspring in Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

This male was left in sole charge of his month-old offspring, observes Dhritiman, but both sexes are known to care for their young. So as not to disturb the gharials, he spent many days quietly watching from the riverbank. His picture encapsulates at once the tenderness of a protective father and [his] “don’t mess with my offspring” attitude.

4. “Surprise!” by Makoto Ando (Japan)

Highly Commended, “Behavior: Mammals”

A squirrel with very upright ears bounds down a branch, caught in mid leap, while two owls look on from the nearby tree trunk
A squirrel with very upright ears bounds down a branch, caught in mid leap, while two owls look on from the nearby tree trunk

In forest near his village on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Makoto had spent three hours, in freezing conditions, hiding behind a nearby tree hoping that the owl couple would pose or perform. Suddenly, a squirrel appeared from the treetops. “It was extraordinary to see them all in the same tree,” says Makoto. Rather than fleeing, the curious squirrel approached and peered into the owls’ hole, first from the top, then from the side. “I thought it was going to be caught right in front of me,” says Makoto, “but the owls just stared back.” The curious squirrel, as if suddenly realizing its mistake, leapt onto the nearest branch and sped away into the forest.

5. “The Rat Game” by Matthew Maran (UK)

Highly Commended, “Behavior: Mammals”

A juvenile fox with a large dead rat hanging out of her mouth makes eye contact with a sibling coming to check out the kill
A juvenile fox with a large dead rat hanging out of her mouth makes eye contact with a sibling coming to check out the kill
A young fox holds tight to her trophy — a dead brown rat — as her brother attempts to take it from her. Photo: Matthew Maran

For the past four years, Matthew has been photographing the foxes that live on a North London allotment. On this August evening, as Matthew lay prone watching the youngsters at play, one of them exploded out of the bushes with a dead rat in [her] mouth. The other three then began squabbling over [the rat] and a tug-of-war developed. When one got the prize, [he] would repeatedly toss it into the air and catch it.

6 “The Spider’s Supper” by Jaime Culebras (Spain)

Highly Commended, “Behavior: Invertebrates”

A closeup of a spider sucking on a large, dark frog egg (it resembles a smily water droplet) while perched on a green leaf
A closeup of a spider sucking on a large, dark frog egg (it resembles a smily water droplet) while perched on a green leaf
A large wandering spider pierces the egg of a giant glass frog. Photo: Jaime Culebras

Jaime had walked for hours, in darkness and heavy rain, to reach the stream in Manduriacu Reserve, northwestern Ecuador, where he hoped to find glass frogs mating. But his reward turned out to be a chance to photograph a behavior he had seldom seen — a wandering spider with a 3-inch leg span devouring the frogs’ eggs. Jaime set up his shot to capture the precise moment the female spider grasped the thin jelly coating between her fangs, steadying the egg with her long, hairy palps. One by one — over more than an hour — she ate the eggs.

7. “Eye of the Drought” by Jose Fragozo (Portugal)

Highly Commended, “Animal Portraits”

At first, appears to just be a gigantic pile of gray mud. On closer inspection, a large hippo with one visible eye is covered
At first, appears to just be a gigantic pile of gray mud. On closer inspection, a large hippo with one visible eye is covered
An eye blinks open in the mud pool as a hippopotamus emerges to take a breath in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve. Photo: Jose Fragozo

The challenge for Jose, watching in his vehicle, was to catch the moment an eye opened. Hippos spend the day submerged to keep their temperature constant and their sensitive skin out of the sun, and at night they emerge to graze on the floodplains.

8. “The Forest Born of Fire” by Andrea Pozzi (Italy)

Highly Commended, “Plants and Fungi”

A hill covered in green trees with white trunks placed sporadically over the entire surface, looking almost like mushrooms
A hill covered in green trees with white trunks placed sporadically over the entire surface, looking almost like mushrooms
Araucaria trees stand against a backdrop of late-autumn southern beech forest in Chile. Photo: Andrea Pozzi

Andrea had been enchanted by this sight a year previously and had timed his return to capture it. He hiked for hours to a ridge overlooking the forest and waited for the right light, just after sunset, to emphasize the colours. The ecology of these regions is shaped by dramatic disturbances, including volcanic eruptions and fires.

9. “Peeking Possums” by Gary Meredith (Australia)

Highly Commended, “Urban Wildlife”

Two possums peek from under a metal roof with cute, almost-cartoon like expressions of curiosity on their faces
Two possums peek from under a metal roof with cute, almost-cartoon like expressions of curiosity on their faces
Two common brushtail possums — a mother (left) and her joey — peek out of their hiding place under the roof of a shower block in a holiday park in Yallingup, Western Australia. Photo: Gary Meredith

Gary had watched them all week. They would pop up at sunset, keep an eye on the campers till dark, then squeeze out through the gap and head for the trees to feed on the leaves of a peppermint tree. To get the right angle, Gary moved his car close to the building and climbed up. The curious possums — probably used to being fed by other campers — stuck their heads out and peered at the interesting man and his camera. He quickly framed their little faces beneath the corrugated iron roof, capturing a sense of their vulnerability, along with their resourcefulness.

10. “Treetop Douc” by Arshdeep Singh (India)

Highly Commended, “11–14 Years Old”

A bright-faced monkey who is reclined in a tree makes direct eye contact with the lens of the camera
A bright-faced monkey who is reclined in a tree makes direct eye contact with the lens of the camera
A red-shanked douc langur peers out from a tree in Son Tra Nature Reserve, Vietnam. Photo: Arshdeep Singh / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

When his father planned a business trip to Vietnam, Arshdeep researched the wildlife online. It was after he read about the endangered red-shanked douc langur that he asked his father to take him along. The meeting was near Son Tra Nature Reserve, Vietnam’s last coastal rainforest and a stronghold for the langur. It was a struggle to hold his telephoto lens steady and shoot at an angle clear of leaves, and just for a second, the langur glanced at him — the moment Arshdeep had come to Vietnam for.

11. “Paired-Up Puffins” by Evie Easterbook (UK)

Highly Commended, “11–14 Years Old”

Two puffins, shot quite close up to their faces and close together, stare seriously into the camera
Two puffins, shot quite close up to their faces and close together, stare seriously into the camera
A pair of Atlantic puffins in vibrant breeding plumage pause near their nest burrow on the Farne Islands. Photo: Evie Easterbrook

Evie had longed to see a puffin, and when school broke up, she and her family managed two day trips to Staple Island in July, before the puffins returned to sea in August. She stayed by the puffins’ burrows, watching the adults returning with mouthfuls of sand eels. Puffins are long-lived and form long-term pairs, and Evie concentrated on this pair, aiming for a characterful portrait.

12. “The Perfect Catch” by Hannah Vijayan (Canada)

Highly Commended, “15–17 Years Old”

A bear at the edge of a still lake with green grass behind her, with a large silver fish in her mouth and a reflection below
A bear at the edge of a still lake with green grass behind her, with a large silver fish in her mouth and a reflection below
A brown bear pulls a salmon from the shallows of a river in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Photo: Hannah Vijayan / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The greatest concentration of bears — and of tourists — [in this area] is around the waterfall at Brooks River, where viewing platforms enable visitors to watch bears catching salmon leaping up the falls. Hannah chose to focus on a quieter scene and a different style of fishing. Instead of snatching at leaping fish or jumping on them, this female put her head under the water to look for one. Hannah had been watching for some time before she achieved the composition she wanted: a full reflection of the bear — and [her] catch — in still water.

“Wildlife Photographer of the Year” is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.

Written by

Formerly editorial director @BuzzFeed. Currently editor @Tenderly and writer at large. Email: JackAShepherd at gmail

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