Andrey Gudkov, ‘Komodo Judo’ (Finalist 2015, Amphibians and Reptiles). Two formidable Komodo dragons wrestle along the majestic coast of Komodo National Park, Indonesia.

The Best Nature Photographs Of 2015

Mighty and Majestic Beasts and Beguiling Patterns Boast the Best of the Natural World


Editor’s note: This is the first in Vantage’s six-part series of year-end “Best Of” proclamations. See the Best Portraiture, the Best GIFs, the Best Photobooks, the Best Exhibition, and the Best San Francisco Street Photographer of 2015.


Nature is a surefire subject to inspire awe and wonder among photography crowds. From macro shots of insects to the cosmos in grains of salt and dish-soap, we can’t get enough of the creatures of our planet and the matter beyond our solar system.

There are multiple contests of environmental, natural history and wildlife photography each year, but one of the most prestigious and one of Vantage’s favourites is the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awarded by the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London.

In October, the NHM announced the winners and finalists in 17 categories. All the winners deserved their gongs, but we don’t envy the judges’ task given the quality of the runners up! Some categories such as ‘Amphibians and Reptiles’ and ‘Under Water’ make for a slew of stunning images.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 exhibition is on show at Natural History Museum until 10th April 2016.

A Fragile Beauty

The Natural History Museum in its statement reminds us of the precarious position of many habitats and species.

“We were saddened by an image of stacks of ivory, standing next to one of a ranger shot by a poacher for trying to protect elephants. And it’s nothing less than heartbreaking to see big cats drugged, defanged and declawed so they can perform in a circus.”

These images are not about prize-winning glory but about moments to reflect on the beauty of the natural world and our stewardship of it.

Don Gutoski, Canada. ‘A Tale Of Two Foxes’ (Winner 2015, Mammals; and The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 Grand Title Winner). Wapusk National Park, Cape Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Don Gutoski’s shot of a fox eating the carcass of another (above) was the grand prize winner across all categories. It is a literal description of nature in an inhospitable environment.

Chasing Patterns

Across other categories such as ‘Details’, ‘Land’ and ‘From The Sky’ photographers had opportunities to be a bit more abstract. It was the pictures of intricate patterns and shapes to which we were most drawn: A butterfly mummified in salt water; the intricacy of spiders webs; the formal lines of an egret flock, wavey forms of ice-fields, the silhouettes of mammals and the translucencies of invertebrates.

Be sure to check out the portfolio of Brent Stirton, winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist Portfolio Award. Likewise the work of Connor Stefanison who won the Rising Star Portfolio Award and with whom Vantage spoke to in October!

For now, here are Vantage’s favourite shots from all the finalists across all the cateogires Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Captions include links to the photographer, the title, the category and additional info.

Enjoy!

László Novák, Hungary. ‘The Art Of Spiders’ (Finalist 2015, Land). Vast blankets of shimmering spider silk were lit in the soft dawn light that bathed this roadside meadow. Balatonfokajar, Hungary
Thomas P Peschak, Germany/South Africa ‘The Shark Surfer’ Aliwal Shoal, Durban, South Africa. (Finalist 2015, The Wildlife Photojournalist Award: single image). A curious blacktip shark sidles up to a paddling surfer. This popular dive site is the perfect place to test a prototype surfboard with an electromagnetic shark deterrent. ‘I wanted to illustrate a non-lethal approach to mitigating the shark-surfer conflict,’ explains Thomas. Jelly-filled pores on a shark’s snout, called ampullae of Lorenzini, can sense electricity, able to detect even the minute muscle contractions of prey preparing to flee. This hi-tech board attempts to exploit this sensitive trait by creating an electrical field that repels the shark, causing it to flee to a safer distance.
Fran Rubia, Spain. ‘The Meltwater Forest’ Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland. (Winner 2015, Details) There is magic in mud. As Fran watched the glacier’s meltwater filtering through a patch of it, trunks, branches and twigs slowly formed until an entire forest appeared. He waited for the right light so the ‘trees’ would appear to magically stand up, as if out of a child’s pop-up picture book. Trees are a rare sight in Iceland’s landscape. The Vikings in the ninth century deforested much of it, creating the country’s barren wilderness. Today, a rise in temperature linked to climate change has contributed to the arrival of new tree species in the southern parts of the country.
Michael AW, Australia. ‘A Whale of a Mouthful The Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa. (Winner 2015, Under Water). An imposing Bryde’s whale rips through a mass of sardines, gulping hundreds in a single pass. Photographing this feeding frenzy was a real challenge for Michael. Already knocked clean out of the water by whales on two occasions, he just managed to stay out of the way during this encounter. This scene happened during the annual sardine run, when billions of sardines migrate along South Africa’s Wild Coast.
Klaus Tamm, Germany. ‘Wings Of Summer’ Tuscany, Italy. (Finalist 2015, Invertebrates). A pair of black-veined white butterflies, resting either side of a vetch flower. Klaus used a wide aperture, blurring the background to a cornucopia of color. “Females of this species, on the right, look more transparent than males due to an unexplained tendency to rub their wings together, brushing off some of the scales,” explains the Natural History Museum.
Zsolt Kudich, Hungary. ‘Great Egret Awakening’ (Finalist 2015, Birds). When the River Danube flooded, this temporary lake attracted more than 1,000 great egrets. Gemenc Forest, Danube-Dráva National Park, Hungary
Georg Popp, Austria. ‘The Heart of the Swamp’ (Winner 2015, Plants). Popp says these cypress forests are some of the most beautiful places he has ever seen. The 1,000-year-old cypress trees are festooned with thick drapes of Spanish moss, which grow harmlessly on their boughs, deriving nutrients from the rain and air. The old-growth cypress in the Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana are some of the last remaining in the American deep south swamps. “Popp would spend the day navigating the tangled swamp by boat, scouting for good compositions. By recording the best locations on his GPS, he returned in darkness to wait for dawn to break,” explains the Natural History Museum.
Daniel Beltrá, Spain/USA. ‘Black Snow’ (Finalist 2015, From the Sky). The black dust/cryoconite that peppers this ice sheet is made of mineral particles — ash and soot blown by the wind. This black ice acts like a dark curtain, increasing absorption of heat and the melt rate of the area. Shot from a twin-engine plane in Ilulissat, Greenland
Fabien Michenet, France. ‘It Came From The Deep’ Tahiti, French Polynesia. (Finalist 2015, Under Water). A juvenile octopus, only two centimetres wide. “Along its arms are orange founder chromatophores — early stages of the pigment-containing cells that enable adult octopuses to change colour,” explains the Natural History Museum. “The digestive gland and ink sac, in the main part of the body known as the mantle, are surrounded by reflective tissues, making them less visible too.”
Ugo Mellone, Italy. ‘Butterfly In Crystal’ Salento, Italy. (Winner 2015, Invertebrates). A southern gatekeeper butterfly, mummified by the highly concentrated salt water, entombed in a coffin of salt. “Salt deposits,” explains the Natural History Museum, “form in rocky crevices along the coast. The seawater pools there during rough weather, then evaporates under the strong summer Sun, leaving layers of crystallised salt. This female butterfly likely fell, exhausted, and became trapped by the surface tension of the water.
Thomas P Peschak, Germany/South Africa. ‘Just Jellyfish’ Duiker Island, Western Cape, South Africa. (Finalist 2015, Under Water). Peschak wanted to make a photo of a time “before fish” While photographing Cape fur seals off South Africa’s western coast, the current propelled a large swarm of Cape box jellyfish into view. “The effects of overfishing and climate change are causing jellyfish populations to increase. Warmer waters boost their reproductive potential, while overfishing reduces the number of fish that prey on the juveniles. In turn, jellyfish eat the eggs and larvae of fish. The loss of fish will have serious consequences for their predators, including these seals,” explains the Natural History Museum.
Hans Strand, Sweden. ‘Landscape In Ash’ Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Landmannalaugar, Iceland. (Winner 2015, Land). Flying through heavy drizzle, Hans came across this “fairytale landscape” as he recalls. The dusting of ash sitting on the surface of the ice-field details the slow movements of snow and ice. The fine ash settled here after being carried on the wind from a volcanic eruption elsewhere.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 exhibition is on show at Natural History Museum until 10th April 2016.