Best shots: Nature TTL Photographer of the Year Awards 2021
Photographers explore ocean depths and wild terrains in 2021 awards
From orangutans climbing trees in Borneo to the Northern Lights illuminating the sky over Norway, photographers across the world excelled themselves in this year’s Nature TTL Photographer of the Year competition.
The judging panel had more than 8,000 entries and nine categories to deliberate over before naming the winners of both the Photographer of the Year and Young Photographer of the Year awards. First prize went to Canadian Thomas Vijayan, who spent many hours in a tree in Borneo waiting for an orangutan to cross his path to capture his topsy-turvy trophy shot. The young photographer prize went to 13-year-old Thomas Easterbrook from Buckinghamshire, who was an age-group winner at the Natural History Museum (NHM)’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 .
The competition judges included wildlife broadcaster Lizzie Daly, actor and conservationist Shannon Elizabeth, and esteemed photographers Mark Carwardine, Sam Rowley and Margot Raggett. Vijayan takes home a cash prize of £1,500 and Easterbrook will receive a £250 camera voucher.
‘The World is Going Upside Down’ by Thomas Vijayan
While travelling in Borneo, Vijayan played with photographic perspective. “To get this shot, I selected a tree that was in the water so that I could get a good reflection of the sky and its leaves on the tree. The water formed a mirror, making the image look upside-down,” he says. The selected tree was located in a path regularly used by orangutans in the area, and the photographer’s patience clearly paid off.
‘My New Toy’ by Celia Kujala
A self-described explorer and photonaturalist, Kujala snapped this underwater shot while diving off Canada’s Hornby Island. The sea lion pictured was playing with a starfish when it caught the photographer’s eye. “Play is very important in the development of young Steller sea lions,” she says. Kujala hopes this striking image of the sea lion playing with its new-found toy will encourage viewers to help protect the species.
‘The Race’ by Yevhen Samuchenko
The Ukrainian photographer’s unexpected snap was highly commended in the urban wildlife category. Taken in Hampi, India, Samuchenko was with friends when “a group of langurs jumped on these bicycles and began to frolic around.” The group kept their distance at first, in fear of scaring off the monkeys, but the photographer was able to get close enough to snap what he considers a “comical shot”.
‘Spoilt for Choice’ by Thomas Easterbrook
Easterbrook, 13, was watching this starling murmuration when a peregrine “came out of nowhere” to attack, he says. “I was pleased to capture it at work!”
‘Sleepy Polar Bear’ by Dennis Stogsdill
Stogsdill won the Wild Portraits category with this scene, captured in Svalbard, Norway. “The soft afternoon skies created the perfect backdrop for a ‘sleepy bear’,” says the photographer, who is as experienced at catching bears in Alaska on camera as he is elephants in Tanzania.
‘A Predator’s Playground’ by Charl Stols
South Africa-born and raised, Stols has been a photographer since 2003 and is now based in the Chobe region of Botswana. You can take his word for it, “as bizarre as it might seem to us, jumping up and down on a giraffe carcass and playing with the tail of a dead animal is as normal as it can be for a curious lion cub”.
‘The Door’ by Jose Luis Ruiz Jimenez
In 2020, Jimenez was a winner at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards (NHM) with an image of a family of great crested grebes. For Nature TTL he turned to barn owls, and this inquisitive specimen in particular, found peeking out of the door of an abandoned house in El Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cadiz in southwest Spain.
‘Fight in the Mountains’ by Raphael Schenker
Schenker was named runner-up in the Under-16 category with this striking image of two mountain goats in combat. Taken in Switzerland, the young photographer says he witnessed the father of the goats teaching them to fight one another.
‘Floral Bath Tub’ by Mousam Ray
A crimson sunbird is seen enjoying cooling water pooled in the petal of a banana flower in India. Ray’s images often pick birds as their subject, and in this instance he notes the sunbird is “showing a very rare behaviour”. It’s “as if nature creates a floral bath tub for her”, he says.
‘Nature’s Pitfall’ by Samantha Stephens
Stephens joined wildlife researchers in Ontario, Canada, to capture this extraordinary image of a pair of salamanders, caught within a northern pitcher plant. Recent scientific findings brought to light a surprising phenomenon: that the pitcher plants are able to trap and prey on salamanders. Typically a pitcher would contain one animal at a time, Stephens says, and seeing two she realised “it was a special – and fleeting – moment”.
‘Snow Monster’ by Amit Ashel
Ashel spent six days in eastern Mongolia searching for a Pallas’s cat, before finding his “snow monster” buried beneath a recently fallen flurry. The species is thought to be at risk, with various factors such as habitat fragmentation and declining prey contributing. “Its ecology remains poorly understood, impairing the development of conservation strategies,” says Ashel.
‘Starry Night’ by Bence Máté
This night-time shot was highly commended in the Camera Traps category, in which images of a wood mouse and a pine marten took first and second place respectively. Here, Hungarian photographer Máté’s image was taken over a 45-second duration, and captures the moving shadow of a fallow deer against a starlit sky, with a “ghostly effect”.