Since 2012 I have been entering images in major nature photography competitions just for fun to see how my images would hold up against photographers from around the globe. The average quality of the images entered is pretty high, so it is not easy to float to the top in the judging process. The images are judged in different rounds based on image quality, composition, artistic innovation and subject attractiveness. A small selection of the images entered, which could be as high as 20,000 - 40,000 from over 100 different countries, make it into the final round of judging. From this point onwards the judging becomes very subjective as all the images in the final round are great and technically perfect. To win or become highly-honored with an image is quite an achievement, and it also helps to share your images with millions of people around the globe, as a lot of publicity is created by the major competitions with websites, special edition books and magazines and even exhibitions in leading natural history museums. It all creates awareness of what is going on in our natural world and focuses on the beauty of nature in contrast to the ever increasing human footprint and environmental challenges that lay ahead of us.
In 2014 I entered in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition from the Natural History Museum, the Windland Smith Rice International Awards "Nature's Best" and the Birds As Art 2nd International Bird Photographers Competition. With 11 images in the final round of the Birds As Art 2nd International Bird Photographers Competition, 6 images in the finals of Nature's Best and 7 images in the finals of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, I had high hopes of making it to the final selection of winners. It was a great surprise to hear that I had won the Grand Prize and a 3rd place in the Birds As Art 2nd International Bird Photographers Competition, and that two of my images became highly-honered in the Animal Antics category of Nature's Best. You can click on the link to see the other winning images: Birds As Art 2nd International Bird Photographers Competition
After landing at the beach at 6:05pm at Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica, I walked over the hill towards one of the Chinstrap colonies. The weather was bad with snow and 35 knots of wind making it cold and difficult to photograph. It was pretty amazing to see how the penguins survive in the cold and windy conditions. This Chinstrap penguin came walking up the hill towards the colony to find some protection against the harsh elements. It reminded me of happy feet with a smile on his face.
We were anchored in Geographic Harbor, a beautiful inlet surrounded by steep mountains, in Katmai National Park & Preserve. It was a rainy week with thick patches of fog drifting in and out of the inlet. The low light and wet conditions provided for difficult shooting circumstances. The tide was ripping in and out with 10 to 15 feet drops, exposing the mud flats where the fresh water river entered the salt water of the inlet. Coastal Brown bears were walking up and down the river banks in search of the first salmon of the season. The yearly salmon run had just started and attracted the bears to this high protein food source. A sow (female brown bear) and her three year old cub where inseperable as they skimmed the terrain in search for food. Often they chased salmon down in the river, with the sow catching them and the cub making loud noises. The sow always took the first bite, and left the scraps for the cub. All part of the learning process. After a round of fishing they would lay down and relax. The cub started playing with some fish scraps and had a great time rolling on its back and raising it's paws up in the air. The sow was carefully observing and kept an eye on her precious offspring. It was an amazing experience to see these animals in their natural environment and share the same space with them.
In the late afternoon, bald eagles congregate on a spit in the bay. Often, they compete in a power game over fish, hanging in the air as they challenge each other. In a split second they attack each other and jump up a couple of feet in the air. I like the Kung Fu style position of the top bald eagle in this image. To get a shot without clipping off the birds' wings, the trick is to zoom out quickly, allowing the birds to stay in the frame. Staying alert and prepared makes it possible to capture the action, which is over in 2 seconds. To me, this image represents the power characteristic of this species, the ultimate hunter.
We had a great day which started early with the crossing of the scenic Lemaire channel, Antarctica in November. I ended the day at Petermann Island, just south of the Lemaire channel. After crossing the island and photographing Gentoo penguin silhouettes against the orange sunset, I made my way back to the landing spot around 11pm. The sky towards the entrance of the Lemaire channel had turned pink and blue and was complemented with a full moon. A great opportunity to create a penguin-scape in a beautiful setting.