In the beginning, some 50 years ago, the inaugural Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards featured just three categories and 500 entries. BBC Wildlife Magazine was known simply as Animals, and a young David Attenborough was on hand to present the first award, to C.V.R. Dowdeswell, for a portrait of an owl.
London’s Natural History Museum signed on in 1984, and that’s where the competition stands today — just 10 days before the entry deadline expires for the 2017 edition.
The winning photographers — plural — are awarded pride of place in a museum exhibition. Perhaps more important, the museum sponsors a travelling exhibition that tours the world throughout the year, providing the kind of exposure most nature photographers can only dream about.
Today, there are tens of thousands of entries in numerous categories, submitted from some 95 countries worldwide.
Judging is subjective, of course, which is why one of the most high-profile, sought-after categories is the self-explanatory People’s Choice Award, in which everyday shutterbugs and nature buffs — you, for example — have a say.
The London Natural History Museum recently shortlisted 25 finalists from some 50,000 entries. The winning image will appear on BBC’s web site, and in an upcoming issue of BBC Wildlife.
Here are a handful that jumped out at me — my personal Top 10, if you will.
Your choices may be quite different, of course — that’s why they call it the People’s Choice Award — but these are the ones that touched me personally. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of these takes the top award when voting closes in January.
A Mother’s Hand
Alain Mafart Renodier, France
Mafart Renodier was on a winter visit to Japan's Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park when he took this photograph of a sleeping baby Japanese macaque, its mother's hand covering its head protectively. (BBC)
Hitching a Ride
Daisy Gilardini, Canada-Switzerland
Gilardini took this image of a polar bear cub escaping deep snow by hitching a ride on its mother’s back in Manitboa’s Wapusk National Park, last March, during the early spring thaw — if minus 50 can be called a thaw.
Bence Mate, Hungary
Though this image was taken from the relative safety of a hide, Mate told BBC it was chilling to see the deadly focused eyes of this four metre (13 foot) Nile crocodile. This croc image was captured in the Zimanga Private Game Reserve, South Africa.
The Stare of Death
Johan Kloppers, South Africa
Kloppers spotted a wildebeest calf shortly after it was born in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. He did not known it then but he would witness its death later that same day, after the wildebeest herd walked past a pride of lions and was taken unawares.
Thomas Kokta, Germany
Cold temperatures on Shodoshima Island, Japan, can prompt snow monkeys to gather together in balls, for warmth. Kokta snapped this image from a tree.
Bernd Wasiolka, Germany
Wasiolka encountered a large lion pride at a waterhole in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. One of the two males spray-marked the branches of a nearby tree. Later, Wasiolka told BBC, two females sniffed the markings and for a brief moment adopted a near identical posture.
Annie Katz, United States
Katz spotted this Colorado red fox in her neighbour's field on a clear January day in Aspen, Colorado. The light was perfect, she recalled. She took the photo as the fox approached her, seemingly looking right into her camera.
Rudi Hulshof, South Africa
Hulshof wanted a way capture the uncertain future of the southern white rhino, due to poaching. He anticipated this moment, he told BBC, when two rhinos would walk past each other in Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa. Their passing close together in opposite directions created this silhouette effect and the illusion of a two-headed rhino.
Cari Hill, New Zealand
Shortly after purchasing the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya, the owners learned the only remaining Rothschild's giraffes in the country were at risk, as their sole habitat was being subdivided into smallholdings. Thery established a breeding programme to reintroduce the Rothschild's giraffe back into the wild. Today, guests can enjoy visits from resident giraffes in search of a breakfast treat.
Victor Tyakht, Russia
From the museum notes: The bird's wing acts as a diffraction grating — a surface structure with a repeating pattern of ridges or slits. The structure causes the incoming light rays to spread out, bend and split into spectral colours, producing this shimmering rainbow effect.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards are co-sponsored and produced by the Natural History Museum, in London.
Voting for the People's Choice Award closes Jan. 10. You can cast your own vote here, by following this link:
An exhibition of this year’s winners will be on display at London's Natural History Museum until Sept. 10.