The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum is always one of my cultural highlights of the year (alongside the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery) and the 51st edition of this stunning display of images depicting the diverse natural beauty across the world is another impressive collection, which shows breathtaking snapshots of natural wonders and a surprising grace even in those moments framed by dismay and destruction.
The exhibition is divided into clearly distinguishable sections, including First Shoots (displaying images of photographers under the age of 17), Earth's Design (an aesthetically pleasing section highlighting nature's shapes and patterns), Earth's Diversity (showing a range of flora and fauna), Earth's Environments (water, land, sky and urban), Documentary (featuring the duality between humans and nature), Portfolio (showing a selection of images from the portfolios of the Rising Star Portfolio Award winners from the under 25 and 26-and-over categories), and a video about the journey to finding the people's choice winner of the year.
As soon as I entered the exhibition I was in awe of the high quality and diversity of images on display this year. The very first section is First Shoots, where the photos are taking by those under the age of 17 and the majority of my favourites were in this category which is incredible when you take a moment to realise how young the entrants are. My favourite was Winter Magic by Etienne Francey, a delicate depiction of a snowdrop flower surrounded by sprinkles of moon-shaped lights, a special effect created by him partly covering the lens. Other particularly outstanding photographs in this section included To Drink or Not by Carlos Perez Naval (in the 10 years and under category!), which shows a stand-off between a squirrel and a western gull at a bowl of water, and Battle of the Bee-Eaters by Juan van den Heever, depicting vividly coloured southern carmine bee-eaters mid-flight.
©Life Comes to Art by Juan Tapia/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015
One thing that particularly impressed me this year, and is something I haven't noticed to quite such an extent in previous years though I may have just missed it in the captions, is how uniquely many of the photographs were approached to create such fascinating images. Many of them were not a case of being in the right place at the right time, but instead were carefully planned out works that took the photographers a huge amount of patience and clever manipulation of surroundings to create. A great example is the above photograph, Life Comes to Art by Juan Tapia. One of the storehouses on Tapia's farm in Almeria is visited by swallows each year and he decided to put a painting with a hole in it in front of the broken window pane through which the birds enter, creating this fantastical photo which lingers on the border of reality and fantasy.
©Still Life by Edwin Giesbers/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015
While the entire exhibition was impressive (these are the finalists for a reason) there were a few more images I particularly loved and I want to highlight: Angel Wings by Ellen Anon (a beautiful image of ice crystals on a window), Natural Frame by Morkel Erasmus (an incredible photo in which a mother elephant frames an image of a baby elephant with her legs and the baby elephant an image of a giraffe), Still Life by Edwin Giesbers (pictured above, this shot was made by the camera being submerged into water and taking the photo from below the newt, which was floating on the surface), Wings of Summer by Klaus Tamm (a sweet image of butterflies surrounded by the soft blur of flowers), and the incredible portfolio of Connor Stefanison, winner of the Rising Star Portfolio Award, in which he shows my very favourite things about Canada in a series of beautiful photos.
This is an exhibition which cannot be missed. And while you're there, why not visit some of the permanent exhibitions too? Every time I go to the NHM I have to make a quick stop in Earth's Treasury (displaying stunning minerals and gemstones) and there are many more areas to explore for all ages; from dinosaurs and volcanoes to fossils and creepy crawlers. Top tip: try to avoid school holidays when you can. We visited on a Saturday during half-term and while I expected the museum to be extra busy I didn't take into consideration that entry would be staggered too and so we spend a fair amount of time waiting in the rain outside before we could get in. Not ideal, but the visit was definitely worth the wait and we had a wonderful time once we were inside.
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition has been extended and is now booking until 2 May 2016. Buy your tickets here.