Awards evening at the WPY 2013

I’m am both thrilled and honoured to announce that my image, “Sticky Situation” has won the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 award for Bird Behaviour.

In my industry of wildlife photography, this is the highest honour bestowed from the leaders in wildlife photography, BBC wildlife and the Natural History Museum in London.

Photography is art and thus very subjective. What is beautiful to one person does not necessary strike an emotional cord with another. But, if you do photography for your own enjoyment, regardless of what anyone else thinks, then you’re on the right track.

I have always been in love with the African wilderness ever since I can remember. My dream as a young boy was to become a game ranger but instead I followed in my father’s footsteps and became an engineer. That at least gave me the opportunity to buy camera equipment and to realise my dream of becoming a wildlife photographic guide which I pursued a few years later. Wildlife photography has always been a tool through which I could express my intimate relationship with the natural world in my own creative way and from day one the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has been a great inspiration. Not only is it the ultimate recognition for any wildlife photographer but the photos they choose are always very artistic with subtle tones, amazing action, new angles on common subjects or just creative and different. They evoke an emotion in the viewer and I’ve always tried to take such images.This year’s competition attracted over 43,000 entries from 98 countries. I’ve always considered myself a bird photographer, so naturally I’m proud that it was one of my bird photos that took top honours.

The awards ceremony is the Oscars of wildlife photography. It is, of course, exclusive with only winners, runner-ups and commended photographers that are extended an invite along with other VIPs in the wildlife photography industry. The ceremony is held each year in London’s Natural History museum under the dinosaur skeleton in the museum’s main hall. It’s a magical evening where nature photographers swap their outdoor outfits for tuxedos. The evening starts with drinks and dinner. This is followed by the presentation of the awards, and then an after party that includes an exclusive preview of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Most photographers spend the week in London. It kicks off with two days of WildPhotos – an event where the heavy weights of global wildlife photography speak about the stories behind their photos. The night before the awards ceremony is a cocktail evening for the photographers where they can meet the organisers of the event. The awards ceremony is held on the Tuesday night, followed by media interviews the next morning. Wednesday and Thursday evening is set aside for museum members, staff and VIPs for private viewing of the exhibition and a great chance for the photographers to talk about their work. Filling in the gaps are interviews and talks by the winning photographers which all concludes on the Sunday.

I named my photo “Sticky Situation” and I took this photo because it is most unusual to see a large bird trapped in a spider web. In May, the seafaring Lesser Noddies head for land to breed. Their arrival on the tiny island of Cousine in the Seychelles coincides with the webs of the red-legged golden orb-web spiders peaking in size. The female spiders, which can grow to the size of a human hand, create colossal conjoined webs up to 1.5 metres in diameter in which the tiny males gather. These are woven from extremely strong silk fibres and are suspended up to six metres above the ground, high enough to catch passing bats and birds, though it’s flying insects that the spiders are after. Noddies regularly fly into the webs. Even if they struggle free, the silk clogs up their feathers so they can’t fly. This noddy was exhausted, totally still, its fragile wing so fully stretched that I could see every feather. The only way to accentuate the female spider was to crop the wings of the noddy in my composition. Only human intervention could save the bird. But a stickier threat awaited it on the same island: native pisonia, or cabbage trees. These are favourite nesting places for Lesser Noddies, whose feathers get covered in the trees’ sticky seeds. If the load is too heavy, they can’t fly, fall to the ground and die. But there is an ultimate twist to the story: the corpses provide compost for the seeds, which give rise to new nesting places for future generations of Noddies.

Technical details of the photo:

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 70-200mm f2.8 lens; 1/500 sec at f5.6 (-1 e/v); ISO 1600; Canon 580EX flash.

Did I free the bird?

The answer is, no. As luck would have it, I took this photo a few minutes before I had to leave the island by boat. I did however tell the researchers on the island about the bird and where is was located when they came to say good bye. Communication to the island is difficult, so I never had the chance to confirm that the bird was saved, but I’m sure they would have saved it!

If you’d like to buy my winning photo as a limited edition print click here!

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About the Author

Isak is a specialist wildlife photographic guide from South Africa. His discovery of nature's special moments at a young age shaped his aspirations of today: to showcase the beauty of his continent's natural wonders in a creative way.

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