GRAND TITLE WINNER - ANIMAL PORTRAITS: 'Essence of elephants' by Greg du Toit

GRAND TITLE WINNER – ANIMAL PORTRAITS: ‘Essence of elephants’ by Greg du Toit

ANIMALS IN THEIR ENVIRONMENT - RUNNER UP: 'Surfing Delight' by Wim van den Heever

ANIMALS IN THEIR ENVIRONMENT – RUNNER UP: ‘Surfing Delight’ by Wim van den Heever

ANIMAL PORTRAITS - JOINT RUNNER-UP: 'Showdown' by Peter Delaney

ANIMAL PORTRAITS – JOINT RUNNER-UP: ‘Showdown’ by Peter Delaney


It was a proud night for South Africa and especially for ODP Safaris at the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. The occasion took place at the Natural History Museum (co-hosts of the illustrious annual competition) in London. The winning photographers from all corners of the globe gathered at the beautiful venue for the sought after announcements and presentations hosted at a glittering formal gala evening. 43000 entries from acclaimed photographers around the world are evaluated to define the ‘short list’ of only 100 images. Photographers aspire to be awarded a place on the ‘short list’, an achievement that eclipses many others. ODP Safaris and Friends were not only well represented in the final 100, they went on to scoop runner-up and Photographer of the Year awards in different categories.

The BBC wildlife awards in London has just been such an incredible event. A huge honour to be here and share the event with the worlds best wildlife photographers. Although we had stiff completion from the likes of esteemed photographers such as the National Geographic boys our South African team of photographers just dominated the world stage. Greg Du Toit taking the overall competition as the wildlife photographer of the year and a few of the others in the mix as well such as Hannes Lochner, Isak Pretorius, Andrew Schoeman, Peter Delaney, Lou Coetzer and Brent Stirton. A special mention has to go to Paul Souders as an honorary almost SA photographer. Congrats to each and every one of the photographers that places and thank you Rosamund Kidman Cox and the other wonderful people that make this completion possible.

NATURE IN BLACK AND WHITE - RUNNER-UP: 'Shot in the dark' by Andrew Schoeman

NATURE IN BLACK AND WHITE – RUNNER-UP: ‘Shot in the dark’ by Andrew Schoeman

ANIMAL PORTRAITS - JOINT RUNNER-UP: 'Curiosity and the cat' by Hannes Lochner

ANIMAL PORTRAITS – JOINT RUNNER-UP: ‘Curiosity and the cat’ by Hannes Lochner

BEHAVIOUR BIRDS - WINNER: 'Sticky situation' by Isak Pretorius

BEHAVIOUR BIRDS – WINNER: ‘Sticky situation’ by Isak Pretorius

Greg du Toit (South Africa)
Essence of elephants
Ever since he first picked up a camera, Greg has photographed African elephants. ‘For many years,’ he says, ‘I’ve wanted to create an image that captures their special energy and the state of consciousness that I sense when I’m with them. This image comes closest to doing that.’ The shot was taken at a waterhole in Botswana’s Northern Tuli Game Reserve, from a hide (a sunken freight container) that provided a ground-level view. Greg chose to use a slow shutter speed to create the atmosphere he was after and try ‘to depict these gentle giants in an almost ghostly way.’ He used a wide-angle lens tilted up to emphasise the size of whatever elephant entered the foreground, and chose a narrow aperture to create a large depth of field so that any elephants in the background would also be in focus. Greg had hoped the elephants would turn up before dawn, but they arrived after the sun was up. To emphasise the ‘mysterious nature’ of these ‘enigmatic subjects’, he attached a polarising filter and set his white balance to a cool temperature. The element of luck that added the final touch to his preparation was the baby elephant, which raced past the hide, so close that Greg could have touched her. The slow shutter speed conveyed the motion, and a short burst of flash at the end of the exposure froze a fleeting bit of detail.Nikon D3s + 16-35mm f4 lens + polarising filter; 1/30 sec at f22; ISO 800; Nikon SB-900 flash + SC28 remote cord; mini-tripod; Nikon cable-release. ]

Wim van den Heever (South Africa)
Surfing delight
Wim began to regret setting out in such a small boat that day. His tough-plastic camera bags were leaking salt water onto his precious camera, the heavy swell made it a challenge to balance, and he had painful cramp in his arm from holding the heavy lens to his eye. ‘I had to concentrate hard’, Wim says, ‘on keeping the dolphins in the viewfinder while not falling out of the boat.’ But the moment the mass of bottlenose dolphins exploded in unison, he knew it was all worth it. The perfect backdrop for such a serendipitous moment was the backlit curtain of sparkling spray. Some scientists argue that dolphins don’t play for the sheer fun of it in the way we humans do. What Wim observed that day off Port St Johns, South Africa, suggests otherwise.Nikon D4 + 200-400mm f4 lens; 1/3200 sec at f8 (-0.7 e/v); ISO 1000. ]

Peter Delaney (Ireland)
It was midday, and Peter had arrived at a waterhole in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. Scores of white-backed and lappet-faced vultures covered an eland carcass, squabbling over the meat. ‘Two things hit me simultaneously,’ says Peter. ‘The vile stench of rotting flesh and the intense buzz of flies.’ The white-backed vultures were surprisingly violent as they vied for the best feeding positions. This particular individual had backed off from a fight but was about to re-enter the fray. Covered in dust, wings spread, head lowered, it reminded Peter of a gladiator in his chariot, lining up for a charge. Its picture is a portrayal of the true character of this feisty bird. [ Nikon D2Xs + 200-400mm f4 lens + 1.4x teleconverter; 1/1250 sec at f9; ISO 400; window mount; Gimbal head. ]

Andrew Schoeman (South Africa)
Shot in the dark
On a night drive in the Timbavati Nature Reserve, South Africa, Andrew began following two male lions on patrol. From his vehicle, he watched them as they walked at a leisurely pace, scent-marking, investigating smells they came across and, every so often, stopping to listen. The pair eventually settled in a small clearing in the bush, all the while alert to the night sounds. Andrew wanted to capture the intense expression of one of the lions, but it was only when the headlights of an approaching vehicle illuminated part of its face that he got the chance. The second bit of luck was that the lion didn’t move in that brief moment, allowing him to be isolated in sharp profile against the blackness of the night. Nikon D4 + 200-400mm f4 lens; 1/100 sec at f4; ISO 3200; beanbag + panning plate. ]

Hannes Lochner (South Africa)
Curiosity and the cat
Hannes has spent nearly five years perfecting his remote wireless technology to photograph intimate portraits of wild African animals, by night especially. In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari, South Africa, he set up one camera near a waterhole, hiding it from lions especially, which might play with it or carry it off. On this particular evening, he was settled in his vehicle, just as the sun was setting and the dust in the air creates a special kind of Kalahari light, when a pride of lions arrived. By repeatedly clicking the shutter, he coaxed the ever-curious cubs forward. This bold individual gazed into the camera lens as it stepped forwards to sniff the strange object. ‘All the camera settings were on manual,’ explains Hannes, ‘and I had pre-focused. So I could do no more than hope I had judged the lighting and angle correctly.’ He had done so, capturing the intimate portrait and the eye-contact he was after.Nikon D3 + 16-35mm f4 lens; 1/60 sec at f16; ISO 3200; Nikon R1C1 strobe; Pocket Wizard XX00 wireless remote. ]

Isak Pretorius (South Africa)
Sticky situation
In May, the seafaring lesser noddies head for land to breed. Their arrival on the tiny island of Cousine in the Seychelles coincides with peak web size for the red-legged golden orb-web spiders. The female spiders, which can grow to the size of a 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 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, says Isak, ‘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. And it was only human intervention that saved 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. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 70-200mm f2.8 lens; 1/500 sec at f5.6 (-1 e/v); ISO 1600; Canon 580EX flash. ]


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