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The story behind world’s best pictures of nature

We reveal the images of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, one of the most prestigious contest of nature photography.

One instant, one unique moment is caught by the lens. The always moving nature is now captured in motionless spectacular images. Although most of our fascination for those photographs comes from feeling we’re spying the wild in the opportune moment, the truth is they are not randomly taken. Behind nature’s best photos there is a lot or preparation, hours of studying the surroundings and the photographer’s previous composition in his head of that glimpse he wishes to immortalize. But, how do you prepare for the unpredictable?

Next October 18th we will know who the winners of Wildlife Photographer of the Year are. For the moment, London’s Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine –contest organizers- had made public the finalists chosen from more than 95 countries and 50,000 photographs.

Through The Glass


A salmantino bat has invade half of the world’s journals. It was “haunted” by Mario Cea’s camera last summer in Salamanca, when the animal was flying as part of its habitual night search for mosquitoes. Cea admits to that his picture of the bat going through the glass was no improvisation; it had grown first in his head.

In one of his going outs to the countryside, the photographer watched “how from an old abandoned house came out a lot of bats just by nightfall”. After a great deal of field work, hours observing these animals’ behavior and their chaotic way of flying both in and out the house in the dark, Mario imagined the picture he wanted to take: “a glass that must be carefully well illuminated from behind with artificial light so it only shows us its edges and a bat going through it with perfect precision and froze in the exact moment”.

Standing in the night in front of that broken window with his tripod, Mario used the high velocity technics that has being practicing since a decade. To do so, he needs “several flash units to capture the incredibly fast movements of a bat flying”. He worked with the light of these flashes to enhance the glass edges. Despite

Even with the previous preparation, it is necessary to do several sessions to “solve inaccuracies until obtaining the desired picture”. A lot of pictures are taken in order to later choosing the best candidates. In this specific case, Cea took more than 40 photographs to afterwards selecting two or three. “Then you have to choose the best one taking into account the composition, lighting, approach, etc.”


For this finalist the most complicated thing with this type of photographs is that “models are unpredictable. Wild animals come and go as they please and you can’t make them pose the way you want. That’s why is so important to know their behavior, eating habits, their environment, etc… All that helps us being more successful in our sessions”.

The Mystery of The Invisible Fish


Iago Leonardo is another finalist along with his photograph of some fish that mysteriously become invisible in open ocean, where there is no place to hide. This photographer fell in love with ocean in Galicia and now works in Mexico. There he found a special permit from CONANP (National Comision of Natural and Protected Areas, in Spanish) to take pictures of natural reserve Contoy, near Cancun.

Iago tells us about how he was one of the first few people to go scuba diving in those clear and protected waters and then started to experiment with underwater photography. “Every day I investigated with the whole scuba diving equipment and afterwards -in the mornings or evenings- I had a little free time so I went again for a swim”. In these expeditions he found a shoal. “These fish were almost always there and I have taken a million photos of them”.

His participant photograph shows two kinds of fish. In the bottom part of the frame there is the Mexican specie called Chac-chí. In the upper part of the frame there is a Selene vomer shoal that camouflage themselves while playing with light.

These fish’s camouflage technique has always intrigue many scientists from all over the world. Iago explains they use the sunlight refraction to almost disappear the water. “In fact, in the original picture you can’t even see them”, says the photographer that had to use the enhancement permitted by the contest to make them a little more visible.

Of the numerous photos Iago took of these “invisible” fish, this is his favorite one. It was taken with natural light and has a special vertical disposition where the other fish shoal creates an incredible contrast.

Iago acknowledges that doing underwater photography in not easy. He practiced scuba diving in Galicia since he was 16 years old; “I have always been under water”, he says, “you have to passionate for this kind of pictures and be prepared for handling a professional camera inside a special case and under water.”

The picture had been sleeping in Iago’s computer since 2009 among many others of the same fish. Now, it is one of the finalists for Wildlife Photography.

The Photography That Began As a Drawing

Some fishermen may use the whales to localize the herring shoals. Likewise, many whales have during the years learned the sounds from specific fishing boat when they retrieve their fishing gear, and thereby seek to the boats with the hope to get a “free meal”. This is seemingly a win-win-situations for both parties, but some whales also actively tries to steal the fish form the fishing gear, which can in some cases destroy both the fishing gear and the herring caches. This has led to a debate about the fishing quotas and the interactions between whales and fishing boats. These interactions have also lead to an increasing number of accident where the whales have been entangled in the fishing gear. I developed my own underwater housing to be able to take split pictures like this under very low light conditions. Ordinary underwater housings for split pictures will not work due to several optical challenges during low light conditions. (some dust/ flare due to salt crustal on the underwater housing glass is removed in the digital post-processing). Canon 5DIII, Canon 11-24 f4; 1/200 sec;   f/6,3;   ISO 640, self made underwater housing, Lee filter 1.2.

Audun Rikardsen’s photograph is one of the favorites to win and that has drawn a lot of attention. It portraits both surface and underwater. A killer whale shares its herring booty with a fishing boat while numerous seagulls try to get their part. This is not a randomly taken picture.

Audun, professor and researcher of artic and marine biology at the Tromsø University, has always been fascinated for the relationship between humans and nature. For many years he has documented the interactions of wales with fishermen. Sometimes fishermen follow the wales that will lead them to fish; sometimes it’s the other way around.

Rikardsen said to the Norwegian journal iTromsø that he had planned the picture so much that he even made a drawing of it. “The funniest thing is that the drawing and the final photograph are almost identical, only the boat’s direction is different”. Being at the perfect time and place may not always be enough.


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