The Nature Photographer of the Year (NPOTY) has unveiled the 2022 winners of its prestigious competition that were chosen from 20,952 images, submitted from more than 96 countries — a record for this contest.
The Nature Photographer of the Year competition is an initiative of Nature Talks, the organization also responsible for the Nature Talks Photo Festival which takes place annually in the Netherlands
The 2022 title was given to photographer Dmitry Kokh from Russia for his ‘House of Bears” photos (below).
“Dozens of polar bears have been making themselves at home in abandoned buildings on an Arctic Island and the photographer captured remarkable photos of the them peering through windows and standing on porches. The bears evoke the emotions of the audience effectively,” NPOTY explains.
The competition can be entered in 12 categories and also for the Fred Hazelhoff portfolio award — the latter was won by the Dutch photographer David Hup who, with Michiel van Noppen, created a powerful photo portfolio titled ‘A Bear in the Backyard’.
Open to professional and non-professional photographers of all ages from around the world, the competition registration began on December 27, 2021, for the Nature Photographer of the Year 2022 edition.
Urban brown bears
The outstanding portfolio shows the life and interaction of the urban brown bear. The aim of this photo story is to document an often overlooked part of Europe: “In villages that lie in the shadows of the Carpathian Mountains, the presence of bears is clearly felt. Due to the illegal logging of the old-growth forests, their habitat and food become increasingly scarce. In search of food, they have to migrate from the ancient forests down to the villages, which regularly leads to conflicts with the inhabitants.
“Outstanding portfolio that shows the life and interaction of the urban brown bear. Using stunning colors, creative use of light and shadow, wide angle lens, variations of environmental and closeup shots of single and multiple bears, the photos in this portfolio are both artistic and carry a strong message, making people care about the animal,” explains judge Tin Man Lee about why this portfolio was selected for the Fred Hazelhoff Award.
In several towns around Transylvania, bears are honored every winter through the traditional Ursul (bear) dance. The troops from the village of Darmanesti perform at the annual festival in Comanesti. This is done to purify the land, drive away the evil spirits and welcome the new year.
Via the graveyard, situated between the forest and the village, this bear leaves the protection of the forest in search of food.
The exceptionally dense bear population in Romania is a result of the Communist era when Nicolae Ceausescu was in power and banned bear hunting – a ban from which only he and his guests were exempt. As a result, Romania now has around 6,000 bears, which is half the European population.
“The problems of the coexistence of bears and humans have now become a priority on the political agenda, but the debate on the right course of action is very complex due to the many parties involved,” Hup explains. “And while discussions continue, conflicts keep arising: Shepherds lose sleep trying to protect their sheep and bears continue to break through fences to feast on scraps.”
“The mystery surrounding the snow leopard always fascinated me,” Fonseca says. “They are some of the most difficult large cats to photograph in the wild. Not only because of their incredible stealth, but also because of the remote environment they live in.
“This photo of the highly endangered Snow Leopard is of amazing value,” said juror Karin Van Couwenberg. “The jury was convinced that the years of preparation resulted in a great photo. That is camera trap photography at its best as far as we have seen.”
“This split image combines two different moods, taking place at the same time above and below the water,” said juror Marco Gaiotti. “A dark, stormy landscape above the water contrasts with the apparently calm and still life underneath the surface, depicting toads laying eggs. The raindrops touching the water surface are the contact point between these two different worlds.”
For jury member Tin Man Lee “this image is full of the dynamic power of warm and cold. The complementary color, lines, and pattern create harmony. The fog adds mood to the excellent shot.”
Juror Myriam Dupouy explains why the judges selected this image of the Urban Kittiwakes as the winner of the Birds Category: “In a way, it’s a simple scene, but it throws you in the role of a respectful, invisible witness, as nature photographers should always be.
The point of view through a window is an interesting one. The light casts attention to simple yet tender moments. A strong photographer’s eye and a wonderfully sneak peek into an intimate moment.”
“This small owl in the center of the composition, depicted by a wide-angle lens, is perfectly inserted inside the surrounding environment. The leaves on the ground, the trees in the background, and the light filtering through the woods, all combine for the perfect setting of the tiny bird,” says juror Gaiotti about the winning image in the Youth category.
Jury member Stefan Gerrits explains why this image of an otter has been selected as the Winner in the Black and White category: “This image has a surplus of geometrical circular shapes, which makes it not only funny but very attractive.
There is the pitch-black dark circle of the hole in the lake and the half circle consisting underwater ice bubbles. The judges liked the fact that the hole is placed in the upper right corner, giving the covered body of the otter enough space under the ice.”
“Coots are medium-sized waterbirds often swimming in open waters. The angle is an excellent choice and the leading lines made for an intriguing feel,“ says juror Karin Van Couwenberg about the winner in the Nature of “De Lage Landen” category.
All kinds of benthic invertebrates are crowded together in the final remaining milky puddle of a soda lake.
One of those tiny creatures sticks out as it’s larger and has a distinct shiny blue egg sack. Branchipus schaefferi is the species name and it belongs to a group known as fairy shrimps.
They depend on periodically drying water bodies. When those dry up, most of the small crustaceans have already dispatched their eggs and they die. Their eggs can survive for centuries in the dry ground until they get flooded again and hatch.
In spring, the soda lakes are typically filled with water, containing masses of fairy shrimps which are an important food source for migrating and breeding waterbirds.
However, those soda lakes are at high risk due to rising spring temperatures which lead to faster evaporation and continuously-dropping groundwater levels, probably caused by the extensive watering of surrounding agricultural area.
With time, this enables nutrifying plants and shrubs to grow on this ecologically valuable area. Their roots penetrate the sealing layer of the soda lakes which leads to an even faster loss of water and will finally lead to a shrub encroachment of the former soda lake.
“Some of the invertebrates here, called ‘fairy shrimps’ have made it through the ages but are now in danger due to climate change and water-demanding agriculture. And with them also migrating birds feeding on them. It is an image that stops you and make you think,” says juror Dupouy.
“Compositions and lights are of course the most important elements when it comes to landscape photography,” explains Gaiotti. “We have seen many images taken by drones and being awarded because they offered a new point of view. In this case, this technology was used to offer an unusual point of view in combination with a sapient composition and great lights.”
“Lots of drama in this black-and-white image with the star-shaped cracks on ice cap surface, or rather sky in this case, getting larger in size. The dynamic, blurred, tree line gives this image a clear perspective. Great use of new technologies, imagination and post processing,” says Gerrits.
Runner Ups and Highly Commended
“As we were flying over the salt mines near Swakopmund in Namibia, I was in awe of the beautifully saturated colours below us.,” says Cédric. “When a group of flamingos was just below us, the magic was perfect. Flamingos stay in salt mines, because they find food like crayfish, mollusks and insects or seaweed.
All the category winners, runners up and highly commended photos can be found at www.naturephotographeroftheyear.com