For someone who has seen more than his fair share of wildlife photography, chairman of the jury Jim Brandenburg is frustrated by the thought that there are images that never get the attention they deserve. “I know that there are some amazing wildlife images out there that people will never get to see,” explains Jim. “A lot of photographers either aren’t great at editing their own images or don’t recognise the brilliance in some of their work. These are exactly the shots I want to see in this year’s competition.
“It takes courage to step up to the plate and put your photos forward, but the rewards for those who do can be enormous. I won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 25 years ago. It opened doors for me and allowed me to have an amazing career. The publicity it generates is astonishing and last year was one of the biggest in terms of media coverage. I really want to encourage every professional and dedicated amateur photographer out there to think about entering, because it can be a huge and fundamentally career-defining move.”
For those just starting out in the world of wildlife photography, Jim is clear about what delivers success. “I think talent is oversold,” he says. “Passion is vital. It’s what gets people out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning. It’s what drives that push for excellence, spending weeks on location to get the perfect shot. You can’t fake it.”
And trips to exotic locations don’t figure in Jim’s recipe for success. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world on wildlife assignments,” he explains, “and there seems to be a feeling that you have to head to Namibia, the Antarctic, Tibet or some other sexy location to get an image worthy enough. But the fact is that your back yard holds an incredible number of amazing subjects. I’ve been spending more time recently exploring my local patch and I’d count some of those shots among the very best in my portfolio. As my photography continues I’m discovering that my back yard is a magical place. Add a deep knowledge of an area you get to know well to a real passion for photography and you’ve got a winning combination.”
This year there are a number of new categories that launch the competition into new territory. “I’m particularly excited about the Timelapse category,” says Jim. “It will allow us to capture movement through still images and that’s a really thrilling idea. Even iPhones have the ability to capture timelapse photos these days.”
“Other new categories take us into areas that aren’t traditionally well represented – like Amphibians and Reptiles, Invertebrates, and Plants and Fungi,” he adds. “We want to make sure that we have diversity of subject matter and capture the whole of the natural world in its full glory.”
And where does he see the competition in another 50 years? “There’s no doubt that wildlife photography is driven by technology,” says Jim. “Cameras are getting smaller, lighter, more sensitive and faster. I was out the other day on a moonlight shoot and my camera could capture much more than I could see. There’s a lot going on at night and photographers spend much of their time sneaking around in the dark looking for it. I’m really excited about where this new technology will take us and how it will allow increasing numbers of people to uncover more secrets of animal behaviour.”
“I hope that photographers involved in this competition play a part in preserving the world’s fragile habitats,” he adds. “That’s why I think it’s such a valuable thing to be involved in: the belief that it really does make a difference.”