World's finest wildlife images crowned for 2023
The winners of the Natural History Museum's prestigious
Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition have been announced, with French underwater photographer and marine biologist Laurent Ballesta awarded the overall title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 for ‘The golden horseshoe’.
The image shows a tri-spine horseshoe crab accompanied by a trio of golden trevallies.
The ancient mariner by Laurent Ballesta, France Winner, Portfolio Award ‘The golden horseshoe’ A tri-spine horseshoe crab moves slowly over the mud. Its golden protective carapace hides 12 appendages. Above the horseshoe crab, a trio of juvenile golden trevallies are poised to dart down for edible morsels ploughed up by its passage. Nikon D5 + 13mm f2.8 lens; 1/25 at f22; ISO 800; Seacam housing; 2x Seacam strobes.
The tri-spine horseshoe crab has survived for more than 100 million years but now faces habitat destruction and overfishing for food and for its blue blood, used in the development of vaccines.
But, in the protected waters of Pangatalan Island in the Philippines, there is hope for its survival.
Chair of the jury and editor, Kathy Moran says, ‘To see a horseshoe crab so vibrantly alive in its natural habitat, in such a hauntingly beautiful way, was astonishing. We are looking at an ancient species, highly endangered, and also critical to human health. This photo is luminescent.’
Laurent becomes only the second photographer in the competition’s fifty-nine-year history to be awarded the Grand Title award twice.
He was first awarded Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2021 for an image of camouflage groupers exiting a milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia.
Laurent's image was selected from 49,957 entries from 95 countries.
Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023
Seventeen-year-old Carmel Bechler from Israel was awarded Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 for his ‘Owls’ road house’, a dynamic frame of barn owls in an abandoned roadside building
Owls’ road house by Carmel Bechler, Israel Winner, 15-17 Years. Carmel Bechler discovered several barn owls in an abandoned concrete building near a busy road. Returning to where he had spotted a barn owl the previous year, Carmel and his father used the family car as a hide. He made the most of the natural light and used long exposure times to capture the light trails of passing traffic. Nikon D7500 + Tamron 18–200mm f3.5–6.3 lens; 1.3 sec at f4.8; ISO 4000.
Using the family car as hide, Carmel made the most of natural light and long exposure times to capture the light trails of passing traffic.
‘This photograph has so many layers in terms of content and composition. It simultaneously screams “habitat destruction” and “adaptation”, begging the question: If wildlife can adapt to our environment, why can’t we respect theirs?,’ says Kathy Moran.
The two Grand Title winners were selected from 19 astounding category winners. Each entry was judged anonymously by an international panel of experts on its originality, narrative, technical excellence, and ethical practice.
Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum comments, ‘Whilst inspiring absolute awe and wonder, this year’s winning images present compelling evidence of our impact on nature – both positive and negative. Global promises must shift to action to turn the tide on nature’s decline.’
The winning images will be exhibited at the Natural History Museum in London, before the exhibition tours across the UK and internationally, including to Australia, later this year.
You can see all 17 other category winners below.
Lights fantastic by Sriram Murali, India Winner, Behaviour: Invertebrates Sriram Murali showcases a night sky and a forest illuminated with fireflies. Sriram combined fifty 19-second exposures to show the firefly flashes produced over 16 minutes in the forests near his hometown. The firefly flashes start at twilight, with just a few, before the frequency increases and they pulse in unison like a wave across the forest. Canon 6D + 24mm f1.4 lens; 19 sec at f2; multiple exposures; ISO 6400; cable release; Manfrotto tripod.
Face of the forest by Vishnu Gopal, India Winner, Animal Portraits Vishnu Gopal records the moment a lowland tapir steps cautiously out of the swampy Brazilian rainforest. Finding hoofprints on a forest track near his campsite, Vishnu waited nearby. An hour later, the tapir appeared. Using a long exposure and torchlight to capture texture and movement, Vishnu framed the tapir’s side-turned head as it emerged from the forest. Nikon D850 + 14–24mm f2.8 lens at 14mm; 1/30 at f6.3; ISO 1600; torch.
The wall of wonder by Vihaan Talya Vikas, India Winner, 10 Years and Under. Vihaan Talya Vikas watches as an ornamental tree trunk spider prevents its prey from escaping. Canon EOS 7D Mark II + Laowa 15mm f4 lens; 1/200 at f5.6; ISO 100; Vanguard tripod.
Last breath of autumn by Agorastos Papatsanis, Greece Winner, Plants and Fungi Agorastos Papatsanis reveals the magic of a fungus releasing its spores in the forest. Nikon D810 + 105mm f2.8 lens; 1/40 at f36; ISO 500; Godox flash + trigger; Leofoto mini tripod.
The art of courtship by Rachel Bigsby, UK Winner, Natural Artistry Rachel Bigsby frames a gannet pair against the guano-painted curves of sandstone cliffs. From her boat in turbulent sea swell, Rachel realised that achieving her vision of showcasing gannets set against the towering cliffs would be tricky. But as the boat aligned with the rocks, she spotted this pair ‘isolated on a lower ledge, intertwining their necks and framed by streaks of guano’. Nikon D850 + Sigma 60–600mm f4.5–6.3 lens; 1/1600 at f11; ISO 5000.
Whales making waves by Bertie Gregory, UK Winner, Behaviour: Mammals Bertie Gregory tracks a pod of orcas as they prepare to ‘wave wash’ a Weddell seal. Bertie took two month-long expeditions searching for orcas. ‘We spent every waking minute on the roof of the boat, scanning,’ he says. After battling high winds and freezing conditions, he captured this remarkable behaviour with his drone. DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 28mm f2.8 lens; 1/120 at f4; ISO 100.
Life on the edge by Amit Eshel, Israel Winner, Animals in their Environment Amit Eshel witnesses a dramatic cliffside clash between two Nubian ibex. After hiking to a vantage point on the clifftop, Amit slowly crept closer, using a wide-angle lens to set the action of two clashing Nubian ibex against the dramatic backdrop. The battle lasted for about 15 minutes before one male surrendered, and the pair parted without serious injury. Canon EOS R5 + 24–70mm f2.8 lens at 45mm; 1/800 at f8; ISO 500.
The tourism bulldozer by Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar, Mexico Winner, Photojournalism. Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar (Mexico) shows the devastating path of a new cross-country tourist railway line. To reach a point from where he could launch his drone, Fernando was guided through four kilometres (2.5 miles) of an underground cave system. The result of his challenging trek was this image. DJI Mavic Mini 2 + 24mm f2.8 lens; 1/320 at f2.8; ISO 100.
Out of the blue by Ekaterina Bee, Italy Winner, 11-14 Years Ekaterina Bee shares her intimate encounter with some common bottlenose dolphins. Ekaterina’s trip to the west coast of Scotland was filled with wildlife encounters, but bottlenose dolphins were an unexpected surprise. From the boat she composed this image, which highlights the surface patterns on the water created by the dolphins’ movements. Nikon D5600 + 18–55mm f3.5–5.6 lens; 1/1600 at f4.8; ISO 320.
Silence for the snake show by Hadrien Lalagüe, France Winner, Behaviour: Birds Hadrien Lalagüe is rewarded for his patience with a perfect alignment of grey-winged trumpeters watching a boa slither past. Hadrien set up his camera trap by a track in the rainforest surrounding Guiana Space Center. He spent the next six months maintaining the camera kit against high humidity, plastic-munching ants and damage by poachers. This image was his reward. Canon EOS 100D + 10–20mm f4.5–5.6 lens at 11mm; 1/60 at f10; ISO 1600; 2x Nikon flashes; Panasonic PIR motion sensor; custom housing.
The tadpole banquet by Juan Jesús Gonzalez Ahumada, Spain Winner, Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles Juan Jesús Gonzalez Ahumada watches as toad tadpoles feast on a dead fledgling sparrow. The drama unfolded near Juan’s home when a newly fledged sparrow launched itself from a nest on his neighbour’s roof and fell into a nearby pond, where it drowned. Juan had to pick his moment to show the tadpole formation and the sparrow’s eye. Canon EOS R6 + 100mm f2.8 lens; 1/80 at f5.6; ISO 320; ring flash.
The dead river by Joan de la Malla, Spain Winner, Wetlands - The Bigger Picture Joan de la Malla provides a bird’s-eye view of the polluted Ciliwung river winding through Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. To find a time when lower air pollution allowed a clear view, Joan returned to the scene over several days. His image documents one of the most polluted rivers in the world and illustrates the growing global issue of river pollution. DJI Mavic 2 Pro + Hasselblad L1D-20c + 28mm f2.8 lens; 1/25 at f6.3; ISO 100.
The unprotected by Karine Aigner, USA Winner, Photojournalist Story Award ‘Big business’ Contestants line up to have their bobcats weighed in the March 2022 West Texas Big Bobcat Contest, the highest-paying predator-hunting contest in the USA. There are a number of prizes, one of which is for the heaviest bobcat. In 2022 the winner of that category took home US$35,530 (around £28,000). Sony RX1R II + 35mm f2 lens; 1/40 at f8; ISO 1600.
Birds of the midnight sun by Knut-Sverre Horn, Norway Winner, Urban Wildlife Knut-Sverre Horn offers a glimpse of kittiwake chicks illuminated in an abandoned factory. From his vantage point inside an abandoned fish-processing factory, Knut-Sverre kept watch on the black-legged kittiwakes tending to their chicks on the windowsill. As midnight approached, the low summer sun struck the north-facing window, sharpening the birds’ silhouettes and giving him the image that he wanted. Canon EOS R5 + 24–70mm lens at 42mm; 1/5000 at f8; ISO 100.
Last gasp by Lennart Verheuvel, the Netherlands Winner, Oceans: The Bigger Picture Lennart Verheuvel shows the final moments of a beached orca. Lying on its side in the surf, this orca had only a short time left to live. Initially rescued, it soon was stranded again on the beach and died. A study later revealed that not only was it severely malnourished, it was also extremely sick. Canon EOS R5 + 100–500mm f4.5–7.1 lens at 100mm; 1/80 at f7.1; ISO 1250.
Alpine exposure by Luca Melcarne, France Winner, Rising Star Portfolio Award. ‘The ice ibex’ To enable an early ascent into ibex territory, Luca had spent a bitterly cold night in a temporary shelter in the French Alps, having skied for six hours across the natural park. Luca thawed his camera with his breath and took the ibex’s portrait. Technical details: Nikon D850 + 600mm f4 lens; 1/5000 at f4.5 (+1 e/v); ISO 640.
Hippo nursery by Mike Korostelev, Russia Winner, Underwater Mike Korostelev reveals a hippopotamus and her two offspring resting in the shallow clear-water lake. For over two years Mike has been visiting the hippos in this lake and knew they were accustomed to his boat. He spent just 20 seconds underwater with them – enough time to get this image from a safe distance and to avoid alarming the mother. Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 17–40mm f4 lens; 1/320 at f7.1; ISO 640; Seacam housing.