Young wildlife photo contest winners are an inspiration to all ages

By Geoff Harris

Here is a nice blog to get everyone in a happy mood for the Christmas holidays after a difficult few months; the winners of the RSPA Young Photographer of the Year competition have been announced.

The winning image, Mind your Head, was taken by ‘17 year-old Jake Kneale from Pewsey, Wiltshire, during lockdown in June, and was singled out from a record 11,000 entries this year.

Jake entered his winning image into the new ‘Small World’ category which was launched specifically to recognise how measures to control the pandemic will have limited how far young photographers could travel to take their photos. He was also awarded first prize in the competition’s Portfolio category for his series of striking swan images.

“During lockdown I set up a camera trap on an area of farm land close to my home with the hope of photographing wildlife passing through the gate,” Jake explained. “I was delighted when I captured this roe deer buck passing through, seeming to duck its head to pass underneath an overhanging bush. I like how this image conveys the idea of wildlife having areas more to themselves during lockdown.”

This year’s awards were blind-judged online by a panel of experts in wildlife photography, including photographer and TV presenter and RSPCA Vice President Chris Packham. The panel also included award-winning wildlife photographer and filmmaker, BBC drone pilot and new judge, Sam Rowley, wildlife photographer and former competition winner Catriona Parfitt

Other category winners and runners-up in the main Awards included Molly Tolson (14), for her winning picture in the 12-15 mobile category of her pet lamb launching himself from a hay bale.

The runner-up in the Picture Perfect Pets category was Felix Maidment (12) for his photo of his new kitten with enormous bat-like ears.

Thomas Easterbrook (12) took an image of a busy flying bee which got a Commended award in the Small World category.

“I’m really pleased to see everyday, overlooked animals given some leverage here.” Added Chris Packham. “It’s a new take on something very familiar that normally gets a bad press. From a wonderfully commanding image of a woodlouse that looks like an alien to the dynamic composition of two pigeons, one with a scabby foot, it’s nice to see so many creative photos of a range of wildlife and people’s pets in such a strong competition. It needs real imagination to make commonplace species interesting, and demonstrates that the photographer has been really innovative.

So, what can fellow wildlife photographers learn from this year’s winning entries from the talented youngsters? As Chris Packham pointed out, you should not assume that you always need to get images of magnificent but notoriously hard-to-photograph creatures such as stags. Using a macro lens, you can get some great close-ups of bugs, or zoom in to get an interesting close up of a garden bird.

Another really good tip is to go low. If you always use a tripod fully extended you’re showing people a view they could easily see themselves. Placing your camera very low to the ground gives you a different perspective. This helps to hold the viewers’ interest for longer.

When it comes to focussing for animal and wildlife shots, we strongly recommend trying to focus on the eyes – simply place your camera’s AF point over the creature’s eye, where at all possible.It’s the same principle as with human portraits, as the eyes are the window to the soul. Then, try to use a longer lens or a fast prime lens to blur the background on animal shots so your main subject really stands out. Another good tip is not to crop too tightly: yes, you want the creature to ‘pop’ from the frame but it’s also good to give it a bit of breathing space.

Hopefully you will get plenty of time over the Christmas holidays to go out and try and get some winter wildlife shots. Remember the importance of good light (so early in the morning is ideal). In addition to frost, ice or snow, it pays to always be on the look out for other things that define the cold season. Strong evocations of winter include frozen ponds, bare trees, breath vapours and long shadows from the low angle of the sun. Happy (photographic) hunting!

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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