First Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 images revealed. 

A magnificent lioness, a glowing firefly larva and a fish looking for love are the focus of some phenomenal images from Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 (the 54th competition).

Wildlife Photographer of the Year showcases the world’s best nature photography and photojournalism. Through their ability to inspire curiosity and wonder, the 100 images showcase wildlife photography as an art form. They also challenge us to consider both our place in the natural world and our responsibility to protect it.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. Here are the first images:

Cool cat by Isak Pretorius, South Africa

Highly commended 2018, Animal Portraits

A lioness drinks from a waterhole in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. She is one of the Mfuwe Lodge pride – two males, five females and five cubs. Isak had been keeping watch on them while they slept off a feast from a buffalo kill the night before.

Lions kill more than 95 per cent of their prey at night and may spend 18–20 hours resting. When this female got up and walked off, Isak anticipated that she might be going for a drink, and so he headed for the nearest waterhole. Though lions can get most of the moisture they need from their prey and even from plants, they drink regularly when water is available.

Isak positioned his vehicle on the opposite side of the waterhole, close to the edge, steadying his long lens in the low light on a bean bag. Sure enough, the lioness appeared through the tall, rainy-season grass and hunched down to drink, occasionally looking up or sideways. With perfect timing, Isak caught her gaze and her tongue, lapping the water, framed by the wall of lush green.

lioness zambia © Isak Pretorius - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 682

© Isak Pretorius – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Looking for love by Tony Wu, USA

Highly commended 2018, Animal Portraits

Accentuating his mature appearance with pastel colours, protruding lips and an outstanding pink forehead, this Asian sheepshead wrasse sets out to impress females and see off rivals, which he will head-butt and bite. Tony has long been fascinated by the species’ looks and life history. Individuals start out as females, and when they reach a certain age and size – up to a metre (more than 3 feet) long – can transform into males.

Long-lived and slow-growing, the species is intrinsically vulnerable to overfishing. It favours rocky reefs in cool waters in the Western Pacific, where it feeds on shellfish and crustaceans, though little more is known about it. In a window of calm, amid high seas, Tony reached Japan’s remote Sado Island, to reveal some of the drama of the wrasses’ lives. Here, he conveys the suitor’s earnest intentions, written large on his face.

© Tony Wu - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 683

© Tony Wu – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Kitten combat by Julius Kramer, Germany.

Highly commended 2018, Behaviour: Mammals

It had been more than a year since Julius set up his camera trap in Germany’s Upper Bavarian Forest, and he had got just two records of Eurasian lynx. He was on the brink of giving up when a biologist colleague insisted that this was ‘such a typical spot for lynx’.

Like many solitary cats, the males have expansive home ranges, within which one or more females live. Most active at dawn and dusk, they are powerfully built, with slightly longer hindlimbs for pouncing on prey. They hunt mainly herbivores, such as deer, which brings them into conflict with hunters.

Julius went on to weather problems including failed batteries, humidity, deep snow and spider webs before his luck changed dramatically. Two six-month-old kittens turned up to play. Honing their hunting skills with joyful exuberance, they rewarded Julius with pictures and the hope that the population might be growing.

© Julius Kramer - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 682

© Julius Kramer – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Witness by Emily Garthwaite, UK

Highly commended 2018, Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Single Image

As soon as he saw Emily, the sun bear hurried to the front of his filthy cage. ‘Every time I moved, he would follow me.’ He was just one of several sun bears kept behind the scenes at a zoo in Sumatra, Indonesia, in conditions Emily says were ‘appalling’.

Sun bears are the world’s smallest bears, now critically endangered. In the lowland forests of Southeast Asia, they spend much of their time in trees, eating fruit and small animals, using their claws to prise open rotten wood in search of grubs. They are threatened by rampant deforestation and the demand for their bile and organs for traditional Chinese medicine. People involved in illegal logging and clearance for oil palms are also linked to animal trafficking. When this sun bear saw the keeper, he started screaming. It was a chilling noise. Even more chilling was the nearby taxidermy museum with its stuffed pangolins and Sumatran tigers.

© Emily Garthwaite - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 684

© Emily Garthwaite – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Mister Whiskers by Valter Bernardeschi, Italy

Highly commended 2018, Animal Portraits  

It was a bright summer’s night when Valter came across the walruses. They were feeding just off an island in the Norwegian archipelago off Svalbard. Putting on his wetsuit, and using a couple of monopod poles and a float to extend his camera in front of him, Valter slipped into the icy water. Immediately, a few curious walruses – mainly youngsters – began swimming towards him.

Clumsy on land, these weighty giants now moved with ease and speed. Keeping at pole’s length, he was able to take this intimate portrait of the distinctive whiskered faces of a youngster and its watchful mother. Walruses use their highly sensitive whiskers and snout to search out bivalve molluscs (such as clams) and other small invertebrates on the ocean floor.

In the cold water, their thick protective skin appears grey when blood flow to its surface is reduced, but darker, reddish‑brown when they are out of water and have warmed up. The tusks are not used for feeding but for display among the males, for defence against polar bears and for hauling themselves out, especially onto sea ice. They will rest on ice floes between bouts of feeding and even give birth on them.

© Valter Bernadeschi - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 683

© Valter Bernadeschi – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The upside-down flamingos by Paul Mckenzie, Ireland/Hong Kong

Highly commended 2018, Creative visions

Reflected on the still surface of Lake Bogoria, lesser flamingos move with synchronicity through the shallow waters of this alkaline-saline lake in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. For a photographer who enjoys creating photographs that challenge initial perceptions, Paul was drawn to the clear reflection of the birds and the pink shades of the flock – it was a scene ripe for some experimentation.

Lying prone in a quagmire of thick mud on the lakeshore, he spent an hour slowly edging closer, while watching the orchestrated movement of the flamingos as they bowed their long necks to dip their bills upside down in the salty water to filter out their microscopic food – blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) – before lifting their heads in unison to move on a short distance for more filter-feeding. Focusing on the birds’ red legs and framing the shot to include the reflection of the upright birds, Paul rotated the image 180 degrees in post-production to create a more abstract, reflective image.

flamingo dance © Paul Mckenzie - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

© Paul Mckenzie – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Eye to eye by Emanuele Biggi, Italy

Highly commended 2018, Animals in their environment

The stench was unbearable as Emanuele searched the carcasses for life. Fed by the sea, the desert coast of Peru’s Paracas National Reserve teems with life. A colony of South American sea lions supplies the corpses – the result of illness, injuries (some from conflict with fisheries) or occasional die-offs triggered by El Niño events (when warming of the sea reduces prey availability).

The decaying flesh sustains insects and crustaceans, in turn drawing larger predators. Many of the carcasses were flat or too close to the sea, but eventually Emanuele found his frame. A young male Peru Pacific iguana (distinctive black chevrons on its throat) had joined the feast within, sheltered from the harsh sun and wind. Lying on the beach, choked by the vile smell until the iguana peeped through the eye socket, Emanuele encapsulated the dependence of terrestrial life on the ocean.

© Emanuele Biggi - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 683

© Emanuele Biggi – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Flight by Sue Forbes, UK

Highly commended 2018, Behaviour: Birds

For days, Sue scanned rough seas in the Indian Ocean. ‘We’d often see flying fish,’ she says, ‘but only occasionally would there be boobies.’ Then, one morning – northeast of D’Arros Island in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles – she awoke to find tranquil water and a single juvenile red-footed booby, circling.

These ocean‑going birds – the smallest booby species, with a metre-wide (3-foot) wingspan – spend most of their time at sea, flying long distances with ease. Sharp-eyed, they swoop down to seize prey, mainly squid and flying fish. Their bodies are streamlined for plunge‑diving – nostrils closed and wings pinned back – and nimble enough to grab flying fish in mid-air.

Before breaking the surface to escape predators such as tuna and marlin, flying fish build up tremendous speed under water, to glide, airborne, on their stiff pectoral fins. Sue kept her eye on the bird. She had no idea when and where a chase might happen. ‘Suddenly, a fish leapt out’, she says, ‘and down came the booby.’ With quick reactions, Sue captured the fleeting moment of the pursuit. The booby missed, and the fish got away.

© Sue Forbes - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 682

© Sue Forbes – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The meerkat mob by Tertius A Gous, South Africa

Highly commended 2018, Behaviour: Mammals

When an Anchieta’s cobra reared its head and moved towards two meerkat pups
near their warren on Namibia’s Brandberg Mountain, the rest of the pack – foraging nearby – reacted almost instantly. Rushing back, the 20-strong group split into two: one group grabbed the pups and huddled a safe distance away, the other took on the snake. Fluffing up their coats, tails raised, the mob edged forwards, growling.

When the snake lunged, they sprang back. This was repeated over and over for about 10 minutes. Tertius had a ringside seat from his vehicle and relished the chance to capture such intense interaction between the meerkat pack and the little known Anchieta’s cobra. Focusing on the snake’s classic profile and flicking tongue, he also caught the expressions of fear and aggression among the meerkats, some facing their attacker and one fleeing. Finally, the cobra gave up and disappeared down a burrow into the warren. The meerkats reunited and scurried away, most probably to an alternative – snake-free – warren in their territory.

© Tertius-A-Gous - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 631

© Tertius-A-Gous – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Glass-house guard by Wayne Jones, Australia

Highly commended 2018, Underwater

On the sandy seabed off the coast of Mabini in the Philippines, a yellow pygmy goby guards its home – a discarded glass bottle. It is one of a pair, each no more than 4 centimetres (1 and a half inches) long, that have chosen a bottle as a perfect temporary home. The female will lay several batches of eggs, while the male performs guard duty at the entrance.

Setting up his camera a few centimetres in front of the bottle’s narrow opening, Wayne positioned his two strobes – one at the base of the bottle to illuminate the interior, and the other at the front to light the goby’s characteristic surprised face. Opting for a shallow depth of field, Wayne focused on the goby’s bulging blue eyes, allowing the movement of the fish to blur the rest of its features into a haze of yellow, and framing its portrait with the circular entrance to the bottle.

© Wayne Jones - Wildlife Photographer of the Year - 1024 x 683

© Wayne Jones – Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 will be announced on 16 October at an awards ceremony in the Natural History Museum’s iconic Hintze Hall. Winning images are selected for their creativity, originality and technical excellence. This year’s competition attracted over 45,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across 95 countries.

After the flagship exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum, the images will embark on a UK and international tour, bringing the beauty and fragility of the natural world to millions beyond London.

The world-renowned exhibition opens on 19 October at the Natural History Museum in London, which runs the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 competition.

Good to know:

Exhibition: Friday 19 October 2018 – Summer 2019

To book tickets:

Nearest tube station: South Kensington

2019 competition: Opens on 22 October 2018.

Also Read: 

Breathtaking Photos: Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 finalists

World Wildlife Day: 10 Astonishing Photos from around the World

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Breathtaking Images You’ll Never Forget