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WPOTY: People’s Choice Award winners revealed

February 9, 2022

An image of willow branches mirrored by the surface of a frozen Italian lake, submitted in dedication to a lost friend, has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) People’s Choice Award 2021 for Italian photographer Cristiano Vendramin.

The photograph – titled ‘Lake of Ice’ touched the hearts of over 31,800 wildlife and nature enthusiasts who voted online for Vendramin’s ‘breath-taking landscape’ to win from a shortlist of 25 images. The shortlisted images were chosen by the Natural History Museum, London, from a record breaking 50,000 images from 95 countries that were submitted to the 57th annual WPOTY competition.

Lake of Ice by Cristiano Vendramin, Italy

Lake of Ice (in Belluno, Italy), by Cristiano Vendramin, has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award 2021. Image: © Cristiano Vendramin, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Lake of Ice, by Cristiano Vendramin, has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award 2021. Image: © Cristiano Vendramin/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Santa Croce Lake is a natural lake in the province of Belluno, northern Italy. While visiting the lake, in winter 2019, Vendramin noticed the water was unusually high and the willow plants were partially submerged, creating a play of light and reflections. Waiting for colder conditions he captured the scene in icy stillness. After taking the image, he was reminded of a dear friend, who had loved this place and is now no longer here, and explained, ‘I want to think he made me feel this feeling that I’ll never forget. For this reason, this photograph is dedicated to him.’

The image was shot with Canon EOS 6D DSLR and a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM II lens. The exposure was 1/8 sec at f/8; ISO 200. Vendramin also used a Lee polariser filter, a remote control and a Feisol tripod.

Vendramin commented, ‘I hope that my photography will encourage people to understand that the beauty of nature can be found everywhere around us, and we can be pleasantly surprised by the many landscapes so close to home. I believe having a daily relationship with nature is increasingly more necessary to have a serene and healthy life. Nature photography is therefore important to remind us of this bond, which we must preserve, and in whose memory, we can take refuge.’

The director of the Natural History Museum, Dr. Douglas Gurr, revealed, ‘Cristiano’s poignant image symbolises the positive impact nature can have on our wellbeing and lives. It can provide solace and a space to reflect on the past and even spark hope for the future. These past two years have redefined what truly matters in life, the people and the environments that play a crucial role in our own personal ecosystems. I hope those who look at this landscape frozen in time, are reminded of the importance of connecting to the natural world and the steps we must all take to protect it.’

Highly Commended finalists

Vendramin’s winning photograph and the top four ‘Highly Commended’ finalists will be displayed in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London. The four ‘Highly Commended’ finalists in the People’s Choice Award, who captured the fascination of nature enthusiasts across the globe, were Ashleigh McCord (USA), Jo-Anne McArthur (Canada), Jeroen Hoekendijk (The Netherlands) and Qiang Guo (China). See below for the stories behind their images…


Shelter from the rain by Ashleigh McCord, USA

Shelter from the Rain, by Ashleigh McCord, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award 2021. Image: © Ashleigh McCord/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Shelter from the Rain, by Ashleigh McCord, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award 2021. Image: © Ashleigh McCord/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

During a visit to the Maasai Mara, Kenya, McCord captured this tender moment between a pair of male lions. At first, she had been taking pictures of only one of the lions, and the rain was just a light sprinkle, although the second had briefly approached and greeted his companion before choosing to walk away. But as the rain turned into a heavy downpour, the second male returned and sat, positioning his body as if to shelter the other. Shortly after they rubbed faces and continued to sit nuzzling for some time. McCord stayed watching them until the rain was falling so hard that they were barely visible.

McCord shot the image with a Nikon D500 DSLR and a 300mm f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 1/200 sec at f/2.8; ISO 720.


Hope in a Burned Plantation by Jo-Anne McArthur, Canada

Hope in a Burned Plantation, by Jo-Anne McArthur, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award 2021. Image: © Jo-Anne McArthur/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Hope in a Burned Plantation, by Jo-Anne McArthur, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award 2021. Image: © Jo-Anne McArthur/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Jo-Anne McArthur’s striking portrait of a kangaroo and her joey emerging from the aftermath of the Australian bushfires is titled ‘Hope in a Burned Plantation’. McArthur flew to Australia in early 2020 to document the stories of animals affected by the devastating bushfires that were sweeping through the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Working exhaustively alongside Animals Australia (an animal protection organisation) she was given access to burn sites, rescues and veterinary missions.

This eastern grey kangaroo and her joey pictured near Mallacoota, Victoria, were among the lucky ones. The kangaroo barely took her eyes off McArthur as she walked calmly to the spot where she could get a great photo. She had just enough time to crouch down and press the shutter release before the kangaroo hopped away into the burned eucalyptus plantation.

The photograph was taken on a Nikon D4S DSLR with a Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. The exposure was 1/500sec at f/5.6; ISO 2500.


The Eagle and the Bear by Jeroen Hoekendijk, The Netherlands  

The Eagle and the Bear, by Jeroen Hoekendijk, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award 2021. Image: © Jeroen Hoekendijk/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Eagle and the Bear, by Jeroen Hoekendijk, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award 2021. Image: © Jeroen Hoekendijk/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

‘The Eagle and the Bear’ by Jeroen Hoekendijk, is a dynamic photograph showing a surprising encounter between two unlikely subjects. Black bear cubs will often climb trees, where they wait safely for their mother to return with food. Here, in the depths of the temperate rainforest of Anan in Alaska, USA, this little cub decided to take an afternoon nap on a moss-covered branch under the watchful eye of a juvenile bald eagle. The eagle had been sitting in this pine tree for hours and Hoekendijk found the situation extraordinary. He quickly set out to capture the scene from eye-level and, with some difficulty and a lot of luck, was able to position himself a bit higher on the hill and take this image as the bear slept on, unaware.

Hoekendijk explained, ‘Black bear cubs often climb trees, safely waiting for mom to catch some salmon. This little guy decided to take an afternoon nap, right next to a very surprised eagle, that had been sitting in this three for hours. I could position myself on a hill to get on the same level and took this shot.’

The picture was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR and a Sigma 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 zoom lens. The exposure was 1/320 sec at f/6.3; ISO 640.


Dancing in the Snow by Qiang Guo, China

Dancing in the Snow, by Qiang Guo, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award 2021. Image: © Qiang Guo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Dancing in the Snow, by Qiang Guo, was Highly Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award 2021. Image: © Qiang Guo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A truly magical depiction of two male golden pheasants is the subject of Qiang Guo’s ‘Dancing in the Snow’. In the Lishan Nature Reserve in Shanxi Province, China, Qiang Guo watched as two male golden pheasants continuously swapped places on this trunk – their movements akin to a silent dance in the snow. The birds are native to China, where they inhabit dense forests in mountainous regions. Although brightly coloured, they are shy and difficult to spot, spending most of their time foraging for food on the dark forest floor, only flying to evade predators or to roost in very high trees during the night.

Qiang Guo shot the photograph with a Nikon D5 DSLR and a 400mm f/2.8 lens. The exposure was 1/2500sec at f/2.8; ISO 320.


The Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum and offers a global platform for amateur and professional photographers alike. Using photography’s unique emotive power to engage and inspire audiences, the exhibition shines a light on stories and species around the world and supports the Museum in its mission of creating advocates for the planet. The 58th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is currently being judged by an esteemed panel of experts, and the winners will be revealed during October 2022.

Natural History Museum exhibition

The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, in London, is sponsored by renewable energy company Ørsted and non-alcoholic beverage company Seedlip. It’s open every day till Sunday 5 June 2022, from 10am to 5.30pm (last admission at 4.30pm). To find out more about the exhibition and to book tickets just visit: Wildlife Photographer of the Year – Natural History Museum


Related articles:

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 winners announced

Wildlife Photographer of the Year announces jury and entry fee waiver

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 winners revealed

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