Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Snow leopard wins top photo prize

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Snowstorm leopard (Image: Steve Winter/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008)
Steve Winter's winning image of a snow leopard on a night-time prowl


A picture of an elusive snow leopard on a night-time prowl has won the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 award.

Steve Winter's image was captured during a 13-month quest to snap the perfect photo of the endangered species in its hostile habitat high in the mountains of Central Asia.

Speaking about his winning snap, Mr Winter said: "I was thrilled to have finally captured the shot I had dreamed of - a wild snow leopard in its true element."

The competition, now in its 44th year, is run by BBC Wildlife magazine and London's Natural History Museum.

The panel of judges spent months shifting through more than 32,350 entries before deciding on the winners.

"Everything comes together in this striking picture," said judge Mark Carwardine on Mr Winter's image.

"The drama of the snow, the mystery of the darkness, the posture of the rarely photographed snow leopard and the intriguing composition."

SNOWSTORM LEOPARD

The picture of an elusive snow leopard, captured at an altitude of more than 13,000ft in India's Ladak's Hemis High Altitude National Park, was the reward for 13 months of effort for Steve Winter, a photographer for National Geographic magazine.

Snowstorm leopard (Steve Winter/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

"I try to do stories that have never been done before," he told BBC News.

"They do involve an incredible amount of work with scientists and local people. We were lucky in this instance that we got incredible pictures.

"It was collaboration between myself, the team and the snow leopard," he joked.

The project involved 14 remote cameras in roughly 45 locations. It was a case of trial and error - one camera only delivered a picture of half of a leopard in five-and-a-half months.

Working in such harsh conditions, where temperatures plummeted to -40C (-40F), he asked the manufacturers for their advice on the performance of the cameras in extreme temperatures.

"They told me: 'We don't know, tell us when you get back'," he recalled.

Commenting on the use of trigger cameras rather than being sat behind the lens, Mr Winter said: "They are something that needs to be used to get intimate portraits of elusive animals.

"I used to hate these cameras because they just gave you a record of an animal.

"Images are all about composition and light. If I cannot control that as if I would as I put the camera up to my face, then essentially I have failed.

"So I asked myself that if I did not like these cameras, how can I like them more.

"It turns out that snow leopards are the perfect species on which to use these cameras. They always come to specific locations to mark their territory.

"So I viewed the locations as movie sets. I put the cameras there, I put the lights there.

"I knew the animal would come; it was just waiting for the actor to walk on stage and break the beam."

Canon EOS Rebel XT + 10-22mm lens at 16mm; 1/200 sec at f16; ISO 100; waterproof camera box + Plexiglass tubes for flashes; Trailmaster 1550-PS remote trigger

THE SHOW

This photo showing a young male lion harassing a thirsty giraffe at a waterhole in Namibia has won this year's Young Photographer of the Year prize.

The show (Catriona Parfitt/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

It was taken by teenager Catriona Parfitt during a family safari holiday in 2007.

"When the giraffe first arrived, it was very nervous," Catriona explained.

"As it walked slowly towards the water, it kept looking over its shoulder towards the ridge where there was a pride of four lions."

She added that perhaps the young lion saw a solitary giraffe as too much of a temptation to leave alone, despite the risks.

Competition judge Rosamund Kidman Cox called the image an astonishing shot: "Stage, action, story and onlookers combine to make an unforgettable scene."

Canon EOS 400D + Canon EF300mm f4 IS USM lens + Canon EF 1.4 extender; 1/200 sec at f5.6; ISO 100

TROUBLE-MAKER

Italian Stefano Unterthiner's photo of a mischievous Sulawesi black-crested macaque won the competition's Animal Potraits category.

Trouble-maker (Stefano Unterthiner/ Wildlife Photgrapher of the Year)

The monkey earned his nickname "trouble-maker", Stefano explained, because it was more interested in the photographer than being photographed.

After spending weeks following the monkeys in the Indonesian island's Tangkoko National Park, Stefano found that their search for food took them to the coastal edge of the park's forest.

While most of the primates were busy foraging among the rocks for fallen fruits and nuts, one young adult took an interest in Stefano's activities.

"He would leap at me and kick off my back like a trampoline," he recalled. "It was part play, part confrontation, part attention-seeking, part curiosity."

Nikon D2X + Nikon 12-24mm lens; 1/250 sec at f10; ISO 125; graduated neutral-density filter; flash

DEADLOCK

David Maitland's "deadlock" is this year's winner of the competition's Behaviour: Other Animals category.

Deadlock (David Maitland/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

He told BBC News that the photo was just a glimpse of a struggle between a tree-frog and cat-eyed tree-snake that lasted for hours through the night in the tropical forests of Belize.

"The snake had failed to get its jaws around the whole of the frog's head," he recalled.

"It wouldn't let go, presumably because the frog would have leapt away. But it couldn't swallow it, either."

Neither of the creatures showed any sign of giving up in the three hours that David sat in a cramped position.

"It was a complete stalemate," he added. In the early hours, when the pair had moved beyond the focus of his lens, David decided to call it a night.

When he returned in the following morning, there was no sign of the pair and no clue to which had finally broken the deadlock.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II + 100mm macro lens; 1/500 sec at f10; ISO 50; twin flashes

CLASH OF EAGLES
Clash of eagles (Antoni Kasprzak/ Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

The photo of a fight between two white-tailed eagles over the carcass of moose in the depths of a Polish winter secured the top prize in the Behaviour: Birds category for Antoni Kasprzak.

To capture this image, Antoni found a carcass of a moose, which had been hit by a train, knowing that it would be ideal bait for his subjects.

Five hours later, waiting in the sub-zero temperatures of the Polish winter, a struggle broke out between an adult male white-tailed eagle and a young male.

Capturing the shot, Antoni knew the snowy backdrop would help make the photo an award winning image.

Canon EOS 40D + Canon EF500mm f4 IS USM lens; 1/1000 sec at f4.5; ISO 500; tripod


An exhibition of the best images from this year's competition opens to visitors of the Natural History Museum, London, on Friday, 31 October 2008

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SEE ALSO
Elephant stomps to photo victory
25 Oct 07 |  Science & Environment
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19 Oct 06 |  Science & Environment
Peregrine swoops to photo prize
19 Oct 05 |  Science & Environment

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