It’s been a busy week for competition news, with Wildlife Photographer of the Year announcing the People’s Choice winner for last year’s contest (the 59th). This is one of the biggest and best competitions to enter, and every serious wildlife photographer should at least give it a go.

UK photographer Nima Sarikhani has won the overall People’s Choice award, with a powerful image of a polar bear going to sleep on a bed it carved out in an iceberg in the northern region off Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.

Having spent three days desperately searching for polar bears through thick fog, the expedition vessel Nima was on decided to change course. It turned and headed to the southeast, where there was still some sea ice.

Here they encountered a younger and an older male. Just before midnight, the young male clambered onto a small iceberg and, using his strong paws, clawed away at it to carve out a bed for himself before drifting off to sleep.

Ice Bed by Nima Sarikhani, UK A polar bear carves out a bed from a small iceberg before drifting off to sleep in the far north, off Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.
Ice Bed by Nima Sarikhani, UK. Canon EOS-1D X Mark III + 70–200mm f2.8 lens at 200mm; 1/500 at f5; ISO 400. © Nima Sarikhani, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Highly Commended finalists

Alongside Nima’s winning image, four ‘Highly Commended’ finalists have been announced. ‘The Happy Turtle’ by Tzahi Finkelstein, a fascinating interaction between a Balkan pond turtle and a northern banded groundling dragonfly, and ‘Starling Murmuration’ by Daniel Dencescu, which frames the moment a starling murmuration formed the shape of a bird.

Two lionesses groom one of the prides five cubs in Kenya’s Maasai Mara in Mark Boyd’s ‘Shared Parenting’, and Audun Rikardsen’s stunning capture ‘Aurora Jellies’ shows two moon jellyfish illuminated by the aurora borealis in a fjord in Norway.

See below for more details of these impressive images.

WPOTY People's Choice
Aurora Jellies by Audun Rikardsen, Norway. Canon EOS-1D X + Laowa 12mm f2.8 lens; 34 sec at f2.8–22 (changed during exposure); ISO 1600; two Canon 600 flashes in underwater housing. © Audun Rikardsen, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Norwegian photographer Audun Rikardsen charmed the public with an image of moon jellyfish swarming in the cool autumnal waters of a fjord outside Tromsø, illuminated by the aurora borealis.

It’s common for this species to gather in their hundreds under the aurora borealis. Sheltering his equipment in a self-made waterproof housing, Audun used a single exposure as well as his own system for adjusting the focus and aperture during the exposure. This enabled him to capture the reflection of the sky’s colours on the surface of the water and at the same time light up the jellyfish with flashes.

Moon jellyfish are common in all oceans and are easily recognised by their four rings, which are in fact their genitals.

Wildlife POTY People's Choice Daniel Dencescu
Starling Murmuration by Daniel Dencescu, Germany/Romania. Nikon D850 + 150–600mm f5.6 lens; 1/1250 at f5.6 (+0.3 e/v); ISO 2500. © Daniel Dencescu, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Daniel Dencescu, from Germany/Romania, managed the rare feat of capturing a starling murmuration in the shape of a giant bird; unusually, the image was also taken in a big city (Rome and its suburbs) rather than a rural area or bird reserve.

Daniel was mesmerised by the movements of the starlings as they formed colossal organic shapes in the sky. Each day, as they returned from foraging, they would gather in large numbers and perform spellbinding aerial shows, known as murmurations, on their flight home to their communal roosts.

In a bid to locate the best roosting sites at which to capture the spectacle, Daniel spent hours following the starlings around the city and suburbs. Finally, on this cloudless winter’s day, the flock didn’t disappoint, swirling into the shape of a giant bird.

Wildlife POTY Tzahi Finkelstein
The Happy Turtle by Tzahi Finkelstein, Israel. Technical details: Nikon D500 + 500mm f4 lens; 1/3200 at f5.6 (-0.3 e/v); ISO 320. © Tzahi Finkelstein, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Tzahi Finklestein from Isreal won through with an image of a Balkan pond turtle, hanging out with a northern banded groundling dragonfly in Israel’s Jezreel Valley.

Tzahi was positioned in his hide in Jezreel Valley photographing shore birds when he spotted a Balkan pond turtle walking in the shallow water. At first, he wasn’t interested in it and carried on watching the birds. It wasn’t until a northern banded groundling dragonfly flew past his lens in the direction of the turtle that his focus changed.

The dragonfly unexpectedly landed on the turtle’s nose, but instead of snapping up the insect, the turtle appeared to be enjoying the interaction as they shared a moment of peaceful coexistence in the midst of the swamp’s murky waters.

Wildlife POTY People's Choice, Mark Boyd
Shared Parenting by Mark Boyd, Kenya. Canon EOS 5D Mark III + 100–400mm f4.5–5.6 lens; 1/320 at f5.6; ISO 12800. © Mark Boyd, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The final People’s Choice highly commended position goes to Mark Boyd from Kenya, for a captivating capture of two lionesses scrubbing up a cub in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.

Early in the morning, Mark watched as these lionesses groomed one of their five cubs in their territory in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. The evening before they’d set off to hunt, leaving the cubs hidden overnight in dense bushes. Returning from their unsuccessful mission, they’d called the cubs out onto the open grassland.

Females raise each other’s cubs as their own, sharing parenting duties. Here the youngster was clearly enjoying the moment of affection and attention.

The winners of the 59th contest are on display at the Natural History Museum until the 30th of June, while the winners of this year’s competition will be announced on the 8th of March.

Further reading

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