Steve Winter's Hollywood cougar

Judging Wildlife Photographer of the Year

21 April 2016

Step backstage into the judging room of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.

Discover what the jury look for in a winning image.

Crowning a winner in one of the most prestigious photography competitions in the world is not a task for the faint-hearted.

Finding 2016's champions among more than 50,000 entries took hours of painstaking work, intense discussions, and difficult decisions.

Jury members have revealed what it was like in the darkness of the judging room, searching for the most deserving, beautiful and powerful images.

Intense discussions

Becoming a competition winner takes technical skill, artistic flair, an eye for a story and a little bit of magic.

Finding the perfect combination of qualities in one photo is never easy, but jury member Bruno D'Amicis said this year's judging process went 'surprisingly smoothly'.

Inside job by Charlie Hamilton James

Inside job is one of jury member Bruno D'Amicis' favourite competition photos © Charlie Hamilton James
 

The full-time wildlife photographer said, 'There were interesting discussions, and sometimes intense discussions. But these never went beyond the boundaries of photography and good content.

'We evaluated the subject and the storytelling, as well as the aesthetic merit. It was a refreshing experience, but also a learning one. The process was exactly how one of the best - arguably the best - photography competitions in the world should be.'

Judges also had access to portfolios from all 51 previous competitions.

Bruno revealed that one of his all-time favourite Wildlife Photographer of the Year images is Inside job by Charlie Hamilton James. The photograph of African vultures in a feeding frenzy was a finalist in the Birds category in 2015.

An expert panel

This year's panel featured experts with experience in a diverse range of fields, including photography, design, publishing, education, conservation, architecture and art.

That wealth of knowledge was instrumental when it came to whittling down 2016's entries and finding a winner that challenges the way the natural world is viewed.

Jury member Dr Piotr Naskrecki, an entomologist, conservation biologist, author and photographer, said he was able to have honest talks with his fellow judges.

The meltwater forest by Fran Rubia

The meltwater forest was captured among Iceland's glaciers © Fran Rubia
 

He said, 'I thought it was a very open discussion - often brutally honest, but in the end we made the right choices. We’ve selected really deserving, beautiful images so I think it went extremely well.'

During the first round of judging, each image was examined by at least two jury members.

Final round images were evaluated and discussed by the whole panel. They were viewed using a high-spec projector so the jury could see the images as they would be exhibited in the Museum.

Photographic inspiration

Chair of the jury, Lewis Blackwell, also picked out some favourite images from competitions past. They provide an insight into what inspired the judging panel during the all-important decision-making process.

Lewis chose The meltwater forest by Fran Rubia, a winner in 2015 in the Details category.

He said, 'It is a stunning shot and a reminder to others that that the bar is set very high if you are shooting landscape details in Iceland.'

He also loved Steve Winter's Hollywood cougar, a 2014 Finalist in the World in our Hands category.

Lewis explained, 'It really draws attention to some remarkable changes literally in the midst of human lives.'

Snow moment by Jasper Doest.

Snow moment shows a macaque next to the hot springs of Jigokudani, central Japan © Jasper Doest
 

The big reveal

The victorious images for 2016 remain under wraps until this autumn, when they will be revealed in a grand ceremony.

Jury member Orsolya Haarberg added that it was important for the panel to select a Grant Title winner that is a true representation of the natural world. Equally, it also needs to have great visual impact.

One of her all-time favourite winners is Snow moment by Jasper Doest. Jasper's image of a Japanese macaque surrounded by falling snow won in the Creative Visions category in 2013.

She said, 'This year, we had a harmonious co-operation throughout the process of the judging, which I could predict the moment I saw the list of the jury.

'Our aims and standards were all pretty similar and I think it is reflected by the results. I am really happy having been selected to work together with this excellent panel of experts.'

Learn more about the Willdife Photographer of the Year competition.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Find out more about the competition.