The power of the matriarch © David Lloyd

The power of the matriarch © David Lloyd

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: portraits of personality

David Lloyd has always been drawn to portrait photography, finding it the best way to capture the personality and individuality of an animal.

With it's simple lines and shapes, and keeping distractions in frame to a minimum, the photographer's image, The power of the matriarch, stands out in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

She's got the look

At dusk in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve, David Lloyd captured an intimate portrait of a mother elephant, as she cautiously observed the photo safari group he was leading.

As the herd made their evening trek to a waterhole, the mellow light of the fast-setting Sun emphasised the elephant's every wrinkle and hair, highlighting the texture and detail of her features.

Born in New Zealand and based in London, photographer David Lloyd devotes much of his time to animal portraiture.

'Portraits are my thing. I’ve always enjoyed doing portraits because they get you close to the personality of the subject.'

'You see a different perspective than a landscape showing a larger environment. You see different things - it’s more intimate.’

David, whose background is in design, has always appreciated minimalism.

I look for simple shapes and lines. The background is also just as important as the subject, not to have too many distracting factors in the picture.

'Getting in close helps, focussing on tidiness and composition.’ he says.

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For his profound image, The power of the matriarch, David says there were a lot of elements at play.

'To get the trunk, eyes and ears in focus, and to get the texture was a real challenge.'

'It was difficult to keep the elephant in the frame as it was walking towards the camera, and it was tough to get the right depth of field to retain that texture.’

Standing just metres away from his subject, David captured the deep ridges of her trunk, the mud-caked ears and the layers of dried dirt on her tusks. But most of all, he remembers her gaze.

'She looked straight at me, her eye a glowing amber dot in the heavy folds of skin. Her gaze was full of respect and intelligence - the essence of sentience.’

Taking your chances in the wild

This year sees the return of the Animal Portraits category to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Russian photographer Sergey Gorshkov can relate to the challenges David describes when capturing portraits of animals in the wild.

He says, 'Shooting any wild animal close up is a special art.'

'It is much more difficult to make a portrait of a wild animal than of a person. There is often only one chance and you need to take it.’

The Arctic fox with an egg


Sergey’s portrait, Arctic treasure, features an arctic fox carrying a stolen snow goose egg in its mouth. It was taken on Wrangel Island, a remote UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the Russian Far East.

'I have a few photos similar to this one, but they are all side shots and most of them have a distracting background.'

'It was very difficult to get a front shot of a polar fox with an egg. In this case, the fox turned for a second and I managed to capture it.’

Patience, persistence and perspective

David's top tip for aspiring wildlife photographers is to stay with your subject as long as possible.

'I’ve always believed in waiting, not chasing.'

'The challenge is waiting for just the right moment. So if you can, wait a few hours or a day to get that picture. Practice, and enjoy your practice - it will always be more satisfying.’

While it's not a portrait, David cites Richard Peters's Shadow walker (winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year's Urban category in 2015), as a memorable example of a photographer’s patience and planning paying off in a big way.

Shadow Walker


The image of a patrolling vixen was taken in Richard's own back garden. It was part of a lengthy project that experimented with different techniques and equipment for capturing low-light and nocturnal images of a number of different animals that regularly visited his garden.

David admires Richard’s persistence and dedication to the project. The idea for the shot was planned, but it took months of patience for it to come to be.

'I know Richard personally and I know what he went through to get this picture.'

'It was something that he looked for and planned and it took a lot of hard work and patience, but he achieved a very good result, a very satisfying picture.’

In 2016, Richard wrote about his Back Garden Safari project for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year blog.

Chimpanzee Dreaming

Visit the exhibition

David Lloyd’s The power of the matriarch and Sergey Gorshkov’s Arctic treasure were both finalists in the Animal Portraits category of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

They are featured in the exhibition along with the category winner, Contemplation by Peter Delaney, shown above.

See the exhibition

Visit Wildlife Photographer of the Year to enjoy the world’s best nature photography, from intimate portraits to dramatic landscapes.