From his kitchen table, Bence planned the way he would photograph Dalmatian pelicans. He wanted a water-level perspective of them. So he designed and constructed a catamaran-style floating system, incorporating an underwater camera housing and specially positioned lights and flashes, and set off for Lake Kerkini in northern Greece. 'It was a huge buzz,' says Bence, 'to find that the contraption actually worked.' Using cables, Bence took photos from a distance away on a boat, monitoring the scene on a screen and altering the settings with the ever-changing light. The fish-eye lens gave the unusual perspective of the pelican's pouch as it caught a fish thrown back into the lake by a fisherman.
Flight of the hoopoe
Hoopoe numbers on the Continent have declined over the past 20 years. To encourage his local Hungarian population to breed, Bence has for some years made and erected concrete nestboxes - substitutes for the hollow trees that they would normally choose. They seem to favour these nestboxes over more classic wooden ones, giving Bence the opportunity to photograph their breeding habits. If conditions are right, hoopoes around his home will breed twice a year and raise up to nine chicks, keeping their parents busy feeding them. This image of a hoopoe leaving its nest was the result of careful planning. 'I used synchronized flashes, together with a long exposure to use as much of the natural light as possible,' explains Bence, 'plus a grey filter to counterbalance the amount of light.' The result is a mesmerizing impression of the hoopoe swimming through the air.
Once these male green-crowned brilliant hummingbirds arrived at the feeder, it was a race against the sun for Bence. The feeder was in the grounds of a Costa Rican lodge, which was in a valley, providing a mountain backdrop for the illuminated scene. 'The dawn light was perfect,' says Bence, 'but it was intensifying all the time.' To filter the increasingly strong light, he put up a curtain between the sun and the birds queuing up to feed and used a flash to highlight the hummingbirds' glittering colours.
Camping on his home-made floating hide on the city lake in Szeged, Hungary, Bence was intent on photographing little bitterns. To catch the best light for photography - just before sunset and just after sunrise - he was sleeping in his motorized hide. The reward was some unexpected behaviour. Early one morning, he witnessed a great reed warbler swooping down and scooping up a fish. Even more surprising to Bence was that the warbler took the fish to its nest, presumably to feed its chicks something other than the more normal beakful of insects. It was luck that gave Bence the shot, but luck self-made by his being in the right position at the right time.
The lost supper
Great egrets breed at Lake Csaj in Hungary's Kiskunsági National Park, and some of the hardier among them stay at the lake throughout the bitter winter. In January, the lakes are frozen hard, except for small areas kept ice-free by flowing water. Birds congregate around these prime fishing areas, among them gulls, some of which become adept at robbing other birds of their meals. Here a black-headed gull is about to grab a fish carelessly dropped by the egret, catching it even before it landed on the ice. With the same speed, Bence caught his image.
This line of fern-laden ants and their guards, their dainty bodies reflected in the water below, belies how resilient leaf-cutter ants are. The female workers transport leaves to their nest from a radius of more than 100 metres (300 feet). Each load is chewed up and used as compost for cultivating fungi, the food they grow in their indoor garden. Earlier in the year, a tornado flattened the trees in the Costa Rican rainforest where Bence was photographing the ants, but their nest survived. And, as Bence witnessed one night, torrential rain did not stop them, though it washed many of them away. As soon as the rain stopped, the ants resumed their work, bypassing the potholes as they toiled to and fro.
Eric Hosking Portfolio Award
Bence Máté, Hungary
Nikon D700 + 28-300mm lens; 1/160 sec at f9; ISO 250; three linked SB-800 flashes; floating hide.