Three king penguins on a beach

Credit: Wim Van Den Heever

Three Kings featured in the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award. 

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: the pick of the penguins

From serene rafts of birds in water to iconic huddles on the ice, penguin images have always been popular in Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

This gallery dives down through a decade of the exhibition and fishes out some of the best-loved photographs, featuring flippers, drama and even a fleeting moment of flight over the ice.

Ole Jørgen Liodden - Norway

The blizzards came about every 15 minutes. 'There would be a break in the wind, perhaps a ray of sun, then wham, another flurry of snow would hit,' says Ole. 

A group of king penguins walk along a shoreline.

Credit: Ole Jørgen Liodden

Specially commended 2011, Animals in their Environment

This group of king penguins were heading back from fishing and up the beach to their colony on South Georgia to feed their chicks.

Ole crouched down in the driving wind and waited for them. 'I used a comparatively slow shutter speed to catch the near-horizontal streaks of snow,' he says, as the penguins waddled by, taking no notice of him and pausing merely to shake the snow off their flippers.

Bubble-Jetting Emperors - Paul Nicklen

This was the image Paul had been so hoping to make: a sunlit mass of emperor penguins charging upwards, leaving a crisscross of bubble trails in their wake. The location was near the emperor colony at the edge of the frozen area of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. 

Emporer penguins swim just below the icy surface

Credit: Paul Nicklen

2012, Grand title winner

Winner 2012, Underwater Worlds

Paul locked his legs under the lip of the ice so he could remain motionless, breathing through a snorkel so as not to spook the penguins when they arrived. Then it came: a blast of birds from the depths. They were so fast that, with frozen fingers, framing and focus had to be instinctive.

'It was a fantastic sight' says Paul, 'as hundreds launched themselves out of the water and onto the ice above me' – a moment that I felt incredibly fortunate to witness and one I’ll never forget.'

Frozen Moment - Paul Nicklen

Paul was not the only mammal lying patiently in wait on the edge of the Ross Sea, Antarctica, to greet the explosion of emperor penguins. Leopard seals - measuring up to three and a half metres - were almost certainly lurking at the edge of the ice ready to grab a meal.

The penguins were exiting as fast as possible. They can sky-rocket up to two metres high out of the water, landing well clear of the edge.

Two emporer penguins shoot out of the sea onto an icy shelf.

Credit: Paul Nicklen

Winner 2012, Behaviour: Birds

'I also kept an eye out for leopard seals myself,' says Paul. 'I’d previously had one hit me square in the face when I was five metres from the ice edge, knocking me down and stunning me. Luckily it realised that I wasn't a penguin and slipped back into the icy water.'

The penguins' two-month-old chicks, hungrily wait around 10 kilometres away at the Cape Washington colony. With full bellies, the penguins toboggan to the colony, where they regurgitate the food to their chicks. They then head back for another three-week stint at sea.

A Mother's Courage - Linc Gasking

Linc Gasking's image of courageous motherhood was a Finalist for the 2015 People's Choice Award.

A penguin defends her young

Credit: Linc Gasking

Finalist 2015, People's Choice Award

Just when all seemed lost, the Adélie penguin mother strode out courageously and faced off the rare all-white southern giant petrel that was menacing the crèche of screaming chicks.

Meeting Place - Yaz Loukhal

After a rough journey by sea to the remote Snow Hill Island off the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, Yaz flew by helicopter and then trekked through thick snow to reach the emperor penguin colony. 

A large colony of emporer penguins and their chicks

Credit: Yaz Loukhal

2019 LUMIX People's Choice Award

His efforts were rewarded with this incredible view of the whole colony. Yaz's images was a contender for the 2019 LUMIX People's Choice Award.


The Plumage Parade - Thomas P Peschak

A procession of macaroni penguins wove up the ridge of an old volcano crater towards their roosting terrace. The ground was strewn with feathers and the air reverberated with tremendous noise from the colony. With a special permit to board the island, Thomas had just a few hours with the penguins before a storm engulfed the coast and most of them headed out to sea.

A large procession of macaroni penguins climb up a ridge above the shore

Credit: Thomas P Peschak

Highly Commended 2019, Behaviour: Birds

Every summer some 12,000 pairs of macaroni penguins congregate on Marion Island to breed. The population has been in steady decline over the past 30 years because of climate change and increased competition for food due to the booming population of fur seals and commercial fishing.

If Penguins Could Fly - Eduardo del Álamo

A gentoo penguin flees for its life as a leopard seal bursts out of the water. Eduardo was expecting it. He had noticed the penguin resting on a fragment of broken ice and watched the seal swim back and forth. 'Moments later, the seal flew out of the water, mouth open,' he says.

A gentoo penguin tries to escape as a a leopard seal bears down on it in the water

Credit: Eduardo del Álamo

Highly Commended 2019, Behaviour: Mammals

Leopard seals are formidable predators. Their slender bodies are built for speed and their wide jaws bear long canine teeth. They hunt almost anything, changing their diet in response to availability and the time of year.

The Huddle - Stefan Christmann

More than 5,000 male emperor penguins huddle on the sea ice, backs to the wind, heads down, sharing body heat. 'It was a calm day,' says Stefan, 'but when I took off my gloves to focus the lens, the cold felt like needles piercing my fingertips.' Antarctic winters are fierce, with temperatures below minus 40 degrees Celsius.

A huge huddle of emporer penguins

Credit: Stefan Christmann

Winner 2019, Wildlife Photographer Portfolio Award

While the females spend two months at sea feeding, their mates care for the eggs. The male balances his precious cargo on his feet, tucked beneath a fold of skin called the brood pouch. Penguins on the windward edge of the huddle regularly peel off and join the more sheltered side, creating a constant rotation through the warm centre. Survival depends on cooperation.

The Art of Conception - Stefan Christmann

Stefan was lucky to find this isolated couple courting – many pairs had already mated by the time conditions allowed him to access this remote spot. The serene backdrop of sea ice and a distant stranded iceberg softly lit by the setting sun gives no hint that the Antarctic winter is about to intensify.

Two emporer penguins mating

Credit: Stefan Christmann

Winner 2019, Wildlife Photographer Portfolio Award

Emperor penguins form a new bond each year and are monogamous for the season. Males perform a courtship call until chosen by a female. The female lies on the sea ice and signals that she is ready before the male climbs onto her back. 'The male struggled to keep his balance,' says Stefan.