A diving kingfisher by Mario Cea

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year: People's Choice winner

Mario Cea's image of a diving kingfisher has won this year's People's Choice Award.

The People's Choice Award recognises outstanding competition entries, as voted on by the public.

Almost 25,000 votes were cast, and it was Mario's shot, The blue trail, that emerged as favourite.

It can be seen in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition alongside images from nature photographers from across the world.

We asked Mario how he achieved his winning image.

How do you feel about winning? 

It is a great surprise. I think all photographers enter this competition thinking they have no chance of winning, because the quality and the standards are so high that we all know how difficult it is. So winning is a superb feeling. I am extremely happy about it.

What makes it even more special is that the general public decides. As well as this, in my category I am competing with all sorts of shots, in terms of the type and subject matter of the photos, so winning in such a diverse category makes it even more valuable.

Mario Cea's winning image

The full image © Mario Cea


What is it about wildlife photography you enjoy? 

I am a fauna photographer. I love wild animals and studying their behaviour. I really enjoy the preparation that it takes to get amazing pictures. All the observation and the complications of this type of photography is really what motivates me in the first place.

What do you like about this image, and is it something you'd hoped to achieve for a long time? 

I have worked on this for months. It is a sought-after image, and I invested a lot of time in capturing it. I am a great fan of high-speed technology and using flash to freeze movement, to capture special movement that it is almost invisible, imperceptible to the human eye.

How many attempts did it take? 

I have been going down to the pond to work on this for five to six months. A lot of preparation has gone into this, it is tedious work. Loads of sessions with loads of shots in each session - I'd probably say about 5,000 attempts.

I have heard of another wildlife photographer who took about 20,000 attempts to capture a similar kingfisher image. I have to say it didn't take me that many, but the amount of preparation work that went into it was huge.

Where was the image taken?

It is a relatively small pond in the outskirts of Salamanca. The pond was created artificially as a result of the minor diversion of a nearby river. Over the years, the wildlife and ecosystem around the pond has grown naturally, and it is now an established and attractive habitat.

Capturing an image of a kingfisher in a flawlessly straight dive is known for being difficult to achieve and sometimes live bait is used. 

How did you know precisely where the kingfisher was going to dive, and how did you manage to capture this behaviour without using bait?

I have been observing that kingfisher for a long time. The bird repeatedly goes to the same spot - a small bend in the pond which is quite shallow, where a lot of fish concentrate.  By placing a branch where the bird posed fairly regularly and using my understanding of natural behaviour, I was able to achieve the shot. From this branch, the bird would often dive for fish in that small area of the pond.

How important was the use of light in capturing this image? 

It was essential, really - this type of photography is impossible without the use of artifical lighting. The speed of the bird is almost invisible to the human eye so I had to use light, not just to illuminate the image but to freeze movement.

Is there anything else you can tell us about how this image was taken, that our arts and photography audiences may find interesting? 

I think maybe one of the reasons why people like this image is that palpable trail of light the bird leaves behind when diving.

This was achieved using of a source of continuous lighting that helps define the shape the bird leaves behind.