Story behind the image: Jasper Doest and Lukasz Bozycki
26 August 2014 posted by: Rosie Pook, WPY Comms Officer
In a sneak preview of the 50th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition results, we speak to two top wildlife photographers to discover the stories behind the striking images that earned them a place in the final winning collection.
The photographs from the winning collection will be on display for the very first time from 24 October at the Natural History Museum.
The elegant crowd, Jasper Doest, The Netherlands
Location: Khichan, Rajasthan, India
Category: Black and White, Finalist 2014
What inspired you to make this picture?
Whatever my subject, my goal is to show the beauty and fragility of our planet to as many people as possible. So I like to make expressive images that touch viewers emotionally. I saw the demoiselle cranes of Khichan in a BBC documentary. I was struck by the vast gathering of these graceful birds - it was like watching a ballet. I knew I had to see it with my own eyes. I wanted to capture the essence of the mass chaos but at the same time reveal how elegant the birds are.
Why do the cranes gather here?
A few dozen cranes used to visit Khichan on migration from their breeding grounds in Eurasia. Some years ago, local people started putting grain out for them - treating them as guests - and over time, the village became a magnet for the cranes. Now thousands visit and winter in the region every year. It's one of so many stories to tell about our natural world.
How did you get this vantage point?
I was working with conservationist Sevaram Malli Parihar, who has been feeding the cranes and taking care of injured birds for the past 10 years. At dawn, we would head up on to the roof of his house. It overlooks the enclosures where the cranes are fed. They were specially built - about 50 metres by 60 metres - at the edge of the village to protect feeding cranes from stray dogs.
We could see the cranes coming from every direction, in rows of Vs. One by one, they landed in the dunes. Once the first had entered an enclosure, others would follow. Soon, there was a sea of cranes, all turning their heads in synchrony - it was an amazing sight.
What was the greatest challenge?
The cranes were not exactly what you would call early birds. At first, they turned up so late that the light had already become quite harsh. But luckily their arrival time did vary from day to day. So eventually, I got the chance I needed.
Why did you present the image in black and white?
Because I wanted to emphasise the size of the flock and the group dynamics. In the warm light, I felt the colours of the soil and the birds' wings were distracting. By converting the image to black and white, I limited the information to just what was necessary.
About demoiselle cranes
At less than a metre tall, the demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo) is the smallest and lightest species of crane, named by Queen Marie Antoinette of France for its delicate appearance.
Demoiselle cranes gather in large flocks of up to 400 birds to make their arduous annual migration. They journey from breeding grounds in Eurasia, across the Himalayas, to winter ranges in Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
The cranes become territorial when breeding. Individuals pair for life, reinforcing their bonds with elaborate duets and balletic dancing.
Habitat loss and degradation are the main threats to demoiselle cranes though, in some areas, they are hunted for sport, food and pets, or to prevent crop damage.
ABOUT JASPER DOEST
Jasper is a self-taught professional photographer, specialising in wildlife, conservation and travel photography. He shares his passion for the natural world through lectures, interviews and workshops but mostly through photographs that convey stories. Jasper is a multiple award-winner, including in Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and widely published internationally.
Winter hang-out, Lukasz Bozycki, Poland
Location: Puszcza Piska Forest, northern Poland
Category: Mammals, Finalist 2014
Where did you discover this bat?
It's a Daubenton's bat. I found seven of them hibernating in an old bunker built by the Germans in the Second World War. There are many of these abandoned buildings in Poland. The bats were in complete torpor, taking just one breath every 90 minutes. Most of them were tucked away, inaccessible. But this one was just hanging down from the ceiling.
Did you come across it by chance?
No, I'd been driving around the forest with my friend Piotr Tomasik, specifically looking for bats. He was a scientist studying their overwintering behaviour - he was especially interested in bats hibernating in buildings.
For a week, we slept in sleeping bags in an unheated wooden house. The outside temperatures got down to -25°C. One night, when we were out looking for possible hibernation sites, we came across these three abandoned bunkers.
What was it like inside the bunkers?
They extended underground. The largest had two floors. We found it was a bit warmer inside - just above zero - and there was water on the lower lever that was still unfrozen. I grabbed the chance to have a quick wash while we were there.
How did you capture the eerie atmosphere?
I used a flashlight to illuminate the bat gently, while Piotr held another to light the pile of rocks behind the doorway. And I set the white balance on my camera to a cool temperature. But by this time, I was shivering so much that it was hard to set up the shot.
Did you have any other difficulties?
We had left the car a few kilometres away, and the trek back to it in such severe cold was a huge challenge. Shortly afterwards, I came down with pneumonia. Sadly, Piotr died during this trip, and I then abandoned the project. I'd like to dedicate this picture to him.
About Daubenton's bats
The Daubenton's bat (Myotis daubentonii) - also known as the water bat or hairy-footed bat - is a medium-sized bat, with a wingspan of 24-28 centimetres, living up to 22 years.
It characteristically flies just above water, hunting small insects, especially chironomid midges, sometimes scooping up prey from the surface with its large, bristly feet or tail membrane.
Despite the decline of natural wetlands and waterways, the Daubenton's bat seems to be increasing in some areas, perhaps associated with artificial water bodies. Concerns include disturbance to its hibernation sites and water pollution that detrimentally effects its insect prey.
ABOUT LUKASZ BOZYCKI
A scientist carrying out cancer research at Poland's Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Lukasz has always had a deep curiosity about the natural world. He spends much of his spare time taking photographs, developing an artistic approach to reveal how he feels about nature. Since he achieved Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013, he has gone on to collaborate with National Geographic Poland.
EXHIBITION AND TICKETS
- Get ready for the breathtaking Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 exhibition. Showcasing the 100 winners and finalists of the 50th competition, it premieres at the Natural History Museum and then tours more than 60 cities in the UK and worldwide.
- The winners of the 50th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will be revealed on 21 October 2014.
- The 2014 exhibition will open in London on 24 October. Advance tickets are now on sale.