Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the Natural History Museum's annual competition and exhibition highlighting the unique and beautiful relationship between photography, science and art.
What began in 1965 as a magazine competition with just 361 entries has blossomed into one of the world's most prestigious photography awards, with over 45,000 entries each year and a touring exhibition seen by millions around the globe.
The competition began life in Animals magazine, which later became BBC Wildlife. The publication hoped to provide a platform and an incentive for the field of wildlife photography, which was then in its infancy.
The competition grew in popularity and in 1984 the Natural History Museum became involved. In the days before digital cameras and online submissions, hundreds of jiffy bags containing competition entries would arrive at the Museum by mail each day to be manually sorted and submitted.
The Museum continues to shape the competition into the stunning international success it is today, and Wildlife Photographer of the Year contributes to the Museum's mission to inspire a love of the natural world and create advocates for the planet.
From the very beginning, the aim of the competition has been to 'enhance the prestige of wildlife photography in the hope that ultimately the awards will benefit the animals themselves, by creating greater public interest in them and in that all-important topic: conservation.'
The competition's awe-inspiring images of wild animals and their environments, and the poignant photojournalism - all of which have important stories to tell - have helped the public to fall in love with the natural world and care for its future.
Whether they highlight the abuse of animals in places where the public might expect them to be protected, such as in Witness, photographed Emily Garthwaite, or subtly comment on the impact of humans on the natural world, as seen in Morgan Heim's One in a Million, the photojournalism images entered into the competition are often thought-provoking and moving, and they can also be vital for conservation efforts.
Visitors to the exhibition are also often brought into contact with species and habitats that would otherwise be largely out of reach.
In 1986 the exhibition was sent on tour for the first time, first around the UK and then internationally, bringing the public face to face with some of the world's most magnificent creatures and habitats. In 1991 the first book of winning images was published, giving visitors a lasting memory of their experience at the exhibition.
Within the Museum, scientists and researchers have used the photographs to inform our scientific understanding of animal habitats and behaviours, helping to further their conservation and protection.
By sharing these images and helping people to build a personal connection with some of the most endangered species, Wildlife Photographer of the Year has helped to foster a better understanding of the complexity and importance of the natural world.
From amateurs to professionals
Alongside its conservation message, the competition exists to boost the profile of wildlife photography as an artistic medium and support the careers of young photography professionals.
Entries to Wildlife Photographer of the Year have always been judged anonymously, with professional work being considered alongside that of amateurs, giving budding photographers a chance to have their work exhibited among the greats. The introduction of the portfolio award in 1991 extended the competition's ability to support young professionals.
Indeed, many of today's most distinguished conservationists, photographers and filmmakers launched their careers though the competition. Television presenter and naturalist Chris Packham, who first entered in 1985 and won multiple categories into the mid-1990s, went on to build a successful career documenting the natural world.
The introduction of the Young competition for those aged 17 and under, as well as the increasing affordability of camera equipment, further opened up the competition for young people.
Many of the young winners of the 1980s - including Bruce Davidson, David Breed, Torsten Brehm, Ross Hoddinot, Charlie Hamilton James and Warwick Sloss - have gone on to successful careers in wildlife photography or filmmaking.
Enter the competition
Are you ready to take part in Wildlife Photographer of the Year?