Natural History Museum (London) WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR – Interview with Competition Juror Dr. Natalie Cooper

Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Dmitry Kokh / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Polar frame

She was only 14 years old when she decided it was the most beautiful building in the world….

That first impression of London’s Natural History Museum led to Natalie Portman--- today, Dr. Natalie Portman—on a journey to become one of the world’s experts in the study of broad scale patterns of biodiversity.  Her interests are “in understanding how many species are there, how did they evolve, and how can we prevent them from becoming extinct.”

Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Dr. Natalie Cooper

For the last two years, Dr. Portman’s work has included being the Natural History Museum’s representative on the jury of the famed Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition which it sponsors.  She comments, “I have a keen appreciation for photography and the important links between art and science. I think if we want to understand the world, and to solve the complex problems it is facing, we need collaboration among science, arts and humanities.”

Here, Picture This Post (PTP) speaks with Dr. Natalie Portman (NP) about how and why wildlife photography is an important aspect of cultivating an awareness of our natural world.

Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Tiina Törmänen / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Underwater wonderland

(PTP) Why has London’s Natural History Museum put an emphasis on showcasing wildlife photography?

(NP) Wildlife photography provides us with insights into species that we'd never get from specimens in a museum. We can see very rare species in natural habitats and identify new and interesting behaviours. Photographs also help reveal how extreme habitat loss has been in some areas of the globe. 

 If you can't appreciate how beautiful and fascinating something is, it's harder to want to protect it. Wildlife photography shines a light on species and environments that most of us will never see in person, but our actions can determine whether they persist into the future. Many images in the competition, especially in the photojournalism category, are very shocking, and we hope these encourage people to become advocates for the planet. 

Wildlife Photography of the Year is extremely popular so I believe it plays an important role in promoting the natural world and making people want to protect it.

Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Richard Robinson / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, The right look

How has climate change and ubiquitous environmental disasters impacted the focus of the competition through the years?

The competition has definitely shifted to have more images of environmental problems and the damage humans do to other species and environments. This reflects changes in wildlife photography in general and the stories photographers want to tell with their images. 

We still see beautiful images of rare and wonderful species, but most photographers are also keen conservationists, so these images generally also have an underlying message about preserving species. We see an increasing number of images with climate change at their centre, but again this reflects the reality of what photographers are encountering in nature. It's vital we share these important stories and encourage as many people as possible to become advocates for the planet.

Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Christian Ziegler / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, The bonobo and the mongoose

How are photos selected for the competition and its related exhibit?

We're looking for technically excellent, beautiful photographs, but they also need to depict the natural world in an accurate way. 

Some categories are also designed to convey key environmental messages - for example our Wetlands the bigger picture and Oceans the bigger picture categories need to tell some larger story about wetlands or oceans, rather than just being beautiful images. Other categories require images to feature interesting behaviours. So there is a lot of variety in the winning images. 

The jury is selected by the Wildlife Photographer of the Year team, and consists of a chair, five experts in different types of photography (for example, photojournalism, underwater photography etc.), and a Museum representative to help give scientific context to the images. For the last two years I have been the Museum representative on the jury. 

Entries open in October and close in December. The jury first winnows the selection down to around 5000 images, then we meet for a week to deliberate and select the winners. First, we select our favourites from each category, then a winner for each category. We then choose the overall Grand Title winner from the category winners. We also select winners for the Young Wildlife Photographer age categories (10 and under, 11-14, 15-17 years), and an overall Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year from the winners of the three age categories. Finally, we cut down the remaining images so we have 100 images in total. Any image that is not a category winner is Highly Commended.  

The awards ceremony this year is 11th October when we will reveal the category and Grant title winners. The exhibition at the Museum opens to the public on 14th October. Images will also be available online and the exhibition goes on tour to venues around the world. 

If you have any images you'd like to enter, entries for next year open on 17th October, so please send them in! 

Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Srikanth Mannepuri / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Just one day’s catch
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Morgan Heim / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Burrow mates
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Jo-Anne McArthur / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Life and death in fur farming
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Heikki Nikki / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Dipper dispute
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Suzi Eszterhas / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Sloth dilemma
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Samuel Sloss / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, The octopus case
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Jose Fragozo / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, The disappearing giraffe
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Jasper Doest / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, The lost floods
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Britta Jaschinski / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Wanted!
Natural History Museum WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2022
Brandon Güell / Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Treefrog pool party

Editor’s Note: Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.

For more information, please visit London’s Natural History Museum website.

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Photos Courtesy of Natural History Museum

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