Editor: Rosamund Kidman Cox

Publisher: BBC Books

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Each year BBC Wildlife Magazine and the Natural History Museum (located in London) sponsor a competition for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Entries come from around the globe and the entrants include some of the foremost professionals in the business of wildlife photography, as well as many of the top non-professionals. Over forty thousand entries were submitted for the 2009 contest and 90 pictures made the final volume of winners, runners-up, and highly commended and commended pictures. The contest is divided 2into almost a dozen categories from bird behavior to the underwater world. Finding a place as a finalist in the competition is one of the highest awards a wildlife photographer can achieve. Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 19 shows the finalists of the 2009 contest.

Each picture is accompanied by a short description of the conditions under which the photograph was made, together with equipment and shooting data. The pictures are all artful and I’m certain anyone would be pleased to have one of these pictures hanging on a wall. But there’s the rub. Books of pictures taken by a single artist or by multiple artists of a single subject have a synergistic effect that help us learn more about the artists work, or the subject. In the “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” annual portfolio each picture stands by itself, to be admired or learned from within the four corners of the individual image. Thankfully there is much to admire in each of these pictures.

My own favorite picture shows a flock of magpies, some landed and other coming in to land. The photograph seems to be taken from a camera on the ground and has that relationship of foreground to background that only a wide angle lens can give. We learn that the picture was taken with a 14-24mm lens fired by an infrared release. It was inspiring to me to know that beautiful bird pictures could be taken with a lens length other than 600mm.

Missing from the book is the back story of the picture that initially won its taker the award of “Wildlife Photographer of the Year”. It shows a wolf in Spain leaping over a gate in the dark. It is clearly an awesome image, but the photographer was later stripped of the award when the judges decided that the wolf was a trained animal. The photograph shows not only a spectacular subject, but also the lengths to which some photographers will go to prevail in this contest. Because the determination was made after the book went to print, there is no mention of the situation in the book, although one might think that an errata sheet could have been enclosed. (Animal models are forbidden by the contest; not so the baiting which was used by many of the artists.)

Wildlife photographers owe it to themselves to examine at least one of the BBC Wildlife “Photographer of the Year Portfolios” to serve as inspiration by showing what can be achieved, just as wildlife lovers should view aspects of nature that they will probably never encounter on their own.

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