Photo of sharks circling a beached whale secures Australian Geographic’s top nature image prize – ABC News
One of Australia’s top photo competitions has taken to new heights in 2019 — awarding a drone photographer its grand prize for the first time, for a snap of sharks circling a beached whale.
- More than 2,000 images were entered in the Australian Geographic awards
- The top prize went to a photo taken at Cheynes Beach near Albany
- Other prizes went to striking wildlife snaps, as well as pictures showing human impact on the environment
Western Australian Mat Beetson won the 2019 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year awards on Thursday night, presented by the South Australian Museum.
His drone captured the fin whale in the azure waters of Cheynes Beach, near Albany.
“It was unreal, arriving at a peaceful coastal town with a pristine beach and then seeing this huge whale not even five metres from shore — we then noticed the thrashing close by and realised that a few sharks had also stopped by,” Mr Beetson said.
“I launched the drone to see the aerial view and captured a sequence of photographs, this shot was one of the last ones I took and I was very lucky that the shark came back for a look.”
Mr Beetson’s image was one of 2,219 entered in the annual competition.
“Despite seeing millions of nature photographs over the decades, we have never seen anything that remotely resembles this image,” the judges said of Mr Beetson’s photo.
“Unique and exciting, it reveals incredible beauty in death.”
By contrast, Melissa Williams-Brown’s drone picture of a dead kangaroo represented an uglier truth about environmental degradation.
She won the ‘Our Impact’ category for the photo taken at the Menindee Lakes in New South Wales, which have been deliberately drained as New South Wales and the Murray-Darling Basin battle a prolonged drought.
“The patterns of the many animal footprints in the drying creek reminded me of paintings created by Indigenous Australians and those patterns in the soil kept pulling me back to this specific location over several days,” she told the ABC.
“When I saw the outstretched kangaroo, one of Australia’s most iconic native animals and a symbol of our nation moving forward, lying dead in the intricate patterns around the drying watering hole, it took my breath away.”
Drones bring new perspective, museum says
South Australian Museum’s Director Brian Oldman, welcomed the success of drone photos in this year’s competition.
“By having technology such as drones accessible to photographers, it broadens the scope to capture moments that often aren’t seen by the naked eye,” Mr Oldman said.
“It’s a reflection of the continuous growth in photographers adopting new technology year on year.”
Both the South Australian Museum and the Powerhouse Museum in New South Wales will showcase every finalist in exhibitions until November and October respectively.
While drone shots were among those highlighted by the judges this year, other photos taken in more traditional ways were just as striking.
For example, Victorian shutterbug Marcia Riederer’s photo ‘The Ghost of the Forest’ depicts the mysterious ghost fungus mushroom, which uses bioluminescence to glow in the dark.
It was taken in a pine forest at Ocean Grove on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.
Animal behaviour winner
Not all the photos were taken in Australia, with Scott Portelli capturing his image off the coast of Tonga.
It shows humpback whales competing for a female mate.
“Even after 16 years documenting humpback behaviour in the region, it is still truly heart-thumping and adrenaline-pumping action,” Mr Portelli said.
Animal portrait winner
A spikey-looking crab in the Lembeh Strait, off the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia, earned WA photographer Ross Gudgeon a commendation for animal portraiture.
“Typically, decorator crabs attach pieces of sponge and seaweed to themselves to camouflage and hide from predators (which makes them very poor photographic subjects),” Mr Gudgeon wrote in his caption accompanying the image.
“However, Achaeus spinosus attaches stinging hydroids to itself to ward off potential predators (making it a very attractive subject for photography).”
While Queensland photographer Neil Pritchard claimed the landscape photo award, his image is less about land than it is about moving water.
Mr Pritchard was praised for his photo of a torrential cascade of water at Barron Falls, on the Barron River near Cairns.
“When Barron Falls (Din Din) is in flood, the usually tranquil scene is transformed into a tumultuous cataract as huge volumes of water make their way to the coastal plain below,” Mr Pritchard wrote.
“The sheer violence of this display, coupled with the deafening roar, makes it an unforgettable experience.”
Teenager Floyd Mallon was commended for capturing lightning strikes bursting against a black sky on a beach in the New South Wales Hunter region.
The 17 year old took the photo at Fingal Bay, saying it was the “most amazing display of lightning” that he had ever seen.
“For the composition, I decided to focus on a man standing at the edge of the water with an umbrella to add a sense of scale to the image,” he wrote.
Threatened species winner
Northern Territory photographer Etienne Littlefair captured an apparently narcissistic lizard being tricked by its own reflection.
The photo taken at Adelaide River shows the endangered Mertens’ water monitor with its tongue outstretched.
“This extremely bold specimen ostentatiously approached me to investigate the good-looking lizard in my dome port while I observed another nearby pair engaged in courtship,” Mr Littlefair wrote.
“Sadly for him he was staring at his own reflection, not the mate of his dreams.”
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