Nature and Biodiversity

Nature in full focus at the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition

The winners of the fourth Close-up Photographer of the Year competition have been announced.

The winners of the fourth Close-up Photographer of the Year competition have been announced. Image: Unsplash

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The winners of the fourth Close-up Photographer of the Year competition have been announced.
  • A wildlife image of two salamanders falling prey to a carnivorous plant in Canada won the overall award.
  • Most categories focused on aspects of the natural world, highlighting the importance of restoring and preventing further nature and biodiversity loss.

Incredible moments from nature in all its glory have been captured on camera from photographers around the world.

The fourth Close-up Photographer of the Year 2022 competition (CUPOTY) attracted over 9,000 entries from 54 countries. The 11 categories were largely focused on natural-world subjects such as insects, fungi, invertebrates and plants. And, as the title suggests, all images entered had to be close-up, macro (extreme close-up) or taken with a microscope.

Competitions like this highlight the importance of restoring and preventing further nature and biodiversity loss.

This year’s overall winning entry was in the Animals category and captured by Canadian photographer Samantha Stephens. Her striking image showed two salamanders falling prey to a carnivorous pitcher plant in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario.

Salamanders trapped by a plant was the winning image of this year’s Close-up Photographer of the Year competition.
Salamanders trapped by a plant was the winning image of this year’s Close-up Photographer of the Year competition. Image: © Samantha Stephens/cupoty.com

“While following researchers on their daily surveys, I saw a pitcher with two salamanders floating at the surface of the pitcher’s fluid, both at the same stage of decay. I knew it was a special and fleeting moment,” explained the artist.

Nathan Benstead, a 17-year-old British photographer, was named Young Close-up Photographer of the Year with his picture of slime moulds.

This image of slime moulds won the Young Photographer of the Year title.
This image of slime moulds won the Young Photographer of the Year title. Image: © Nathan Benstead/cupoty.com

“I was walking through my local woodland when I came across a log covered in slime-mould fruiting bodies,” he recalls. “I set up my camera gear and focused on a cluster amongst the moss.”

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Judges praise “astonishing images”

This year’s judging panel included Wildlife Photographer of the Year Karine Aigner and Amateur Photographer editor Nigel Atherton, among others, and all were impressed by the variety of subjects captured and the photographers’ mastery of their craft.

“Countless times, looking at the Top 100 pictures, I have sat in astonishment at the skill and curiosity of the entrants in capturing the incredible wonder of the world,” says CUPOTY co-founder Tracy Calder.

Most of the images appear to have involved high levels of patience and a certain amount of luck, like this photograph of termites being attacked by a tropical drongo bird taken by Anirban Dutta from India, which won the insects category.

A drongo bird swooping on a swarm of termites came top in the Insects category in the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition.
A drongo bird swooping on a swarm of termites came top in the Insects category in the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition. Image: © Anirban Dutta/cupoty.com

“Before the start of the monsoon every year, some species of termite swarm in the late afternoon and early evening – this behaviour is known as nuptial flight. One day I witnessed this event near a petrol pump in the town of Cooch Behar, India. There were thousands of termites drawn to the powerful street light, and one black drongo. This bird spent almost 20 minutes swooping through the termites, snatching and eating them as it went,” Dutta explains.

Among other entries described by the jury as “astonishing” was the winner of the Underwater category, a tiny jellyfish that appears to walk on its hands, by Viktor Lyagushkin from Georgia. The photo was taken beneath the ice of Russia’s White Sea.

This image of a stalked jellyfish captured beneath the ice of Russia’s White Sea won the Underwater category in the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition.
This image of a stalked jellyfish captured beneath the ice of Russia’s White Sea won the Underwater category in the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition. Image: © Viktor Lyagushkin/cupoty.com

A spider that ambushes prey by disguising itself as bio-debris won the Invertebrate Portrait category. It was captured by British professional photographer Jamie Hall in a conservation park in Brisbane, Australia.

An Arkys Curtulus spider waiting for its prey won the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition in Invertebrate Portrait category.
An Arkys Curtulus spider waiting for its prey won the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition in Invertebrate Portrait category. Image: © Jamie Hall/cupoty.com

Wim Vooijs from the Netherlands won the Butterflies & Dragonflies category after the judges said he “cleverly reduced a Damselfly to a series of shimmering light circles”.

This image of a banded demoiselle dragonfly covered in dew won the Butterflies & Dragonflies category in the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition.
This image of a banded demoiselle dragonfly covered in dew won the Butterflies & Dragonflies category in the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition. Image: © Wim Vooijsl/cupoty.com

“I found this dew-covered male banded demoiselle on a reed stem among the streams near my hometown, Ede in the Netherlands” he says. “Banded demoiselles are easy to approach as they rest and dry in the early morning. I tried to find an angle that would produce bokeh bubbles in the warm light, creating the atmosphere that I desired in the picture.”

Sebastien Blomme from France came top in what the judges describe as a “highly competitive” Plants category, with his image of a snake’s head fritillary flower framed by the shadowy form of a tree in the distance.

A snake’s head fritillary flower, which won the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition in the Plants category.
A snake’s head fritillary flower, which won the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition in the Plants category. Image: © Sebastien Blomme/cupoty.com

“Snake’s-head fritillary is one of my favourite flowers,” he recalls. “This one was taken in the city of Toulouse, France. It usually grows on wet meadows but can also be found in forests. In this image, I wanted to introduce some context, but keep the flower as the centre of interest. I managed to get a tree in the background and decided to keep it out of focus so that its shape is only suggested.”

The fight to reverse nature loss

Nature and biodiversity loss was a major topic on the agenda of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos 16-20 January, 2023.

The programme included sessions on a range of topics, such as how to better fund climate action, and the visionary and collaborative leadership required for a sustainable future.

The Sustainable Forest Economy Challenge is one nature-based solution launched during Davos week 2023 on the Forum’s Uplink innovation platform. The project is the first of two innovation challenges led by insurance firm and timberland investment manager, Manulife – with support from 1t.org, among other partners.

Putting the health of the planet at the centre of the future economy, the initiative seeks to support eco-focused entrepreneurs working to secure sustainable forest management practices.

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