It’s with humility and immense pride that I can announce that my photograph ‘Living Rock Art‘ has won me the overall title of 2014 GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
The photograph is an artistic take on two blesbok antelope stampeding across the plains of South Africa’s Kariega Game Reserve. The shot was entered in the competition’s Nature’s Studio category before being awarded the overall title by the panel of judges. However, it’s a photo that very nearly didn’t happen…
I was in South Africa working on a story about the rhino poaching crisis and one particular rhino named Thandi that had survived a brutal attack by poachers. I think I had photographed Thandi from every possible angle so my guide – and now good friend – Brendon Jennings and I decided to take a break and explore the floodplains of the Bushman’s River. That’s when we found the herd of blesbok.
With the light on the plains fading fast, I decided to switch to a longer exposure and shoot in a more artistic style than my usual documentary approach. I stepped off the side of the vehicle to use the vehicle as a blind and to get a ground-level angle of the animals stampeding past. That’s when I heard a loud crack…
My ankle had turned in a hole. I landed in a heap in the dust. The pain was unbelievable but, fortunately, I had somehow planted my tripod and camera safely as I fell. I was able to sit up just in time to see the blesbok approaching. I grabbed my camera, locked my focus on them and panned smoothly as they careered past. Only once they had disappeared in a cloud of dust did I turn my attention to my injuries.
My fall may have been but the picture was no accident. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I know that, but I was working hard to capture their movement in a still photograph. What I hadn’t banked on was that the shapes created by their striking black and white leg markings would so closely resemble Bushman rock art, which influenced the title of the image.
I collected my prize in Lunen, Germany at a ceremony marking the competition’s 14th year surrounded by incredibly talented photographers that I have nothing but respect for…which makes this win all the more special.
I’m pleased to say that my success in the competition was not just restricted to Africa’s plains. My photograph of a shoal of tiny Okavango robber fish swimming up the Selinda Spillway in northern Botswana was selected as Highly Commended in the Underwater category too.
All of the winning images can be seen on the competition’s website www.gdtfoto.de
You can see my winning shots and more on my website www.conservationphotojournalism.com