Congratulations to Matthew Bagley, winner of the 2021 Australian Photography Awards Wildlife / Animal Category. Each year we look to our Wildlife / Animal category to teach us about our relationship with the natural world.
Matthew’s image so tenderly portrays the connection between human beings and our surrounding environment. The human hand balanced against the baby cuttlefish, so tiny in comparison, made us question the scale of our insurgence upon the world. This complex layer underpinning a heartfelt moment transformed our view of not only the scene at hand, but the enormity of our footprint against a fragile ecosystem. In spite of this, we feel that the image is one of hope, gesturing towards a future where our relationship with the natural world is one of careful collaboration, regardless of the scale of our difference.
We would also like to congratulate Hannah Le Leu and Christine Ward, recipients of Second and Third place respectively, as well as the other 20 finalists in this year’s Wildlife / Animal category.
Finally, our deepest gratitude to Epson Australia, Ilford, Momento Pro, Urth and Format Framing for supporting the Portrait category in 2021. It is through these organisation’s generous support that we are able to continue highlighting the most exciting Australian photography year after year.
Hannah Le Leu
Against All Odds | A Green Sea Turtle hatchling cautiously surfaces for air to a sky full of hungry birds. Against all odds, this hatchling must battle through the conditions of a raging storm whilst evading a myriad of predators. Not only has the tropical storm brought out thousands of circling birds, but there are also patrolling sharks and large schools of fish on the hunt for baby turtles. Only 1 in 1000 of these hatchlings will survive, will this one survive against all odds?
Black-shouldered Kite | Came across this beautiful juvenile black-shouldered kite perched on an almost dead tree in Moreton Bay, Qld. I felt pretty happy I was able to get close to it without it being afraid.
Sirenia | A mother and calf dugong swim through the deep blue of the Ningaloo Reef. These ocean vegetarians are notoriously shy, making this encounter a moment I will never forget. Taken using natural light while free diving on a single breath.
Buddhilini de Soyza
A turbulent swim Incessant rains in Masai Mara had caused the Talek river to flood. This unusual coalition of five male cheetahs (Tano Bora – Fast Five), were looking to cross this river in terrifyingly powerful currents. It seemed a task doomed to failure. These five held a special place in our hearts and we knew the dangers associated with the crossing (many cheetahs have died crossing much less daunting waters). We were delighted when they made it. While privileged to have witnessed this scene, it was a timely reminder of the damage wreaked by human induced climate change.
Entourage | A manta ray is surrounded by an entourage of yellow tail scad. Small fish rely on larger mega fauna for protection and as a nursery while they grow. An example of the complex relationships all species both large and small have with each other in our oceans.
Stilted Reflections | I have often dreamed of taking an image of birds walking in the clouds so when I found a cliff and birds below I stayed for a few days. On the last day there was a magnificent sunset. I zoomed out and photographed the birds as they walked through the water (the entire background is a reflection). The image works if you turn it upside down too.
Electric Blue | The brilliant iridescence of the Blue Whale cutting through the surface of the water off the coast of Western Australia.
Baitball | A whale shark swallows a large mouthful of baitfish while hunting on the Ningaloo Reef. A behaviour that has rarely been documented naturally in the wild. The whale sharks rely on other predators such as tuna to slow and round the bait fish into a ball to enable them to strike. Taken using natural light while free diving on a single breath.
Bubble Lion | I’ve watched them move. The way they interact, the way they play, the way they express emotion. Before I came to the moment I already knew what I wanted; silky smoothness of fur, the humanistic expression in their eyes but above all, the bridge between air and water, the trail that connects them to the surface. A small moment in the underwater world where they feel understood and appreciated. Port Lincoln, South Australia, Australia
Weedy Seadragons | Found on Bancoora beach after stormy seas, these beautiful Weedy Seadragon remains are a reminder of the fascinating and sacred depths just out of sight. 4 by 5 inch Wet Plate photograph.
Resting Dragon | A long-nosed dragon rests on wire mesh outside a building at a remote gold mining operation in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia. This lizard has positioned itself in such a way that the insects attracted to the light above will eventually settle on the wire and become an easy meal for the little lizard. I always find it fascinating when wildlife has worked out how to benefit from a human-made environment.
School Photo | A large school of Bumphead Parrot Fish pack closely together as night slowly turns to day on the Great Barrier Reef.
Mothership | School of juvenile fish, hiding amongst the tentacles of a spotted jellyfish. Photo was taken under Ammo jetty in Perth, Western Australia.
Yellow Gobies in Bottle | These little yellow gobies have made their home in a stubbie bottle Lembeh Indonesia they were quite inquisitive while I slowly approached and got in position to get this shot
Mother's Love | A Pale Octopus tenderly caring for her eggs. Each egg is individually hung one by one. For several months she will care for her eggs ensuring oxygenated water flows over them. She will slowly die of starvation as her eggs begin to hatch.
I thought I was witnessing these two fish fighting but then I realised that the Cowfish was dive bombing the Blennie to that the Blennie could try to remove the Isopod from the Cowfish nose, which would kill her. An unlikely relationship. Port Hughes, South Australia
Green turtles will feast for hours on an unsuspecting giant jellyfish, starting on the soft tentacles and working their way up to the soft outer bell of the jellyfish slowly reducing the home of some small fish to a lifeless shell. The jellyfish is one of the green turtle's primary food sources and an easy to catch meal. Their behaviour is not commonly seen with deep ocean species of jellyfish, but often the currents bring these large creatures closer to pinnacles and rocky outcrops from the mainland.
Midnight Manta | Having spent days on the lookout for manta rays from the shores of the Ningaloo, clocking up multiple kilometres across the soft sand, I spotted two beautiful rays in the sandy shallows. swam out to join them and noticed three more barrel feeding in the plankton-filled depths further from shore. Completely pre-occupied with feeding I was able to position myself in the firing-line of the manta as it scooped up mouthful after mouthful of plankton with impossible grace. Staring into the enormous mouth of the manta seeing the gill-plates light up is something I'll always remember.
In alphabetical order
Connection | Historically speaking, the relationship between man and the natural world has been fraught with violence, disconnection and suffering. But if we approach the natural world with a gentle spirit we can find moments of profound connection.
Eastern Spinebill | An Eastern Spinebill I saw in Yarraman State Forest, happily eating away on an Orchid Tree.
Eastern Yellow Robin. | This was taken in Bunya Mountains. The poor little Robin was trying really hard not to get blown away by the intense winds.
Mating Dance | In the waters surrounding Sydney, the ceratosoma amoenum nudibranch are a relatively common sight, and perhaps often taken for granted. I came across this photogenic mating couple on the coral encrusted boulders that line the bottom of Sydney’s Botany Bay. The nudibranch, or sea slug, possess reproductive organs for both sexes, and mate through an appendage that is located on the side of their bodies.
Cuttlefish Sunburst | Having three hearts, eight arms and blue blood the cuttlefish may be the closest thing we can find that resembles an alien life form. These elegant creatures congregate near the shore during the winter months to perform their annual mating rituals, which in many cases will end with he cuttlefish dying. I was lucky to observe this giant cuttlefish only minutes from my home in Sydney. The early morning sun created an eye-catching orb under the water, which complemented this otherworldly life form perfectly.
A portrait of an Australian Raven who lives in a tree in my garden. It watches me through my kitchen window
A Bee-eater Siesta | In a remote area of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, a group of rainbow bee-eaters sit half asleep waiting for the sun to rise and feel the warmth of the sun upon themselves.
Emus on the Salt Lake | There had been recent rain in the area and the salt lake, Lake Gairdner, had several centimetres of water over it. When we came across these emus they seemed to be foraging, in spite of the fact there was no vegetation within many kilometres of them and the water would have been excessively salty for drinking. The night before there had been a storm and it's possible that insects were blown over the lake and, exhausted, dropped into the water. The emus were more than likely feeding on the insects.
On the Attack | I spent several days by the lakeside photographing the great crested grebes as they courted. One morning this great crested grebe took off after another intruder in his territory. I was lucky to have the right settings and be in the right position to capture the action as it happened.
An Alpine dingo feasts on a dead brumbies (wild horse) carcass. Photographed up in the wilds of Kosciusko National park, Snowy mountains, Australia
Healthy Oceans | A school of spangled emperor and other reef fish school in the pristine coral gardens of the Ningaloo Marine Park. Demersal fish populations so close to shore like this are becoming extremely rare due to the impacts of over fishing. This sanctuary zone provides a small glimpse into what a healthy ocean should like like.
Whale Graveyard | A free diver discovers a humpback whale skeleton lying on the sea floor. Following an oily slick and tracing it to it's source we were surprised to discover a humpback whale skeleton lying on the sandy bottom of the Ningaloo Reef. Only being recently stripped bare, there was a myriad of life in the surrounding area. Whales provide a vital boost to the ecosystem's food chain feeding and providing nutrients to countless species on the reef. Taken using natural light while freediving on a single breath.
Togetherness | A pair of very active Humpback whales breaching together off Port Macquarie, NSW during the Northern migration in June 2021
Wild goose | Geese have long been a symbol for the wildness and unpredictability of the spirit. The celts preferred them as a symbol than the more docile dove. A creature that is often used as shorthand for silliness yet full of humble dignity. 35mm Ektachrome film photograph of a Cape Barren Goose.
Rays on a Ray | A large Cow Tail Ray enjoying some sunshine on the remains of a shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef. This image was taken shortly after sunrise with some beautiful lighting peaking over the rusted metal.
Orca Magic | A life changing encounter with a couple of Orcas in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico. With a pounding heart I hopped in the water and waited. After about thirty seconds the large iconic dorsal fin broke the surface just a few meters ahead. With a pounding heart I held my breath and dived down to capture this image.
Death stare | Known affectionately to the locals of Ngurrungurrudjba in the heart of Kakadu National Park as "Humpy", this large male saltwater crocodile doesn't need to do much talking to stay the boss of the billabong, usually just his death stare does the trick...
The Sauna | As our zodiac neared the infamous volcanic Deception Island, I spotted this pair of Gentoo Penguins soaking up the thermal heat that was radiating off the beach. I quickly disembarked and framed up this shot right before turning and wandering off in the opposite direction. Deception Island, Antarctica
Superman | Our first landing on the Antarctic Penninsula was along the stunning Neko Harbour. No sooner had we landed when I spotted this lone Gentoo Penguin standing along a rocky ridge. I thought it was an interesting shot and raised my camera. The moment I pressed the shutter, he raised his flippers and let out a wild vocalisation as if to announce his arrival. Neko Harbour, Antarctica
Streamline | This juvenile Humpback Whale was incredibly playful and all too willing to show off his moves during our last encounter of the day. The water in this particular location was crystal clear, making for perfect underwater photography conditions.
Weedy Tightrope | Beautiful to watch move in the ocean, they look more like they have wings than fins or flippers hovering on the ocean floor. Colourful and intriguing, the visual impact is amazing. You just need to find the perfect balance when two elements come together. Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
LETISHA | An educational, intimate experience with a rescued Kysna Elephant named, Letisha, at the Plettenberg Sanctuary in South Africa. Letisha experienced a near fatal poaching attack in 2012, losing a tusk and suffering a bullet hole to the ear. This experience was inspired by the 2013 National Geographic documentary titled, Battle for the Elephants, featuring journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley who explored the illegal ivory trade and the plight of Africa’s elephants.
THE HORSES | I have an affinity with horses. Most of my young life I owned and rode horses. Now I enjoy spending hours in a field or paddock, observing the way they communicate and connect with their environment and each other. By doing this often you get to understand them, without words they, in the same way develop a way of understanding you. Even the domestic horse which exists in a relatively controlled environment possesses that wild, instinctive nature. This is what inspires me to capture that raw wild spirit of freedom and peace.
Adrift | A Leafy Seadragon majestically drifting through the cool waters of Edithburgh, South Australia. This species is tremendously hard to spot and often goes unnoticed as it camouflages amongst the underwater flora. When I found this leafy, I couldn't help but admire its unique beauty.
Salty Skull | Timing is everything in wildlife photography! After swimming with a school of salmon just off the shore in Bronte, Sydney, I hopped out to launch my drone for an aerial perspective. As I framed up the shot I was delighted to watch on as two swimmers swam through the fish, slowly carving out the eyes of what developed into a near-perfect skull!
Mouse Plague , NSW June 2021 | Bumper crops and good weather produced perfect conditions for an explosion of mice in the farming regions of Central West and North West NSW. Hundreds of mice trapped in a grain bin try to escape.
An adult humpback whale explodes from the Ocean on their annual migration up the east coast of Queensland, Australia
Shell-F Isolation | During lock-down, i found a new love for macro photography. This hermit crab, really epitomizes isolation and safety for me. And I can never get over the details of them
Moray eel defending its territory under The Navy Pier, Ningaloo Reef. I used an Olympus TG6 in an Ikelite housing with a single Ikelite strobe.
The Tawaki penguins on the West Coast of New Zealand have so much Character I could of stayed for days with these guys.
There are very few creatures in the animal kingdom that are so complex, so unique and so alien to us that we are mystified by their very existence. Imagine a creature that has three hearts, blue blood, and the ability to alter its appearance. Hundreds of thousands of giant Australian cuttlefish (Sepia apama) gather each winter from May to August in the shallow waters of South Australia’s Upper Spencer Gulf for their once-in-a-lifetime spawning event to mate and perpetuate the species. The cuttlefish display an array of patterns, textures and colours to indicate their intentions.
Humpback whales are very protective of their newborn calves and will stay within close proximity. using grunts and whistles to communicate to her calf, she is always aware of where the curious youngster might be and always ready to move at a moments notice. In the deep blue tropical waters of the south pacific, humpbacks frequent the waters to give birth and nurture their young, preparing them for a long journey south to Antarctica.
Mudskippers are amphibious fish with unique adaptations that allow them to inhabit the rich, muddy intertidal zones of tropical estuaries. In the North western part of Australia, these mudflats can stretch for hundreds of kilometres and the mudskippers are in large numbers as far as the eye can see. Mudskippers absorb oxygen through their wet skin and can stay out of the water for extended periods of time. As the tide recedes the mudflats are exposed, and the mudskippers emerge from their underwater burrows to put on a performance of courting bravado.
Dark Lord | Out of an underwater cavern, this majestic, colourful male cuttlefish emerged, curious of my lens, coming closer, looking into his own reflection, thinking if the reflection is challenging him.
Fluctuating Charm | This lions mane jellyfish was almost as long as I am tall! It's tentacles would wrap around my hand and gloves and it would just float in between the scuba bubbles
An Eastern Gobbleguts fish is found carrying eggs in its mouth. The male opens his mouth near the female’s cloaca orifice, as she pushes the eggs out in a cone-like manner. The male uses the tip wedged in his throat to keep them in position, while still allowing himself to feed, and protect the precious eggs. He will continue to hold the eggs for a month before hatching occurs.
Theo Van Wyk
The Dry | The Australian Darter was drying out in the breeze, I am amazed by the complexity of the feathers and patterns, this was taken in Exile Bay, Concord, Sydney