from Theo Bosboom
What a joy and honour it was to be a member of the jury of the 2016 edition of the European Wildlife photographer of the year! An honour first of all because it is one of the most important nature photo competitions in the world, particularly because for me, and many others, it is also the most exciting one, with a long tradition of awarding innovative and creative photographs of nature. And an honour because my fellow jury members – Alex Mustard, Pete Cairns, Cornelius Nelo and Guillaume Billy – are all very skilled and well respected photographers, whose work I have been following for many years. It was a big joy because of the high standard of the submitted pictures. The quality of the pictures just seems to get better each year and it is very inspirational to see so many great images in such a short time. But the best part of the long jury weekend was for me the way we were able to work together as a jury.
Although on paper the jury was not really diverse – five male photographers, all from northern Europe (!) – our tastes were refreshingly different. We were all championing our own favourites in what we felt best represented the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Just as importantly we were all willing to listen to the passionate and persuasive arguments of each other. We were true democrats fighting for the best possible outcome. It was all about idealism and conviction, never about hierarchy. Despite all the different opinions and discussions, we were unanimous about the overall winner and were all most content with the final selection.
The GDT received around 20.000 images from … European countries this year. This is a new record, confirming the popularity of the contest. So what is needed to get your picture through all the rounds of judging into the final selection of winning images? The demanding prejudging process was executed by all jury members individually, at home behind their own computer, without hearing the opinions of the others. Efficiency is inevitable when you have to judge such a large amount of pictures, which means that you decide in a few seconds and with one push of a button if you want an image to go through or not. This may seem a bit unfair to all photographers that put so much effort in taking the images and selecting and preparing them for the contest. But when you ask yourself the question “is this a potential winner” the really outstanding images are quite easy to spot. I should make it clear that we were asked to be big-hearted in this first round, and be generous if there was any doubt. Finally, all jury members have taken part in photo competitions themselves, most still enter, and so entrants can be assured we felt the full responsibility of taking the right decisions.
The second stage of judging took place during a 3 day session in Potsdam, Germany. At this stage there were thousands of images left, all of high quality and usually technically flawless. At this stage the judges valued originality and approach more than anything. As a jury member, it is nice to be surprised and if you see an image you have not seen before you are more likely to vote for it. Nevertheless it is very clear that nature photographers do favour certain species and certain places above others, often following – consciously or unconsciously – inspirational work from other photographers or even awarded pictures from previous contests. This might not be the best strategy to get awarded, although some pictures from iconic places and species do make it to the final selection each year, when they add a new original twist to the subject or if they manage to surpass the level of perfection that their predecessors had already reached.
When we reached the final stages of judging the pictures that were still in the race were checked for digital image manipulation (by controlling the raw files) and we discussed any other forms of manipulation. This has unfortunately lead to the disqualification of some stunning images that did not comply with the rules. In some cases this was extra sad, because we found that the image would have been selected and sometimes even would have been better without the manipulation. Like I mentioned before, the jury was unanimous in the choice for the overall winner. It is an exciting image, that grabbed our attention from the first time we saw it. You could say that the image has it all: it has a great mood, an impressive species and the perfect timing. Furthermore it is innovative, because it shows a fresh insight into the behaviour of killer whales in a cold and dark winter night and is taken in challenging conditions with the intelligent use of artificial light and a high iso setting that a modern camera allows for. And yet this photograph has a timeless quality of a classic image of nature as well, it is simple and very effective. This rare combination of elements was simply irresistible to the jury and made this image a well deserved winner.
On behalf of the jury