Incredible Image of Antarctic Seals Floating on Ice Wins Wildlife Photography Competition

An aerial drone shot of crabeater seals lounging on an Antarctic ice float has scooped the top prize of a new photography competition.

French photographer Florian Ledoux was announced Nature TTL Photographer of the Year 2020 on Tuesday, becoming the first winner of the new annual competition, which received 7,000 entries from 117 countries.

"Florian's image provides a unique angle that is not often seen in wildlife photography," said wildlife cameraman Will Nicholls, who organized the event. "The judges had a tough choice to make, but the detail and strong composition of the seals surrounded by the broken ice made it stand out from the crowd."

In an interview with Nature TTL, an online tutorial and resource site for photographers, Ledoux explained how he took up photography as a child and as an adult, and used his holiday from the French Navy to travel and take pictures. He has since quit the Navy, which he says was a "stepping stone" in his photography career.

Ledoux says he is particularly drawn to cooler regions like Norway, Canada and Greenland. The winning photo was taken on a trip to Antarctica, after the vessel he was boarded put down the anchor.

"The next day I decided to fly the drone, knowing that the broken ice would look particularly spectacular from the air," he recalled. "The image was taken at 4 a.m.—as the sun never sets at that particular time of year—and shows the seals resting after a feed."

His advice for anyone who wants to experiment with drone photography: "Be aware and ethical with your approach when using drones with wildlife. Pay attention to the behaviour of the animal and don't spook it." Also, don't forget to check out local regulations.

According to Ledoux, the crabeater seals did not appear too concerned about the alien objects above them: "They did not fear the drone, and stayed happily in place," he said.

As for being chosen as this year's overall winner as well winning the Wildlife category, Ledoux said: "I am so excited to be chosen as the overall winner, I was never expecting this.

"For me, it is very important to show the state of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and to have an image from there win this award is important exposure."

 Above the Crabeater Seals
Ledoux's winning image, "Above the Crabeater Seals." The aerial view allow us to better understand how the seals use the ice to rest and give birth. Florian Ledoux/© Nature TTL

There were several categories in the competition, including landscape, won by Marek Biegalski. Like Ledoux, Biegalski used drones to capture wildlife from an unusual angle—this time, using the technology to photograph a flock of sheep keeping cool under a tree.

 Shadow game
"Shadow game." The aerial image, taken in autumn light in Tuscany, shows a flock of sheep sheltering from the sun under the shadow of a tree. Marek Biegalski/© Nature TTL

Minghui Yuan, from China, took the top prize in the Macro category with a gray tone portrait of a damselfly on a blade of grass.

Chinese Painting
"Chinese Painting": "Against the background of the sky, I discovered the connection between the lines of the grass and the subject. Nature itself is a simple painting." Minghui Yuan/© Nature TTL

"I was wearing a piece of waterproof overalls in the stream of Dabie Mountain, waiting to observe this Matrona basilaris (damselfly)," said Minghui.

"Matrona basilaris is the king of the stream here. There is a male Matrona basilaris every 3 meters. They were waiting for the female to fly over its territory; the male chased away a male opponent and then stopped at the tip of the grass."

Saptarshi Guyen, a 15-year-old from India, won the Youth category with a picture of a drongo hunting for insects in the fire.

Pheonix
"Pheonix": "This is a full frame image, and the calmness of the drongo reminds me of the Roman Emperor Nero." Saptarshi Gayen/© Nature TTL

Guyen explained how farmers in the region burn the grass and reeds at the end of each winter to prepare the land for the next season's crops. As the fires burn, the insects come out of hiding.

"Then the brave black drongo starts capitalizing on such a moment by eating them and flying above the live fire," said Guyen. "The birds usually sit on a branch fearlessly and watch the movements of the insects as the fire spreads into a new area, then it flies close to the fire for the catch.

"This is a full frame image, and the calmness of the drongo reminds me of the Roman Emperor Nero."

Robert Ferguson secured the people's vote, winning the People's Choice Award, with a photo of a Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) attempting to swallow a fish in Singapore. Ferguson recalls the bird struggling to swallow its large prey, a non-native and particularly spiky fish.

I'm not going easy
"I'm not going easy": "This went on for over 20 minutes, with no sign of either party tiring." Robert Ferguson/© Nature TTL

"These wonderful birds are free to roam, but have established a large colony on one of the artificial islands in the old Jurong park in Singapore," said Ferguson.

"I watched, intrigued, as the bird swam in circles, dipping his bill, taking water, then raising his beak to attempt to swallow his large prey. But every time the fish extended its sharp spines on its fins—you can see it hooked on the beak here—and lodged itself firmly," he added.

The struggle continued for more than 20 minutes. Ferguson said he was intrigued by the veins in the bird's throat pouch, which had been backlit by the overcast day. To get the prize-winning shot, Ferguson had to crouch close to the ground.

A startled baby owl was the star of a photograph taken by Paul Holman, who won runner-up in the Wildlife category.

Startled Owl
"Startled Owl": " The startled look on the little owl's face adds a little humor to the image." Paul Holman/© Nature TTL

Holman said the baby owl appeared at the window during a burst of early morning sun.

"A couple of jackdaws spooked by his presence started dive bombing him," he said. "The startled look on the little owl's face adds a little humor to the image."

Alessandro Cantarelli was named runner-up for the landscape category for his photograph of "viking rainbows," taken in Iceland.

Viking Rainbows
"Viking Rainbows": "I am very attached to this photograph, both because of the technical difficulty and because it took years to make it." Alessandro Cantarelli/© Nature TTL

Cantarelli said the photo was years in the making. "Seeing such a powerful sunrise on the right was already magical, and the very intense rain made things difficult for me but it gave me a great gift: a double rainbow on my left that perfectly compensated the strong light on the right," he said.

The runner-up for the Macro category was taken by Robert Page, who has spent years taking photos of damselflies in his local park in London, U.K. This particular image was taken during last year's heatwave on "an especially hot and muggy but overcast day."

Mating red-eyed damselflies
Mating red-eyed damselflies: "I have observed and photographed damselflies on the ponds in my local park in London for years." Robert Page/© Nature TTL

"The damselflies were out in great numbers all over the surface of the water and due to the lack of direct sunlight I was able to shoot with a bit of positive compensation to leave the water white or near white," he said. "It then just became a question of looking for the most photogenic pairing and this group stood out due to the symmetry."

The mating behavior lasted about a day. Page went out the following day and it was over.

Bence Máté was highly commended for his image of a brown bear growling, warning an interloper of its presence. Máté captured "his breath vanishing slowly in the windless forest."

Breathing
"Breathing": A brown bear growls, warning of his presence to an interloper, his breath vanishing slowly in the windless forest. Bence Máté/© Nature TTL

Tamás Koncz-Bisztricz won runner-up for the Youth category, with his picture of Hungary's soda lakes.

The Cradle of Life
"The Cradle of Life": "The sparkling color pallet of the image is composed by the blue sky and the white cloud reflection on the water’s surface." Tamás Koncz-Bisztricz/© Nature TTL

"These lakes are the sanctuary of wide variety water birds," said Koncz-Bisztricz. "I took this aerial photograph by a remotely controlled drone.

"I use a special technique to slowly approach the birds from very high altitude, which is a method also used by conservation experts to count the population of the birds."