Judging the 2017 Competition

One might have thought that selecting the NBPA winners would become easier with each successive year of the competition. Not so! However, it was not only the massive 92% increase in the total number of entries that made the task more difficult. This year, many of the previously lesssupported categories, like Africa At Sea, showed a new surge of interest. Adding pressure to the increased numbers of these entries was the fact that many of their excellent images were contenders for top honours.

An aspect of the competition that has shown a welcome, year-byyear improvement lies in the integrity of the entries. In the first year of the NBPA, close scrutiny of the RAW files of the images revealed an embarrassingly high number of regulatory breaches. For example, a disappointing number of submissions had to be rejected because of digital manipulation in the editing process while others revealed unethical photographic practices or blatant violations of the competition rules. In 2017 the number of disqualified images was insignificant. NBPA appears to be finding its own respected niche among the world’s major wildlife photographic competitions.

For the first time in the short history of NBPA, a photograph taken with the aid of a remote-controlled device won an NBPA category, namely, Wild Cats Of Africa Portraiture. I am glad to say that when this particular image was judged, the adjudicating panel did not even know that the photographer had used a remotely controlled device. So the photographer was rewarded purely for the pictorial merit of his image and not in any consideration of the exceptional initiative and inventiveness he demonstrated in securing it. A similar award was made in the Birds Behaviour Category, where the photographer also used a different remote-controlled device to take the photograph. It speaks of an exciting development in the dynamic Science of photographic Art.

However paradoxical that might sound, ours is an Age in which the interaction between humans and devices is increasingly being effected by invisible wireless signals. Whereas previously it was regarded as essential for a photographer to be in physical contact with the camera while taking a picture, the new and refreshing persuasion is that the photographer who uses a remote-control device is still effectively in charge, and in control of securing the image. The photographer has to anticipate an opportunity, choose a location and then determine the optimum position for the camera.

Having placed it appropriately to compose the image he visualises, he must then still select the preferred F-stop and shutter speed before determining the precise moment at which, albeit remotely, to trigger the shutter. Introducing this dispensation makes the arenas of competitive photography future-proof and amplifies the scope within which judges can differentiate levels of merit.

Consequently it does not matter what imaginative devices for generating photographic images as yet lie undiscovered. As long as the photographer is in control, the authenticity of the result will not be challenged.

An interesting dilemma that I, as Moderator in Chief, encountered during the 2017 judging, was the issue of similarities in award-winning images. What should one do if, after judging the mammal portrait category, two giraffe images qualify among the top 5?

Or, when appraising a well-supported category of generally high standard, such as African Landscapes, one encounters two exceptional images with substantial margins separating them from the rest, yet both depict Oryx in different desert landscapes taken by different photographers?

The same question arose in the African Reptiles and Amphibian category, where photographs depicting Nile crocodiles on the hunt dominated the merit ratings. Do we dismiss those images of coincidental similarity or do we honour the preferences of the judges who devoted their professional time and expertise to judge the 2017 NBPA? I opted for the latter and allowed the judges’ independent scores to stand.

After working for months on end with good photographs and being fascinated by the stories they so eloquently tell, one tends to develop strong bonds of virtual intimacy with certain images. In my case, the judging process had already been completed by the time I left for Masai Mara on a six-week safari . So, when I left, I already knew that an image depicting the world famous Scarr and his brothers settling a fierce territorial dispute had won the African Cats Behaviour category.

The Marsh Pride of the Masai Mara, with Scarr as the dominant member of a 4-brother coalition, had been made famous by the Big Cat Diary, an international television series. For a long time after that , however, Scarr disappeared and it was thought that the famous lion had died.

Then, quite unexpectedly he reappeared, much to my delight and that of countless followers who had accepted his iconic status in the kingdom of the Big Cats. Although Scarr was limping badly and was clearly being protected by two of his brothers who had moved territories with him, it seemed fitting that he should have been featured so prominently in NBPA 2017.

It is just a pity he cannot appreciate that, of all the Pride lions on the African Continent, he has been honoured and immortalised in this very special way.

Once again the judging panel was able to select winning images that inspired us with their captivating stories and their comprehensive photographic excellence. The NBPA Photographer Of The Year Portfolio was a pleasure to judge, with some truly magnificent work to consider. Congratulations to Brendon Cremer for being the NBPA 2017 Photographer Of The Year and to Geo Cloete for receiving the NBPA 2017 Photograph Of The Year award. We sincerely hope that you, the reader, will share in the same awe and joy we experienced while appraising this fine collection of photographic Art.

Lou Coetzer

NBPA 2017 Moderator in Chief