Judging the Competition 2018

Looking back over the past four years of Nature’s Best Photography Africa, I am filled with a sense of wonder and gratitude. NBPA is a non-profit organisation and despite having no premier sponsor, the organisation once again delivered a world-class product out of Africa, for Africa and about Africa.

What I found really amazing over the years has been the dominance in numbers of part-time photographers among the award winners. In the world of my own opinion, I tend not to differentiate between professional and amateur practitioners. Instead, I prefer to think of full-time and part- time, wildlife photographers.

The rationale is simple. There are thousands of part-time, wildlife photographers out there who can afford to buy the best, high-end professional equipment available. They have the financial means to travel extensively to iconic African wildlife destinations and return from there with elaborate portfolios of professional-quality results. However, the converse is also sadly true. There are many full-time wildlife photographers who are nowhere near the top of the game. It has become clear that the traditional, full-time nature photographer is finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the overwhelming number of good part-time wildlife photographers in the challenge of recording extraordinary behavioural images that depict action and interaction taking place in exquisite light.

The majority of full-time nature photographers entering Nature’s Best Photography Africa responded to this challenge by using a wide variety of inventive techniques and innovative hardware in an effort to produce striking images that deviate from the traditional norms. In many cases, however, this revolutionary approach to the wildlife theatre of opportunity failed to deliver award-winning results. This was principally because of the poor technical quality of the images. In the 2017 NBPA awards we saw, for the first time, images taken by remote controlled devices. Because the photographer was in total control of the entire process from set-up to shutter release, the resultant images could qualify for top honours in the competition. In such cases the photographers were rewarded for both their innovative approach as well as the exquisite technical and pictorial quality of their entries.

In judging Nature’s Best Photography Africa 2018, the judges considered the end result and not how it was achieved. For example, if a photographer had spent several days partially submerged in stagnant water to get his shot, the end result had to reflect the effort before it could qualify for any special recognition of merit. Similarly, using unconventional methods or inventive gear to capture an image added no credit if the pictorial and technical quality of the result was judged to be inferior.

So it came as no surprise that the Photographer Of The Year in the 2018 Nature’s Best Africa competition came from the ranks of the part-time photographers. Moreover, this was the third time it has happened in four years of the event.

Congratulations to Gonnie Myburgh for enriching our lives with a well-balanced and professionally edited portfolio depicting many of Africa’s iconic destinations. The way in which she allowed nature to tell its own stories was special. At the same time the consistently high quality of her entries unquestionably separated her portfolio from the rest.

Balancing that performance by a part-timer, a full-time nature photographer and Nikon Ambassador snatched up the Photograph Of The Year Award by an overwhelming margin. His image of a lioness settling a score with a hyena is stunning in its impact and quality. Well done, Thomas Vijayan.

Sadly, the judges concluded that the overall standard of the entries in the Africa Up Close category did not live up to expectations. It was therefore decided to withdraw this category from the NBPA 2018 awards.

The organisers of NBPA 2018 decided this year to move the deadline for submissions to a later date in the year. This was done to prevent a clash with the closing dates of many other major photographic competitions. However, we did not foresee the massive challenges this would create for the judges and for myself when I had an unplanned back operation during the judging process.

Since virtually all the NBPA judges over the past few years have been full-time nature photographers earning part of their income from taking people on safari, many had to make significant sacrifices to meet their obligations as judges of the competition. At times they were scattered all over the world and had to judge the NBPA entries at airports and hotel rooms while in transit to their next destination.

So allow me to record a special word of gratitude to the 2018 NBPA judges, many of whom have served on the panel since the inception of the competition. Thank you so much to you all for your time and professionalism in performing your valuable duties for the competition. You have selected a profound library of images for both the exhibition and the book that will perpetuate an outstanding promotion for the genre of Nature Photography.

For those enthusiastic nature photographers who were not able in the past to acquire the exquisite NBPA annual Catalogue, mostly because of high courier costs, we have great news. Not only will the 2018 Catalogue be available as an eBook, but every NBPA catalogue since 2015 will be available for purchase in an electronic format as well.

My sincere congratulations go to all the NBPA 2018 Award Winners. I trust that those who either visit the exhibition in the Iziko Natural History Museum Cape Town over the next few months or peruse the catalogue will enjoy this amazing set of photographs as much as we enjoyed selecting them.
Warm regards,
Lou Coetzer
NBPA 2016 Moderator in Chief