The annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition is now in its fiftieth year. It is a global showcase of the very best nature photographs and I was absolutely blown away by the finalists on show in a stunning and moving display of their work at the Natural History Museum.
When the competition launched in 1965 it received 361 entrants. This year it received over 42,000 from across 96 countries and the photographs for the 100 finalists are showing at the Natural History Museum until next August, as part of a global tour that allows them to be seen by millions of people across six continents.
The photographs are so diverse in every way. From powerful evocative images of caged lions bred solely to be hunted to delicate images of a new frog emerging from a giant ball of spawn. There's the incredible detail in Tim Lamon's photos of rare birds-in-paradise in New Guinea to Nick Hawkins' flock of black vultures feeding off the carcass of a green turtle.
A real eye-catcher is Steve Winter's Hollywood Cougar of an urban cougar out at night, prowling in front of the famous Hollywood sign. And then in contrast, there's Jasper Doest and Lukasz Bozycki's image of a bat hanging from the roof of a hut in a sub-zero climate.
Almost inevitably there are the obligatory photos of sharks but I found the two on show amongst the most powerful. One by Rodrigo Friscione Wyssmann has a Great White caught on a fisherman's long line. Sharks need to move at speed to survive but after getting caught, the shark couldn't move and so suffocated.
The second image, Sea of Death by Paul Hilton, is of hundreds of freshly sliced shark fins drying on a rooftop in Hong Kong. Over 100 million sharks are killed each year for this delicacy. The vendors are constantly on the run from protest groups who try to disrupt this practice. This photo from Paul revealed a new secret hideout for those who de-fin the sharks.
The stories accompanying the images infuse the photos with so much power so it's great that the Natural History Museum has put up little excerpts next to each image. Many of the stories though reveal big sacrifices from the photographers.
For example, Adriano Morrett was stung repeatedly whilst trying to capture his image of jellyfish, an image he'd had in mind for 15 years. Whilst another photographer, Paul van Schalkwyk whose shot Shifting Sands is a finalist, died in March 2014 when his plane crashed in Namibia.
The photography isn't just confined to the animal kingdom though as the finalists include those who look at earth sciences - how our Earth works and how it has evolved - as well as its current ecological state.
A stand-out shot for me was Filthy Riches by Charlie Hamilton James which is a powerful shot of the Amazon landscape ravaged by illegal gold mining. Since the financial crash in 2008, the value of gold has skyrocketed, causing this illegal activity to flourish. Over 6000 hectares have been devastated by this mining since 2008, a problem worsened by the 180 tonnes of mercury poisoning of soil and rivers (mercury is used in the mining process).
It must have been almost impossible to come to a decision on a winner such is the quality and the variety of the entrants. Yet a winner was picked and the prize went to Michael 'Nick' Nichols for his quite beautiful black and white photo of female lions resting with their cubs in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park.
And how lovely that young photographers are also encouraged with a separate category of their own. The winner was Carlos Perez Naval for his image of a scorpion soaking up the sun near his hometown in Spain. It's a stunning image - you can see all the detail in the scorpion's exoskeleton and the harsh sun situates the scorpion perfectly. Incredibly, Carlos was eight when he took his photograph. Eight. Frightening as well as amazing!
And it's not just still images in the exhibition. The competition acknowledges developments in technology and there is a category for time-lapse photography. I was initially quite sceptical over seeing these - I've always loved the power and message in single still images - but there were some interesting entrants in this category. Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas's entry on the patterns created by migrating wildebeest fascinated many visitors and there was quite a huddle around these.
This acclaimed exhibition premieres at London's Natural History Museum each year before touring more than 60 cities in the UK and across the world. It showcases the award-winning images, bringing the talent and vision of each photographer to all who visit.
The photographs are all showcased in a large, spacious setting so even though it's busy, there's plenty of room. And every single one of the images on show is worth seeing. They are all quite stunning and a timely reminder of how beautiful the world is - and how fragile.
Natural History Museum, London to August 20, 2015
Admission £14 (concessions available)
Wildlife Photographer of the Year is co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide
1. The last great picture WINNER - Black and White AND Overall Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 Michael 'Nick' Nichols USA
2. Eye of the spawn FINALIST - Amphibians and Reptiles Ewald Neffe AUSTRIA
3. Hollywood cougar FINALIST - World in Our Hands Steve Winter USA
4. Sea of death FINALIST - World in Our Hands Paul Hilton INDONESIA
5. Touch of magic FINALIST - Underwater Species Adriano Morettin ITALY
6. Filthy riches FINALIST - World in our Hands Charlie Hamilton James UNITED KINGDOM
7. Stinger in the sun WINNER: 10 Years and under AND Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014, Carlos Perez Naval, SPAIN