Gannet shot wins top photography award

WINNER 85424

Prize goes to Scots photographer Barrie Williams for a moment of cliff top drama.

This vertigo-inducing shot looking down on gannets from a Shetland clifftop has won Scottish photographer Barrie Williams top prize in the British Wildlife Photography Awards.

These most dramatic of seabirds are usually photographed from boats as they wheel overhead or dive headlong into the water to catch a fish, so Barrie’s picture, taken on the uninhabited island of Noss, rings the changes.

He says: “I was blown away by the sheer volume of gannets surrounding me. I studied the scene for a while, soaking in the seabird orchestra and thinking about how to convey this. Looking down, it appeared to me that the gannets far below looked like stars against the dark backdrop of the sea. Add to this the nests scattered across the cliffs and I knew I had found my image.”

Barrie, 29, who was born in Elgin and lives in Edinburgh, had never won a photography competition before, but this image won both the habitat category and the overall prize. It now appears in the book… and in a touring exhibition.
He describes himself as an amateur, but would like to turn professional. Currently working as a waiter, he has previously been a researcher on BBC Scotland’s Landward show.

He says: “I first got into photography when I visited the Seychelles on a three-month volunteer dive expedition in 2007. I had bought a cheap underwater camera to try my hand at underwater photography. As a relatively inexperienced photographer my photos proved to be a flop as there were rules beyond composition that I hadn’t even considered. However, I was fortunate enough to meet a photographer, Hamid Rad, and was inspired by his images of turtles, whale sharks and coral reefs. He offered me some advice on the rules of photography.

“On my return to Scotland, I was given a Canon G7 by my parents and quickly developed a love for photography. Since then, I have flirted with various types of photography by photographing events such as fashion shows, film premieres, club launches, and a friend’s wedding. However, I’ve always felt a natural pull towards photographing wildlife.

“I’ve been lucky enough to swim with whale sharks, manta rays, and turtles in the Seychelles and have spotted bears in Yosemite National Park, yet I still get the same delight when I spot wildlife in the UK, especially the more elusive ones such as otters, red squirrels and red deer, or a bird that I haven’t spotted before.

“It’s always an exciting experience to spot wildlife in their natural environment, especially in Britain where so many species can go unseen due to their shy nature.

“I applaud the efforts of conservation bodies who are actively managing programmes to aid the recovery of struggling species, managing invasive species, and lobbying for the reintroduction of lost species. It’s because of them that the children of the next generation might be able to experience the same glee and joy I do when encountering British wildlife.”

He believes wildlife photography can help stir emotions towards a subject from which people can otherwise feel detached. It can also help to inspire future biologists, naturalists, and conservationists.

Barrie says: “All it takes is one image, stirring up emotions of awe that can lead to a child wanting to learn more about a certain mammal, insect, reptile or bird, which could potentially then lead on to a lifelong passion to conserve that animal.”

His picture is one of many stunning images in the new coffee table book British Wildlife Photography Awards – Collection 6, published by AA Publishing, £25. An exhibition of pictures from the awards is at the Mall Galleries, London, 14-19 September; The Beaney, Canterbury, 26 September-15 November; Nature in Art, Gloucester, 15 September-15 November; Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton, 16 January-20 March.

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