Shooting stars: The winners of the Sunday Times Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition 2015

13 December 2015 - 02:00 By Tiara Walters

We chat to the winner and runners-up in the Sunday Times Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition 2015 to find out more about the stories behind their spectacular photographs

An African lion makes its way across the flooded Okavango
An African lion makes its way across the flooded Okavango
Image: Michael Viljoen

WINNER: Leaving the comfort zone by Michael Viljoen

In the flooded Okavango in Botswana in April, Knysna-based Michael Viljoen caught this lion - which had just spotted a crocodile lurking beyond the frame.

"Wildlife photography is about brilliant light and excellent opportunity - I was fortunate to get both in this scene," says Viljoen. "Apart from creating decent depth of field, and choosing a shutter speed that would arrest movement without blurring it, I underexposed to not burn the bright highlights in the lion's face.

"For a sense that we were right there in the water, we parked in a low position. The lion's eyes evoke danger. The water's hue adds to this ominous mood."

After some growling, the lion swam across the channel.

Lions aren't known for their love of water, so why did he do it? He had his eye on a lioness, of course... and she had already crossed to the other side.

Viljoen has won a trip for two to the Maasai Mara in September 2016 to watch the Great Migration on an all expenses-paid, seven-day luxury safari worth R120,000 courtesy of Wild Eye.

FIRST RUNNER-UP: Where giants roam free by James Kydd

James Kydd's aerial shot of an Okavango elephant herd contains forceful elements that place the subjects in rare perspective. The circular palm bush holds the eye and the elephants convey a real sense of raw Africa.

"This image was taken for the Okavango Wilderness Project during a 2,500km mokoro expedition following the Okavango River from its source in Angola to its end in the Kalahari," says Kydd, of Cape Town.

He adds that showing these giants from the air "portrays them as they are: a delicate part of a much larger system. Africa loses an elephant every 15 minutes. If we cannot protect the water that the continent's elephants depend on for their survival, we may lose them... and a piece of ourselves."

Kydd has won a seven-day luxury photo safari to the Maasai Mara worth R60,000, courtesy of Wild Eye.

SECOND RUNNER-UP: Suspended symmetry by Lizet Grobbelaar

A fleeting frame that allows the viewer to marvel at nature's beauty and design, this shot shows a booted racket-tail hummingbird feeding on fuchsias in the Tandayapa Valley, Ecuador.

Photographer Lizet Grobbelaar of Pretoria says, "A hummingbird beats its wings 80 times a second and rotates them in a figure eight to allow backward flight." To get this shot, she "had to use flashes that offered a capability of 1/16,000th of a second".

Grobbelaar has won a four-day wildlife photography workshop at the Bush House, Madikwe Game Reserve, worth R22,950, courtesy of Wild Eye.