Bg Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2001

organised by BBC Wildlife Magazine and The Natural History Museum, London


Nikon F90X with 18mm lens; 1/15 sec at f16; Fujichrome Velvia; two strobes.

We found grey reef sharks in this lagoon on the Beveridge Reef in the South Pacific and used bait to habituate them to meeting us at a particular coral head. Over the next fortnight, they ventured closer each day, in groups of up to eight. Most were adult females, with a distinct 'pecking order'. Though these sharks can be dangerous, we never once felt threatened. This dominant female was the biggest (about two metres long), and sometimes, out of apparent curiosity, she would swim straight towards us, then, at the last moment, gybe sharply to change direction. Once I was familiar with this habit, I could preset focus, exposure and flash and concentrate on panning the shark as she cruised in. On this occasion, she was barely 30cm from me.

'I believe that living and working on my boat, a converted old fishing vessel, is often central to achieving the images I have in my head. It allows me to spend virtually unlimited time to get to know an animal subject, its habitat and behaviour.

Winning the BG Wildlife Photographer of the Year award (even a highly commended) is a dream for many serious wildlife photographers and I was no exception. So it might be understandable that when I found out what I had won, I felt like I'd wake up any moment from this dream.

There are so many great nature photographers that I can still learn from myself and I am a bit reluctant to give advice. However there is the obvious need for patience, perseverance and respect for your subject. I think being super critical of ones own work is important - I always see room for improvement in all my images.

For my next project I am planning to sail to Fanning Island ineastern Kiribas from here (Vavau) at the onset of the hurricane season where there is a Manta ray cleaning station in the pass to the atoll. From there on to the Tuamoto Islands for more pelagic and Tiger sharks.'

Naill Benvie - Wildlife Photographer and Competition Judge said "This picture is loaded with tension -between the warm and cool tones and between the viewer and subject. The line of the fish is dynamic and the sense of motion adds to the power of the image." O

Tobias Bernhard by Pete Atkinson

For nature photographers, one competition is regarded more highly than any other, the BG Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. It attracts over 19000 entries from 60 countries. 19000 is a stack of slides 38m high, just to put it in perspective. Many of the world's top professionals enter and even a highly commended is cause for excitement.

Winners and runner-ups in each category are flown to London for the presentation from all over the world. The dinner is simply magnificent, held in the main atrium of the Natural History Museum, lit by candlelight with an 80' Diplodocus skeleton draped between the tables.

This year, for the first time, the overall winner was an underwater photographer, Tobias Bernhard. Almost amazing as the win itself, was the fact that he also won three highly commendeds (shown opposite). Four awards in one year is virtually unprecedented in the history of the competition.

Tobi was presented with his awards by Chris Packham and Andrew Bonfield.

Tobi Bernhard was born in Munich, a long way from the sea. His parents owned a house in the south of France which kindled his interest in the underwater world and where he learned to dive.

After completing his studies in graphic design he travelled all over the world for three years with his partner Nora Shayeb. Back in Munich he worked in a graphic design studio for a while before he and Nora emigrated to New Zealand in 1991. He also worked as a diving instructor in Thailand.

An interest in diving with a graphics arts background, inevitably led to underwater photography. In New Zealand he bought the 32' yacht Sedate, and sailed among the

South Pacific islands looking for adventure.

When we first met at Suva Yacht Club in Fiji he was struggling with a Nikonos V and wide-angle attachments. He soon realised that the gear was a restriction and bought a Sea&Sea housing for the Nikon F90X. Later he bought a Subal Nikon F4 housing and recently bought the last Subal housing for the F90x which Nikon in their infinite wisdom have discontinued.

In the early years I was able to help him with technical points, but he always had an almost obsessively clear view of what he wanted to achieve and would pursue it with relentless vigour until his pictures matched his vision. Now it's me who has to ask how he achieved certain effects.

At Beveridge Reef where he shot the winning picture I also took loads of slow shutter speed panning shots but mine were all utter rubbish. He seemed to master slow shutter speed techniques with ease and applied them with great skill to great whites, producing unique images from a subject which has received a lot of attention from the world's best photographers.

I have never met a

photographer quite as critical of his own work. He throws away pictures that I'm sure my agents would be able to sell. His own agents delight in his submissions since there is so little to weed out.

The Tutukaka Photo Festival in New Zealand is in it's infancy, but Tobi's winning shot which the judges had no difficulty in awarding the top prize was fished out of the rubbish bin by his partner Nora Shayeb, who has unnerving talent for picking winning pictures, including some of mine.

Her artistic influence over many years can only have had a positive affect on Tobi's photography. She is a talented painter, sculptor, builder or pretty much anything she turns her attention to.

He believes that living and working on his new boat Nexus, a converted 47' aluminium fishing vessel, is often central to achieving the images he has in his head. It allows him to spend virtually unlimited time to get to know an animal subject, its habitat and behaviour. Nexus was a long-liner and the fishing gear came off in the

Prstine Ice DesktopChicago From The Ocean

part exchange deal with Sedate. The 9 tonne ice-hold was converted into a pristine camera, computer and editing room. You wouldn't eat your dinner off the floor because it would leave crumbs: it's immaculate.

The aft working deck is protected from the sun by an upper deck which houses the shark cage, kayak and solar panels.

One of the amazing things about Tobi is that he has only been taking photos underwater seriously for five years. This year, apart from the BG win, he has won Best New Zealand Image at Oceanz 2001, and won the marine life category of the prestigious Nature's Best competition in the USA. This attracts 15000 entries from the world's top nature photographers. So I guess we'll be hearing more about Tobias Bernhard in the future.

The BG Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2001 Exhibition is now open at The Natural History Museum, London until 11th March 2002.

Tobi's website is ~tobias.bernhard/

Pete Atkinson

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