55th Year for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year

55th Year for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A Weddell seal appears to be in a deep sleep. Lying on fast ice (ice attached to land) off Larsen Harbour, South Georgia, it was relatively safe from its predators – killer whales and leopard seals – and so could relax and digest. Weddell seals reach lengths of up to 3.5 metres–with the females larger than the males , their bodies are covered in a layer of blubber to keep them warm above and below the icy waters of the Southern Ocean. (Black and white category). Photograph: Ralf Schneider

A sleeping seal, a zombie beetle and a tragic turtle are just some of the captivating and emotive images from the Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is now in its 55th year!

The competition will again come on centre stage, showcasing some of the most compelling wildlife photos imaginable.

We spoke to Juergen Freund, who has been among the winners a staggering nine times and was invited this year, to be a judge. He travelled last February to London and is returning later this month to take part in to the prestigious award ceremony. "I didn’t think I would ever get an invitation as a judge. I was quite tickled pink … it was a beautiful surprise".

Juergen Freund (centre) in London with the judges of this year's Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Others, from left to right: Rosamund 'Roz' Kidman Cox OBE (UK) | Helen Gilks (UK) | Ole Jørgen Liodden (Norway) | Theo Bosboom (The Netherlands) | Kathy Moran (USA) | Paul Hilton (Hong Kong) | Melissa Dale (USA) | Tim Littlewood (UK).

"The standard is incredibly high and the jury, of which I was a part of, spent a full week holed up in a dark room at the London Natural History Museum viewing, deliberating and deciding on the winners", says Freund. "These are all amazing images from dedicated nature photographers both amateurs and professionals".

Through their ability to inspire curiosity and wonder, the 100 images showcase wildlife photography as an art form and challenge us to consider both our place in the natural world and our responsibility to protect it. Among the newly revealed Highly Commended images is a black-and-white photograph of a Weddell seal by German photographer Ralf Schneider, described by Chair of the jury Roz Kidman Cox as 'a portrait of pure, relaxed bliss'. Matthew Ware's disturbing image of a turtle fatally attached to a washed-up beach chair is a poignant reminder of the impact of waste ending up in the ocean.

This would have to be, to me at least, the number one wildlife photography competition in the world. There are so many … you just have to look at Facebook. They all sound quite similar but after all this, the WPOY is the one that stands out … the ceremony, everything that is involved, the NHM … there is a kind of mystical thing around it.

This year's competition attracted almost 50,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across 100 countries.

The overall winners will be announced on 15 October at an awards ceremony in the Natural History Museum's iconic Hintze Hall. Winning images are selected for their creativity, originality, technical excellence.

An ever-adaptable raccoon pokes her bandit-masked face out of a 1970s Ford Pinto on a deserted farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. In the back seat, her five playful kits trill with excitement. On this evening, she paused at the exit to check the surroundings before squeezing out to spend the night looking for food. (Urban wildlife category) Photograph: Jason Bantle

Dr Tim Littlewood, Director of Science at the Natural History Museum and member of the judging panel, says, "For more than fifty years this competition has attracted the world's very best photographers, naturalists and young photographers, but there has never been a more important time for audiences all over the world to experience their work in our inspiring and impactful exhibition. Photography has a unique ability to spark conversation, debate and even action. We hope this year's exhibition will empower people to think differently about our planet and our critical role in its future."

After the flagship exhibition opening at the competition's home, the Natural History Museum, the images will embark on a UK and international tour, bringing the beauty and fragility of the natural world to millions beyond London.

Associate sponsors for the upcoming exhibition at the Natural History Museum are renewable energy company Ørsted and digital camera manufacturer, Panasonic LUMIX.