Just over seven months ago the first entries for this year’s competition started filling up our inbox. Little did we know that the standard of photographs would be so high that judges and At Close Quarters photographic guides, Lance van de Vyver and Villiers Steyn, would find it near-impossible to choose an overall winner from a long list of spectacular images.
After independently choosing their five personal favourites from all the monthly winners and then rating them with 1 to 5 stars, one image stood out: Scoring a whopping 9 out of a potential 10 was a remarkable image of a back-lit African Darter shaking water off its wings that won the Movement in Nature category back in April, photographed by deserved winner, Geo Jooste.
What makes Geo an even worthier winner, is the fact that his images ended up winning Judges’ Choice awards four times throughout the competition, emphasising the quality of his work and his ability to enter the right image in the right category.
Geo wins a 4-night photographic safari for two at Indlovu River Lodge worth R40000, which will be guided by At Close Quarters photographic guide, Lance van de Vyver before the end of the dry season this year, when the lodge’s two world-class underground hides attract an endless procession of thirsty mammals and birds to photograph.
This is what the judges had to say about Geo’s winning image, as well as three other close contenders each of them personally liked a lot:
OVERALL WINNER: Geo Jooste
April Judges’ Choice-winner in the Movement in Nature category
Villiers: “The first shot of Geo’s I saw way back in March this year was a photo of a black-maned lion walking through a dusty Kalahari scene. At that moment I already knew that Geo would be a contender for this year’s grand prize! It ended up not being his lion image (which also made my top 5, by the way) that clinched it for him, but rather this beautiful darter shot.
There’s so much that I love about this image: It’s perfectly framed, the bird is pin sharp, the lighting is dramatic and it’s so nice and colourful. But what makes it are those little streaks of water that shoot off the bird’s wings, capturing the movement in the most spectacular fashion. Congratulations, Geo. Your work is remarkable!”
Lance: “When Villiers and I first saw Geo’s darter photo, we both knew that it had a great chance of winning the overall prize. This striking picture grabs your attention and does not let it go. It takes incredible technique and control to nail this type of shot, and nailed it was! The backlighting adds a whole new dimension as it causes the droplets to shine and the feathers to glow. The composition works very well and the eye travels around the image very nicely as there is always something to capture its attention without distracting from the main subject. It’s an incredible shot, Geo. Well done!”
THREE OF LANCE’S OTHER FAVOURITES
April’s Judges’ Choice-winner in the Black & White category: Gonnie Myburgh
Lance: “This was a very close contender for me! The key to this shot is its simplicity. Gonnie used a long lens and teleconverter to get a beautiful smooth clean background, whilst still ensuring that the image is tack sharp in all the right places. The composition is good and the eye is lead around the image and ultimately back to the two faces of the hyena pups. There’s also great ‘life’ in the eyes and I’m sure every photographer would wish this cute picture was their own.”
Why it didn’t win: “Again, for me this image was a very close contender for the grand prize and I cannot fault it much in any way. But if we want to nit-pick, the one piece of grass in front of the feet takes away ever so slightly from the overall ‘cleanness’ of the image. This is purely because the rest of the image is so immaculate.”
March’s Judges’ Choice-winner in the Black & White category: Nicolas de Vaulx
Lance: “This shot of Nicolas’s is a real crowd-pleaser. Elephants are difficult to make look good at the best of times and Nicolas has certainly nailed that aspect. This image draws the viewer in with its layers of textures. The background is rendered beautifully with the telephoto lens and the elephants’ skin really contrasts well against this with its texture.”
Why it didn’t win: “Personally I feel like this image just needs a little bit more contrast to really make it sing. Also, when we get in really close, I can see some evidence of over-editing around the trunks, which slightly subtracts from what is overall a fantastic image.”
August’s Judges’ Choice-winner in the Black & White category: Richard Knight
Lance: “This is one of many breathtaking images that Richard entered in this year competition. The panic on the faces of these poor animals going through what is arguably one of the biggest challenges of nature is clearly evident. I love the depth in the image created by the contrast of the darker foreground animals versus the lighter ones in the back. This is an image that you can look at for many hours and still find something new that captures your attention. I seriously hope this is printed large and hung on your wall, Richard!”
Why it didn’t win: “I feel like this image would have worked better with a slightly different crop to take away some of the ‘dead space’ in the center. I also keep bouncing back to the dark piece of earth or elephant dung at the bottom, which takes my eye away from the most important part of the photo – the wildebeest.”
THREE OF VILLIERS’ OTHER FAVOURITES
May’s Judges’ Choice-winner in the Animals in the Environment category: Vittorio Ricci
Villiers: “This photograph of Vittorio’s epitomized the Animals in the Environment category. My favourite thing about this photo is the sea of grass with its beautiful colours and lines that form the perfect backdrop. Not far behind is the placement of the animals and tree that ensures perfect balance in the image. The cherry on top is the fact that all the gemsbok are looking straight at the camera – you couldn’t recreate this scene if even if you tried for the rest of your life!”
Why it didn’t win: “The answer is simple: because Geo’s shot scored higher. At the end of the day we had to rank our favourites and Geo’s darter photo only just beat Vittorio’s, despite the fact that is was flawless.”
May’s Judges’ Choice-winner in the Black & White category: Willem Kruger
Villiers: “Willem’s spider web photograph is nothing short of remarkable! The patterns are mesmerising and the contrast fittingly dramatic. And you just can’t help but follow the detail along each and every strand as your eyes hop from one beady droplet to the next.”
Why it didn’t win: “It was simply a case of composition. I would have loved to see the spider at the top right of the frame instead of at the bottom left looking down and ‘out’ of the image.”
June’s Judges’ Choice-winner in the Black & White category: Douw Steyn van Zyl
Villiers: “Had it not been for one or two small things, this image would have made the top of my list. The cuteness factor is only out-competed by the superb composition and that big, beady eye of the baby squirrel. I also love the contrast in the photo, which was enhanced by a very good black & white conversion.”
Why it didn’t win: “Ultimately the distracting right-hand edge of the frame, together with the fact that the back of the squirrel’s head is a little bit soft, prevented Douw’s image from getting my nod as the winner.”
Congratulations again to all the monthly category winners and especially to Geo, who will hopefully have an unforgettable time with Lance at Indlovu River Lodge – where photographers get the ultimate At Close Quarters-experience!
Keep an eye on the Indlovu River Lodge and At Close Quarters Facebook pages and websites for more information about next year’s photographic competition, which will contain a host of brand new categories!
Indlovu River Lodge: www.irl.co.za
At Close Quarters: www.atclosequarters.com