From a salmon punching a bear in the face to a penguin that seems to have no head, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards announced its winners this year.
The organization fields thousands of submissions for each of its photo categories: creatures of the land, creatures of the air, creatures of the sea, a junior award for photographers 18 years old or under, an internet portfolio award, and a people’s choice award.
Jennifer Hadley, a photographer from Texas, claimed the top prize as the overall winner for her January 2021 photo of a 3-month-old lion cub tumbling out of a tree in the Serengeti region of Tanzania.
“It was definitely unexpected,” Hadley told NPR. “How often do you see cats falling out of trees?”
Though shots like these are often unpredictable, she said photographers prepare themselves for the unexpected.
“What you can anticipate is potentially something happening so you want to position yourself in the way you think that animals will move, where the light is, how that’s going to affect the speed of your camera,” Hadley said.
Hadley will receive a handmade trophy from the Wonder Workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, two photography bags, and a one-week safari in Kenya. There, she hopes to potentially capture the great migration, when millions of zebras, wildebeests and gazelles roam across the Serengeti during the dry season in search of fresh grass and water.
Despite taking home the top prize, Hadley had only recently begun to pursue photography full time. She left her corporate job in 2021 to pursue wildlife photography. She called it a leap of faith.
“It was a little bit scary, because I had a good job, well paid, and it’s what I’ve done my whole career. So to make that leap and go into the unknown and try something completely different, that I didn’t know if I could really do on a professional level or not, was nerve-wracking,” she said. “But I just thought, if not now, when?”
John Chaney, a businessman and photographer of over 50 years, was one of the 10 “highly commended winners,” recognized for his August 2021 photo of a salmon seemingly punching a bear in the face at the foot of Alaska’s Brooks Falls.
From late June to September, mature salmon make an arduous upriver journey from the ocean to the gravel beds of their birth to spawn every two to three years. The National Park Service estimates 200,000 to 400,000 salmon successfully leap the waterfalls each year.
Chaney said bears planted themselves at the top and bottom of Brooks Falls to feed on the flapping salmon.
“Wherever wildlife is happening, you try to stake out a good spot and you just take pictures for hours trying to get the best image, whether it’s a unique facial expression or an animal doing something unique to make the picture special,” he told NPR.
Chaney said he does not have any tips or tricks to taking a comedic shot.
“It’s just luck,” he said.
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