Spanish photographer Mario Cea's shot, The Blue Trail, was chosen by the public from a shortlist of 25 images pre-selected by the Natural History Museum from almost 50,000 submissions from 95 countries.
Cea said his picture took about five months, 5,000 attempts and a huge amount of preparation to achieve. Capturing the flawlessly straight dive of a kingfisher in a natural way is a rare accomplishment in wildlife photography. For Cea, what makes his image special is the light trail the bird seems to leave behind it. "The incredible speed of the bird means the movement is almost invisible to the human eye, so I had to use lighting to both illuminate the image and freeze movement. I think one of the reasons people like this image is the palpable trail of light the bird leaves behind."
Mario Cea, Spain: The Blue Trail. The kingfisher frequented this natural pond every day, and Mario used a high shutter speed with artificial light to photograph it. He used several units of flash for the kingfisher and a continuous light to capture the wake as the bird dived down towards the water Mario Cea/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016
Kingfishers can reach speeds of up to 25mph as they hit the river's surface with their dart-like bill. The high-speed impact generates shockwaves through the water that can startle a fish, so speed is essential. They often catch prey below the water's surface; the kingfisher spreads its wings underwater to break the dive.
Capturing the lightning-fast dive in the wild is a real challenge for photographers. Some use bait so that they can predict where the bird will strike, but not this one. Cea says his persistence and keen observation paid off. "I observed this particular kingfisher for a long time and visited the location regularly for five months. The bird repeatedly hunted in the same spot several times – a small bend in a shallow pond with a high concentration of fish. My understanding of the bird's natural behaviour and hunting routines was essential in achieving the shot." Cea says he has heard of another wildlife photographer who took about 20,000 attempts to capture a similar kingfisher image.
The photo was taken at a small pond in the outskirts of Salamanca, north-western Spain. "The pond was created artificially as the minor diversion of a nearby riverbed. Over the years, the wildlife and ecosystem around the pond have grown naturally and it is now an established and attractive habitat," he said.
Almost 25,000 people voted for one of 25 shortlisted images, reprinted in this gallery. Did the people get this one right?
Johan Kloppers, South Africa: The stare of death. Johan saw this little wildebeest shortly after it was born in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. Little did he know that he would witness its death later that same day – the small herd of wildebeest walked right past a pride of lions and the calf was caught by a lioness and then taken by this male lion Johan Kloppers/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Guy Edwardes, UK: Eye contact. The Dalmatian pelican, seen here on Lake Kerkini, Greece, is the largest species of pelican in the world. It is native to eastern Europe, Russia and Asia, however, its population is currently threatened in some areas from hunting, water pollution and habitat loss, particularly a decline in wetlands Guy Edwardes/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Rudi Hulshof, South Africa: Confusion. Rudi wanted to capture the uncertainty of the future of the southern white rhino in the Welgevonden Game Reserve, South Africa, because of poaching. He anticipated the moment when these two rhinos would walk past each other, creating this silhouette effect and the illusion of a two-headed rhino Rudi Hulshof/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Daisy Gilardini, Switzerland: Hitching a Ride. This female polar bear was resting with its two young cubs in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba, Canada, when it suddenly got up and rushed downhill through the deep snow. One of the cubs jumped on to her, holding onto her furry backside with a firm bite – totally unexpected and humorous behaviour Daisy Gilardini/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Bernd Wasiolka, Germany: Sisters. Bernd encountered a large lion pride at a waterhole in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa. One of the two males spray-marked the branches of a nearby tree. Later two females sniffed the markings and for a brief moment both adopted the same posture Bernd Wasiolka/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Victor Tyakht, Russia: Rainbow Wings. The bird’s wing acts as a diffraction grating – a surface structure with a repeating pattern of ridges or slits. The structure causes the incoming light rays to spread out, bend and split into spectral colours, producing this shimmering rainbow effect, captured here by Victor. Victor Tyakht/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Thomas Kokta, Germany: Monkey Ball. Cold temperatures on Shodoshima Island, Japan, sometimes lead to monkey balls, where a group of five or more snow monkeys huddle together to keep warm. Thomas observed a large group exhibiting this behaviour close to a tree, giving him the vantage point he needed. A few days and a tree climb later he got the image he desired Thomas Kokta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Cari Hill, New Zealand: Breakfast Time. Shortly after purchasing the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya, the owners learned that the only remaining Rothschild’s giraffes in the country were at risk, as their sole habitat was being subdivided into smallholdings. So they began a breeding programme to reintroduce the Rothschild’s giraffe into the wild. Today, guests can enjoy visits from resident giraffes in search of a treat Cari Hill/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Tapio Kaisla, Finland: Head-On. Tapio took a trip to Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjell National Park, Norway, to find these magnificent oxen amid their natural habitat. Even though spring is not rutting season for these animals, they were already seriously testing their strength against each other and the air rang out with the loud bang of the head-on collision between these two beasts Tapio Kaisla/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Stephen Belcher, New Zealand: Into the Fray. Stephen spent a week photographing golden snub-nosed monkeys in a valley in the Zhouzhi Nature Reserve in the Qinling Mountains, China. The monkeys have very thick fur, which they need to withstand the freezing nights in winter. This image shows two males about to fight, one already up on a rock, the other bounding in with a young male Stephen Belcher/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Sergio Sarta, Italy: The Couple. During a dive off the coast of Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia, Sergio was finning across a volcanic, dark grey, sandy seabed when suddenly, he saw a bright-coloured organism – a fire urchin with an elegant couple of little Coleman shrimps. The fire urchin has quills that are very toxic to humans – the shrimps avoid this danger by seeking out safe areas between the quills Sergio Sarta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Reinhold Schrank, Austria: Caterpillar Curl. Reinhold was at Lake Kerkini, Greece, taking pictures of birds, but the conditions were not ideal, so he looked for other options. He saw this caterpillar on a flower and encouraged it onto a piece of rolled dry straw. He had to work fast because the caterpillar was constantly moving Reinhold Schrank/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Michael Lambie, Canada: The Stand-Off. It was breeding season and all the male turkeys were putting on a show for the females, but a number of birds seemed a little confused. This one was more concerned with the potential suitor in front of it, not realising it was its own reflection Michael Lambie/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Marco Gargiulo, Italy: Spiral. Sabella spallanzanii is a species of marine polychaete, also known as a bristle worm. The worm secretes mucus that hardens to form a stiff, sandy tube that protrudes from the sand. It has two layers of feeding tentacles that can be retracted into the tube, and one of the layers forms a distinct spiral Marco Gargiulo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Karine Aigner, USA: Into the Night. During the summer months, 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats arrive at Bracken Cave in San Antonio, Texas, USA, to give birth and raise their young. Each evening at dusk, the hungry mothers emerge into the night in a vortex, circling out through the entrance and rising into the sky to feed on insects Karine Aigner/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Gunther Riehle, Germany: Facing the Storm. Gunther arrived at the frozen sea ice in Antarctica in sunshine, but by the evening a storm picked up. Initially just strong winds, by the early morning snow had arrived. He concentrated on taking images of the emperor penguin chicks huddled together to shield themselves from the force of the snowstorm Gunther Riehle/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Gordon Illg, USA: Ghostly Snow Geese. These snow geese almost seemed like ghosts in the pink early morning light as they landed among sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico, USA. Gordon had no control over the patterns made by the landing geese, all he could do was compose the image around the cranes and keep pushing the shutter button as the geese dropped down Gordon Illg/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 David Maitland, UK: Willow Up Close. David photographed the crystallised chemical salicin, which comes from willow tree bark. Salicin forms the basis of the analgesic Aspirin – no doubt this is why some animals seek out willow bark to chew on David Maitland/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Cristobal Serrano, Spain: Tasty Delicacy. The natural world provides countless magical moments, none more so than the delicate moment a tiny, elegant hummingbird softly inserts its slender bill into the corolla of a flower to drink nectar. Cristobal was lucky enough to capture that exact moment in Los Quetzales National Park, San José, Costa Rica Cristobal Serrano/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Bence Máté, Hungary: Opportunistic Croc. Although this shot was taken from a safe hide, Bence recalls that it was chilling to see the frightening, killing eyes of this four-metre-long Nile crocodile. This individual was baited with natural carcasses on an island in the Zimanga Private Game Reserve, South Africa, but crocs also come here to bask in the Sun Bence Máté/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Annie Katz, USA: Colorado Red. It was a crisp, clear day in January when Annie saw this Colorado red fox hunting in her neighbour’s field in Aspen, Colorado, USA. The light was perfect and she took the photo as the fox approached her, looking right into the lens of her camera Annie Katz/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Andrea Marshall, USA: Jelly Starburst. Andrea was snorkelling off the coast of Mozambique when she came across hundreds of large jelly fish. Many were covered with brittle stars – opportunistic riders, taking advantage of this transport system to disperse along the coast. Delicate lighting makes the jelly glow, so the viewer can focus on the subtle colours and textures Andrea Marshall/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Ally McDowell, USA/UK: Eye in Focus. Ally often focuses on colours and patterns underwater. She nearly threw away an image of a fish’s eye but her partner asked to see it and then turned it upside down. It was then that Ally saw it was an unusual, abstract view, and so on a night dive, when the parrotfish were still and sleeping, she focused on creating a similar image Ally McDowell/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Alain Mafart Renodier, France: A Mother's Hand. Alain was on a wintertime visit to Japan’s Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park when he took this poignant photograph of a sleeping baby Japanese macaque, its mother’s hand covering its head protectively Alain Mafart Renodier/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Winner, Plants and Fungi category: Wind Composition by Valter Binotto, Italy Valter Binotto/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Winner, Underwater category: Snapper Party by Tony Wu, USA Tony Wu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 Termite tossing: Willem Kruger, South Africa Willem Kruger/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Collective courtship: Scott Portelli, Australia Scott Portelli/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Crystal precision: Mario Cea, Spain Mario Cea/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Playing pangolin: Lance van de Vyver, New Zealand/South Africa Lance van de Vyver/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Thistle-plucker: Isaac Aylward, UK Isaac Aylward/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Swarming under the stars: Imre Potyó, Hungary Imre Potyó/Wildlife Photographer of the Year The disappearing fish: Iago Leonardo, Spain Iago Leonardo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Golden relic: Dhyey Shah, India Dhyey Shah/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Splitting the catch: Audun Rikardsen, Norway Audun Rikardsen/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Blast furnace: Alexandre Hec, France Alexandre Hec/Wildlife Photographer of the Year Nosy neighbour: Sam Hobson, UK Sam Hobson/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
The People's Choice winner will be showcased in
the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum until 10 September, along with 100 other fantastic images chosen by the judges. The overall winner, by American photographer Tim Laman, shows a critically endangered Bornean orangutan making a 30-metre (100-foot) climb up the thickest root of a strangler fig that has entwined itself around a tree emerging high above the rainforest canopy in the Gunung Palung National Park, in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.