The US$120K Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA) – the biggest single cash prize global photography competition – has awarded British photographer, Henley Spiers, the top prize.
Spiers captured a photo of a gannet dive bombing the ocean off the coast of Noss Island in Scotland.
‘The photograph was captured on my very first day visiting Shetland, the northernmost location in the United Kingdom, a cold, harsh, and wild place of which I have grown extremely fond,’ he told UK publication, The National. ‘The handsome gannets visit here seasonally to nest, turning the dark cliffs white – they are one of the most impressive animals I’ve ever come across, masters of air and sea. This photograph is captured underwater, surrounded by diving gannets and I tried to display the controlled violence of the scene with a photograph which goes beyond what is seen by the naked eye.
‘Dialling my shutter speed down, and moving my camera along with the movement of the seabirds, an artistic blurring occurred, eventually after many attempts, leading to the frame we see here.’
Gannets are an oceanic bird species, known to aggressively dive bomb to catch fish at around 60 miles per hour, or 100km/h for those who subscribe to the more civilised metric system.
Spiers explains how the gannets dive by strategically positioning themselves in the wind and extending their wings as brakes.
‘The speed of these amazing birds hitting the water reaches 100 kilometres per hour, slashing the surface of the water like a living torpedo, absorbing the huge blow through their strong skull and protective airbags in the head and chest. The sound of her penetrating the surface of the water was loud. I wanted to create a new photo of these seabirds so I tried to capture their movement in slow exposure.’
Each year the prize follows a theme, with it being ‘Nature’ in 2021 resulting in many lovely finalist images. The 2019 contest theme was Water, and was won by none other than Australian underwater photographer, Jasmine Carey.
Here is a selection of the 2021 winners and finalist images.