Take the Train: Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum

Bear Hug

This past summer I visited Lake Clark National Park in Alaska, to photograph Alaskan brown bears. Having photographed a few distant grizzly bears in Wyoming before, I was eager to observe these bears more closely, and I desperately wanted a window into their family behavior. I was lucky enough to watch two separate brown bear sows with spring cubs. I watched them browse for sedge grass in the meadows, forage for clams on the beach during low tide, sleep on the forest edges and most of all, play. The spring cubs were full of energy. This mother in particular was extremely patient with her cubs as they romped around and tried to get her attention. This young cub seemed to think that it was big enough to wrestle mom to the sand. Despite all of its efforts, mom stood firm, but did so with a bit of a smile. I’m sure she was happy to know that this cub was a fighter, as this attitude would serve the cub well as it learned to survive along the Alaskan coast.

If it’s been years since you wandered the halls of our Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, now might be a great time to reacquainted. If you’ve never been there, you’ll find a corner of Los Angeles you might not have imagined.  Of course, if you’re a regular visitor, get on down there!  A great new exhibit has just opened, and light rail stops right outside the front door.  I was delighted to discover that the Natural History Museum is better than ever, next door to the California Science Center and surrounded by lovely gardens…a perfect place for couples and families to stroll and admire the wonders of SCIENCE.

The newest exhibition at the Natural History Museum is a collection of magnificent nature photographs, taken by professionals and amateurs alike, as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Although this competition was born the same year as me, way back in 1965, this is the first time it’s visited California.

The exhibition is divided into several large rooms in the garden level of the museum, behind the NHM Grill. Instead of bright lights on the photos, the photos are in back-lit panels in a darkened room, which is much easier on the eyes. I wished there had been more information about the creatures in each photo, but for photographers, you’ll get all the technical details, including the type of camera and setting that was used for each photo. Be aware, this exhibition is ticketed separately from the general museum admission, although members can visit free. If you like wildlife photography, these are the best of the best and you’ll find it well-worth the ride.

And don’t forget to enjoy the rest of our Natural History Museum, with hundreds of dinosaurs, ancient mammals, the lovely Gem and Mineral collection, a great exhibit on the history of Los Angeles, including the 1939 WPA model of Downtown, the Insect Zoo, the wonderful dioramas of the Mammal Halls that were part of so many childhoods, and much more.  The Butterfly Pavilion, an annual favorite, is open until 3 September, along with a special exhibit of fossils from Antarctica and another on P-22, the “Griffith Park Mountain Lion”. Last but not least, I was pleased to discover that the Natural History Museum now has one of the best native gardens in the county; it’s worth the price of admission just to see all the kinds of plants you can grow locally that flourish in our climate, and the variety of native bugs they attract.

The photography exhibition is open now for members, and from Sunday, 19 August until 6 January for everyone else. Remember, if you’re not a member, tickets for Wildlife Photographer of the Year are separate from general admission, and cost $6 for adults, $3 for children. Enjoy!

For those who want the full story, here’s an edited version of the Museum’s official press release:

Los Angeles, 10 July 2018 – The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA) presents Wildlife Photographer of the Year, on loan from the Natural History Museum in London. Making its West Coast debut, the exhibition will celebrate 99 award-winning photographs that illustrate the beauty and drama of the natural world, from tiny insects to massive mammals and will be on view 19 August 2018 through 6 January 2019.

Launched in 1965 with 361 entries, this year the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition received almost 50,000 entries from both professional and amateur photographers across 92 countries. The Wildlife Photographer of the Year photographs featured this season range from a swarm of monarch butterflies covering the trees in Mexico, to a lobster larva holding onto the shell of a glowing jellyfish in Tahiti, and a pair of lions attacking a giraffe in South Africa, to a school of sperm whales in Sri Lanka. Images are submitted by photographers from all over the world including China, Spain, Colombia, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Winning photographs are selected for their creativity, originality, and technical excellence, and reflect the expansive and diverse wildlife that co-habitate the planet, while also helping to promote sustainability and the conservation of the natural world.

In celebration of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, NHMLA will host its own first-ever L.A. Student Nature Photo Contest, calling on Los Angeles County K-12 students to show off their nature photography skills by observing and capturing the natural world. Through 30 September 2018, students are encouraged to explore their surroundings and take photographs anywhere, and submit their best snaps to the competition. “We are thrilled to bring the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition to the West Coast,” stated Lori Bettison Varga, President and Director of NHMLA. “It has been a pleasure to work with the Natural History Museum in London, which has fostered this competition for more than 50 years. We’re also launching our own L.A. Student Nature Photo Contest so we can motivate students to observe, explore, and record the nature around them. All the photographs that result promise a visual dialogue on nature observation and conservation, both global and local.” The competition will have four winning categories, divided by grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, each with the opportunity to win first place, runner up, honorable mention and people’s choice. The four first-place winners will receive a one-year family membership to the Natural History Family of Museums, an invitation to Haunted Museum and a Member souvenir package; the four runner-up winners will receive a wildlife-themed gift basket and a Member souvenir package; the four honorable-mention winners will receive a Member souvenir package, and the one people’s choice winner will receive a “Dinosaur Experience” Museum insider tour. All entrants will receive a complimentary student general admission ticket to the Museum and the exhibition upon online submission. The judging panel is comprised of NHMLA staff members and outside artists and photographers, including renowned National Geographic wildlife photojournalist Steve Winter and fine-art photographer Catherine Opie, and will take place after 3 October.

The exhibition is complemented by two “Nature in Focus” photography workshops. These evening events will take visitors behind-the-scenes to learn directly from scientists on the role photography plays in documenting and sharing nature collections. Instructors will educate the class on how to maximize their phone camera’s capabilities as they take photos of NHMLA’s wildlife collection.

For a complete list of programs and events at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, visit nhm.org.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is organized by the Natural History Museum of London. The annual competition is open to photographers of all ages and abilities; for more info check out www.wildlifephotographeroftheyear.com.

Joel J. Rane

About Joel J. Rane

Now I'm at work, now I'm at home, now I'm asleep, let's wake up and write something.
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