The deadline for the 2017 photography competition is fast approaching. We have received hundreds of submissions so far, and we’re still accepting entries across the five categories – Astronomy, Behaviour, Earth science and climatology, Ecology and environmental science, and Micro-imaging – until 31 August. There is £500 up for grabs for the overall winner, with a £250 prize available for each of the remaining category winners. If you’re thinking of taking your camera out but need a bit of inspiration, we spoke to last year’s winner, Imre Potyó, about what went into getting the winning shot and any advice he has for people getting started in photography.
Tell us a bit about your image. What does it show and why did you want to capture it?
The Danube mayfly (Ephoron virgo) disappeared from the rivers of Middle-Europe for decades owing to water pollution, but they returned to the Danube River in 2012, probably due to the increasing water quality. Thus, their unique night-time behaviour became a new and challenging photo subject. I first photographed their swarming activity in 2013 and decided that I would shoot them in front of the starlit sky. Their swarming period usually starts at the end of July or at the beginning of August in the Danube and one of its tributaries (Rába River), and it can be repeated over several evenings, but we don’t know exactly when in advance. Furthermore, their life is only few hours long, so I only had a short time each day to realize my plans. At the beginning, females fly above the water surface together with males, where they copulate. After copulation, the females increase their altitude and begin their above-water flight, which ends in oviposition onto the water surface. One night the weather conditions were very clear near the Rába River, so I could shoot the flying insects with the bright stars.
Did you have to carry out any special preparation to capture the image?
We can observe the largest mass swarming in near-natural gravel-bed rivers, for example along some river sections of the Danube and their tributaries – Rába and Ipel – in Hungary, so first I had to travel there. But the water level couldn’t be too high, otherwise I could not approach the riverside or walk into the water where they fly in large clouds. The swarming period of the Danube mayflies is unpredictable, but a researcher of them notified me about its start. I used a flash to illuminate the Danube mayflies with a continuous bright light for the picture. I was standing on the river, so me and my equipment were totally covered by the huge masses of buzzing mayflies. They were all around me but it was a fantastic and memorable feeling. Their wings rustle and generate whirring, which can be so loud at the peak of the swarming. I took hundreds of pictures those nights, but the composition was correct only in some cases.
When you submitted your photo did you think you had a good chance of winning?
Since this highly spectacular and dynamic phenomenon had not been photographed yet, I expected a good place for the photo. And by taking it I could draw attention to these endangered water insects.
What makes a great photo?
A nature photograph is truly successful only if it is unrepeatable and technically perfect, and its subject is novel and unique. We should not repeat the well-known subjects; rather we have to create our own unique style and have to show the unknown wonders of nature. I think these photos are very important from the perspective of popular science. Well-known photographs can positively affect the thinking of large audiences who can view them in albums, exhibitions and on the internet.
What advice would you have for someone getting started in photography?
They should be an enthusiast of plants, animals and landscapes, they should become an expert in several nature specialities, and they should present the secret wonders of the world uniquely. And most importantly: never give up!