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Scottish seabird snap earns £100k grand prize in global photography contest

Henley Spiers took this shot of a gannet seconds after it dived off the Shetland Islands

AN image captured in Scotland of a gannet smashing through the water at 100 km per hour in the Shetland Islands has earned a British photographer the grand prize in an international photo competition.

Henley Spiers, from Exeter, won the huge £100,000 ($120,000) prize in the world-renowned Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA) nature competition.

The contest saw entries from all over the world split into several categories, such as portrait, colour, black and white and the all important nature category.

Speaking of how he got his shot, the professional underwater photographer said: “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.

“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.”

He added of the image, taken off Noss Island in 2021: “When the fish are spotted, the gannets position themselves in the wind and extend their wings as brakes to precisely adjust their position in relation to their prey.

“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.

“Its high speed caused many failures, but what was important to me was to maintain strong eye contact with the bird’s eye.”

He continued: “Tragically, the gannets of Shetland are in the midst of an avian flu pandemic which has ripped through their colonies.

“I recently returned from Shetland and bore witness to heart-wrenching scenes within the bird populations.

“One can only hope that nature will be sufficiently resilient to resist the damage caused by this disease.”

The HIPA was launched in 2011 by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai and brother of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.