Developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London, "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" is one of the most prestigious awards in nature photography. Last year's spectacular images set the bar exceptionally high, but if these "first look" photos tell us anything, it's that the finalists of 2016 won't disappoint.

Some 50,000 entires from 95 countries will be whittled down over the coming weeks based on originality, creativity and technical excellence. While the contest's top 100 will be put on display only in late October, we've selected some of our favourite contenders to whet your appetite. 

Photographer Imre Potyó was captivated by the chaotic swarming of mayflies on Hungary's River Rába and dreamt of photographing the spectacle beneath a starlit sky. For a few days each year, vast numbers of the insects emerge from the Danube tributary, where they developed as larvae. Image: Imre Potyó/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
This image was the culmination of weeks of scouting in Bristol, UK. Photographer Sam Hobson's wanted to capture the inquisitive nature of the urban red fox in a way that would pique the curiosity of its human neighbours about the wildlife around them. Image: Sam Hobson/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Lance van de Vyver tracked a pride of lions through South Africa's Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve for hours to get "the shot". Eventually, the big cats stopped to rest by a waterhole, but their attention was not on drinking. The lions had discovered a Temminck's ground pangolin. By curling into an impregnable ball, the scaly anteater managed to avoid becoming lunch. Image: Lance van de Vyver/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Thousands of giant cuttlefish gather each winter in the shallow waters of South Australia's Upper Spencer Gulf to spawn. A successful male will grab the smaller female with his tentacles, turn her to face him and use a specialised tentacle to insert sperm sacs into an opening near her mouth. The preoccupied cuttlefish (the male on the right) completely ignored photographer Scott Portelli, allowing him to get close. A line of suitors waits poised in the background for a chance to mate. Image: Scott Portelli/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 
Without a long tongue to slurp up insects, the yellow-billed hornbill must feed using its massive beak-like forceps. Foraging beside a track in South Africa’s Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, this beautiful bird was so deeply absorbed in termite snacking that it gradually worked its way to within six metres (19 feet) of where photographer Willem Kruger sat watching. Image: Willem Kruger/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
In the open ocean, there’s nowhere to hide – but lookdown fish (family Carangidae) are masters of camouflage. Recent research suggests that these animals use special platelets in their skin to reflect polarised light. This makes the fish almost invisible to both predators and potential prey. Photographer Lago Leonardo snapped this mind-bending shot near Cancun, Mexico. Image: Lago Leonardo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
In recent years, Norway's whales have started hovering around fishing boats during the winter in the hope of landing free food. Here a large male orca feeds on herring that have been squeezed out of the boat’s closing fishing net. The relationship is problematic in more ways than one: the whale's interest in the boats has led to multiple entanglements, as well as damage to fishermen's gear. Image: Audun Rikardsen/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Super Macro Related 2016 09 14


Top header image:Isaac Aylward/Wildlife Photographer of the Year