Amazing image of tree-hugging tiger wins 56th Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The embrace by Sergey Gorshko wins 56th Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (Image credit: Sergey Gorshkov, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

Sergey Gorshkov has been named as this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year, winning the 56th annual competition with his magnificent image The Embrace, of an Amur tigress hugging an ancient Manchurian fir in the Russian Far East.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, Patron of the Museum, announced Sergey Gorshkov as the grand title winner during an online awards ceremony live-streamed from the Museum on 13 October. 

Sergey's image was selected from over 49,000 entries from around the world, and also won the Animals in their Environment category.

Through the unique emotive power of photography, we are reminded of the beauty of the natural world and our shared responsibility to protect it.

Dr Tim Littlewood, jury member

Both shocking and stunning entries made the shortlist this year, including images of a Polar bear in an ice-rink show and a snow-capped peak against the sunset. Once again, the world's most prestigious and important wildlife photography competition presents us with beautiful images of the natural world, but also asks us to question our treatment and relationship to it.

The story behind the winning image

Sergey knew his chances were slim but was determined to take a picture of the totem animal of his Siberian homeland. Amur or Siberian tigers are only found in this region and it took more than 11 months for the Sergey to capture this moment with hidden cameras.

Scouring the forest for signs, focusing on trees along regular routes where tigers might have left messages – scent, hairs, urine or scratch marks – he installed his first camera trap in January 2019, opposite this grand fir. It wasn't until November that he achieved the picture he had planned for, of a magnificent tigress in her Siberian forest environment. 

With an expression of sheer ecstasy, the tigress hugs an ancient Manchurian fir, rubbing her cheek against bark to leave secretions from her scent glands. She is an Amur, or Siberian, tiger, here in the Land of the Leopard National Park, in the Russian Far East. The race – now regarded as the same subspecies as the Bengal tiger – is found only in this region, with a small number surviving over the border in China and possibly a few in North Korea.

Nikon Z7 + 50mm f1.8 lens; 1/200 sec at f/6.3; ISO 250; Cognisys camera-trap system.

Young photographer of the year

Lying just metres away, Liina was able to frame the scene and capture the expression of the youngster as it attempted to keep its hungry siblings at bay. (Image credit: Liina Heikkinen, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

Liina Heikkinen was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 for her dramatic image of a young fox, The fox that got the goose.

Liinais from Finland, and has spent much of her childhood immersed in the natural world. She is also the youngest of a family of wildlife photographers, and impressed judge Shekar Dattatri with the sense of furtive drama she managed to capture in the scene.  ‘The sharp focus on the fox’s face leads us straight to where the action is. A great natural history moment captured perfectly,’ says Shekar, wildlife filmmaker and jury member.

Nikon D4 + 28–300mm f3.5–5.6 lens; 1/125 sec at f5.6 (-0.3 e/v); ISO 1600.

Category winners

Perfect balance by Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco, Spain Winner 2020, 10 years and under (Image credit: Andrés Luis Dominguez Blanco, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

The pose by Mogens Trolle, Denmark Winner 2020, Animal Portraits (Image credit: Mogens Trolle, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

Out of the blue by Gabriel Eisenband, Colombia Winner 2020, Plants and Fungi (Image credit: Gabriel Eisenband, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

Show Business by Kirsten Luce, USA Winner 2020, Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image (Image credit: Kirsten Luce, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

When mother says run by Shanyuan Li, China Winner 2020, Behaviour: Mammals (Image credit: Shanyuan Li, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

The last bite by Ripan Biswas, India Winner 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio Award

The last bite by Ripan Biswas, India Winner 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio Award (Image credit: Ripan Biswas, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

Etna's river of fire by Luciano Gaudenzio, Italy Winner 2020, Earth's Environments (Image credit: Luciano Gaudenzio, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

Great crested sunrise by Jose Luis Ruiz Jiménez, Spain Winner 2020, Behaviour: Birds (Image credit: Jose Luis Ruiz Jiménez, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

The golden moment by Songda Cai, China Winner 2020, Under Water (Image credit: Songda Cai, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020)

See the exhibition at Natural History Museum, London

The two Grand Title winners were selected from 100 shortlisted images spotlighting the world's richest habitats, fascinating animal behaviours and extraordinary species. 

They'll be showcased on lightbox displays at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum between Friday 16 October 2020 and Sunday 6 June 2021, before touring across the UK and internationally to venues in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, and more.

This year especially – thanks to distancing guidelines – it's essential that you book ticket to see the exhibition in advance, as weekends will sell out quickly.

Limited visitor numbers and the Museum’s safety measures will ensure visitors enjoy a safe and welcoming experience, contemplating the images in a crowd-free gallery.

Book your tickets here.

Enter next year: the 57th Wildlife POTY contest

The fifty-seventh Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition opens for entries on Monday 19 October 2020, closing for entries at 11.30am GMT on Thursday 10 December 2020.

Entrants to the adult competition can enter up to 25 images for a £30 fee, which increases to £35 in the final week of the entry period from 11.30am GMT 3 December to 11.30am GMT 10 December.

Photographer under 17 can enter up to 10 images for free.

Find out how to enter and more about the competition.

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Lauren Scott
Managing Editor

Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.