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Beautiful portrait of barn owl wins trophy in wildlife photography contest

Julian Gardner Awards 2021
(Image credit: Steve Clayton)

The winners of the 2021 Julian Gardner Awards for nature and wildlife photography have been announced. Steve Clayton from Lincolnshire, who photographed a barn owl hovering over its dinner, won the overall prize in the annual contest run by the run by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. 14-year-old Andreas Schoefer scooped the prize in the junior section with an image of a sleeping seal.

“Steve has captured the moment when the owl closes in on its prey, hovering just above ground, wings outstretched, ready to swoop. It is a remarkable image, and the judges were unanimous in selecting it as the overall winner,” said James Swyer, GWCT press and publications manager and competition judge.

Steve admits that it was not the picture he wanted to take... “I have always been interested in photography and got into wildlife photography about 10 years ago. Now that I am semi-retired, I have more time to devote to it. I took this image in July, around 8pm, in a field of fresh cut hay. I was waiting for a fox to appear, as they often hunt mice in the trails of hay, but this owl showed up and began hunting. It didn't see me in the hedge bottom and came quite close and I was able to get the image. The fox never showed up.”

The image was shot with a Canon EOS 7D Mark II fitted with a Canon EF 100-400mm lens.. The exposure was 1/2000sec at f/5.6 at ISO320.

Andreas Schoefer won the junior prize with a shot of a seal taken in the Farne Islands (Image credit: Andreas Schoefer)

Andreas Schoefer from Newcastle-upon-Tyne won the Junior section of the competition with an enchanting picture of a dozing seal. He was thirteen when he took the winning shot on a boat trip to the Farne Islands.

“The boat took us close to a small group of seals,” said Andreas “and I used a telephoto lens. I have been taking photographs since I was 11. I started getting interested when I got my first phone, but I always had an interest in nature. I love to take photographs of birds the most, but I also like mammals.”

His image was shot with a Canon EOS 2000D DSLR fitted with a 100-500mm telephoto zoom. The exposure was 1/1000sec at f/6.3, ISO200.

The Julian Gardner Awards are run by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and are open to amateur photographers. The competition was launched seven years ago in memory of Julian Gardner, a Sussex farmer and lifelong supporter of the GWCT. A donation from Julian’s family and friends enabled the GWCT to buy the two trophies, which are presented to the winners to display for the next year. The adult winner’s trophy is a sculpture of a hare, while the junior winner’s trophy is of a leveret, both designed by Claire Abbatt. The winners also receive large prints of their winning photographs, as well as seeing them published in the GWCT’s membership magazine.

The GWCT is now inviting entries for the 2022 Julian Gardner Awards. The competition closes on 30 June 2022.

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Chris George

Chris George has worked on Digital Camera World since its launch in 2017. He has been writing about photography, mobile phones, video making and technology for over 30 years – and has edited numerous magazines including PhotoPlus, N-Photo, Digital Camera, Video Camera, and Professional Photography. 


His first serious camera was the iconic Olympus OM10, with which he won the title of Young Photographer of the Year - long before the advent of autofocus and memory cards. Today he uses a Nikon D800, a Fujifilm X-T1, a Sony A7, and his iPhone 11 Pro.


He has written about technology for countless publications and websites including The Sunday Times Magazine, The Daily Telegraph, Dorling Kindersley, What Cellphone, T3 and Techradar.