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BWPA winner George Karbus: my passion for wildlife runs ocean-deep


George Karbus is a photographer from Ireland with a deep respect for the ocean, who’s most at home in the water. His breathtaking image of a surfing bottlenose dolphin ‘In the Living Room’ crowned him overall winner of the 2013 British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA), and winner of the Coast and Marine category

Bottlenose dolphin surfing a wave.Coast and marine winner – In the living room.
“One of the most incredible sights you can see in the ocean is a surfing dolphin. This photograph was taken in the most intimidating and surf-heavy spot on the north coast of Ireland, called Balintoy. I encountered this playful dolphin that suddenly started to surf the deep tube inside the waves. Each time he got into the wave, I dived underneath the water, held my breath and waited for the moment when he would swish through a silver barrel close enough to my lens. Water visibility is always very limited in Ireland, and I was very lucky to get a shot like this.” © George Karbus.

What inspired you to become an outdoor photographer?

I started thinking about taking up photography 9 years ago, but have been a full-time photographer for the last 3 years. I’m inspired most by the ocean and its inhabitants, as well as vast Irish landscapes and rolling hills.

As an experienced surfer and free-diver, you spend a lot of time in the water. What do you love most about the ocean?

I love its relentless power and raw beauty – I never get bored of looking at it. The ocean is full of extraordinary creatures, which show how amazing mother nature is.

Your winning photo of a bottlenose dolphin is mesmerising. How much planning did it take to capture that shot?

You can’t really plan photos like this. It’s just pure luck and, of course, a little bit of underwater skill in the waves!

What’s your favourite type of animal to photograph and why?

Definitely ocean mammals like whales, dolphins or sea lions. They’re fast, agile, smart and charming. For me, they personify ocean joy and freedom.

Can you tell us about the most challenging photo you’ve taken and how you overcame this?

Some of the most challenging photos involve swimming in big, powerful waves, especially during winter when the sea’s freezing cold. To take the best shots, I often have to be inside the barrel wave (when the wave is a tube shape) which is a dangerous place to be. This type of photography requires excellent knowledge of waves and good physical fitness.

How do you think photography and competitions like the BWPA can benefit conservation?

The BWPA has a lot of exposure in the UK which is great. Some people only realise what could be living in their backyards when they see images of their local wildlife. I think great wildlife photography can inspire people to care about and protect the natural world.

What are your top tips for budding amateur photographers with little equipment but bags of enthusiasm?

Don’t follow the mainstream. Try to find something unique that no one else has, e.g. different lenses, angles and light conditions. Choose subjects that you really care about – and follow your instinct.

If you had one wish that could help UK wildlife, what would it be and why?

I’d like everyone to stop for a moment and think about our planet and its natural environment. We’re often too concerned about what’s going on inside our homes – but we need to be thinking more about wildlife and protecting the places around where we live.

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