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My top 10 moments as a wildlife photographer in 2023!

2023 was my most momentous year, with wins in globally prestigious competitions, polar experiences, continued television appearances and a list of new wild species photographed!

Winning the 'Natural Artistry' category in Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Without a doubt, the best moment of 2023 was being crowned the winner of ‘Natural Artistry’ in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition at the Natural History Museum in London. The momentous achievement also placed me as the youngest winner in the history of the category, and, one of just nine women awarded out of 49,957 entries across 95 countries.

'The Art of Seduction' , my winning image, was photographed from a boat under the cliffs of Noss National Nature Reserve in Shetland. It was my first time visiting this location and I was staggered by its unique beauty. As our boat chugged toward the island I was quick to see potential, but realised my vision would be tricky aboard a small boat in turbulent sea swell at the foot of the towering cliffs.

The potential I saw was in the sculpted sandstone, rising 180 metres (590 feet) above the North Sea, hosting more than 22,000 northern gannets breeding on its ledges carved by the elements. Each curve was softly draped in streaks of white guano which exaggerated the meandering shape, and within each hourglass sat one or two gannets. I wanted a courting pair, but amongst the 22,000, I couldn’t find one.

Then, I spotted the perfect pair, isolated on a lower ledge, intertwining their necks and framed meticulously by the streaks of guano. In a few seconds the boat aligned with the rocks, everything came together - the courting gannets drew up against a dark hollow on the guano-painted curves of sandstone - and I got my shot, enhancing the complementary shapes in black and white.

Discover more about the award, the image and behind-the-scenes exclusives in the film below.

Photographing Polar Bears in Svalbard, Arctic Norway

During May of 2023, I was granted an immense opportunity by Nikon Europe to visit the Arctic Circle, putting their flagship Z9 camera to the ultimate test. From start to finish, the assignment was exhilarating, with indescribable highs and nail biting 'lows'. As my first experience in the polar regions, and my first encounter with Polar Bears, it was truly unforgettable.

Experience my EPIC encounters in the film below.

Winning the portfolio award in Bird Photographer of the Year

Another joyous achievement in 2023 was being awarded gold in the

Bird Photographer of the Year competition with my portfolio 'A Seabird Summer'.

My intention behind this particular portfolio was to demonstrate my own abilities to capture the lives of the birds in the air, on the land and at sea, whilst illustrating the complex beauty, resilience and personality behind a small selection of Britain's seabirds, captured throughout one summer season.

With over 23,000 images submitted into the competition, my win was a pleasant highlight of the year.

Becoming Badger Trust's first ever Youth Ambassador

With great joy, I became the first Youth Ambassador for Badger Trust, the leading voice for badgers in England and Wales.

I felt so honoured to become a voice for badgers, which I have loved and worked closely with for several years. Their mysterious lives, family loyalties, eco-system engineering and beauty are often overlooked and misunderstood.

I will take immense pride in turning the tide on current misconceptions, advising how to responsibly photograph badgers, and helping a new generation of badger champions to fall in love with the species!

An invitation to speak and share my work at the globally respected and historic Royal Geographic Society and Natural History Museum.

As well as incredible countries, 2023 took me to new stages to share my words and my work. Beginning with the Royal Geographic Society, I visited for the premiere of Wild Isles, a blue-chip wildlife series in which I worked with Simon King as a wildlife photographer. Then, the Flett Theatre within the Natural History Museum to deliver a talk as a part of their ‘Dig Deeper series’, delving deeper into the stories behind my images and explore how wildlife photography can pave the way for meaningful conversation.

It was an honour to stand and speak on the very same stages that have hosted my heroes, Sir Earnest Shackleton and Sir David Attenborough.

Continuing in my role as a Nikon Creator!

2023 provided me with another immense year of opportunities within my role as a Nikon Creator. Nikon Europe kept me very happy with assignments in the Arctic, the UK and Norway, while Nikon School UK supported my workshop ambitions with a series sell-out seabird workshops in Yorkshire and Scotland!

Although there are an endless number of reasons that I adore my relationship with Nikon, one of my favourites is being able to use their platform and technology to connect a global audience to lesser know species like seabirds and badgers. In this video below, I teamed up with Nikon Europe and Nikon School to test out their autocapture software with one of Britain's most iconic and illusive mammals...

Photographing my first Storm Petrels

Capturing this series of images of Storm Petrels was not only one of the most unforgettable wildlife encounters of 2023 but also, of my career to date. Whilst working in Spain, speaking at the Delta Birding Festival, I was offered an opportunity to voyage on a pegalic trip in the hope of photographing the birds. Until 2023, Storm Petrels were a species that I had longed to see, and when I did, they were everything I'd dreamt and more.

20 miles into the Mediterranean Sea, I caught a glimpse of my first Storm Petrel. The tiny bird, little bigger than a sparrow, flittered out from behind a ripple in the water before disappearing just as quickly as it came. Then, hundreds began to flock, following in the wake of our boat, feet pattering across the waves. Everyone on board dashed to the port side, eager to photograph the abundance of Storm Petrels dappled in golden light. But, as someone who actively avoids following the crowd, I stood alone, pointing my camera in the opposite direction, envisioning something different. It was a risk, but despite the number of birds on my side being minimal and the visual disadvantages of finding a fast moving, pocket-sized bird on a bright ocean, the final result is considerably more satisfying.

Growing my reputation as an emerging natural history broadcaster

Natural history television presenting is a pathway that I am passionate to pursue, and, to date, I have been fortunate enough to dabble in the role for BBC Springwatch, BBC Countryfile, BBC Earth, BBC News and ITV. And, in 2023, I added BBC's The One Show to my blossoming list of television credits.

The sweet little film, presented by myself and featuring BBC Strictly winner, Hamza Yassin, aired on BBC's The One Show in early March and uncovered the hidden world of my European Badger sett over the winter months. I shared my in-depth knowledge of the species, my most treasured photographs and memories, super interesting behavioural footage and incredibly rare audio of badger cubs!

Introducing seabirds to thousands of people, across the world!

The best part of my career is sharing my passion for seabirds to all who will listen! I've always been mesmerised by seabirds and I live in constant admiration of their resilient, mysterious, complex, wild and staggeringly beautiful lives. I work hard to represent the species far and wide, drawing attention to their ecology, biology and threats through the art of photography using my own voice and platform. Occasionally, I am granted the invaluable chance to reach an entirely new audience of hundreds of thousands of people by speaking at large events such as Global Bird Fair, the Delta Birding Festival and working with influencers.

Introducing pro landscape photographer, Nigel Danson, to 500,000 seabirds!

Delivering a talk about UK seabird photography to the Detla Birding Festival in Spain.

Being hailed "one of the most talented and inspirational photographers to follow on social media!" and featuring in countless publications, interviews, podcasts, live streams, magazines and calendars!

For another year, I have been blown away by the number of requests to participate in interviews, podcasts, publications and more. It's a truly wonderful feeling, for my stories and voice to be heard, respected and sought after. I'm sure that these requests will never cease to amaze me!

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1 Comment

Sarah Samaan
Sarah Samaan
Dec 31, 2023

Congratulations! You are an inspiration!

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