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Breathtaking nature images showcased in new book

Breathtaking images captured by some of the world's greatest nature photographers feature in a new book published by the Natural History Museum.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: The Masters of Nature Photography features portfolios showcasing pioneering underwater photography, ground-breaking viewpoints and gems of wild behaviour caught on camera.

Some of the images took weeks to capture, others just seconds and some are described by the photographers as "lucky accidents". See some of the images below and explanations from the photographers about how they came to be.

'Blast-off' taken by Paul Nicklen in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Credit: Paul Nicklen

On the second day of the shoot, standing on the ice, I was knocked flying by a leopard seal that came hurtling out of the water and realised too late I wasn’t a penguin. At that moment, I knew first hand why emperor penguins rocket out onto the ice...The challenge was to catch this in a single, clean moment and with artistry. The water was crystal clear but with hundreds of penguins exiting the hole, the scene was chaos.

– Paul Nicklen
'Malui and the butterflies' taken by Anup Shah in Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve, Central African Republic. Credit: Anup Shah

Malui is the dominant female in a group of western lowland gorillas, and she is usually a morose and moody character. On this occasion, her group had come out of the forest to feed on plants in the swampy bai [clearing], just when there was a mass emergence of hundreds of butterflies. Most of the gorillas were avoiding the butterflies. But when Malui saw them, she got a gleam in her eyes.

– Anup Shah
'Perfect Trawl' taken by Chris Ziegler in Barro Colorado, Panama. Credit: Chris Ziegler

The greater bulldog bat is ugly – hence the name. But it’s one of my favourite bats. It fishes on the lake surrounding Barro Colorado Island, using its long claws like rakes to collect insects on the surface. It also catches minnows. The bat researchers had created a small lake to study the bats’ sonar more easily. I made use of it. But getting the set-up right took weeks. The bats fly in fast and low, scanning for the bumps of fish lying close to the surface. I wanted perfect symmetry in the shot. In the end I used nine flashes.

– Chris Ziegler
'Catch of the Day' taken by Thomas Mangelsen in Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Credit: Thomas Mangelsen

This is my most iconic image, copied more than any other – the split second before the grizzly moved his head and shut his jaws on the sockeye salmon. At the time, no one believed the picture was real. But it was shot on film, the result of planning and luck. I made the image at the now-famous Brook Falls, where the grizzlies congregate annually to feast on salmon coming upriver to spawn.

– Thomas Mangelsen
'Horse Spirit' taken by Jim Brandenburg in Oostvaardersplassen Preserve, the Netherlands. Credit: Jim Brandenburg

These horses truly have a wild spirit – the most I’ve ever seen in horses – which is what I wanted to capture. But when the herd raced past with great exuberance, I wasn’t quite ready. I’d gone to this unique wildlife refuge north of Amsterdam to test new camera equipment.

But my fingers weren’t yet familiar with the camera, and I was using a long telephoto with a 2x extender – a combination never to use with the sort of flimsy tripod that I was borrowing. The resulting images were a surprise. One might even call this frame quite a lucky accident.

– Jim Brandenburg
'Twilight of the Giants' taken by Frans Lanting in Chobe National Park, Botswana. Credit: Frans Lanting

This is an image I’d walked around with in my mind for a while. But in all the weeks I had worked at this waterhole, this was the only time that the conditions were perfect. I’d come every morning and afternoon, making myself a fixture in the landscape, sometimes working through the night. On this particular evening, a herd of bulls came to drink. For a short time, a group gathered across the water from me, just as the full moon started to rise, with the pink light of the dying sunset reflecting back onto the landscape and the elephants – a primeval scene of ancient Africa. To capture the full reflection of the elephants, I had to wade waste-deep into the water.

– Frans Lanting
'Penguins, Ice and Light' taken by David Doubilet at Danko Island, Antarctica. Credit: David Doubilet

I came late in life to the ice, but now ice is in my blood. I’ve been seduced by icebergs, and over the past few seasons, I’ve been working on them at every opportunity. I think of icebergs as a perfect metaphor for the sea – only a small percentage is visible to us. We were lucky to find this 'bergy' bit with a small group of chinstrap and gentoo penguins squabbling on top of it. I made a few frames of the idyllic scene before they began to push each other off, and slide down one side, pop up on the other and start over again.

– David Doubilet