Udayan Rao Pawar’s picture “Mother’s Little Headful” won him the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 in the National Wildlife Photography competition.

For Udayan that night would have been like any other. Camping near a nesting colony of gharials on the banks of the Chambal, to hiding behind rocks and capturing the moments on his Canon EOS 550D + 100-400mm lens; 1/400 sec at f13; ISO 1600 is possibly the reason he beat 43,000 entries from 96 countries to become the second best wildlife photographer of the year.

Udayan speaks of the moments before he captured this picture perfect shot, “Before daybreak, I crept down and hid behind rocks beside the baby gharials. I could hear them making little grunting sounds. Very soon a large female surfaced near the shore, checking on her charges. Some of the hatchlings swam to her and climbed onto her head. Perhaps it made them feel safe.” It turned out that she was the chief female of the group, looking after the hatchlings. Though he saw a few more females and a male, they never came close.

Good timing

The contest co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide showcases the best of nature photography and receives thousands of entries from across the world.

Winning in the age category of 11-14 years was not easy. “Our house is located on the outskirts of Gwalior. We have a huge backyard which has always been an animal kingdom of sorts. When I was six years old, my father gave me a field identification book and a pair of binoculars and I would spend hours looking for insects and birds. And this is when my dad gifted me a camera with a built-in zoom feature to take pictures of the animals. This whetted my interest for wildlife and soon my camera was upgraded to an entry level DLSR — a Canon 550 D with 100-400mm zoom lens.”

Judge Tui De Roy, a naturalist and wildlife photographer, said of Udayan’s winning image: “The composition and timing of Udayan’s photograph is perfect. The mother’s gaze seems directed at you, appealing to you to let her live and thrive in peace. This image is beautiful and thought-provoking, but at the same time also wonderfully playful, making it a clear winner.”

Udayan has won £ 500 and the grand title gave him another £ 1,000. But what he is excited about is that he has been promised a short course in photography by Steve Winter, who incidentally happens to be his idol. “He has invited me to accompany him when he comes to India to study leopards,” adds Udayan.

His passion is wildlife, he says. “I want to be a wildlife conservationist and I have all this planned out. I want to study Biology and Environmental Sciences at the Edinburgh University in England. Photography will continue to be my best friend.

Exhibition information

Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition is at Natural History Museum, Cromwell Rd, London SW7 5BD, United Kingdom

Dates and times: On till March 23.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 opens for entries on December 9, 2013

For more information log on to www.nhm.ac.uk/wpy