The interaction between man and nature is a fascinating subject and one which wildlife photographer Stefano Unterthiner is particularly interested in. His photography documents the lives of animals and the preservation of endangered wildlife and it's this aspect that has one him two places in this years Wildlife photographer of the year contest.
"I love wildlife and I love what I do," explained Stefano.
His pictures of macaques which were taken while on a trip to Indonesia won him the awards. Sophie Stafford is the editor of BBC Wildlife magazine and she was one of the judges on the pannel who liked Stefano's work: "The goofy expression, bad hair and composition make this an engaging and original portrait of a little known, endangered species."
It was the expression on the creatures face that brought it to Stefano's attention: "It looked so human," said Stefano.
It was a unique shot that Stefano felt would work and luckily for him it did.
"Sometimes you just know a picture feels right and this one did just that. The species is in danger as a result of deforestation and poaching and I want to make people aware of that."
Stefano was born in Italy in 1970 and began taken pictures in his teens. He went on to study a degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Turin, which he followed with a P.H.D in zoology at Aberdeen University. His photography never stopped for his studies and soon after receiving his P.H.D he began his career as a professional photographer and writer. His work has won him many awards including the "Premio Nazionale di Ecologia Luigiano d'oro", a prize awarded every year to Italians who have distinguished themselves in the world of nature preservation. He's also a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
"It's much more than just taking a picture. You have to understand the animal and their environment completely. You have to know how they act and know how to approach them. It's not all about taking a great picture for a contest."
Stefano likes to be able to tell an animals story rather than just taking a single picture, which brings him close to species for long periods of time.
"I often work on one large project and have several little ones that I can work on along side it. By working on one project you can really focus and understand the animal."
He spent one and a half months with the macaques, following and recording their life story.
"I went everyday from morning until the evening. The macaques move around and only stop to eat and a researcher helped me find out where they could be."
Having the help of a researcher or conservationist is something a wildlife photographer finds very helpful, particularly if they're going to a place they haven't visited before. Stefano talks to specialists before he leaves on his trips to make sure he has all the knowledge and research he needs to succeed.
"I travel all over the world as I like to discover new species and it can take a lot of work trying to find where they are," explained Stefano. "Some animals are shy and it can take a while for them to get used to your presence. If you spend time with them it means they get used to you, you almost become part of the surroundings."
Stefano's latest trip was spent with King Penguins, a species who were not only great to photograph but they allowed Stefano to experience a place just as nature intended it to be. There were no cars or anything you would associate with the human race. A place Stefano found appealing.
"King Penguins are easy to approach especially if you work with the same group for a long period of time. They also live in a place where humans haven't reached yet which is something I really like."
Stefano is very happy when he's on his own, taking photographs and helping to save our wildlife in the process. His projects are all recorded on a Nikon D3 and he uses a variety of lenses to record the interactions between man and nature, something he encourages other people to go out and do.
"You like taking pictures and there's nothing wrong with that just remember to take care while you do it. Don't create problems for the animal and put the animals welfare first. I use photography to try and spread conservation awareness. I see myself as an ambassador for nature in a way."
Stefano will be working on projects for the Wild World of Europe in 2009 and you can see more of his work by visiting Stefano Unterthiner.
For more information about the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition visit the National History Museum website.