A global search for the most inspirational and provocative nature photography has begun. Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year is calling on photographers of all ages to enter images that reveal the natural world as it has never been seen before.

The 2011 competition opened on 12 January and closes on 18 March 2011, and images can be entered online on the Natural History Museum website.

Now in its 47th year, the competition is an international leader in the visual representation of the natural world, stimulating engagement with its diversity and beauty while engendering a sense of awe, wonderment and respect.

Last year’s competition received more than 31,000 entries, but only 118 of the strongest images made the grade. The judges will be looking for something they haven’t seen before, a fresh and exciting way of portraying life on Earth.

The competition offers photographers a chance to win a share of the £24,500 prize fund, as well as the much-coveted title of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Winning images are featured in a hardback commemorative portfolio book, which is translated into key languages including Finnish and German, as well as a special supplement to the November issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine.

All commended and winning images are then showcased in an international exhibition that debuts at London’s Natural History Museum in October, before touring venues around the world. By the time that the exhibition has completed its annual tour, more then two-and-a-half million people will have been inspired by this unique body of work, ensuring contributing photographers become internationally recognised and household names.

The key to competing successfully in this prestigious photographic event is to represent the natural world in increasingly imaginative and compelling ways. Here are some top tips for each of the competition’s categories and awards:

Categories:

  • Animals in Their Environment: Pictures need to conjure up a sense of place, whether magical or memorable. The animal is a part of it, but not necessarily the largest component.
  • Behaviour: Birds, Behaviour: Mammals, Behaviour: All Other Animals: Just looking or sitting isn’t enough. Behaviour must be fascinating or unexpected.
  • Underwater World: Seventy per cent of the planet is under water so the scope here is huge and includes life in freshwater as well as at sea.
  • Animal Portraits: This is the competition’s most popular category so it’s essential to be original. Last year’s winning portrait of a polar bear had no face…
  • In Praise of Plants and Fungi: There is plenty of potential for range and creativity in this category. The challenge is to create a picture that will make the viewer marvel.
  • Urban Wildlife: Remember the potential for a winning shot in this category is all around you. The key is to recognise the extraordinary in the ordinary.
  • Nature in Black and White: Let the light and shade, texture and tone do the work, whether using conventional or digital dark-room techniques. Composition is absolutely all important.
  • Creative Visions of Nature: This category releases you from any need to be figurative, so keep your creative senses alert and look for new ways of seeing. A picture should reveal more to the viewer the longer they look at it.
  • Wild Places: Images must inspire a sense of wonder. They should make the viewer want to be there.

For further details about the competition, categories and rules, please visit the Natural History Museum website.