How it was done:
Marilyn's stunning photograph

MFA Photography student Marilyn Taylor is the inaugural overall winner of the London Camera Exchange (LCE) Photographer of the Year 2024 awards, thanks to her stunning image of a bat approaching a banana flower, which she took on a visit to Costa Rica. As she approaches graduation, we caught up with her to discover the story behind the photograph.

19 Apr 2024

Hi Marilyn, many congratulations on your win! Can you talk us through the planning behind your photo?
“I’d seen a talk about Costa Rica, and thought it was a magic place to go, with hummingbirds and lots of frogs. I found a lovely American professional who runs such a trip twice a year – we were a group of ten. We saw the bats on one of the early outings.

What were the challenges involved in capturing the picture – how long did it take, and how many pictures do you think you took to get the final shot?
“We were at this farm about two hours; we got there just before sunset. It is in the middle of nowhere and was really dark – we had to set up the cameras using manual focus, and all manual settings. Everyone’s camera was different, and I think we all wasted several shots getting the exposure right. We took it in turns to shoot. We couldn’t use any light, other than the flash when we pressed the shutter - the bats were like little ghosts!  I’ve got a few shots where there were two bats, coming and/or going, and in all I took about 75 photos, several of which were to test the lighting and settings. I think I came away with about 30 that were reasonable.

“I may not get the chance to do it again: it was a bit expensive. But I’m going to Canada in June with the same professional guide to photograph hummingbirds, so watch this space!”

You can see all the winners at the LCE Photographer of the Year winner’s gallery.

Marilyn Taylor, right, receiving her prize from a representative of the London Camera Exchange
Marilyn Taylor, right, receiving her prize from a representative of the London Camera Exchange

So, how did it feel to be named the overall winner of the competition?
“I had hoped to do well in the wildlife category (there were 14 categories altogether) because I know it was what they call ‘a keeper’; unusual subject and a good clean uncluttered image.

“I had been invited to the LCE presentation at the NEC Photography & Video Show as they said I was shortlisted. I was quite relaxed and happy after I won the wildlife – but I was absolutely gobsmacked when mine was one of the three finalists shown on the screen for the overall winner. I’m not sure whether my heart had stopped or was racing, and the screen was blank for quite some time before my photo came up – the tension was crazy!

“I have been lucky to win some important photographic competitions in the past, but this was amazing. Usually, you get sent an email saying, ‘congratulations’, but to be present when they actually announced it was on another level.”

A trio of images showing how Marilyn Taylor
These three images show the set-up that was required to get the winning photograph in Costa Rica.

How would you describe your photography style? What do you hope audiences take from your work?
“I have been an event photographer in the past – mostly English Civil War re-enactments and other historical periods. I’ve always liked photographing people and action, but I’ve had this opportunity to go on some local and international wildlife and birding trips in the last few years.”

Given your wildlife win, what is next for you? Are you taking part in any new competitions or exhibitions?
“I routinely enter lots of competitions at my camera club, for the Surrey Photographic Association (SPA), and for the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) – I’ve been doing that for about 17 years. I’ve also entered international salons and exhibitions, usually digitally. There’s an organisation called FIAP, through which you can submit your images to salons all around the world for a small fee. You build up acceptances and it leads to an international qualification. It’s a good way to test whether your images are good or not. There’s a similar American organisation called PSA. It’s a good way to grow your photography.”

Marilyn also managed to capture a rare image of a Quetzel bird on her travels
Marilyn also managed to capture a rare image of a Quetzel bird on her travels

So, what made you choose to study your MFA in Photography here with us?
“A friend who is a trustee of the Royal Photographic Society recommended Professor Anna Fox to me.  I had been looking for a way to lift my photography. I live in Woking, so it was an obvious choice!”

And what advice would you give to UCA students on their photography courses?
“Take a lot of photos! With digital, once you have the right equipment for you, it doesn’t matter if you take 10 photos in an afternoon, or 1,000. And experiment wherever you can.”

Want to follow in Marilyn’s footsteps? Have a look at our photography course pages!