A black-striped cleaner fish tentatively grooms a bullethead parrotfish ten times its size off the Red Sea.
In another stunning photograph a mass of swirling starlings create the illusion of a giant bird in flight.
Birds are also featured in a mind-boggling portrait of a heaving sandpiper congregation, resting before their great migration.
These extraordinary images are among those submitted by finalists for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 competition.
The annual event is an international showcase for the best photography featuring natural subjects. The finalists will exhibited at the Natural History Museum from the end of October.
Fish off the coast of Eilat, Israel, get a quick clean from smaller fish that pick off parasites
The fish photograph was taken by Noam Kortler from Israel and was highly commended in the category 'The Underwater World'.
He had captured life at Moses Rock, near Eilat, where most big reef fish make a point of turning for a daily grooming session from cleaner fish, who pick off parasites.
The cleaner fish advertise their identity and their services with their black-striped livery and a special jerky swim.
The stunning sandpiper image was made by Arthur Morris who caught on camera more than 6,000 sandpipers in the Alaskan fishing town of Cordova.
He flew to the town in early May when he knew flocks were likely to be at their peak, but was disappointed when told he had missed the peak of migration by just one week.
A congregation of sandpipers in Canada. Birds are among the most popular subjects in the competition
Mr Morris was told there may be a few birds on a sandbar near town but when he arrived he found a snoozing congregation of western sandpipers, and got his magical snap.
His image was highly commended in the category Animal Behaviour: Birds, which is one of the most popular categories.
Starlings gather in the sky above Lake Morgan in Turkey to form the shape of a giant bird
Another stunning image from this field was taken by Baris Koca at Lake Mogan, near Ankara in Turkey. The photographer had tried to capture the amazing shape-shifting of the flocks of starlings coming in to roost for days. But none of his attempts did the spectacle justice.
Then one weekend when he was standing on the frozen lake with the sun behind him, the thousand-strong flocks of starlings wheeled in over the horizon to merge into a dense super-flock, which for a second formed the shape of a giant bird in flight, and the moment was captured.
Another category called 'In Praise of Plants' showcases the beauty and importance of flowering and non-flowering plants.
Darran Leal saw this close-up image he took in Queensland as a symbol of renewal in an area hit by a cyclone
Darran Leal captured his beautiful image after he explored the rainforest in the far north of Queensland in Australia, a year after Cyclone Larry had decimated vast areas in 2006.
He came across a small tree backlit by the sun and sparkling with rain among the ruins.
'A jewel-like drop, with its perfect reflection of leaves inside, struck me as a great symbol of the regrowth of the rainforest, but I had to move fast,' Darran said.
'The challenge was to capture the moment in spite of gusts of wind and the great magnification required.'
The spectacular images were picked from 32,351 photographs from 82 countries, which were entered into the popular open contest.
The competition is run by the NHM and BBC Wildlife Magazine and winners from 17 categories, including three for photographers under 18, will be announced at the exhibition launch.
The Wildlife Photographer Of The Year will run from 31 October 2008 - 26 April 2009