The winners of the 50+ year-old Underwater Photographer of the Year competition were recently announced, with stunning images produced in categories including Macro, Wrecks, Wide Angle, Behavior, Portrait, and Up & Coming. Underwater photographers from 67 countries vied for prizes, with ten category winners, and runners-up named by the
All captions to the selection below are written by the photographers; you can see the full gallery of winning shots, along with the judges’ assessments,
here. (And if you’d like to attend the awards ceremony, you’re in luck: it was held online this year, no invitation required).
Dancing Octopus Underwater Photographer of the Year, 2017
Gabriel Barathieu, France / UPY 2017
In the lagoon of Mayotte, during spring low tides, there is very little water on the flats. Only 30 cm in fact. That’s when I took this picture. I had to get as close as possible to the dome to create this effect. The 14 mm is an ultra wide angle lens with very good close focus which gives this effect of great size. The octopus appears larger, and the height of water also. Photographed off Mayotte Island on May 7, 2016.
“Both balletic and malevolent, this image shows that the octopus means business as it hunts in a shallow lagoon. The way it moves is so different from any predator on land, this truly could be an alien from another world. A truly memorable creature, beautifully photographed.”
–Judge Alex Mustard
Highly Commended, Up & Coming category – Medusa Blenny on the Lookout. My fascination with blennies started in early 2016 when I was living in Saint Lucia and got my hands on an underwater camera for the first time. Having lived in the Philippines previously, blennies were a novelty to me despite their widespread presence in Saint Lucia. I thought they also made extremely interesting subjects due the range in their facial expression, sometimes akin to the grimaces one would associate with gargoyles. For this shot, I wanted illustrate the intricate detail of this blenny whilst showing how its color and texture blends seamlessly with its environment. Photo: Jade Hoksbergen, UK / UPY 2017
Highly Commended, Portrait category – Imp of darkness. On his visit to the Galapagos islands, Charles Darwin was revolted by the animals’ appearance, writing: “The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large, disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness’. They assuredly well-become the land they inhabit.” The marine iguana are all but monsters. Endemic to the Galapagos, it’s a rare privilege to share a moment underwater with this animal now considered as an endangered species. Photo: Damien Mauric, UK / UPY 2017
Commended, Up & Coming category – Whale calf posing. I travelled to French Polynesia for a once in a life moment of playing with a whale calf and I decided to devote a whole week to this. One morning, the magic happened. A mother and a calf were sleeping quietly at 15 meters. When they feel safe and unafraid, they can really come close to you. And this six tonne 6 meter calf was amazingly playful. Strobes were not allowed but you don’t need them. The contrast of the deep blue and the sunlight were enough. The difficulty was to be at the right place according to the sunlight and to get a gracious pose from the calf: another photographer on the other side, the whale posing, a few bubbles out of his blow-hole, a short eye contact, Click! Fixed in my memory forever. Photo: Christophe Lapeze, France / UPY 2017
Commended, Portrait category – Green Turtles in the rays. During a diving trip to Tenerife, I came across these green turtles. It was early morning and the sunbeams pierced the surface. I adjusted the setting of my camera and I waited for the turtles to come close enough to trigger my camera. After a little while, the turtles were circling around us and it was a great opportunity to photograph them. Photo: Greg Lecoeur, France / UPY 2017
Prey? Winner, Macro category
So Yat Wai, Hong Kong / UPY 2017
This photo was shot during a blackwater dive in Anilao, Philippines. Even though the larvae mantis shrimp (left) is very small, it still a predator which uses its raptorial appendages to hunt. Has it spotted the prey and is ready to pounce?
“This shot works on so many levels; like a Sci Fi encounter in outer space, the fortuitous (for once) backscatter creates a perfect starry background which makes the main subject seem huge and menacing. Perfect composition leaves you in no doubt and you can only fear for the ‘little fella’ on the right.”
— Judge Peter Rowlands
Highly Commended, Macro category – Backlight Shrimp. Shrimps are challenging subjects to photograph; we have to portray their beautiful colors and shape, and especially focus on the eyes. In the late afternoon, I was diving in my favorite dive site in Bonaire called “Something special” when I saw this shrimp underneath the rock in a perfect position to make a backlighting technique, using continuous lighting. Immediately I turned off my strobes and asked my buddy to put the lighting behind the shrimp, he was very good putting the light exactly where I wanted it. I took only 4 pictures and then the shrimp vanished. It is important to know your techniques and when to use them, it is the key to making those special pictures with something more than the norm. Photo: Fábio Freitas, Brazil / UPY 2017
Highly Commended, Macro category – Paddle Flap Rhinopias The back lit Paddle Flap Rhinopias was taken near Scuba Seraya, Tulamben, Bali. I spent almost the whole dive with dive guide “Paing” (who kindly aimed my snoot for me) trying to get a decent back lit shot of the Rhinopias. I took 30 to 40 frames to get the lighting right and get a black background which was difficult as it was daylight and at only 12 meters. Photo: John Parker, UK / UPY 2017
Commended, Macro category – Larval Lionfish. This image was taken on a black water drift dive in Palm Beach, Florida to look for alien looking pelagic animals, plankton and the larval stages of many creatures that drift out in the open ocean in their early stages of development. Many of the animals seen during black water dives are very small and can move quickly when illuminated by powerful dive lights, so getting a nice image is, not only challenging but, very rewarding as well. On one particular dive I was very fortunate to come across this rare tiny Lionfish in its early larval stage and was fortunate to get a photograph of it just as it flared it’s beautiful fins for the camera. Photo: Steven Kovacs, USA / UPY 2017
Commended, Macro category – Nudi Art I shot this photo in the local waters of Singapore where the visibility is 3m on average. Scuba divers I know are always surprised that I dive there and most don’t even know there is great macro right off our shores. I wanted to do something different and turn a nudibranch commonly found in our waters into a piece of art. I have always been fascinated by bubbles and the inspiration for this photo came about when I was reading about aquatic plants that produce oxygen bubbles from photosynthesis. The images of the bubbles sticking to the green leaves had an abstract quality and hence came the idea to create Nudibranch Art. Photo: Katherine Lu, USA / UPY 2017
The Wreck of the Louilla at Sunset Winner, Wrecks category
Csaba Tökölyi, Hungary / UPY 2017
This is the wreck of the Louilla resting on top of Gordon reef in the Straits of Tiran on the edge of the Sinai. Beneath her lies a pile of her anchor chains, giving the form of a whale. Wrecks become part of the eco-system in no time. Soft corals develop very soon and they can become shelter for schools of juvenile fish. But also, they can have a devastating effect on their surroundings. This wreck sits on top of Gordon reef, battered by the waves and is slowly deteriorating. Last summer, part of the superstructure collapsed, and the wreck lost it’s epic, cinematic look. In a few decades, the reef should be free again from the remains of this once huge freighter.
“This image immediately caught my eye in the first round of judging ‘Wrecks’. An ideal subject for a split shot, superb and subtle use (I believe) of fill in flash’ on both top and bottom of the wreck with the low sun in the far background. The compositional weight of the foreground, both under & over is also very well balanced. I’ve seen quite a few attempts at this wreck before but never as well executed as this.”
–Judge Martin Edge
Commended, Wrecks category – Last Flight. This USAAF B-17G Flying Fortress crash landed on approach to the island of Vis, Croatia after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing raid over Europe in 1944, which killed the co-pilot Ernest Vienneau and led to engine failure. The surviving crew escaped in dinghies. This spectacular wreck of a famous World War 2 bomber is in remarkable condition and lies at 72 meters. I only had one dive on the wreck and the depth gave me very limited time in which to work so good communication between myself and my buddy, Andi Marovic was essential: I thoroughly briefed him on what I was trying to achieve before the dive so he could also visualize the image I was aiming for. I wanted to capture an image that showed the true scale of the aircraft so I shot with natural light and color balanced the image during post processing. Photo: Steve Jones, UK / UPY 2017
Commended, Wrecks category – Three Warriors. Having seen hundreds of images of these three beautiful Fiats that rest in one of the holds of the Umbria wreck, I decided to take an image that would stand out from the others. The idea was to use off-camera strobes to light up the cabins of the three cars. Unfortunately, one of the strobes was too far and refused to fire. The hold with the cars is relatively small and very dark, so I had to be very careful not to kick up silt and rust. And I was very limited on time as the rest of the group was already breathing down my neck. Photo: Nadya Kulagina, Kazakhstan / UPY 2017
Out of the Blue British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2017
Nick Blake, UK / UPY 2017
Kukulkan Cenote on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula forms part of the Chac Mool system and is noted for the spectacular light effects as the sun penetrates the darkness. I left my strobes behind for the natural light shot I wanted and positioned myself in the shadows of the cavern. Moving my eye around the viewfinder, I could see that the rock outline of the cavern around me made for a pleasing symmetry and I adjusted my position to balance the frame. The light show flickered on and off as the sun was periodically covered by cloud and as it reappeared, I beckoned to my buddy and dive guide, Andrea Costanza of ProDive, to edge into the illumination of some of the stronger beams, completing the composition.
“What I really like about this image is the enclosure of the light within the Cenote. The author has contained all the sunlight so the eye of the viewer cannot escape. The lone diver is positioned within the beams and I do believe that the author meant for this to happen. Stunning natural light wide-angle!”
— Judge Martin Edge
One in a Million Winner, Wide Angle category
Ron Watkins, USA / UPY 2017
Last summer I headed to Alaska in search of salmon sharks. We cruised in the boat looking for their dorsal fins for hours and that is when we came across an enormous moon jellyfish bloom that stretched for several hundred meters. The dense bloom of jellyfish ranged in depth from 2 meters to over 20 meters and we spent a lot of time in the water with them. It was surreal and more dense than anything I had ever experienced including Jellyfish Lake in Palau. I came across this Lion’s Mane Jellyfish rising from the bloom towards the surface and positioned myself directly over it to capture this image.
“A beautiful and original image from the ocean, a worthy winner. Its power comes from the contrast in colour, yellow versus blue, and the contrast in shape, star versus circles, between the subject from the background. Most photographers would swim up to the subject, probably shooting it from below, Ron found a far more striking composition with this top down view, making use of the moon jellies as a background.”
–Judge Alex Mustard
Runner-up, British Waters Wide Angle category – Competition. I was out off the coast making images for SCOTLAND: The Big Picture – a project about rewilding that produces images to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland. Hundreds of gannets were circling the boat looking for the fish that were being thrown over the side. Suddenly a single bird dives and the others seeing it as an indicator and 20, 30, 40 birds are diving at once. Because of this behavior competition between gannets is always going occur creating several gannets diving for the same fish. I could hear the birds as they hit the water right above my head just before they appeared in front of the camera. A great experience. Photo: Richard Shucksmith, UK / UPY 2017
Highly Commended, Wide Angle category – Prince of the waters. The common toads start going back to the river in February in order to reproduce. The frozen waters of this small river are by then clear enough, and ideal for underwater photography. The challenge was to progress under the subject and to get a shot once the subject was aligned with the sun all while ensuring a framing including the trees on the shore. Photographed in France’s Lamalou River on April 19, 2014. Photo: Yannick Gouguenheim, France / UPY 2017
Highly Commended, British Waters Wide Angle category – Amphibious helicopter. This Wessex Naval helicopter was purposely sunk at the National Diving and Activity Center in Chepstow and being such a photogenic wreck it is an excellent location to practice photography and lighting skills. Remote strobe was used for this shot, with my own strobe triggering one attached to the diver via a remote sensor. Photo: Steve Jones, UK / UPY 2017
Commended, Wide Angle category – Silversides at Twilight. After finding this location, the jetty and silversides were on my mind for a long time. And when the monsoon rains took a short break, I jumped in the water to execute this idea. The main obstacle was that the school was too evasive for a fisheye lens and the sun was falling too fast to execute the idea. I began to compromise my settings and already considered the endeavor a loss but then some trevally arrived to feed. This was perfect, the silversides forgot about me. Simultaneously a passerby arrived. He positioned himself perfectly on the jetty above. Seeing the opportunity, I told him not to move and pressed the shutter as quickly as possible. The next moment this image appeared on my screen. Moments later, with a smile on my face, I watched the last rays of light fade on the horizon. Photographed on the northern Coastline of Koh Tao, Thailand, on December 16, 2016. Photo: Tony Myshlyaev, Canada / UPY 2017
Commended, British Waters Wide Angle category – Can I help you?. Last November when we visited the largest colony of grey seals in UK, the super moon caused huge tidal changes, some nasty currents and bad visibility. But being in the water with these curious creatures is a joy even if you can only see them when you turn around at the surface and they look at you, all big eyes, before they disappear again in the cloud of murkiness. We stayed in the water as long as the tides allowed us, changed locations a few times and when we were dropped very close to some rocks without kelp beds around, the sun came out and improved the visibility greatly. As if the seals knew this would be their chance on a nice portrait, they came really close, I added some Sola light to the ambient light to be able to dial down my settings a bit and catch the low sun rays lighting the whiskers from both sides! Photo: Ellen Cuylaerts, Cayman Islands / UPY 2017
Your Home and My Home Winner, Behavior category
Qing Lin, Canada / UPY 2017
Clown anemonefish and anemones enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The parasitic isopods like to hang out in the mouths of anemonefish. Perhaps because of the isopods, Clown anemonefish often open their mouths. These three particular fish were very curious. As I approached, they danced about the camera lens. It took me six dives, patience and luck to capture the exact moment when all three fish opened their mouths to reveal their guests. Finally, on the last day, on the last dive, I succeeded. Photographed near Lembeh, Indonesia, on December 2, 2016.
“One of my favourite fish to photograph is the clown. They make great images and when combined within a complementary colourful anemone they will always stand out. In recent years we are seeing more and more parasites within the mouth of the clowns and it was this that we noticed when judging. Now, I’ve seen many individual clowns with this parasite but never have I seen a parasite in each of three. Add to this behaviour a colourful anemone lined up across the image. Six eyes all in pin sharp focus, looking into the lens of the author. Talk about ‘Peak of the Action’ This was one of my favourite shots from the entire competition.”
–Judge Martin Edge
Third Place, Behavior category – Cleaner. I found this cleaning station at 26 meters. On the first dive, I took a few front facing photos with cleaner shrimps in the moray eel’s mouth. When I surfaced, I came up with an idea of a side-face moray eel, widely opening its mouth with the cleaner shrimp inside. So I tried a second dive and it turned out to be how I had imagined it. Photographed near Tulamben, Indonesia, on December 12, 2016. Photo: Liang Fu, China / UPY 2017
Highly Commended, Behavior category – Dolphins hunting. Since last year, sardines have become victims of overfishing and climate change. They are the main food source of marine life, many species such as penguins, sea lions, sharks, dolphins and more… are dependent on them for their survival. During their migration along the wild coast, all the predators work together to hunt sardines but the action is more and more unpredictable. To capture this moment, I had spent several days on the ocean to have one chance to witness this behavior. Photographed near Port Saint Johns, South Africa, on June 27, 2016. Photo: Greg Lecoeur, France / UPY 2017
Commended, Behavior category – The Game. 6:30 am and a 4 meter tiger shark was about to breakfast on a hawksbill turtle next to the boat. I took my camera, jumped into one of the skiffs and went closer. That was one of the image that I had wanted to get for years (I had been working there for 11 years doing 4 dives per day). It was dark so I pumped up the ISO to 800; then when I got close, I stuck half of my body into the water; one of the skiff drivers was holding my legs. I took as many pictures as I could but they moved a lot! The Tiger was trying to bite the turtles head off while the turtle defended herself by showing her back. It went on like that until one of them gave up. Photographed off Cocos Island, Costa Rica, on April 30, 2016. Photo: Edwar Herreño, Colombia / UPY 2017
Commended, Behavior category – Toads mating. For several years we have been following toads mating in the fresh water lake of Turnhout (Belgium) usually in the months of March or April if the weather conditions are 8°C and with humid weather. The toads are in the shallow areas of the lake where we can take photos with natural light while snorkeling. Photographed in a freshwater lake near Turnhout, Belgium, on April 2, 2016. Photo: Luc Rooman, Belgium / UPY 2017
Orca Pod Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2017
Nicholai Georgiou, UK / UPY 2017
Orcas are easily the most beautiful, intelligent and confident animals I’ve ever had the honor of spending time with. This photo was taken during an amazing week freediving with wild Orca in Norway. The days are quite short in winter and the water was around 5 degrees but we wore a thick wetsuit and of course with Orca around, the cold was quickly forgotten. The light had a really nice color from the setting sun as this graceful pod of Orca swam by nice and close. It was a moment which will be hard to top and I’m glad to have this image to share it.
“Most underwater photographers would be happy to get a shot of a single killer whale in its environment but Nicholai had the composure not to panic and time the shot perfectly as a pod of killer whales passed by heading into the setting sun. I’m jealous.”
— Judge Peter Rowlands