Here’s What the Best Underwater Photos from 67 Countries Look Like

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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 veteran judges.

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

Winning image from the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition
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


Winner, Macro category

So Yat Wai, Hong Kong / UPY 2017

Image from the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition
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

The Wreck of the Louilla at Sunset

Winner, Wrecks category

Csaba Tökölyi, Hungary / UPY 2017

Image from the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition
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

Out of the Blue

British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2017

Nick Blake, UK / UPY 2017

Image from the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition
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

Image from the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition
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

Your Home and My Home

Winner, Behavior category

Qing Lin, Canada / UPY 2017

Image from the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition
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 

Orca Pod

Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2017

Nicholai Georgiou, UK / UPY 2017

Image from the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition
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