Organizers of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest have just announced their winning photos for 2016. The winner Davide Lopresti beat entrants from 54 different countries with his portrait of a spiny seahorse taken in Trieste, Italy. Prizes and commendations were also handed out in a number of categories, including Wide Angle, Macro, Wrecks, Behavior, Up & Coming, and, in British waters, Wide Angle, Compact, and Macro shots. UPY has been kind enough to share some of this year’s honorees with us below.
A Family Affair. Winner, International, Wrecks. I was unable to descend because I had to take care of Maja, my five year old daughter who is unable to snorkel by herself. So my only possibility was a shot from the surface. It was too rough for a normal over/under shot. I decided to try a wave & wreck shot with the island of Curacao in the background. All taken while swimming together with my daughter. I needed several tries to compose the wreck, the wave, and the island in one shot. But at the end I got this real over/under shot with a total view of the famous wreck.
Catshark Supernova. British Underwater Photographer of the Year, Title Winner. Also winner of British Macro. Just off a headland in this beautiful bay is a reef system favoured as a laying ground for the eggs, or ‘mermaids purse’ of the smallspotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula). The day I chose to visit the reef for a snorkel I came across many egg cases wrapped tightly into the weed. Positioning my strobe carefully took some time but the resulting image, with the low-visibility providing a celestial-like quality, shows the hidden beauty within this system of reproduction. Taken near Thurlestone, Devon, UK.
Gold. Underwater Photographer of the Year. Overall Title Winner. Also winner of International Macro. Over the years the Mediterranean’s population of seahorses has drastically reduced. Their numbers have only recovered thanks to public awareness and a significant restocking campaign. Areas of the sea have now been set aside, protected from harmful fishing methods like trawling. This has allowed vulnerable and delicate creatures, like sea horses, to return. This is what I hoped to celebrate with this image. For this shot, I used a long exposure and camera panning, to give dynamism to the image. I then used a focused beam of light from my strobe to freeze the details in the subject. My aim was to give the scene a sense of grace and strength simultaneously. Taken near Sistiana, Italy.
Millions of crabs. Third Place, International, Behaviour. Every year, millions of crabs (Polybius henslowii) form large red masses in places along the coast of Portugal. This high density of swimming crabs is somewhat rare. On this day we first spotted some dispersed crabs, but it took us almost an hour to find a higher concentration. And a further 20 minutes of blue-water diving until I noticed this immense ‘red cloud’ made up of maybe several thousand crabs swimming through the water. Taken in the Berlengas Natural Reserve, Portugal.
Transparent Trick. Highly Commended, Up & Coming. We found the Moray on a late afternoon diving trip with my diving buddy, with cleaner shrimps on his head. I spent a lot of time waiting for him to open his mouth wide so I could take a photo of it, but was unsuccessful. Right after I let my photographer buddy use the Moray as a model, he opened his mouth. When my buddy was done taking photos, he let me get back to our model, but by that time, the Moray had his mouth closed again! Taken in the Red Sea, near Egypt.
Part of the Illusion. Winner, British Wide Angle. The National Dive & Activity Centre is the deepest inland dive center in the UK. The day the photo was taken, the dive plan was to explore the deep end, a dive we had done many times before but this time I dived “un-plugged” (without my strobes). With the exception of this change to my camera technique, there were no planned shots either my buddy or I wanted to achieve – just a fun dive with ad-hoc photos along the way. Shortly after this photo was captured, in 6 degree water and 2 hours of decompression ahead of us, we turned and started the long ascent back to the surface. Taken at the National Dive & Activity Centre, Chepstow, UK.
Seven. Commended, Wide Angle. I’m often asked if this photo is just a photomontage. Nothing would be easier, with today’s photo editing tools, but there were really seven Caribbean reef sharks in the same frame on this day in January of 2014. In the marine sanctuary of Gardens of the Queen in Cuba, sharks follow the divers during the whole dive, up to surface where they swim in large numbers under the boat. I just slightly moved away, to keep divers out of the frame, and only have sharks swimming in open water. Rays of light and clear water did the rest.
Icebreaker. Commended, Wide Angle. We planned to dive in April in Greenland to specially photograph the icebergs. In spring the visibility is very good. The water is about -2° Celsius, but at the sight of the ice during the dive, the icy temperature can quickly be forgotten. The structures of the giant are shimmering blue-greenish in the strong sunlight. In some places sharp edges like oversized axes rise from the ice and in others the ice is traversed by fine cracks that run like veins through it. Almost everywhere is a thin, transparent layer of ice, only a few centimeters thick, over a solid white core that looks like snow. Taken near Tasiilaq, East Greenland.
Lace Model. Highly Commended, Macro. This weedy scorpionfish was surrounded by many photographers when I found it. When it was my turn, I only had four minutes left before needing to ascend, so I took several shots in a hurry. I felt so disappointed and kept thinking about how beautiful it looked before. I decided to go back the following day. This also gave me more time to consider and manage a unique way to present her charm better. The characteristic of this fish is her beautiful lace, so I thought backlighting it would emphasize its details. I placed a light on the right back of this fish, facing left front and took several shots. While I was adjusting the settings on the camera, she suddenly turned about 80 degrees as can be seen on the picture. The angle, light, and position were perfect. Click! Taken near Anilao, Philippines.
Pilot Whales. Highly Commended, Wide Angle. During a day sailing the Mediterranean Sea, I was very lucky to find a big pod of Pilot whales that accepted me in the blue water. They were turning around me, it was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to photograph them.
Bass. Highly Commended, Up & Coming. In a public pool in Hamburg our bassist went underwater. The biggest challenge was the uplift, so we fastened lead weights under her clothes and at her ankles. We drilled holes into the bass, so that it could fill with water. Her makeup consisted of special waterproof paint. In order to put her into the perfect light, we set up two Arri-18 KW-lights at the pool’s edge. All procedures were closely discussed with her in advance before we went into the water accompanied by safety divers. The underwater communication happened only with gestures. The shooting itself had to happen very fast and to the point, but we all had great fun and the results speak for themselves.
Slug. Highly Commended, British Waters Macro. This delightful little guy was on a strand of kelp at 15 meters in a gully of the South Coast of the UK. It was an emotional experience all round.
Hello Ducky! Winner, Compact Cameras, UK. While trying to photograph trout during a year-long river project with a home-made pole-cam, a raft of Mallard ducks muscled in to steal food intended to entice trout to the camera. This initial nuisance became an interesting opportunity and, shooting blind with the camera on the pole, I managed to catch the trout below water with a duck swimming overhead. Snell’s window (a refraction phenomenon narrowing the view of surface scenes for underwater viewers) was an important pre-determined part of the composition. This needed a low viewpoint, an upward camera angle, and a metric ton of patience to allow all the elements to come together and make the picture work. Taken on the River Test, Hampshire, UK.
The odd couple. Third Place, International Macro. During a night dive at around midnight, I found this pair of seahorses (Hippocampus guttulatus). I watched, mesmerized as they swam in the shallows holding each other by the tail. The scene was something majestic, a magic only enhanced by the beauty of the location, illuminated by the full moon. Taken in the Ionian Sea near Taranto, Italy.
Caribbean, Grand Cayman. USS Kittiwake and diver. Highly Commended, Wrecks. This image was taken during a workshop given by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes at the Cayman Islands. I attended the workshop and we visited many sites during our dives, including two dives at the USS Kittiwake. The diver in the picture is David Doubilet who very kindly offered himself as a model to his students!
Hunting Long Nosed Hawkfish. Highly Commended, Behaviour. I love looking for Longnose Hawkfish. In the Maldives, the place to look for them is in the bushes of Black Frondy Coral. They are very skittish subjects at the best of times, some will swin off, and some will hang around. This little guy didn’t mind me looking at him, and only by studying him over a few minutes did I sense he was doing something unusual. Without warning, he shot off his perch to return a few seconds later with something in his mouth. I aimed my camera as best I could, and tripped the shutter. It was only later when I reviewed the image in my hotel room did I realise what I had actually captured. Magic!
Friend or Foe? Commended, British Waters Macro. Having found a lumpsucker (Cyclopterus lumpus) tending to his newly laid eggs in the early spring, I made several visits back to the site over the coming weeks to study the development of the juveniles within the eggs. On this occasion there was a long-clawed porcelain crab (Pisidia longicornis) seeming poised to eat some of the young. Taking my time to observe, it turned out that the crab was actually helping to keep the eggs clean of parasites by eating them off the egg casings. A most fascinating behavior to watch!
Spotlight. Commended, Macro. harlequin shrimp (Hymenocera picta) is one of my best critters to shoot because of its colors and its shape. It is quite common to see in Seraya Secrets in Bali, often while eating starfish.
Swim. Highly Commended, Wide Angle. I took this picture during the Swim the Island, a competition of swimming in the sea, where contestants will compete over a distance of 6 kilometers, making a circle around the island of Bergeggi in Liguria, Italy.
Goby on a Sea Pen. Commended, Macro. Gobies on sea pens and whip corals are a very common subject for macro photography and I’m always trying to come up with a new way of shooting them. I have had many attempts to get a shot like this with the snooted strobe either mounted on camera or off camera on a tripod but could never get the positioning of the narrow beam just right while trying to manage the camera as well. I was finally able to get the shot I wanted by using our dive guide to position the snoot where I wanted it leaving me free to concentrate on getting the shot. Taken in Anilao, Philippines.
Timeless Moment. Highly Commended, Macro. Jellyfish Lake was one of the highlights of my trip to Palau. SCUBA diving is not allowed in this lake, so I was free diving when I took this photo. The thousands of jellyfish in this lake are simply breathtaking to behold, but made it challenging to find one in isolation. With the sunlight above me I finally managed to capture this single jellyfish, while the rays of light passing down through the water illuminated the multitude of its brethren, creating the backdrop I was trying to achieve.
Need to change a tire. Highly Commended, Wrecks. The SS Thistlegorm is one big playground for underwater photographers to create good images. In the lower holds that contains several different truck models, you can find this Albion AM468 aircraft fueling truck, one of six trucks. With its characteristic box-shaped cabin, it is a beautiful object to photograph. To get to the natural light, I chose a slow shutter speed to take in as much of the natural background light as possible. I could easily spend the entire dive inside the wreck. Taken in the Red Sea near Egypt.
Beach Guardians. Highly Commended, Wide Angle. Returning from a dive with bull sharks I saw a beautiful flock of seagulls flying very low over a crowded beach. These white creatures are comfortable with human presence, they usually fly low and gently over people looking for food; this behavior allowed me to try to shoot them from beneath the water. It took many tries visiting the area and thousands of photos before getting it. With this photograph I want to show that ordinary subjects can become extraordinary depending on the perspective you see them from. Taken near Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
The Great Sea Eagle. Highly Commended, Up & Coming. Living for a while in my youth in southeast Alaska, I came to appreciate the Golden Eagle, a majestic creature admired for her dazzling aeronautics and airborne confidence. Alas, I was then ill-equipped to portray such splendor and supremacy of the skies. In previous underwater forays, I had depicted turtles as peaceful, graceful “cuties,” while they are actually among the sea’s most resilient creatures. Hatched into a world in which one in one thousand reach maturity, sea turtles face increasing human demand for their meat, eggs, and shells, rendering most species at risk of extinction. Inspired in this very moment by the Alaskan Golden Eagle, I seized upon this shot of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle. In Sodwana Bay, South Africa, under a moderate current and scarce light, the creature revealed a nature transcending mere gracefulness: confidence, born of longevity against all odds, and a seeming sense of itself as among the most magnificent denizens of the sea.
Underwater fisherman. Winner, International Wide Angle. Cages are more commonly associated with photographing great white sharks, but I constructed a cage to keep me safe as I captured the fishing behaviour of the bear. I waited many hours in the cold water for the bear to come close enough to make my photo. The bear’s strategy is to start by sitting down, putting his head under the water, looking for fish. Once the fish start to ignore him, he creeps closer before making his crucial lunge to snare a large salmon in his paws, or teeth. He would usually stay underwater for about 20 seconds. This bear came to this place in the river several times a day. Each time he caught about 5 fish and then went for a rest on the beach. Taken in Kuril Lake, Kamchatka, Russia.
Planktonic Predator. Runner Up, British Macro. In the summer of 2015, Scottish Natural Heritage asked a dive team to conduct site monitoring of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) which included North Rona, which is where this image was taken. We had come to the end of a dive inside a cave. Just before we reached the surface we noticed an unusual amount of zooplankton which had become trapped inside the cave entrance. We then spotted a couple of tiny, post-larval monkfish feeding on the plankton, something none of us had ever seen. Getting an in-focus shot with my macro lens was easier said than done with prevailing swell, but I managed a few before the boat came to pick us up.
What Feeds Beneath. Runner Up, International, Behavior. I entered the cold November water to photograph a pair of humpback whales which passed by very quickly. Swimming back to the boat I saw a small moving object in front of me; it was a Hawaiian petrel submerging its head to feed on the tiny crustaceans. Under normal circumstances as you get close it will fly away, but surprisingly, it just kept feeding in front of me. By approaching very slowly I was able to get close from beneath, thankfully it stayed there for a few moments allowing me to capture this behavior. Taken near Todos Santos, Mexico.