Antarctic Seals Picture Wins International Underwater Photography Prize
The winners of the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition were announced on 22 February, with a balletic photograph of crabeater seals swirling around an iceberg seeing French photographer Greg Lecoeur winning the 2020 award. Lecoeur’s photograph triumphed over 5500 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 70 countries around the world.
The annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition, based in the UK, has celebrated photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools since 1965.. Today’s competition attracts entries from all around the world with 13 categories allowing for entries from compact cameras as well as high-end DSLRs. This year's judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Martin Edge and Alex Mustard.
UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2020
Winner – Wide Angle
Greg LeCoeur, France, 'Frozen Mobile Home'
Massive and mysterious habitats, icebergs are dynamic kingdoms that support marine life. As they swing and rotate slowly through polar currents, icebergs fertilize the oceans by carrying nutrients from land that spark blooms of phytoplankton, fundamental to the carbon cycle. During an expedition in Antarctica Peninsula with filmmaker Florian Fisher and freediver Guillaume Nery, we explored and documented the hidden face of this iceberg where crab-eater seals have taken up residence on icebergs that drift at the whim of polar currents.
'The balletic rhythm of these crabeater seals and the ethereal landscape of the pitted iceberg creates a composition that draws you into a corner of the world that few people have witnessed. The multiple subjects take my eyes on a journey through the frame and into the icy ocean of Antarctica.' - Alex Mustard
'A deserved and unanimous winner which combines photographic beauty, composition, exquisite light and delicate colours. Perfect poses from the seals make this a celebration of natural life and a most enduring image.' - Peter Rowlands
'A stand out winner from the very first time I viewed it. The positioning of the seals could not be surpassed. Each of the four compositions are superb in relation to the image frame. "Peak of the Action" at it’s very best.' - Martin Edge
UP & COMING UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2020
Winner – Up and Coming
Anita Kainrath, Austria, 'Lemon shark pups in mangrove nursery'
The Bahamas has been a shark sanctuary since 2011 but Mangroves aren’t protected yet and that’s where these lemon shark pups spend the first 5-8 years of their lives. I was standing in knee-high water, trying to hold my camera still, waiting for the sharks. Trying not to move when you have mosquitoes and sand-flies buzzing around you was probably the part I struggled with the most at this moment. After less than one hour the little predators came closer and finally swam around my feet and my camera, bumping against me and trying to taste my strobes. They are curious little fellas but you need time to gain their trust and I love observing them in their natural habitat and that’s what I wanted to capture. They are such characters and we need to protect their nurseries in order to make sure their population is not declining.
'As someone who is adored by mosquitoes and sand-flies I have to applaud Anita’s tenacity first and then her imagery in equal measures. Her perseverance has definitely paid off with a beautifully balanced and observed image. It’s an image we dwelt on for quite a while; not because we were unsure about it but just because we liked looking at it.' - Peter Rowlands
BRITISH UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2020
Highly Commended – Wide Angle
Nicholas More, UK, 'Rabbit Fish Zoom Blur'
I have been taking motion blur pictures for a few years now. I like how the technique adds dynamism to pictures. The picture was taken in Raja Ampat, Indonesia in November 2019 and I spent the morning taking fish portrait images. I came across a school of very friendly Rabbitfish under a jetty and took lots of schooling shots. I started using the extensive zoom range of my Sigma 17-70 combined with a slow shutter speed to create zoom blur images. The picture came together when the school bunched tightly together in a vertical tower with them all facing onto the camera. I hit the shutter and zoomed in at the same time, the flash freezing the central fish with the ambient light creating a Pop-Art like effect.
'I would like to thank Nicholas More for the in-depth narrative regarding how this particular shot was taken. He has explained in detail from start to finish. For those viewers who are interested in the camera settings, they were 200 ISO, f20, 1/8th sec. Superb underwater imagery.' - Martin Edge
MOST PROMISING BRITISH UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHER 2020
Runner Up – Up and Coming
Nur Tucker, UK, 'Commotion in the Ocean'
This image shows my very favourite of the species, the thorny sea horse. Over time, I have tried many different techniques, with varying degrees of success, including backlighting, side lighting, snooting, panning, double exposure and silhouette shots. I love experimenting even if this comes at the expense of a wasted dive. On this particular dive, in Dumaguete (Philippines), I was keen to aim for something different and potentially offbeat. I began with a panning shot of the sea horse, captured with a 1/4 second shutter speed and a small, f/25 aperture. Then, I used the same settings to capture a panning shot of a shiny scouring pad, carried in my pocket. Both images were merged, in-camera, for the resulting double exposure shot. I must have repeated this sequence 50 times before eventually achieving this one when he made eye contact, which pleased me.
Shot in Dumaguete, Philippines with a Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm AF-S Micro Nikkor f2.8 G ED lens, Inon Z240 at full power and Subal housing at ISO 80, aperture f/25 and 1/4 shutter (Nur Tucker/UPY 2020)
'An arresting image that draws you in with its mix of shapes and textures. The effect in the background elevates this image far beyond a standard portrait, creating a feeling of movement and for me makes me want to savour the eye contact before the moment is passed. I love the texture and muted colours that blend perfectly in the frame.' - Alex Mustard
MARINE CONSERVATION PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2020
Winner – Marine Conservation
Pasquale Vassallo, Italy, 'Last Dawn, Last Gasp'
This winter, I went diving with some local fishermen. At 6 in the morning, I was already in the water, as the nets were raised at first light. During the dive I followed the path of the fishing nets from the bottom to the surface. As the fishermen quickly hauled on the nets, I tried to take some shots of trapped fish still suffering in the mesh, such as this tuna (Euthynnus alletteratus).
'If a picture paints a thousand words then a great one asks a thousand questions. You know those questions; so do I. All we can do is show the truth to those who live above but can’t envisage the world below and hope that they start asking questions.' - Peter Rowlands
CATEGORY WINNERS 2020
Winner – Macro
Hannes Klostermann, Germany, 'Goby Goodness'
During the dive that I took this image on I swam a grand total of about 30 metres. I dropped down from the surface and descended towards the shallow, pristine coral reef in the Cayman Islands when I spotted this little fella posing right at the top of a coral head. I noticed the purple sea fan in the background and suspected it would look pleasing with a shallow depth of field, a look I really like in macro photography. After I had taken the first image and reviewed it I knew I would spend the entire dive with this goby, as the complementary colours of the fan and coral head worked very well together. Thankfully, the goby really seemed to enjoy the prime spot at the top of the coral head so it kept coming back to have its picture taken, not minding my close approach one bit.
'This image was a winner right from the outset. The bokeh is nothing short of outstanding. The balance of the colours are superb, the eye contact is perfect, but what really caught my eye was the composition! Let us ask ourselves, How many of us viewing this image right now would have had the forethought to place the subject in the very bottom left-hand corner? One of my favourites from the entire competition.' - Martin Edge
Winner – Wrecks
Tobias Friedrich, Germany, 'The Engine'
Panoramic image of the engine room of the Chrisoula K. with six video lights placed behind the engines. I went there on several trips with a liveaboard, being able to check out the possibilities of creating some different lighting in the wrecks. But usually the boats do only 1-2 dives per wreck, so I had to be quick in decisions. The space between the engine inside the wreck is very narrow and the angle for a single photo was just not enough, so I thought it was the best idea to create a panoramic image to display the machine room in one shot. Placing the lights took some time as well to find the right mix of ambiance and light from the outside. Because the wreck is dived a lot in the Red Sea I had to wait for a good slot when nobody was inside it.
'One amazing panoramic image. The consistency of light and shade is stunning. The blue water colour in the far background gives the viewer a huge sense of depth perspective. The eye becomes absorbed by the panoramic from left to right with all the machinery of the wreck in full view. When I first set eyes on this image I knew it would go far in this competition. A most deserved winner.' - Martin Edge
Winner – Behaviour
Pasquale Vassallo, Italy, 'Octopus Training'
At the end of a session of freediving, I noticed a soccer ball, in the distance and on the surface. Intrigued I approached it, and then I noticed that below it was an octopus that was being pulled along by the current. I do not know what it was doing under the ball, but I think it is training for the next football World Cup! There was time for me to take a couple of shots before the octopus let go of the ball and dropped back to the seabed.
'This image provokes a rollercoaster ride of emotions: at first it makes me happy, then sad. It is impossible not to laugh at this composition seemingly showing an octopus with a ball for a head. Then as you think, you enjoy seeing the cephalopod playfully investigating with this strange object in its environment, happily waving its arms in the water. Then the photo poignantly reminds us that oceans have, for too long, been a rubbish dump for all our old and unwanted trash.' - Alex Mustard
Winner – Portrait
Lilian Koh, Singapore, 'Butterfly Effect'
Having been immersed mostly in creative macro, this is the first time I have used a snoot technique on a larger scale. Maintaining a shallow depth to capture the reflection, the snoot is used to bring focus to the model while the blue light catches the flowing veil that frames around her creating a butterfly effect.
'Some images have instant appeal but it takes a quality one to sustain it. Winning images must continue to grow in appeal through the stages to rise above the pack. This image kept coming back and kept getting promoted for its originality, its perfection and delicacy. Our guidelines say "We hope to recognise and reward excellence and creativity in underwater photography within its various disciplines." This is a prime example and a unanimous winner.' - Peter Rowlands
Winner – Black & White
Mok Wai Hoe, Singapore, 'Layered Thoughts'
The creation of this image was inspired by in-camera double exposure photography. This abstract style typically involves re-exposing the silhouette of a person against a textured background such as urban landscape. I was mesmerized by the aesthetics as well as the extensive possibilities of interpreting this form of visual art. At the same time, I also found no examples of the style applied underwater. Fuelled with inspiration, I spent a year researching and experimenting to marry this technique with
underwater photography. This black and white image was made by first shooting a silhouette against a cloudy afternoon sky. The picture was then re-exposed against the image of a coral garden. While this image pays homage to subjects most dear to me, I hope that viewers could find their own meaning as they juxtapose the elements and contrasting textures in the picture.
'They say the best ideas are the simplest ones and this is a stunning and original photo that is without doubt one of the most memorable in the contest. The minimalism of the concept marries perfectly with the monochrome presentation. An exquisite piece of competition photography.' - Alex Mustard
Winner – Compact
ManDB, Malaysia, 'Uluna Lily'
Uluna Lake in North Sulawesi located 670m above sea level is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. When I got the opportunity to dive in this freshwater lake at the end of last year, I knew what I wanted to shoot. As I stayed at YOS Dive Lembeh Eco Resort, the journey to the lake took less than two hours. This crystal clear springs lake is famous for its water lilies which only bloom in the morning and blue sky gave a good contrast when shooting. Geared with a mini dome, I did my level best to shoot a split shot and staying very still to find the right angle and moment.
'Split level shots with compact housings and their small domes are not easy but this perfectly lined split has a freshness and brightness which was always appealing. I have to admit I hadn’t spotted the diver (did you?!) but when it was pointed out to me, that was the icing on the cake.' - Peter Rowlands
Winner – British Waters Wide Angle
Arthur Kingdon, UK, 'Jewel Reef'
The Isles of Scilly offer underwater photographers some of the best opportunities for wide angle photography in the UK so I was determined to make the most of it when I visited for a week in September 2019. This image was shot at a site whose location is known only to the excellent skipper of Dive Scilly and it proved to be a stunning site with jewel anemones everywhere. This was the first dive of the week and it was my first dive with my new camera and housing. After a shot to check exposure and lighting, I took this one and it proved to be the best of the week! I was helped by some fine modelling by Paula who had opted to leave her camera behind on this dive. Her offer to model was very gratefully accepted.
'This year’s winner combines familiar subject matter to last year’s winner of this category, yet there was no denying this impressive capture from the title. It celebrates British Seas, packed with colour, texture, depth and perfectly posed model. Exemplary.' - Alex Mustard
Winner – British Waters Macro
Laura Storm, UK, 'Like Water for Silk'
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been photographing British freshwater habitats underwater. One of the stories that has captivated me is that of the common frog. During its lifetime it has an estimated 0.25% chance of survival. It morphs like no other creature and along the way, experiences the most fantastic journey. This tiny common froglet is less than 1cm in length. It is so weightless it can balance on single, silken strands of spirogyra algae filaments, an abundant and vital first link in freshwater food webs, reproduce rapidly leading to thousands of individual strands. They are a simple life form which combine into a tangled labyrinth known as water silk. To highlight the water silk habitat, I used two off-camera lights strategically placed. One to help light the tiny froglet and the other to allow the tangle of algae strands to shine through.
'Flawless composition, the eye of the frog and the back left leg illustrate the time old 'rule of thirds'. But you have gone one step extra by using your two off-camera lights to creatively light both the frog and the algae all at the same time. Very deserved winner of British Waters Macro.' - Martin Edge
Winner – British Waters Living Together
Dan Bolt, UK, 'Pier Nursery'
This image shows how important man-made structures can be for marine life. Paignton Pier, in South Devon is no exception. The pier legs are home to many sponges, anemones and molluscs, while in the summer months many hundreds of juvenile fish use the structure as shelter from larger predators.
Diving under the pier with the sun shining through the shallow water it can be hard to believe you’re in the UK!
'Great use of wide-angle underwater photography. The stanchion itself and the shape of the Pier legs provide so much depth in this image. It appears circular and once the viewer has followed the school of fish, I too begin to follow them around and around, again and again. All of this is made possible by the circular position of the stanchions.' - Martin Edge
Winner – British Waters Compact
Colin Garrett, UK, 'Smile'
Early in April 2019, sightings of a lone male Bottlenose Dolphin had started to be reported in and around Portland Harbour. I had been out on a local wreck dive with Dale Spree and Jessica Hannah and had had a strange feeling beforehand that the chances of meeting him were quite high. The dive itself came and went with no lighting. But fortune was to be on our side, for on our return across the harbour Dale spotted the distinctive dorsal fin. As the animal approached us, Jessica and I slipped in with just snorkelling equipment and waited, hoping... It turned out he wasn’t nervous in the slightest and swam straight to the camera. I cannot recall whose smile was the largest. His or mine?
'Quite simply a shot that anyone who takes any camera underwater in British Waters would be thrilled to produce. Dolphins often move fast and are actually a real challenge to produce such sharp images of in dark green seas.' - Alex Mustard
For a complete listing of all the winners, runners-up and highly commended photographs in each category, visit www.underwaterphotographeroftheyear.com/winners/2020-winners/. You can also download a free UPY Yearbook featuring all of the winning shots at www.underwaterphotographeroftheyear.com/winners/upy-yearbook/