Every year Underwater Photographer of the Year hosts an international photo competition aiming to celebrate excellence in all disciplines of underwater photography. This year’s winners were announced at the PhotoZone stage at the London International Dive Show on February 14th. The following macro photos are some of the 2015 winners and finalists in the various categories. For more details on the competition visit www.upylondon.com.
’50 Tons of Me’ by Nuno Sa (Portugal)
Winner of Underwater Photographer of the Year
Winner of International Macro
The Natural reserve of Ria Formosa is home to the world’s largest population of the two species of seahorses found in the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. However the local university together with Project Seahorse has registered a 85% decline in seahorse populations between 2001 and 2009.
I spent 10 days diving in this natural reserve for National Geographic Portugal, following a pioneering project between the University of Algarve with Project Seahorse that has been breeding seahorses in captivity. The goal is reducing the demand of wild seahorses and also re-populate areas where seahorses populations have been reduced or extinct by fishing. Over 50 tons of seahorses are captured every year for ornamental purposes and use in traditional oriental medicine.
To light this photo, I had the unusual accessories of two scientists, who were holding my strobes, 1 strobe behind and 1 over the seahorse.
Canon EOS 5D, 100mm. Aquatica housing, Ikelite DS125 strobes. 1/200th @ f/13, ISO 50.
“In the opinion of the judges, the best in show! The composition is simple but so effective. What attracts me to this particular image is quality of light and shade made possible by the subtle use of flash. It’s though it is lit from within. It is also a fine example of what I refer to as delicate post processing.” -Martin Edge
‘Dancing Shrimp in Formation’ by Theresa A. Guise (USA)
Runner up for International Macro
The image was taken on a dive site mooring, a large concrete block, which was covered in pink sponge. Closer inspection showed an abundance of dancing shrimp. They formed interesting patterns and formations, such as the one in this image. Their red bodies and turquois eyes were a striking contrast to the pink sponge, but complimented it as if arranged by an interior designer.
“Who says you need rare and exotic creatures to make great underwater images? It’s a typical subject which we practice on for our first macro dive of the day! Who would think that this everyday common subject could excel in a world class photo competition such as Underwater Photography of the Year award? Well everyone, It has! So incredibly simple but shot by an uw photographer with a seasoned eye for impact, balance and originality. I so wish I had taken this shot!” -Martin Edge
I was making a sunset dive with the intention of photographing mandarinfish mating when I spotted this beautiful solar powered nudibranch. I was already busy photographing it when from between its horns this tiny emperor shrimp appeared. Perhaps it was more confident in the fading light?
Nikon D800e 105 Nikon. Subal housing, two Ikelite DS 160 strobes. 1/125 @f/22. ISO 100
This remarkable image gets better and better the larger you view it. With macro it’s often tempting to go in close for maximum detail and scale but in this case the symmetry of the main host enhanced by the dominant oral tentacles and the extremely delicate lighting has produced an image which perfectly captures the relationship between these two beautiful creatures. -Peter Rowlands
‘Mr. & Mrs Yellow Hairy Goby’ by Jeffrey Chua de Guzman (Philippines)
Yellow hairy gobies are one of the cutest fish in the sea, but they are tiny tiny tiny and often dart to and fro – left and
right. Never staying still for more than a few seconds, They live in spiny corals to protect themselves from predators, like wrasse. This is a subject that demands exceptional patience, clicking the shutter at just the right moment. And sometimes that patience is rewarded with sheer luck. My goal was a simple portrait, when suddenly another goby popped its head into the frame.
‘Miamira Alleni : The Anilao Star’ by Marcello Di Francesco (Italy)
The incredible nudibranch (Miamira alleni) can truly be considered a star. It is beautiful, charming, sinuous, and the most desirable nudibranch in the whole Anilao area. It was also one of the largest nudis I have ever photographed. Who would think a slug would make for such an unforgettable diving experience!
This is a highly mobile nudibranch and the challenge of this shot was to fit it all in the frame while lighting it properly. It was a great challenge, but worth it!
Canon EOS 5D MKIII + Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. Nauticam housing. 2 Inon Z240 strobes. F18 1/100 iSO 200
‘Riding The Dragon’ by François Parot (France)
I have been chasing the classic underwater photography duet, the moray and shrimp, for many years. And fortunately on Les Deux Frères dive site, near Fabrégas (South of France, Mediterranean Sea), I found a reef filled with morays, with the appropriate company in their lairs. Then all that was needed from me was the right preparation and a lot of patience as I dedicated my entire dive, 70 minutes long, to these two subjects. This is my favourite frame in the series.
Nikon D300, 105 mm macro. Sea&Sea MDX-D300 and YS-250 strobe. 1/125th @f/22. ISO 200
This was my first trip using close up diopters. I borrowed a +8 from a friend and quickly became fascinated with the extra level of detail this provided. These small soft coral polyps needed careful lighting so I experimented using backlighting (another first for me) to separate them from the background. To achieve this, I detached the strobe from the arm and handheld it behind the subject.
This rare combination of colour and anemonefish can be found next to the Walindi Resort in Papua New Guinea. I am grateful to another photographer for pointing it out to me and we then shared it for the rest of the dive, alternating every 10 minutes until I finally got a perfect pose from the fish.
The Emperor Shrimp (Periclimenes imperator) looks really beautiful – yellow, white, purple and red colouration and its commensalism. The Emperor Shrimp can be found on several species of Sea Cucumbers and Nudibranchs. There is a high chance to see it at 825K (dive site) in Northeast Coast, Taiwan. Summer (early August through late September) to be most suitable for the season. Usually they pick relatively big nudibranchs. When I found them , I used SubSee +10 and focused manually. In order to get distinct details and accurate focus. Finally, I captured this image.
Olympus E-PL5, 60mm macro. Olympus PT-EP10 and INON Z240. 1/250th @ f/16. ISO 200
‘Nembrotha in carnival’ by Adriano Morettin (Italy)
Anyone who has dived at night will know that diving lights attract hoards of plankton, usually a most unwanted irritation, especially for photographers because they cause backscatter. However, here I was happy to welcome them into my photo as they make it more lively and attractive.
I was in Loch Carron in Scotland at one of my favourite shore diving sites. This amphipod (Iphimedia obesa) was a subject I had not photographed before or really been aware of before. Conditions were such that the water at the time was alive with them – like little fleas darting about all over the reef. I settled down with a macro lens fitted with a dry diopter and just kept searching until I found a cooperative individual that would stay still for long enough. I aimed for a low angle, side on composition at the maximum magnification that minimum focus would allow. As with many tiny creatures most divers are probably unaware of the beauty and amazing colours of these creatures, so a photo is particularly valued.
Nikon D600, Nikkor 105 VR micro with Marumi +5 dry dioptre. Sea & Sea MDX-D600, single Sea & Sea YS110 fitted with snoot. f32 @ 1/250sec. ISO 400
“In some categories there is sometimes a shot which is head and shoulders of the others and this is it. Graphically simple, perfectly composed with pin sharp focus and beautifully lit, it has a delicacy which is both beautiful and strange in equal measures.” -Peter Rowlands
In 2013 I was aboard the MV Halton to head offshore and dive the outlying islands of North Rona and Sula Sgeir, some 40-50 miles offshore in the north Atlantic Ocean.
One afternoon, myself and good friend Richard Shucksmith spent 2-3 hours snorkelling in a shallow bay frequented by rafting puffins. Using Richard’s beautifully fashioned, homemade puffins to disguise ourselves we could approach close enough to photograph the birds from an underwater perspective. Although guillemots buzzed right up to us almost immediately, the puffins remained shy taking a long time before swimming close to us underwater. This one looked particularly cheeky as it checked me out for what I really was!
“Photographing puffins underwater is very challenging and doing so in British conditions is even tougher, yet this is a powerful portrait that tells us about the conflicting emotions of curiosity and nervousness in this engaging subject.” -Alex Mustard
‘Northern Prawn’ by Arthur Kingdon (UK)
3rd Place of British Waters Macro
This northern prawn was in a crack in the rocks a couple of feet above the sea bed. This allowed me to shoot from below the subject. I have always been fascinated by the eyes of these creatures so I opened up the aperture and concentrated on focusing just on the eyes. This gave a different image to the usual macro shot where maximum depth of field is aimed for.
St Abbs, Scotland. Nikon D7000, 60mm macro. Aquatica AD7000 housing, 2 x Inon Z240 strobe. 1/320th @ f5.6, ISO 200
“I am always impressed by images where the photographer transforms an everyday subject into an image of eyecatching beauty. The pinpoint focus, depth of field and particularly the control on lighting, make this a very impressive portrait.” -Alex Mustard
It was cold, raining heavily, and my partner and I wondered what possessed us to go in the murky loch water for 45 minutes. Soon after entering the loch this nudibranch was somersaulting through the water column in front of me. I was experimenting with different lenses at the time and had a 35mm behind a flat port, not a great macro lens but I added a +5 diopter to give a bit more magnification and luckily the images turned out sharp.
Loch Sunart, Scotland. Nikon D7100, 35mm and +5 diopter Nauticam, Inon Z240 strobe. 1/125th @ f/10. ISO 200
The Sawcut is a legendary dive in St Kilda. The dive site is basically a crack in the rock that is around 3m wide and runs around 60m deep into the Dun. The walls just outside the fissure are festooned with vibrantly coloured jewel anemones of every colour imaginable. There was just one major difficulty in photographing this artist’s palate, and that was managing to focus in a hefty surge that was sweeping me backwards and forwards by about 2m every few seconds, but it was well worth the effort.
Nikon D300S, Nikon 60MM lens. Sea & Sea Housing and twin Inon Z240 strobes. 1/125 @ f14 ISO 200
‘Blue Jelly fish’ by Steve Jones (UK)
Despite the waters around me being full of playful grey seals, if there is one subject that can completely distract me,
its jellyfish. This Blue jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii) is amongst my favourite species to photograph in UK waters. It’s often confused with the more venomous Lions Mane, yet it makes a far prettier subject. The lens combination of the Sigma 15mm, which can focus extremely close, and the Kenko teleconverter, which has the effect of forcing the perspective, made an ideal combination for the Wide-Angle-Macro technique used on this shot. The angle of view allowed the surface of the water to form a high contrast background and I used plenty of light on the jellyfish itself to ensure it was nicely saturated and stood out.
Lundy Island, Bristol Channel. Nikon D4, Sigma 15mm Fisheye with Kenko 1.4 pro teleconverter. Secam D4 housing with superdome, twin Seacam S150D strobes. 1/250th, F16, ISO100
In need of some guaranteed great diving at the end of 2014 Polly and I headed north to the Scottish sea lochs and the wild west coast. With Loch Carron as our base we were never going to be disappointed with terrific photographic subjects every which way we looked. Hermit crabs (Pagurus bernhardus) can make great subjects and Loch Carron offers so many habitats and backgrounds that you’re often spoilt for choice. When I saw this tiny one making its way across the surface of a huge sunstar (Crossaster papposus) I knew the bright red colour would make for a striking back drop.
Canon 5D MkII, 100 mm macro. Ikelite housing, twin Inon Z220 strobes. 1/80th @ f14, ISO 400
‘Shrimp hiding in anemone’ by Trevor Rees (UK)
The blue shrimp (Periclemenes sagitiffer) is not a commonly seen British creature as it is restricted to certain south coast sites. One thought is that it is a relatively new species to UK shores made possible by rising sea temperatures. This one was seen on a night dive where I went out specifically to look for this species. Possibly it was a more cooperative a subject at night. It was nestled in the protective tentacles of a snakelocks anemone. Although hard to find they are not too difficult to photograph once located as they are reluctant to leave their host anemone. Nevertheless, getting the shrimp all in view without it being too hidden by all the tentacles took time to get right.
Painted gobies (Pomatoschistus pictus) are possibly my favourite UK fish. Although quite tiny they are very feisty. The males emit a drumming sound to defend their territory and, with their mouths wide open, they look as though they they are singing. I wanted to capture this curious behaviour, using a narrow depth of field to make it stand out from a busy background.
Helford River, Falmouth, Cornwall. Nikon D7000, 60mm macro. Nauticam NA-D7000, and Sea&Sea 110 alpha. 1/160th @ f5.6 ISO 100
I was pottering around under Swanage pier (South Coast, UK) on a fine late summer’s day when I saw out of the corner of my eye some commotion. I looked over and saw two large tompot blennies in the middle of an epic fishy battle. The battle lasted for a good 20-25 minutes and I was treated to several glimpses of their needlelike teeth as they bit down on each other’s faces.
Olympus EM5, 12-50mm. Nauticam NA-EM5 and INON Z240 strobe. 1/100th F18 ISO 200
Of all the Angelfish in the Caribbean, the Queen has proven to be the most camera-shy and every trip I go home wishing for one image to show off the beauty of this regal fish. Luckily on one dive in Cozumel’s Tormentos Reef I came across this lovely lady when she was in a friendly mood. For a few seconds she allowed me to remain motionless and made two passes directly in front of my dome! I was ecstatic to have made the most of the moment.
Canon 5D3, 8-15mm fisheye lens. Ikelite Housing with dual DS161 strobes. f/10, 1/125 ISO 100
‘Glowing Goby’ by Mario Vitalini (UK)
Winner of Most Promising British Underwater Photographer
3rd Place in Up & Coming Worldwide
I love backlighting for the contrast it brings and I really like the translucent effect it has on many subjects. Even with all the other critters in Lembeh, I could not resist this ordinary goby and had a bit of a competition with my dive buddy to get a backlit shot.”
“Here is a perfect example of how to light a subject to great effect but backlighting can introduce problems of its own and enhance any backscatter. The lovely contrast between the rich black background and the translucent body of the fish combined with a powerful diagonal composition make this a very effective image.” -Peter Rowlands
This was taken on a brilliant live aboard dive trip off the north coast of Scotland on the HV Halton. We headed west from Orkney to explore dive sites up to 50 miles off the Scottish coast. Our first stop was a dive site called ‘Nipple Rock’. The water was clear and the reef was covered with marine life, including these colourful jewel anemones.
Canon S100, Inon UCL – 165 M67 close-up lens. Ikelite housing and Inon Z240 strobe. 1/100th @ f/5.9. ISO 160
‘Valet service’ by Cathy Lewis (UK)
3rd Place in International Behavior
We spent a lot of time shore diving a busy cleaning station at around 23m, where this Emperor Angel was a frequent visitor. I wanted to use it as a colourful, graphic canvas on which to capture the cleaning behaviour of the Lysmata shrimp.
Seraya Secrets, Bali. Nikon D200, 105mm macro. Sea&Sea NXD200 housing and Sea&Sea 110 alpha strobes. 1/100th @ f/14, ISO 200
“This image was a strong favourite with all the judges. It has a wonderful sense, not only abstract and art but of behaviour also. Excellent ‘peak of the action’ with the subject occupying the dark tones of the fish. The balance of the composition and general weight of the shot, I find outstanding.” -Martin Edge
‘Piggyback’ by Jeffrey Chua de Guzman (Philippines)
Commended in International Behavior
During the warm season, when the surface water is warm, all of Anilao’s critters go very deep. I planned a solo technical dive to 50 metres to find them as above 30 meters it was like a dessert. At 50 metres I hit a very cold thermocline; I knew this would be the place to find something good. I spotted the Nudibranch shinning white against the dark coloured rocks behind it and as I came closer I spotted the Emperor shrimp. I quickly turned on my camera, adjusted my strobes and settings. I fired a few test shots to check the quality of my light and then I waited for the perfect timing to shoot the Emperor Shrimp near the head of the Nudibranch. It took nearly a few dozen shots and 30 minutes to get what I wanted. By this time my back gas was at 100 BAR, my turn around pressure. I slowly made my accent to the surface but not until doing nearly 90 minutes of deco using 32% nitrox.
It’s fair to say I am a little bit obsessed with hermit crabs. I think they’re funny little critters, often walking around with bits of seaweed and other marine life stuck to them. This pair caught my eye during a week spent doing shore dives in Loch Carron on the west coast of Scotland in November last year.
Canon S100, Inon UCL – 165 M67 close-up lens. Ikelite housing and Inon Z240 strobe. 1/80th @f/5.9. ISO 200.
This was taken during an on-the-day splash in competition when the weather was bad. In only 2 metres of water, a group of blennies and shrimps were fighting over tiny scraps of flesh in the remains of a cockle shell. Getting an in-focus and well composed image with a compact camera as the skittish animals moved around was quite a challenge. I reduced most of the shutter lag by setting manual focus and then just gently rocked the camera backwards and forwards until the image looked sharp. This shrimp settled onto the shell and stood his ground for a few seconds, giving a chance to take 3 images, of which only this one was in sharp focus.
Olympus XZ-2 with +10 wet diopter. Olympus PT-054 housing with single INON Z240 strobe. 1/160th @ f/5.6, ISO 100.
‘ShrimpFresh’ by Mark Fuller (Israel)
Commended in International Behavior
A grouper getting a cleaning from a cleaner shrimp, There are many shots of shrimps cleaning grouper’s but it took me many occasions before I got a face on shot where we can see the shrimp cleaning inside the mouth as well as seeing all the details inside the mouth.
This common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) was photographed off Babbacombe beach in Devon. The location is a well known spot where cuttlefish come in to the shallows in late spring to early summer to breed and lay their eggs. This one was found in 5 metres depth and is a large male about 1 foot long. They are popular subjects that have been frequently photographed by many divers in recent years. To add a different look and feel I have used a zoom blur filter in photoshop to give the effect of movement, which I felt complimented their tendency to often shoot off backward at great speed if alarmed. It was a pleasing capture from a simple 4 MP compact camera.
Underwater Macro Runner up in International Behavior
The West Australian Seahorse (Hippocampus subelongatus) breeds over our summer months. After watching the ever-expanding pouches of the brooding males during the day, I was determined to see one give birth, something done under the cover of darkness. For several weeks, I dived almost every second night in the hope of seeing and photographing this amazing event. I saw many seahorses in the early stages of labour but no babies. So I kept coming back until on this particular night, I found three males who looked very ready to give birth. This one was the first to have his babies and I watched in awe as hundreds of tiny seahorses were thrust from his pouch.
“One of my own favourites from the entire competition! The birthing behaviour in itself is technically first class but what impresses me the most is the sense of emotion between father and babies. Just look at the eye contact! A fine example of exceptional peak of the action! Imagine the eye contact being directed anywhere else within the frame. That parental connection would have been lost.” -Martin Edge
The Helford River in Cornwall is a Voluntary Marine Conservation Area, which is home to lots of wonderful marine life. Diving here was where I chose to spend my 29th birthday when this photo was taken. It is a beautiful drift dive and sea hares are quite common in this area, as are rays, big flatfish, gurnards and seahorses. Sea hares are thought to acquire their body colour based on the colour of the seaweed on which they’re feeding.
Canon Powershot G10. Canon housing and Ikelite AF35 strobe. 1/60th @f/5.6. ISO 80.
‘Tompot Portrait’ by Polly Whyte (UK)
Highly Commended in British Waters Compact
However many photos of tompot blennies you have taken, it’s hard to swim past these charismatic fish without getting a few more snaps. They are in my opinion the friendliest fish in UK seas and so photogenic, as long as you can get both their eyes looking at the camera! This photo was taken under Swanage Pier, where tompot blennies are a common sight in the summer.
Canon S100, Inon UCL – 165 M67 close-up lens. Ikelite housing and Inon Z240 strobe. 1/100th @f/8. ISO 160.