Spectacular Photos From Underwater Photographer Of The Year Contest Are Thought Provoking

Scientists estimate that about 20 percent of animals on Earth live in the oceans and freshwater that cover our planet. The animals that populate the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes are the focus of the spectacular Underwater Photography Of The Year (UPY) contest, which highlights photographers who have captured images that are astounding, heartbreaking, thought-provoking and always incredible.

Here are the award-winning photographs from 2019 along with the runners’ up and other notable pictures.

WINNER Marine Conservation and “Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2019”.

Eduardo Acevedo/UPY 2019

“The Caretta caretta turtles spend much of their life in the open ocean. They come to the Canary Island after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches. In this trip of many years they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc. In this particular case it got trapped in a net and it was practically impossible to escape from it… but this day it was very lucky and could escape thanks to the help of two underwater photographers who were sailing near her.”

Category winner. Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019 Category 8. Up & Coming. 

Taeyup Kim/UPY 2019

Taken in French Polynesia.  Photographer Kim wrote, “Overwater, beautiful resorts and palm trees in super clear sky. Underwater, nearly 1m depth, colorful and untouched hard corals with some reef fishes. For the first dive here, I was running out of time for preparing ascent. And I request only diving this specific area for the nice split shots. I worked for about 30 minutes. I met 2 difficult points. Surface was not that calm because of the surrounding boat which made waves. Secondly my posture was really unstable in super shallow depth, surrounding hard corals for lifting my dome and getting right composition. Frankly, I was waiting gray reef shark and black-tip reef shark near here coming into this composition. I failed but I like this paradise.”

Category winner. Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019. British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019. Category 4. Behaviour.

Richard Barnden/UPY 2019

Photographer Richard Barnden writes of the shot: “As the sun sets on Fakarava South Pass [in French Polynesia], the estimated 700 sharks that are patrolling the mouth of the channel by day, begins to hunt at night. The gauntlet is about to unfold. Descending into the darkness I can feel my heart beating a little faster than normal as hundreds of sharks are now covering the bottom. This unlucky parrotfish dodged in and out of the patch coral heads looking for somewhere to hide as swarms of sharks followed in hot pursuit. One grey reef shark suddenly grabbed the parrotfish by its head as the another twisted underneath it to get a better grip. In desperation it hurtled straight towards me as I snapped a few passing shots and curled up into a ball as the frenzy of sharks shot past, leaving only but a few falling parrotfish scales behind.”

Judge Peter Rowlands reacted to the photo and said, “I worry that this image will refuel the public’s imbalanced perception of sharks but as an image capturing behaviour it has drama, adrenaline, grace, beauty and finality. That’s a very rare combination in one image.”

WINNER Category 1. Wide Angle

François Baelen/UPY 2018

François Baelen writes, “At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimetres away from her tail. I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn’t need to ask the playful calf : he was very curious.
From down there, the scene looked unreal and I’m glad that this photograph has captured this moment. Humpback whales are amazing and peaceful animals and I still can’t believe they are still being hunted by mankind today.”

WINNER Category 5. Portrait

Nicholas Samaras/UPY 2019

“Abandoned by swimmers and divers for many years because of the gold mine just on the edge of the gulf, Stratoni [Chalkidiki peninsula / Northern Greece] is a well kept secret for scuba divers and macro photographers,” writes Samaras. “I visited Stratoni three times in August 2018 for a photo project dedicated to the seahorse colony that managed to survive there. On my third and last visit I was planning to create a specific group photo of seahorses, before the sunset using natural light. Just on time of the big finale, a small ray came into the scene! Hidden in the sand a few centimetres from my camera, took off swimming in the shallows. I managed to swim with him and place my camera underneath to capture a portrait of his belly with the mouth and nose looking like a smiling happy angel’s face, with the sun beams on the background softening the colour to emerald.”

WINNER Category 3. Wrecks

René B. Andersen/UPY 2019

Andersen wrote of his winning photograph: “The HMS Audacious, which is laying on 64 meters in Malin Head, Ireland, was a dreadnought battleship which struck a mine in 1914. After she capsized, the shells magazine exploded and she sank….There was a small current so it wasn’t easy to lay still during this long exposure shot. It took some time before achieving this shot and at 64 meters, the clock is ticking fast. That is the challenge with deep wreck photography. When I used the tripod with me as a model, there was a risk that something would go wrong as I am far from the camera so I had to cross my fingers every single shot.”

WINNER Category 7. Compact

Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2019

Enrico Somogyi wrote of his double exposure photo: “I woke up early in the morning to get a half and half shoot with a fisher boat and the Sunrise [the photo was taken in Indonesia]. This was the first picture. The second picture with the Hairy Frogfish I take on Laha 1. Here I was using a Inon S2000 with a Snoot for the Hairy. For the blue backlighting I used a colored Fiberoptic Snoot on a Inon Z240. To get the two Pictures together I was using the double Exposure Setting in the camera.”

WINNER 11: British Waters Living Together

Victoria Walker/UPY 2019

“This huge shoal of mackerel forgot to check the tide time table,” writes photographer Victoria Walker. “Caught out by the spring low tide in St.Ives harbour, hundreds of mackerel found themselves stuck for a few hours until the tide came back in. I’d been out for a swim, testing my new weight belt with my camera when I came upon this unusual event. The local fisherman told me it very rarely happens so I slowly immersed myself into the pool to capture the spectacle. I had to sit very still not wanting to panic the fish, after just a few minutes they were swimming all around me. I wanted to capture the public watching from above, along with what was happening below. Luckily I had my wide angle lens to get the composition I wanted to achieve.”

WINNER 12.British Waters Compact

Martin Edser/UPY 2019

Martin Edser describes his encounter with the seal as follows: “If ever there was an invitation to play this was it! I love diving with and photographing seals, and have dived with them round the UK but this was my first trip to The Farne Islands and what a ‘Sealfest’ I was treated to. The younger pups especially were very curious of us, the lumbering black bubble monsters. This is great for us as photographers as we can wait for them to become increasingly inquisitive. This adorable seal pirouetted and arabesqued around me before sliding in and flicking sand over itself in a final attempt to get me to play – and it nearly worked! Using the ambient light and managing the aperture and shutter speed I have tried to focus and lock on the face but also capture a sense of movement, but the irresistible pose and eyes though are all this seal’s own work.”

WINNER Category 2. Macro

Fabio Iardino/UPY 2019

“In the first three months of the year I often go to the Gulf of Trieste in the north-east of Italy where I do night dives to take pictures of small cuttlefishes, more precisely of the species “Sepiola sp.”. The hope, given the period, is to find the cuttlefish during the mating phase. During the research I found this Sepiola that moved about a half meter from the bottom. Looking at his way of moving, I was reminded of the idea of trying to make a panning shot and to photograph the effect of the movement to give dynamism to the image,” wrote Fabio Iardino.

WINNER Category 6. Black & White

Henley Spiers/UPY 2019

While diving at Isla Espiritu Santo, Baja California Sur, Henley Spiers said, “10 metres down, I found myself hovering between two worlds. Below, an enormous school of fish covered the bottom as far as I could see. Above, a single Cormorant patrolled the surface, catching its breath and peering down at a potential underwater feast. The cormorant, better designed for swimming than flying, would dive down at speed, aggressively pursuing the fish. The school would move in unison to escape the bird’s sharp beak, making it difficult to isolate a single target. More often than not, the bird returned to the surface empty handed and peace would momentarily be restored. I would squint up at the sunny surface, trying to keep track of the predator and anticipate the next underwater raid. This image captures the hostile, black silhouette of the cormorant as it dives down onto its prey, who for a brief moment, remain unaware of the danger above.”

WINNER 9.British Waters Wide Angle

Robert Bailey/UPY 2019

“Our dive group was on a private charter with Dive Scilly late last summer,” writes Robert Bailey. “The skipper dropped us on this lovely wall festooned with invertebrate life. I was keen to capture a good wide angle scenic featuring jewel anemones and a diver. When diving in the UK I’ve found the visibility is rarely good enough for making contrasty wide angle pictures, let alone including a model. On this occasion the offshore site afforded us with clear water. I took advantage of the opportunity, and encouraged my wife and model Paula to work her way into the frame. I took 20 shots in a series on this portion of the wall before settling on this “image.”

RUNNER UP Category 2. Macro

Flavio Vailati/UPY 2019

“I went to the Philippines to photograph these critters. I had already seen this nudibranch on these eggs but to make this shot I had to wait for it to position itself in the point that I had imagined,” said Vailati. “While I was waiting I prepared the snoot on my flash and my additional lens.
I had only one shot because although slow, it moved quickly enough!”

RUNNER UP Category 5. Portrait

Bruce Sudweeks/UPY 2019

Photographer Bruce Sudweeks wrote, “The Galapagos Islands are the only place on the planet that you can see marine Iguanas in their natural habitant. This photo looks like the fictional character Godzilla that is smiling before starting some mischief.”

RUNNER UP Category 6. Black & White

Ken Kiefer/UPY 2019

Keifer described how he got this amazing shot: “My wife and I were visiting Cayman for the first time. We were mostly diving from a boat on this trip and heard a rumor about silversides making a short appearance near Devil’s Grotto at Eden Rock. We gathered up all of our gear and rushed over to try out this shore dive and search for the tarpon and silversides. It is a rare event, but absolutely magical to witness. Hundreds of thousands of these tiny fish flow like mercury through the multiple swim throughs trying to avoid becoming dinner for the massive tarpon in the area. Much of the time my wife and I were unable to see one another due to the volume of the little fish. At this moment, a tunnel appeared between us and I was thrilled to capture the moment!”

Category Highly Commended. Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2019. 9.British Waters Wide Angle

Malcolm Nimmo/UPY 2019

“Being a passionate diver and snorkeler, I spend much of my spare time in UK waters particularly around Plymouth Sound, Torbay and the Isles of Scilly. All are beautiful and diverse marine environments,” writes Nimmo. “Towards the end of July, you may be lucky enough to encounter a compass jellyfish, pulsating gently through the surface waters. Not only are they fascinating creatures but they make potentially beautiful photographic subjects. This photograph was taken whilst snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly in only a few metres of water, shooting directly upwards to capture the surface features and a partial Snell’s windows.”

RUNNER UP 10. British Waters Macro

Paul Pettitt/UPY 2019

This picture of a Sea Hare was taken just before the major restoration works commenced on Swanage Pier. The subject was crawling along a broken pier leg that was beautifully covered in growth, and was perfectly positioned for me to take a picture of its unmistakeable face at the right angle.
These creatures are often mistaken for nudibranchs, but are a different group of sea slugs. The Sea Hare’s colour tends to adhere closely to the colour of the weed on which it feeds. Swanage Pier is my local dive site and it offers so much variety of subjects depending on the time of the year you visit but no 2 dives are ever the same, Its my quest to promote the beautiful Sea life we have here in the UK.”

RUNNER UP Category 4. Behaviour

Scott Portelli/UPY 2019

Photographer Portelli wrote, “The heat run is the ultimate wildlife encounter, multiple whales competing for a female, the chase can last for hours or even days. Often many dolphin species are found moving with the Humpback groups. it is truly one of nature’s great events and is truly heart-thumping and adrenaline-pumping action to be a part of. On this day we jumped in with this group of 16 whales and 50 dolphins moving at high speed. trying to position ourselves in the right place was challenging to say the least, but after 25 or more drops in the water I was not only exhausted but managed to capture something amazing and something that not many people have experienced. After 16 years I have documented some of the most common and unusual behaviour seen by Humpbacks in the region, but it is truly heart-thumping and adrenaline-pumping action to be a part of.”

RUNNER UP 9.British Waters Wide Angle

Jack Perks/UPY 2019

“I’m always on the look out for unusual freshwater subjects and grass snakes are a species I’ve been after for years. I was told about a pond used for natural swimming and the odd grass snake that hangs around the lilly pads for frogs. I put my Hammond drysuit on and got into the water and could see one slithering along the surface. Slowly making my way towards it with my head only just poking above I got the spilt shot,” said Jack Perks. “Many people don’t realise how aquatic grass snakes are and often spend time by the water, it was a picture I was chuffed to get!”

RUNNER UP 11: British Waters Living Together

Arthur Kingdon/UPY 2019

“Man-made structures, such as piers, are popular with underwater photographers as they are usually home to a wide variety of marine life in relatively shallow water,” writes photographer Arthur Kingdon. “The legs provide a good surface for plant and animal life to cling to, which in turn provide shelter for fish and invertebrates. This pier, situated on the west coast of Scotland, is swept by nutrient-rich currents and the marine life is particularly prolific. It was fascinating to see how the marine life varied from one leg to another. Here, the feeding polyps of the soft coral Alcyonium digitatum surround a velvet swimming crab. I was pleased to be able to photograph this while the sun was setting, and the rays shining through the structure added the extra dimension I was looking for.”

RUNNER UP 12. British Waters Compact

Ian Michael Wade/UPY 2019

This split-level photo of frog spawning in the UK was taken by Ian Wade. He writes, “Heading back to my favourite spawning site each year is a photography highlight in my calendar. On this occasion, I really struggled to find frogs spawning! After an hour or so carefully searching I spotted these two common frogs in amplexus just under the surface. I wanted to capture this behaviour in a split level photo. Using a compact for split level photography is really tricky, it took a few shots to capture the image I was after. I am excited to be heading back this year in search of frogs and toads!”

RUNNER UP Marine Conservation

João Rodrigues/UPY 2019

“Mobula rays are caught and brought by villagers to the Munca fishing port (located in eastern Java), the second largest port in Indonesia. A typical victim of bycatch, mobula ray gills are extracted and exported to China to support the rising demand for traditional medicines. This image depicts a local villager processing a mobula with a traditional katana,” writes Rodrigues. “I chose this dramatic moment, which invokes the exploitation of these charismatic animals, to raise awareness about their cruel reality. This photo was captured during an assignment for National Geographic Portugal. A marine biologist from the University of the Azores, studying the sensory biology of mobulids, led this expedition to develop new methods to reduce bycatch. Without conservation efforts, these winged fish, which swim through the water like angels, may soon be endangered due to overfishing.”

Judge Peter Rowlands wrote of the image, “All the judges found this to be probably the most distressing image to view but its uncompromising message must be seen by as many people as possible.”

RUNNER UP Category 1. Wide Angle

Jessica Farrer/UPY 2019

“As a biologist I have been working with seals for many years and traveling to the Antarctic since 2009. This is a photo from one of my favorite encounters,” describes Jessica Farrer. “It was captured on a snowy dramatic day, the sky could not have been more perfect. We were in a spot known as the Iceberg Graveyard on the Antarctic Peninsula, where massive ice giants come to rest on a rocky bottom. There was a group of 8 crabeater seals cavorting around the bergs and they spent the better part of an hour spy hopping, splashing and circling around us. It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had with this species. Out of all the shots this was my favorite. This curious Antarctic seal in his incredible polar home.”

RUNNER UP Category 3. Wrecks

Panoramic view of the Chrisoula K. wreck , tile wreck with a diver on the right side, Abu Nuhas, Red Sea, Egypt. Tobias Friedrich/UPY 2019

“Because the bow sections of the Chrisoula K wreck in the Red Sea is too big to be taken in one image, my idea was to create a panoramic view from multiple images and merge them together to one big panorama to get a nice view of the whole wreck from that perspective,” wrote photographer Tobias Friedrich of his image.

RUNNER UP Category 7. Compact

ManBD/UPY 2019

While in Indonesia Man BD took this  “glow in the dark” photo of a Nudibranch. “Shaun the sheep is everyone’s favourite nudibranch but I wanted to make it different than others. I decided to do light from the bottom Instead from the back. When I did it the Nudi glowed so I shot it using a Bigblue torch without using any strobes and it worked.”

RUNNER UP Category 8. Up & Coming

Matej Bergoc/UPY 2019

Bergoc says of the shot, “This shot was taken in a remote bay of Solta island, during this year sailing in Croatia. I was aiming to capture just the silhouette surrounded by the beautiful radiant blue background. It took few attempts before her legs, arms and hair were in perfect composition. It was far more difficult for my girlfriend to sit under the boat and pose without any additional weights, then it was for me taking the shot.”

WINNER 10.British Waters Macro

Arthur Kingdon/UPY 2019

Arthur Kingdon describes how he spotted his subject: “Easter 2018 found me diving in Loch Duich on the west coast of Scotland. My target subject was the fireworks anemone which are found on the muddy sea bed towards the head of the loch. However, while searching for these, I spotted a length of plastic pipe lying partially buried in the mud. Moving cautiously to avoid stirring up the silt, I reached the open end and was delighted to find this collection of marine life. A long clawed squat lobster posed proudly outside his man-made home, which he shared with numerous brittlestars, while dainty sea loch anemones decorated the entrance. To capture the beauty of this scene I chose to restrict the lighting to one strobe, snooted for a spotlight effect to avoid illuminating the unattractive background and angled to avoid lighting the interior of the pipe and to give a black background to the squat lobster.”

To see the award-winning photos from 2018’s contest, click here.

To see all of the photographs along with more of the highly-commended in this year’s competition visit the Underwater Photographer of the Year website. You can also download their free 175 page UPT Yearbook.

Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links.