Whale Sharks Create ‘Ocean Magic’ In Winning Photo Of Underwater Photographer Of The Year Competition

The oceans, lakes and rivers we love are an incredible source of life for our planet. And every year the competitors in the Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022 share the remarkable moments they’ve captured on camera from across the globe.

This year’s images include amazing moments: a gathering of 11 whale sharks feeding in the darkness of the night; the huge steering wheel of a sunken ship eerie aglow in the ocean deep; close-ups shots of a great white shark and at seal smiling. See these and other award-winning photos from the 2022 competition.

Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022

Giants of the night by Rafael Fernandez Caballer

Giants of the night by Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2022

This spectacular photo of 11 whale sharks feeding at night in the Maldives has won top prize in this year’s competition. Judge Peter Rowlands wrote, “This image took my breath away from the first viewing and I never tired coming back to it. Scale, light and the sheer numbers of big subjects, it was quite obvious from an early stage that this was, by some distance, our winning image.”

Photographer Rafael Fernandez Caballero, from Spain, wrote that he and his fellow divers were delighted when a couple of hours into photographing two whales sharks “out of the blue, madness happened and whale sharks started to come in big numbers.”

“In the ocean magic can always happen. But when magic happens all together, you only can think you’re dreaming. This was the case of that night in Maldives,” he wrote. “We counted at the same time 11 whale sharks surrounding us. It was a unique moment that no one there had thought it could even be possible.”

He added, “Magic happens in the ocean every day, but if we don’t protect the oceans and sharks, these moments will soon be a thing of the past.”

Callero’s image also won the Wide Angle Category.

British Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022 & Runner Up Portrait category

Great white split by Matty Smith

Great white split by Matty Smith/UPY 2022

Taken around the North Neptune Islands in Australia, Matty Smith’s close up photo of a Great White shark gets the heart pumping.

“I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait of a great white shark for a couple of years,” Smith explained of his shot. “Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own carbon pole and remote trigger. This enabled me to safely lower my camera and housing into the water with my own 12” split shot dome port attached.”

He added, “Surprisingly the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera with no extra bait needed, in fact it was a battle to stop them biting the dome port!” It’s a relief to know he wasn’t in the water with the camera.

My Backyard Winner and Category Winner Behaviour

All You Need Is Love by Pekka Tuuri

All You Need Is Love by Pekka Tuuri/UPY 2022

“This love pond is in my backyard, a 20 minute drive from home. And it has rewarded me plentifully over the past ten years,” Finnish Pekka Tuuri wrote of his image of a trio of frogs having a romantic moment in late April. “The common frogs come first, then toads and finally newts.”

Tuuri donned a drysuit to be able to spend four days and four nights in the chilly five degree water to capture this image. “I floated and stayed put among the frogs and quite soon they accepted me and my camera as a part of the scenery.” The frogs soon climbed on top of his camera and squeezed between his face and the backplate of the camera…they simply were too busy spawning to care he was there.

Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022

Supernova in paradise by Quico Abadal

Supernova in paradise by Quico Abadal/UPY 2022

Taken in Thailand, Abadal met Jeniya having breakfast at Zest, “one of my favourite food spots of Koh Tao.” After a long chat they filmed a video together and Abadal knew he wanted to take a photo of her underwater as “she moved quite poetically underwater.” The result is a photo with wonderful imagination.

‘Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022

“Big Appetite” by Thien Nguyen Ngoc/UPY 2022

“Big Appetite” by Thien Nguyen Ngoc

An aerial perspective of busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen, Phu Yen province, Vietnam. Many local fisherman families along the coastline will follow the near-shore currents to catch the anchovy during peak season.

“Salted anchovy is the most important raw material to create traditional Vietnamese fish sauce but anchovies are a little fish with a big impact. When they are overfished, the whales, tunas, sea birds… and other marine predators that rely on them as a dietary staple face starvation and population decline critically.

“And so far Vietnam is also facing this anchovy overfishing situation, according to the survey results of the Institute of Seafood Research, the reserves and catches of anchovies in the waters of Vietnam have decreased by 20-30% in the past 10 years.”

Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2022 

Diamonds and Rust by Paul Pettitt

Diamonds and Rust by Paul Pettitt/UPY 2022

It was a bright afternoon at Swanage Pier in the United Kingdom when Paul Pettitt captured this shot of the Sea Gooseberries. They had been “around for a while and on this particular day the water was like glass. I floated in the spot I wanted and waited for them to slowly drift by. The background colours represent the rust and weed growth on a metal cross beam.”

Wide Angle Category

Runner Up Andy Schmid had heard so many good things about the “Tuna Factory” dive site in the Maldives that he had to go take a look. He stayed in the shallows and encountered “schooling Bannerfishes, Stingrays and Moray Eels that are looking for tuna skins, bones and heads that are dumped into the ocean by the tuna factory.

Sunset Ray by Andy Schmid/UPY 2022

“I quickly found a great spot where I could shoot against the setting sun, framing the schooling Bannerfishes and the Pink Whiprays that were constantly circling the area.”

Third Place winner Hannah Le Leu visited Heron Island in Australia to capture this image of a Green Sea Turtle hatchling “cautiously surfaces for air to a sky full of hungry birds.

Against All Odds by Hannah Le Leu/UPY 2021

“Against all odds, this hatchling must battle through the conditions of a raging storm whilst evading a myriad of predators.” She says the baby turtles are also prey for fish and sharks. “Only 1 in 1000 of these hatchlings will survive; will this one survive against all odds?”

Macro Category

The winning image in the Macro category came about thanks to Javier Murcia’s many hours working with the species that live in seagrass meadows. “Both species, both the pipefish (Syngnathus abaster) and the green prawn (Hippolyte sp.) live on the leaves of seagrasses. It is not the first time that I have seen this curious behavior; I have been able to observe it on 4 or 5 occasions but I had never been able to take a good photo of it…”

Mimicry by Javier Murcia/UPY 2022

“Sometimes the shrimp would move and other times the pipefish would quickly hide in my presence. The pipefish looks like a seagrass leaf and for this reason some prawns merge with its body thinking that they are leaves that move. Both are mimetic species.”

City of Angels by David Alpert/UPY 2022

Runner up David Alpert took the photo of these anemone fish embryos just hours before they hatched as they “stare out into the world beyond.” He says of the photo taken in Indonesia, “Their large eyes give a sense of foreboding for what lies beyond. Around spring tide, with water volumes at their greatest, a couple hours after dusk, for maximum protection from predators, they will be cast adrift onto the ocean currents to try to navigate their way through to adulthood.”

“All are male. They will hope to establish themselves with an anemone to form a symbiotic relationship. Only the dominant male will breed with the single female, the largest in the group. When she dies, he will alter his sex to become the next breeding female. And so the cycle is complete – in balance – but first they must hatch – getting close now – will it be tonight? Yes – the day after I took this picture they were gone.”

An image of a blenny took Third Place and came about after Hannes Klostermann dived off the dock where he works in La Paz, Mexico. It’s not a dive site but Klostermann got a great shot anyway. “For me it just goes to show that you don’t always have to go to the best dive sites to get good images. You just need to be in the water somewhere.”

Green Fire by Hannes Klostermann/UPY 2022

Wrecks Category

Winner Alex Dawson says this wreck at Tyrifjord in Norway is one of his favourites in the Gulen dive resort area of Norway. Every year a group of divers goes on a “wreck safari”. “The highlight of the wreck is always the huge extra steering wheel in the aft. You can see the 50+ foot dive boat up on the surface from 40 meters depth at the top.”

Abandoned ship by Alex Dawson/UPY 2022

“Wrecks around the world are the ideal habitat for new coral growth, and safe haven for many fish,” explains photographer Catherine Holmes, Runner up in the Wrecks category. “At last returning to the Red Sea, Egypt in November, I was entranced by the synchronisation of the glassfish circling under the overhanging wreck structures that abound there.”

Glassfish Synchronicity by Catherine Holmes/UPY 2022

She took this particular image at Dunraven wreck, sunk in 1876 on the Southern edge of Sha’ab Mahmoud in Egypt. At thirty metres and completely upside down, it has broken into two sections creating swim throughs where large numbers of glassfish congregate.”

Dive instructor Karlo Macas took this shot of the Kittiwake wreck in Grand Cayman a few days after Covid 19 closed the island. “My boss Jason asked me to join him on a trip because there was no work. Coral, the model, is a talented freediver and Jason’s model which I had the pleasure of photographing that day. As I was diving on the wreck at least once a week, I knew the composition I wanted to take and after Coral’s couple of dives, this image was taken.” The image won third place.

Coral on the Kittiwake by Karlo Macas/UPY 2022

Behavior Category

In a blink of an eye Javier Murcia captured the moment a painted seabass engulfs a green wrasse in the Posidonia oceanica meadows of Cartagena in Spain. He noticed the green wrasse was likely sick, something that did not go unnoticed by the seabass hiding in the dense sea grass. He is Runner up in this category.

The circle of life by Javier Murcia/UPY 2022

The captured scene in Damir Zurub’s third place image is an action shot of a striped marlin mid-hunt in San Carlos, Magdalena Bay, Mexico. “Being able to share the ocean with the marlins during this moment was breathtaking and memorable,” wrote Murcia.

Hunting by Damir Zurub/UPY 2022

Portrait Category

Thomas Heckmann took the winning photo in the Portrait Category in his own underwater photo studio. “To make the hair glow, the camera settings were for the silhouette and three powerful strobes were needed hidden in the background,” he revealed.

Winner, Rapunzel on Fire by Thomas Heckmann/UPY 2022

While on a day trip to San Cristobal, Galapagos Daniele Comin made a stop at “the famous Leon Dormido Dive Site so I took my camera and I went to do some freediving. Conditions were very bad: no light and dark green water. It wasn’t easy to set the camera for a good shot. The purpose of this part of the trip was to find hammerheads underwater. However, instead of hammerheads, I saw a group of Green Turtles. I decided to observe them a little bit. One Green Turtle was “meditating” so I gently approached, trying not to disturb her. I took 3 shots before she seemed to notice my presence and so I went away. She stayed in the same position for another 10 minutes.”

Longevity Meditation by Daniele Comin/UPY 2022

Black & White Category

A year into the Coronavirus pandemic, winner Kerrie Burow took this shot of her 7-year-old niece Sarah as she “stares with wonder into my housing dome while on one breath underwater.”

The scene portrays the therapeutic power of water which so many of us experienced during the pandemic. The underwater world offered peace, comfort and hope – for the anxious, the depressed and the grieving. It gave us a chance to feel joy and adventure again as well as freedom from the heavy weight of the pandemic – even if just for a moment while on one breath.”

Sarah’s Underwater World by Kerrie Burow/UPY 2022

Runner Up Borut Furlan spent several days among the sharks. “I was in Moorea [in French Polynesia] with my daughter in September 2021, in the middle of complete lock-down. All dive shops and boat rentals were closed and tourists were not allowed to move out from their hotels (except 1km for recreation…).

Evening with sharks and birds by Borut Furlan/UPY 2022

“Fortunately our apartment was quite close to the famous spot in the lagoon with sharks and rays and the owner of apartment arranged us two kayaks for ‘recreation,'” he continued. “So we put our snorkelling equipment and my housing on kayaks and paddled to the spot. We were three days completely alone there with all the shark, rays and birds just for us. In three days I took more than 5000 images, I kept about 200 and I was satisfied with about 10 of them. The image above is one of my best ones.”

Water Dimension by James Rokop /UPY 2022

“Moments like these are simple but magical. An artistic swimmer on a break playing on the bottom of the pool. Me, the father of two swimmers, spending countless hours photographing my daughter’s team learning and experimenting with how to capture every angle of the sport during moments of action and seeming inaction,” wrote photographer James Rokop.

Compact Category

Winner Enrico Somogyi writes, “Once a year at the end of March it is mating time for the toads. It last only few days and only at this time is it possible to get very close to them. Normaly they are very shy. I was trying to get a split shot with this toad, when he started to crawl on my small domeport. I got some pictures from this action and this was my favorite pic.”

Winner, Peace by Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022

Runner Up James Rokop wrote of his photo, “My daughter Madi is a favorite subject. I have been photographing her for years on her artistic swimming team in Davis, California (Aquastarz). In this photo, Madi is performing a “barracuda” maneuver, one of the many compulsory figures that are required in competition and to advance in the sport. The move requires Madi to “scull” with her hands to stay vertical and then to lift herself above the water line as high as she can. In this shot, the angle, the lighting, and shape were compelling and even more so when inverted.”

Headspace by James Rokop /UPY 2022

The quarry near Enrico Somogyi’s hometown in Westbruch, Germany is home to carp and many other fish. “For this pic I was using a Raynox Circular Fisheye Lens behind a 4inch Dome which I adapted to a Fantasea Housing,” he explains. “The colorful reflection comes from a reflection tube which I placed inside the Raynox Circular Fisheylens. The green, red and orange colors together with the reflections gives a dreamy look which I like a lot.”

Colors of a Quarry by Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022

Up and Coming Category

Beauty on a red anemone skirt by Yazid El Shaari/UPY 2022

“I had just travelled back home from a very exciting underwater photography workshop and if I had learned any thing from this experience it was to find an attractive background and then look for a subject to complement the scene,” wrote Runner Up Yazid El Shaari of his photo taken at Fahal Island, sea of Oman, Muscat. “I caught a glimpse of a red anemone skirt in between the rocks and I have never seen this color in our area before, so I started to play with the lighting to get the right exposure, when suddenly I can detect some kind of movement in the view finder only to find this beautiful goby, very uncommon to our dive sites, but a very pleasant surprise.”

The adventures of Captain Lisa by Quico Abadal/UPY 2022

“Diving has always felt like a science-fiction adventure to me, especially when wearing scuba-equipment it makes me feel like a spaceman,” wrote photographer Quico Abadal. “I have been lucky enough to encounter the most alien looking species such as cuttlefish, or dive in lunar landscapes like La Palma. For a long time I daydreamed about creating an underwater series of science fiction photographs.”

“When I first visited Deep Spot in Poland I was convinced my series had to begin there, the place that most resembled a space base. After a couple of months I went back with some costumes. In this image Lisa isn’t wearing any mask under the helmet, nor is she breathing through a regulator. The most challenging part was to manipulate the angle, making the viewer believe Lisa is jumping forward, when in reality is an over-head shot, and at the same time she had to maintain her buoyancy and avoid bubbles. Thanks Lisa!”

To learn more about the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest visit their website. You can also download their free Yearbook.

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