Winners Of Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2020 Contest Share Stunning Wildlife Images

Every year, the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest (UPY) highlight photographs of life beneath the surfaces of our planet’s waters. And every year they never fail to impress.

The winners of 2020 have recently been announced and their photographs are, as always, stunning.

Judges must choose what they think are the very best photographs from over 5500 images taken by over 500 photographers, which is no easy task but they do so diligently in honor of the work of the photographers and their subject matter.

This year’s top prize went to Greg LeCouer’s picture of the Antarctica Peninsula, which won its category (Wide Angle) for its beautiful combination of “photographic beauty, composition, exquisite light and delicate colours” along with “perfect poses from the seals make this a celebration of natural life and a most enduring image,” said judge Peter Rowlands.

Greg LeCouer explored the area 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” and called it an area with “massive and mysterious habitats, icebergs are dynamic kingdoms that support marine life.”

Underwater Photographer of the Year and Category Winner (Wide Angle) 2020

Greg LeCoeur

Greg LeCouer/UPY 2020

Category (Wide Angle) Highly Commended and British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2020

Another Wide Angle image won Highly Commended and its photographer, Nicholas More, took the British Underwater Photographer of the Year prize for his image of Rabbit fish in Indonesia.

Nicholas More

Nicholas More/UPY 2020

“I have been taking motion blur pictures for a few years now. I like how the technique adds dynamism to pictures,” explains More.

Category Winner and Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2020

Anita Kainrath won Up & Coming Photographer of the Year for her image of a lemon shark 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,” she writes. “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.”

Anita Kainrath

Anita Kainrath/UPY 2020

Category Runner Up and Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2020

Photographer Nur Tucker writes, “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.”

Nur Tucker

Nur Tucker/UPY 2020

Category Winner and Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2020

“This winter, I went diving with some local fishermen,” explains Pasquale Vassallo. “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).”

Pasquale Vassallo

Pasquale Vassallo/UPY 2020

Below are the other winners from the competition.

WINNER Category Macro

“Goby Goodness” taken in the Cayman Islands.

Hannes Klostermann

Hannes Klostermann/UPY 2020

RUNNER UP Category  Macro

“The Unicorn shrimp usually inhabits around 200 to 300 m deep, but they rise to about 40m due to breeding behavior. There are thousands to tens of thousands of shrimps but there are only a few suitable places to shoot them. The direction and density of the tide may vary depending on the direction, strength, and brightness in the ocean. I went there many times because I could only stay for 15 minutes once a day,” says Keigo Kawamuri. “I was lucky to be able to find and shoot the ideal situation.”

Keigo Kawamura

Keigo Kawamura/UPY 2020

THIRD Category Macro

“Favorinus Pigging Out” taken in Bali

Jack Israel/UPY 2020

RUNNER UP Category Wide Angle

“Fotteyo overhangs, with golden bunches of soft corals that you can see in this picture, is a rather famous place in the southern Maldives. It is impossible to cover the cave even with a fisheye lens due to its small depth. That’s how I decided to create a panorama of this place,” says  Oleg Gaponyuk.

Oleg Gaponyuk

Oleg Gaponyuk/UPY 2020

THIRD Category Wide Angle

“During an expedition in East Greenland under the ice, one diver took his video lights with him to swim underneath the iceberg,” says Tobias Friedrich. “Only in the water could we see the real dimensions of the whole iceberg.”

Tobias Friedrich/UPY 2020

WINNER Category Wrecks

“The Engine” of the wreck of Chrisoula K located in Egypt.

Tobias Friedrich

Tobias Friedrich/UPY 2020

RUNNER UP Category Wrecks

“This split shot of the Georgios shipwreck was taken in Saudi Arabia in the area of NEOM, along the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea,” explains photographer Renee Capozzola. “In 1978, this large cargo ship became stranded on a bed of corals and then had a large fire. The wreck is now known by many locals as the “Saudi Titanic” and sits halfway out of the water at the bow and in roughly 80 feet of water at the stern.”

Renee Capozzola

Renee Capozzola/UPY 2020

She adds, “There is a large school of tiny fish that live inside and there is abundant coral growth on the ship itself, which now serves as an artificial reef for many marine organisms.”

THIRD Category Wrecks

Taken in Mauritius, “The lively deck of the Kt Mawar becomes a nursery for several species among which are yellow juvenile snappers and silverbacks,” says Pier Mane. “The fishes find the metal frame and its interior hull a refuge from the surrounding predators circulating in mid water.”

Pier Mane

Pier Mane/UPY 2020

WINNER Category Behaviour

Pasquale Vassallo/UPY 2020

“At the end of a session of free diving, I noticed a soccer ball, in the distance and on the surface,” Pasquale Vassallo. “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.”

RUNNER UP Category Behaviour

Paolo Isgro/UPY 2020

This photo was taken in Tonga during a Naia liveaboard,” writes Paola Isgro. “On the second day, in the middle of lunch, the cruise director called us because there was a lot of whale action right around the boat. So in a fraction we climb out of the chair, jump into the wetsuit swallowing the last bite and dive into the water. A couple of young whales really want to play with us and minutes after minute they get closer and closer. And it was during a freediving at 10 m that I saw this whale coming so close to me: it looks at me very intensely and says “Hello” in one breath exhaling so many bubbles.”

THIRD Category Behaviour

Filippo Borghi/UPY 2020

This photo portrays an incredible moment – the birth of a Mediterranean catshark. To try to make this shot I spent over a month visiting the same egg again and again, waiting for the right day for hatching,” describes Filippo Borghi. “Only with patience, passion and willingness can you capture certain shots, which makes them special to take.”

Judge’s comments:
“Some sharks give birth to live young, some hatch from eggs. Such an amazing moment seeing this cat shark wiggling out from its egg case laid in such a beautiful location.” – Alex Mustard

WINNER Category Portrait

Lilian Koh / UPY 2020

“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, writes judge Peter Rowlands of Lilian Koh’s shot.

RUNNER UP Category Portrait

Rooman Luc/UPY 2020

“In June I heard that there was a seahorse at a certain dive site in the Eastern Scheldt [Netherlands], at a depth of 12m. From then on, I went looking for the seahorse every week, and eventually found it in August. It was posing so nicely around a pipe that I had ample time to photograph it with the snoot. This gives the seahorse an angry look, but that is fortunately a mere appearance,” says Rooman Luc.

THIRD Category Portrait

Greg LeCouer /UPY 2020

“During an expedition on a small sailboat, Guillaume Nery, Florian Fisher and myself explored the Antarctica Peninsula by diving below the surface. Although the conditions were extreme with a temperature of -1° C, we documented extraordinary marine life in a fragile ecosystem, such as on this image: crab-eater seal. We also saw leopard seals, gentoo penguins, Antarctica fur seals, and Weddel seals. All these marine animals are affected by global warming with the melting of the ice. Despite the name, Crabeater Seals don’t eat Crabs. Krill make up to 95% of a Crabeater Seal’s diet. Crabeater seals have developed a sieve-shaped tooth structure that filters krill, much like whale baleen. They suck up water containing krill, close their jaws, and push the water between their specialized teeth, trapping the krill inside.”

WINNER Category Black & White

Mok Wai Hoe/UPY 2020

“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,” writes judge Alex Mustard.

RUNNER UP Category Black & White

Henley Spiers/UPY 2020

“A school of uniquely patterned spotted eagle rays passes beneath me on an unforgettable dive in the Maldives. Like most divers, I have always found these rays to be especially spellbinding, but also highly elusive! This school passed beneath me towards the end of our dive and it was one of those rare moments of huge admiration, as well as immense inspiration,” says Henley Spiers .

THIRD Category Black & White

Zena Holloway/UPY 2020

“This image takes place in the Ring of Cecomments in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico where the ancient Mayans believed the underground rivers were a gateway to another world. The Ring of Cecomments were created sixty-six million years ago when a colossal asteroid struck Earth. The impact was so powerful that it left behind a crater 180 kilometers across, and brought about climate change that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Throughout this region rivers now flow, deep underground through limestone rock that has, in places, collapsed to leave these remarkable caverns,” writes Zena Holloway. “In 2019 I was in Mexico, working on a photographic project about escaping gravity, inspired in part by the 50th anniversary of the moon landings. Whilst searching for ‘another world’ I followed Brazilian free-diver and renowned conservationist, Flavia Eberhard, through a dark underwater passage and we emerged into this vast, unexplored space.”

WINNER Category Compact


“Uluna Lake in North Sulawesi [Indonesia]  located 670m above sea level is a place I’ve always wanted to visit…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.”

RUNNER UP Category Compact

“Squid in Disco Fever” taken in the Phillippines.

Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2020

THIRD Category Compact

“Jellyfish from Palau”

Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2020

THIRD Category Up & Coming

Ines Goovaerts/UPY 2020

Of her shot of a Minke whale in Australia, Goovaerts writes, “You know those moments when you imagine a shot and you hope it turns out as planned, but 99% of the time it doesn’t? Well, this wasn’t one of those. This was that 1%.”

WINNER British Waters Wide Angle

Arthur Kingdon/UPY 2020

“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…”

RUNNER UP British Waters Wide Angle

Will Clark/UPY 2020

“I still find it extraordinary that it is possible to snorkel alongside the world’s second biggest shark just off the west coast of Scotland. Each summer these huge animals usually gather in large numbers in the waters around the Inner Hebrides archipelago,” writes Will Clark. “Basking sharks offer no threat to humans – their food is mostly animal plankton funneled through their enormous mouths and strained through specialised gill structures.”

THIRD British Waters Wide Angle

Trevor Rees/UPY 2020

“Pachycerianthus multiplicatus) was photographed at the head of Loch Dutch in Scotland at a depth of 15 meters. The water was dark and peat stained. It is a favourite subject that I have photographed many times before but this time I aimed for a different look and feel to the subject.”

WINNER British Waters Macro

Laura Storm/UPY 2020

“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 stands of Spirogyra. These 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.”

RUNNER UP British Waters Macro

Trevor Rees/UPY 2020

“Of all the fish in British Waters, a male cuckoo wrasse (Labrus mixture) takes some beating for its striking blue and orange colouration. They are therefore always a favourite subject and this one proved a cooperative individual. The Plymouth Mewstone on England’s south coast often guarantees seeing and getting close to these charismatic fish. I aimed for a straight head on composition with maximum symmetry.”

THIRD British Waters Macro

Dan Bolt/UPY 2020

“This gorgeous Okenia elegans nudibranch is considered to be a rare species in the UK, but can be quite common around Torbay in south Devon. I came across this one crawling along the edge of a kelp frond which gave me the perfect opportunity to find angle that best shows off their outlandish colours.”

WINNER British Waters Living Together

Dan Bolt/UPY 2020

“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.”

RUNNER UP British Waters Living Together

Kirsty Andrews/UPY 2020

Shot in Scotland, the lobster took advantage of the litter. “It’s never nice to see discarded manmade items on the sea floor, but in this case, a common lobster (Homarus gammarus) was taking advantage of the situation. A traffic cone provided a handy vantage point to overlook the seabed as well as a large lobstersized shelter on an otherwise relatively flat landscape.

THIRD British Waters Living Together

“Lucky Escape” of a Spider crab.

Shannon Moran/UPY 2020

WINNER British Waters Compact

Colin Garrett/UPY 2020

“Early in April 2019, sightings of a lone male Bottlenose Dolphin had started to be reported in and around Portland Harbour [Dorset]. 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 sighting. 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 snorkeling equipment and waited, hoping…
It turned out he wasn’t nervous in the slightest and swam straight to the camera. I cannot recall who’s smile was the largest. His or mine?”

RUNNER UP British Waters Compact

“Fluo fireworks anemone,” shot in Loch Fyne, Scotland.

James Lynott/UPY 2020

THIRD British Waters Compact

Martin Edser/UPY 2020

Lobster on the wreck of The Alaunia in the English Channel off the Sussex coast.

HIGHLY COMMENDED Marine Conservation

Simon J Pierce/UPY 2020

“Runde Island off Norway is a seasonal home to over half a million seabirds, including these northern gannets. The gannets normally build their nests from seaweed and rass floating on the ocean’s surface near the island. Increasingly, the seabirds are instead using discarded netting, ropes, and packaging straps from fisheries into their nests,” writes Pierce.” This fishing waste is becoming more common than the natural materials they instinctively gather. A recent survey at Runde found that 97% of nests contained man-made debris. Newborn chicks, and even adult gannets, are routinely entangled and killed in these tough and onbiodegradeable materials. Reduced fishing pressure near nesting colonies has been shown to lead to fast and measurable declines in the number of affected nests, pointing to a range of potential solutions: reduce pollution from the fishing boats, minimise net fisheries in the local region, or create protected areas that allow the ecosystem to recover.”

RUNNER UP Marine Conservation

David Alpert/UPY 2020

Dry Food Market Hong Kong and Misool in Raja Ampat. “A double exposure is used perfectly to transform a reportage image into something eye-catching and artistic, as well as challenging us to think about how we treat sharks,” writes judge Alex Mustard.

THIRD Marine Conservation

Scott Gutsy Tuason’s image of local villagers in the Kei Archipelago, Indonesia hunting leatherback turtle with a harpoon is asstriking as it is sad.

Due to the graphic nature of the image, you may view it on UPY’s website by clicking here.

HIGHLY COMMENDED Marine Conservation

Shane Keena/UPY 2020

“The unfortunate reality is that human impact is found everywhere… even on the tiniest and remote of islands amongst the smallest of critters,” says Shane Keena. “Here, on Peleliu Island in Micronesia, a hermit crab has made use of a discarded metal can from Asia as a temporary, yet very unnatural home. Sadly, this is not the first encounter I have seen on these islands where these hermit crabs use discards for shelters and have seen them using human discards ranging from plastic Kurig single use coffee pods, to old metal bolts.”

HIGHLY COMMENDED Marine Conservation

Kim André Sund photographed a Cormorant caught in a net in a shipwreck in Norway.  Whilst on a wreck dive on the “Øygard” outside of Ålesund (Norway) I found a fishing net stuck at the aft with a lot of dead fish and crabs. When ascending to the upper deck, I found the cormorant dead in the net. It is a common problem that fishermen place their nets on the wrecks and the net gets stuck. After the picture was taken, Norwegian media got interested and it all ended up with the Norwegian coast guard cleaning up the net a few weeks later.”

Due to the graphic nature of the image, you may view it on UPY’s website by clicking here

COMMENDED Marine Conservation

“The Cry for Help”

Nadya Kulagina/UPY 2020

HIGHLY COMMENDED Marine Conservation

Charlotte Sams caught a shark getting a necropsy. “A small great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) was found dead on the shores in South Africa. Reported by Lower Breede River Conservancy then recovered by Dyer Island Conservation Trust, this small, young shark was then analysed, along with the South African Shark Conservancy.
This was taken during the necropsy where the scientists had to cut into the shark to examine all parts of it to try and determine the cause of death. They spent hours looking inside and at her organs but no definite cause of death was found on this day. Her body did not go to waste, as scientists make sure that by collecting samples, numerous studies and research projects can be supported.”

Due to the graphic nature of the image, you may view it on UPY’s website by clicking here

COMMENDED Marine Conservation

“Tuna fishery during the moment of rising nets” in Spain.

Rafael Fernandez/UPY 2020

“Places like this fishery in Ceuta are aware of the importance of taking care of the environment and fishes that are not useful such as sun fishes or turtles are thrown away or taken into a dedicated center in order to heal them,” says photographer Fernandez. “It was impressive to see all that movement and be surrounded by hundreds of fishes, but the best thing was to see fishermen taking care of animals that were not edible in the middle of all that chaos, a clear message of how things can be done right.”

COMMENDED Marine Conservation

Theresa Guise/UPY 2020

“We stumbled upon this large group soaking up the sun in the bay of Punta Vincente Roca [in Galapagos], while returning from a dive to photograph the mola mola. The tiny bay was so thick with Galapagos green sea turtles that they clumsily bumped into each other. With only a few minutes to take some images, we slid into the water and began shooting. These beauties were not what we set out to photograph earlier, the shy mola mola in the dark, cold morning. Instead, we witnessed a stunning example of successful marine conservation. The Galapagos Marine Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. The diverse population of ocean life thrive in this protected space. Turtle haven illustrates why we must protect the ocean and make it a life-long commitment.”

To enjoy these photographs offline, you can download the 2020 UPY Yearbook containing all the images.


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