Underwater photography opens up a dimension of Mother Earth we don't normally see. Blackwater diving and shallow reef paddling would be incredibly hard to explain if it wasn't for the vivid images people brought from beneath the surface. Celebrating the beauty of waters from all over the world, the 7th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest has just announced its winners, and the pictures speak for themselves.
"The purpose of the [competition] is to find and promote the world's best underwater photographers and their work," Underwater Photography Guide's Managing Editor Nirupam Nigam told Bored Panda. "We'd also like to bring public awareness to the beauty of marine life and the necessity of its conservation. Ocean Art is about discovering and putting a spotlight on new/innovative photographic techniques, amazing animal behaviors, and the beauty of the world's oceans."
The judges evaluated thousands of entries from 70 countries before deciding which of them deserved to receive the over $80,000 in sponsor prizes across 16 different categories. "The 2018 competition was our most competitive year to date with a record number of entries. Images from this year's competition show just how far underwater photographic technology and innovation from underwater photographers have come. As this innovation continues, we have seen a shift in preferred subjects for underwater photographers. It would seem that more photographers are now confident in shooting large pelagic subjects such as sharks, rays, humpback whales, and crocodiles. Although these are impressive subjects by themselves, we looked for the very best photos regardless of the subject. This year we saw an increase in entrants from Asia."
Scroll down to check out the best images from the competition and read the stories behind them!
More info: uwphotographyguide.com
1st Place, Wide-Angle Category, "Gentle Giants" By François Baelen
This unique encounter happened in September 2018 in Reunion Island (Western Indian Ocean) where the humpback whales come here to breed and give birth. The mother was resting 15 meters down, while her calf was enjoying his new human friends.
Trust : this is what came to my mind, when this close to 30 ton-animal, still hunted today by mankind, allowed me to freedive behind her and take that shot.
From down there, everything seemed unreal: that huge tail centimeters away from me, the calf, my friend free diving symetrically. I knew I would not get a shot like this one again.
The post production was all about getting a good white balance and reducing noise, because this photo was taken with natural light only, 15 meters deep.
Honorable Mention, Portrait Category, "Curiosity" By Kyler Badten
My freedive parter and I were surrounded by green sea turtles feeding on algae that washed out from the rocky shoreline on Oahu's North Shore. I turned to see this turtle swimming directly at me, which was a truly remarkable behavior that I have never experienced before. As I set up to capture the unique encounter, the curious turtle saw her reflection and continued to slowly approach until nearly bumping my dome!
Honorable Mention, Nudibranch, "Sheep On The Shot" By Chun Ho Tam
My dive master showed me this cute sheep during a dive in Lembeh, Indonesia. Its rouge face attracted me and I decided to take a face shot with snooting it to create a spot light effect.
5th Place, Wide-Angle Category, "Eclipse" By Edwar Herreno
From August to November, golden rays migrate in large numbers in Costa Rican Pacific waters. No one knows the exact reason, but it can be to protection from predators or as a social/mating behavior. I was looking for this picture for years and after several weeks searching and working with biologist specialised in rays, I spotted a good place using my drone. I did several dives in this area and waited patiently, then When they came on top of me, I was shock and forgot that I had a camera in my hands. Any effort I did for this encounter, word it! Simply magic moment.
3rd Place, Wide-Angle Category, "Two Inquisitive Friends" By Celia Kujala
The Australian sea lion is one of the most endangered pinnipeds in the world. One place they can be found is Essex Rocks in the Jurien Bay Marine Park. I was in shallow water, when two Australian sea lion pups swooshed in my direction. They were playing and zipping around each other in what appeared to be a beautiful underwater ballet. However, what happened next was even more special. As they neared me, I must have piqued their interest because the two playful friends became two inquisitive friends and swam to check me out. I was able to capture them at the exact moment they were perfectly posed and staring at me with their curious eyes. I love observing wildlife underwater, but the moments when one connects with wildlife are even more extraordinary. I hope to share with people the magic that I felt.
1st Place, Macro Ocean, "Ancistrocheirus" By Jeff Milisen
One of the things that makes guiding a blackwater dive so rewarding is the chance to spread my passion to the 6 eager customers. But even guides have to let loose, and for that we find empty boat seats and tag along to hone our skills. On this night, I was going holo holo (for pleasure) when I found this sharp-eared enope squid just under the surface. Most enope squids are small and thus difficult to shoot. As they mature, the difficult paralarva comes into its own. Every detail in the arms, organs, and chromatophores blasts to life in radiant color. Such was the case with this gem of a specimen. At around 3 inches in length, it was easily the largest and prettiest sharp-eared enope squid I recall finding. I caught the guide’s glance and let him show it to the nearby customers, but soon the animal fled down, so I followed where the guide couldn’t. We descended past forty feet, fifty feet, sixty feet while I continued watching, studying, and shooting. Anywhere else and these would be shallow depths, but the middle of the ocean at night is a lonely place. I cruised slowly by seventy feet, the guide’s torch watching me. At eighty feet the kraken’s dancing and squirming still entranced me. Finally, at ninety feet deep, it was time to leave my new little friend at peace.
Honorable Mention, Portrait Category, "Nemo" By Matteo Visconti
The relationship between the ocellaris clownfish that dwell among the tentacles of Ritteri sea anemones is a good example of mutualism. The territorial fish protects the anemone from anemone-eating fish, and in turn the stinging tentacles of the anemone protect the clownfish from its predators.
Honorable Mention, Mirrorless Macro, "Face To Face" By Rafi Amar
When I took this picture, a lot of sharks were walking around me, and my Buddy did not understand why I was diving with a macro lens, but I had to photograph this shy fish.
For more than an hour I waited for this picture but finally it was worth it.
3rd Place, Marine Life Behavior, "Love From A Father" By François Baelen
When it comes to clownfishes, we can safely say that Daddy does everything he can to make sure the next generation is safe. He takes care of the eggs by making them breathe with his fins; he removes dust, debris and dead eggs from the nest. This was a really lucky shot as I was trying a new wetlens (+20 diopter). It is pretty hard to use because its depth of field is so shallow that I had to focus manually. What a surprise it was to get this lovely behavior and the clownfish eye in perfect focus!
2nd Place, Novice Dslr, "Smile Of A Friend" By Antonio Pastrana
In my photo dreams I always had the idea of capturing a wild crocodile. But even when I have seen many in the wild, I have never been able to get in the water with one. That morning we saw this crocodile called El Niño. I was told he was nice enough to let you get close to him. He was watching us for quite some time and, when we decided to go in the water, I was nervous but excited. I approached him close to 10 feet when he started to move towards me, I got more nervous than before but he moved gently so I knew he wasn’t mad. He came towards me but dived underneath, so I turned around to follow him closely. When he turned around to face me, I had the opportunity to take this picture with a big smile. After getting the shot I edited in Lightroomma bit of exposure, less contrast, some highlights and less shadows and some clarity cropping the image on the right bottom side to get more close and giving the shot more balance.
2nd Place, Wide-Angle Category, "Paddle Boarders Sunset" By Grant Thomas
Stand up paddle boarders were out exploring the shallow reefs at sunset. I wanted to demonstrate the innate bond humans have with the ocean, whether we are physically in it or floating on the surface. Our inherent relationship with the ocean is eternal and we must care for it in a way that ensures sustainability for the future.
2nd Place, Underwater Art, "Two Worlds Collide" By Jordan Robins
‘Two Worlds Collide’ is an over under photo captured of a vivid sunrise at Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay. Above the water is clouds in the sky bursting to life with colour from the rising sun. Below the water is a series of parallel lines of sand formed by the continual rise and fall of the ocean.This photo took nearly six months to capture with multiple failed attempts along the way. I wanted to capture vivid colours in the sky contrasted with the crystal-clear water and unique formations in the sand below the water’s surface. On this particular morning, I was rewarded with an amazing sunrise and crystal clear calm water.I used my two inon-z240 strobes to light up below the water and balance the exposure with the sky. During post processing I added a little bit of blue to the water to create a dynamic contrast with the fiery reds in the sky, creating an almost psychedelic like scene.
Honorable Mention, Underwater Art, "Light Beam" By Alexandre St. Jean
Cenotes are sacred places to the Mayans. They are doorways to Xibalbá - the Mayan Underworld. On an expedition through the Yucatan Peninsula, Professional Freediver Carlos Coste and I were brought to a very beautiful and remote Cenote by our friend and local guide, Pedro Castillo. There, we were privy to a beautiful, clear and unoccupied Cenote. As we got our gear on, a light beam appeared in the water from above. For a couple hours each day, the sun peaks through the hole of the Cenote and shapes the light into a perfect tube.
Needless to say, we used every second of light to capture photos of this wonderful phenomenon in order to show its mystical beauty. The sense of awe and tranquility felt in Cenotes are enrapturing. You can definitely feel the energy of Xibalbá.
Honorable Mention, Portrait Category, "Roar" By Jinggong Zhang
This kind of species chaenopsid blenny was found in rocky reefs around Japan, in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. It features a Mohican-like "haircut," which is usually in red, yellow, or black. This photo of blenny cleaning up its lair was taken in Kanagawaken, Japan.
4th Place, Portrait Category, "Eye To Eye" By Shane Keena
A curious and quite playful humpback whale calf comes in for a close look in an amazing few seconds between two sentient beings. This calf was rolling around as its mom slept then swam towards me, turning and slowing down just long enough for us to make eye to eye contact.
5th Place, Marine Life Behavior, "New Life" By Flavio Vailati
I usually dive in Capo Noli Italy. One morning in July I met a beautiful specimen of an octopus in a tube that was caring for its eggs.
1st Place, Marine Life Behavior And Best Of Show By Duncan Murrell
Spinetail devil rays, (Mobula japanica) engaged in rarely observed or photographed courtship behaviour with two males pursuing one female.
2nd Place, Compact Macro, "Red On Green" By Kate Tinson
North Sulawesi is Kate a wonderful go-to dive vacation spot. This shot was taken on our first day of the trip at Bunaken Island in June 2018 after arriving at 1am that morning. The colour of the coral and the beautifully symmetrical patterns are always attractive, and I was lucky enough to capture a very co-operative coral goby who posed like a real professional which produced these wonderful complementary colours.
2nd Place, Portrait Category, "Croc In The Mist" By Christina Barringer
“Croc in the Mist” was a fierce shot. As quick as this young croc made its appearance, it charged towards my dive partner. With no camera to use as a barrier, she was vulnerable. As it kicked up the sand, visibility became poor. So I quickly pushed myself in front of my dive partner and dove down, using my large camera as a barrier. But first, I just had to snap this shot!
1st Place, Nudibranch, "Inside The Eggs" By Flavio Vailati
During a dive in Anilao, Philippines I found this nudibranch and I waited for the best time to make this shot.
2nd Place, Cold Water, "Burst" By Tyler Schiffman
: I was diving the break wall in Monterey bay and this week in particular had over 40 foot vis for 3 days straight. I had been shooting kelp bursts all day as the light was exploding amongst the canopy above. I had framed this shot waiting for a sea lion to swim by. After 5 minutes, one swam up and paused for a few seconds, I took 3 photos and as rare as it was the moment left in a blink of an eye.
1st Place, Novice Dslr, "Special Encounter" By Alvin Cheung
Background first!’ was an important tip given by prominent underwater photographer Mark Strickland during an underwater photo workshop organised by Bluewater Travel in a trip to Socorro in 2017. I was new to underwater photography.
So during a dive in the famous El Boiler when this giant oceanic manta ray suddenly showed up from the blue, I realised that the chance of getting a decent shot of it was slim due to the distance and the presence of too many divers around it. I remembered 'Background first!'.
I then quickly looked around and found that another diver, Marissa, was a few meters away from me and behind her was the landmark pinnacle of El Boiler. Visibility was crystal. I thought Marissa, together with the structure of the pinnacle, might be able to create an interesting background showing both the location of the dive site and the scale of the giant manta. I swam away from the group towards the direction of Marissa, hoping the manta would follow. With luck, the manta left the group later and approached Marissa for an investigation. Hence this photo.
I must thank Mark and Marissa, because without them this photo would not be successful.
4th Place, Macro Ocean, "Dance Of Love" By Jinggong Zhang
Sea horses usually have a long dance of courtship before mating. They will move in sync and swim around each other. After a few seconds, the female puts the eggs into the males’ pouch through ovipositor to complete the fertilization. Unlike most species, the birth of the sea horses are done by males. This mating photo was taken in Minamatashi, Kumamotoken in Japan. This species sea horses was officially recognized in 2017. To hide from natural enemies, sea horses usually swim out of hiding seaweed and mate at sunrise in the morning. After mating, they hide into the depths of seaweed immediately.
2nd Place, Nudibranch, "Polycera Quadrilineata Posing" By Fredrik Ehrenström
This image was taken in the early spring 2012 at 10 m depth in the algal belt surrounding the old ferry dock of Bremsnes in Norway. Spring time is nudibranch time along the coasts of Scandinavia. The one-year-old adults spawn and large amounts of fully grown adults (3-4 cm) can be seen on the leaves of Oar Weed (Laminaria digitata), together with their curtainlike eggmasses. Some individuals raise their bodies in search for something, maybe another nudibranch for mating? This behavior has been utilized to get an image with a clean composition.
4th Place, Wide-Angle Category, "West Coast Flowers" By Geo Cloete
Each year during the early spring, the normally barren looking West Coast landscape of South Africa undergoes a magnificent transformation as millions of wildflowers bloom and decorates the landscape in a kaleidoscope of colours as far as the eye can see.
When I stumbled upon this scene of sandy anemones (Aulactinia reynaudi) whilst exploring the West Coast coastline, it immediately reminded me of the yearly flower season of the region. Only in this instance nature treats us to this beautiful display year round and a wonderful reason to appreciate and give recognition to the wonders of our coastline much more.
In order to capture as wide a field of view as possible, I relied on my trusty fisheye lens and applied a lens correction function.
2nd Place, Mirrorless Macro, "Bubble Life" By Owen Yen
When I saw this green nudi in Boergeseniaforbesii(Siphonocladales), I felt that it looks like the HULK but more cute. It ate the chlorophyll and stay in Boergeseniaforbesii to make its own BUBBLE LIFE.
1st Place, Mirrorless Wide Angle, "Spotted Dolphin" By Eugene Kitsios
Before you enter the water with a pod of dolphins, you never know what the interaction will be like. Sometimes you may have a great encounter, where the dolphins will curiously swim around you or show you some kind of playful behaviour. Other times they may leave you without interest. The best way to interact with them is to let them decide. Times where you are accepted by the pod are truly a magical experience. These intelligent creatures display so much interesting behaviour and in this case they playfully and curiously swimmed by me.
2nd Place, Marine Life Behavior , "The Fight" By Anders Nyberg
Me and my dive guide were looking for some Ghost Pipefish and other small critters, so I had prepared my Nikon D500 with a 105 mm macro lens. Swimming around and looking for small stuff, suddenly we saw these two two beautiful male Anthias fighting and spinning around. I was aware of my camera gear would be quite wrong for this to Anthias but I had to try to take some pictures. The hardest part was that I needed to be a bit far from the Anthias because my macro lens, so there was a lack of light from my strobes. Despite that I managed to catch these two anthias fighting by using a long exposure so it has given the image an ethereal glow and energy. Neither me nor the dive guide had seen anything like it and it was a fantastic experience. For post-processing I used white balance, contrast, shadows, clarity, sharpening and dehaze
3rd Place, Nudibranch, "Frosted Pearl" By Bettina Balnis
Beside giant jellyfishes, octopuses, and seastars - all subjects too big for my macro lense - I suddenly saw this beautiful creature crawling on a kelp leave. Fantastic. I watched it until the end of the dive. Never saw such a beautiful nudibranch again
1st Place, Compact Wide Angle, "Dancing Jellyfish" By Melody Chuang
This is my first time to meet jellyfish in Taiwan NorthEast Coast for shore dive! When I did night dive in 2018 summer time, I saw this beautiful jellyfish dancing in the dark! I followed her for a while and took many shots when she transformed into different shape. Suddenly, my diving buddy who is also my husband, Stan Chen, was so creative and used his torch to make the backlight for this unique jellyfish. In order to make good shots, we followed her over 1 mile and against the current. When we finished the dive, it’s already sunrise time at 5:30 am but we made it! We got the beautiful pose for the dancing jellyfish with an unique spotlight!
3rd Place, Mirrorless Wide Angle, "No No!" By Pier Mane
While diving in Galapagos looking for Mola Mola, we encounter playful Sealions (Zalophus wollebaeki). This particular one used to shake his head side-to-side, like he was saying no for a photograph. But he remained in the same spot for minutes at the time prior to moving away for a few minutes and then returning. What caught my eye was his beautiful whiskers. The dark water, limited natural light, and fast movement of the sea lion was a challenge.
1st Place, Underwater Art, "Disco Nudi" By Bruno Van Saen
I was trying to create an image right out of the camera using special own-made backgrounds. But at the end, it was the photoshop filter ‘swirl’ which helped me a lot to end up with this creative image.
3rd Place, Macro Ocean, "Speedy Cuttlefish" By Fabio Iardino
During a night dive, I met this cuttlefish. Intrigued by his way of moving, I tried a technique of slow sync flash to get a shot with an effect of movement.
1st Place, Mirrorless Behavior, "My Babies" By Fabrice Dudenhofer
I have been fortunate enough to have a Japanese guide who showed me a couple of clownfishes with their baby eggs. I never had the chance to shoot this type of interaction before so it was a big challenge for me. The adults swam endlessly around the eggs in order to oxygen them. Because of their endless movements it was difficult to get the perfect moment. To achieve the perfect shot I needed patience and a big part of luck. The guide and I stayed more than half an hour and I took more than 50 photos. I really wanted to show how some parent fishes cared for their babies.
6th Place, Marine Life Behavior, "Cleaning" By Liang Fu
A white-banded cleaner shrimp hopped into the mouth of a grouper to have some leftover food. While at the same time, the grouper has its mouth cleaned by the shrimp. This cleaning behavior ensures both species mutually benefit from this symbiotic relationship. I am fascinated by this behaviorbetween the grouper and the shrimp. To capture this moment, I tried to use a snoot with side-back lighting to create a strong shadow of the body of the grouper while at the same time lighting up the mouth. Lucky enough when a shrimp jumped just on the edge of the mouth, I got the photo that I was hoping for.
4th Place, Compact Wide Angle, "Who's The Boss?" By Andreas Schmid
Marine Iguanas can only be found on the Galápagos Islands and are the only iguana species worldwide that feeds in the ocean. I tried to understand how these very rare and special animals behave and react to the presence of divers in the water by observing them over the course of 3 dives until I figured out how to approach them while they were feeding without disturbing them to get some close focus wide angle shots. The very surgy conditions in the shallow area these animals feed in made it quite challenging to handle the camera and position the strobes but luckily I found this particular iguana which was not bothered at all and allowed me to get off a series of shots.
2nd Place, Macro Ocean, "Look" By Chun Zhou
3rd Place, Compact Behavior, "La Siesta" By Jin Woo Lee
I was lucky enough to travel Mexico's finest shark diving site, the Revillagigedo Archipelago for my Christmas break. While I was on the Pacific, weather and visibility were perfect for diving. The sun was bright and water was crystal clear and calm. The Captain of the liveaboard said that I and other divers were fortunate enough to visit and stay at the Roca Partida. The diving was outstanding. It was my first time seeing pelagics and whale sharks. Among those incredible encounters, I could observe white tip reef sharks laying together at the balcony of a cliff. It was a great oppurtunity to take fascinating photos; however, it was not as easy as I had thought. Getting closer to them was a huge problem. To get closer to sharks, I had to control my breath to not make any bubbles first. That wasn’t really a problem, but strong vertical current pushed my body to bottom, which made all the sharks freak out. The flash woke them up as well. I tried and tried, then finally I shot a perfect composition of sharks laying on the balcony. Four white tip reef sharks were lined up as they were family.
4th Place, Nudibranch, "Janolus Cristatus" By Giacomo Giovannini
I'm very attached to this image because it's taken in a forgotten and mistreated location, that I think is the best muck/macro dive site in Italy... (without diving farther than 600km from my house). There you can see unthinkable things, like nudibranchs over clavelina or sabella spallanzanii or even over crabs or sea horses!
Honorable Mention, Macro Ocean, "Juvenile Batfish" By Dennis Corpuz
I was on a blackwater drift in Anilao at 15 meters depth in an approximately 200 meter deep water column in Janao bay when I photographed this animal.
7th Place, Marine Life Behavior, "Hawaiian Lei" By Mei Hing Sin
After I finished a safety stop on a sandy bottom 5 meters underwater, I spotted a tiny red spot. I discovered they were red eggs with a tiny mantis shrimp. I immediately put on my close up diopter and spotted that the mantis shrimp was putting its head through the eggs. I had never seen this amazing moment before. I don't know whether the eggs belong to it or not. I tried asking people and have not had a solid answer till now.
3rd Place, Compact Macro, "Yellow Gobies In A Bottle" By Matteo Pighi
My wife and I took this picture at the end of our last dive in Anilao. We were on a sandy bottom about 12 meters deep where shelters for the creatures that live there are very few. This little family of yellow pygmy gobies had found an ideal home in an empty beer bottle.
3rd Place, Compact Wide Angle, "Budego" By Alessandro Raho
Budego (Lophius budegassa), it is very rare to meet him because he usually lives deep and for me it was a real thrill to find it. I have only met him once in Noli. That day I was diving on a seabed of sand and pebbles at a depth of 20 meters and the visibility was rather poor. Not having found any interesting subject I gone down depth another 10 meters and I found myself in front of this splendid specimen
3rd Place, Portrait Category,"Open Eyes" By Doris Vierkötter
This Dancing shrimp (Rhynchocinetes uritai) can be found almost everywhere in Indonesia. So I found a special place at pair Ilmuh where one was dancing on an almost white sponge. I wanted to capture the wonderful green eyes, and it was very hard to get the right position and shapes of the eyes.
5th Place, Portrait Category, "Face To Face" By Mirko Zanni
Adams River has one of the largest sockeye salmon runs in North America. Every fourth year is a “dominant” salmon run with millions of fish to be seen from late September through to the end of October.
Honorable Mention, Wide Angle Category, "Hanging In Leru" By Steve Kopp
When researching a trip to the Solomon Islands, Leru Cut was a site that stuck in my photography imagination, wondering what it really looked like and how best to shoot it. The narrow opening above creates shafts of light in the cut for a short time each day. We stopped there early in the trip but it was too cloudy for sun rays. On return to port near the end of the trip we revisited the site with clear skies, and the magic happened.
As the breeze blows the trees, the shafts of light flicker in from above and the light dances around the walls, while bright sun and clear water make for a sapphire blue Suva Sea background, providing silhouette of Pato, from MV Bilikiki, as well as a school of fish and gorgonians in the entrance. Shooting an upward angle made the sun ray effect more prominent and accentuates the narrow cut.
Honorable Mention, Marine Life Behavior, "Living In A Jelly" By Doris Vierkötter
During a very interesting Blackwater dive this jelly fish showed up suddenly out of the dark. My buddy lighted it up from below so we had to wait for the right position of the fish inside which was moving very quickly in the jelly fish.
Honorable Mention, Cold Water, "Spider Crab Attack" By Henley Spiers
Swimming out over the sand at my favourite local dive site, I was given quite a fright as I passed close by a spider crab and it leapt out at me! I retreated but, intrigued and seeing the potential to capture both this behaviour and the motion of the ocean, I dialled in a slow shutter speed, rear-flash sync and approached the same individual. He repeated the behaviour as I got close, standing up on his hind legs, leaping up into the water column, and slashing with his large claws! Spider crabs aggregated in large numbers in the bay over the summer and I believe this feisty individual was displaying a combination of territorial and defensive behaviour. Image captured, I left him in peace, ready to surprise the next passing diver!
1st Place, Portrait Category, "Chimaera" By Claudio Zori
The spotted rat fish, a resident of the northeastern part of the Pacific Ocean, usually lives between 50 and 400 meters and prefers temperatures no higher than 9 degrees. However, it tends to approach in shallow water during the spring and fall. While swimming, it can perform rotations and twists as if it were flying. The photo was taken in a night dive in front of God's Pocket dive resort.