The 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year0
Source: Underwater of the Year, Alan Taylor – The Atlantic
Organizers of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest have just announced their winning photos for 2017. The winner Gabriel Barathieu beat entrants from 67 different countries with his portrait of an octopus in the lagoon of the island of Mayotte. Prizes and commendations were also handed out in a number of categories, including Wide Angle, Macro, Wrecks, Behavior, Up & Coming, and, in British waters, Wide Angle, Compact, and Macro shots. UPY has been kind enough to share some of this year’s honorees with us below. Captions written by the photographers.
Underwater Photographer of the Year, 2017 – Dancing Octopus.
In the lagoon of Mayotte, during spring low tides, there is very little water on the flats. Only 30 cm in fact. That’s when I took this picture. I had to get as close as possible to the dome to create this effect. The 14 mm is an ultra wide angle lens with very good close focus which gives this effect of great size. The octopus appears larger, and the height of water also. Photographed off Mayotte Island on May 7, 2016.
Alex Mustard: Both balletic and malevolent, this image shows that the octopus means business as it hunts in a shallow lagoon. The way it moves is so different from any predator on land, this truly could be an alien from another world. A truly memorable creature, beautifully photographed.
Peter Rowlands: Vibrant contrasting colours, detailed delicate textures and a perfect pose. Add the right choice of lens for the situation and they all combine to produce a Champion.
Martin Edge: I cannot praise this photograph enough. As soon as I first set eyes on it as we worked our way through the Wide Angle Cat, I knew it was destined for a huge success. One amazing Image!
British Underwater Photographer of the Year, 2017
‘Out of the Blue’ by Nick Blake (UK)
Kukulkan Cenote on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula forms part of the Chac Mool system and is noted for the spectacular light effects as the sun penetrates the darkness. I left my strobes behind for the natural light shot I wanted and positioned myself in the shadows of the cavern. Moving my eye around the viewfinder, I could see that the rock outline of the cavern around me made for a pleasing symmetry and I adjusted my position to balance the frame. The light show flickered on and off as the sun was periodically covered by cloud and as it reappeared, I beckoned to my buddy and dive guide, Andrea Costanza of ProDive, to edge into the illumination of some of the stronger beams, completing the composition.
Martin Edge: What I really like about this image is the enclosure of the light within the Cenote. The author has contained all the sunlight so the eye of the viewer cannot escape. The lone diver is positioned within the beams and I do believe that the author meant for this to happen. Stunning natural light wide-angle!
Most Promising British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2017
‘Orca Pod’ by Nicholai Georgiou (UK)
Orcas are easily the most beautiful, intelligent and confident animals I’ve ever had the honor of spending time with. This photo was taken during an amazing week freediving with wild Orca in Norway. The days are quite short in winter and the water was around 5 degrees but we wore a thick wetsuit and of course with Orca around, the cold was quickly forgotten. The light had a really nice color from the setting sun as this graceful pod of Orca swam by nice and close. It was a moment which will be hard to top and I’m glad to have this image to share it.
Peter Rowlands: Most underwater photographers would be happy to get a shot of a single killer whale in its environment but Nicholai had the composure not to panic and time the shot perfectly as a pod of killer whales passed by heading into the setting sun. I’m jealous.
WINNER: ‘One in a Million’ by Ron Watkins (USA)
Last summer I headed to Alaska in search of salmon sharks. We cruised in the boat looking for their dorsal fins for hours and that is when we came across an enormous moon jellyfish bloom that stretched for several hundred meters. The dense bloom of jellyfish ranged in depth from 2 meters to over 20 meters and we spent a lot of time in the water with them. It was surreal and more dense than anything I had ever experienced including Jellyfish Lake in Palau. I came across this Lion’s Mane Jellyfish rising from the bloom towards the surface and positioned myself directly over it to capture this image.
Alex Mustard: A beautiful and original image from the ocean, a worthy winner. Its power comes from the contrast in colour, yellow versus blue, and the contrast in shape, star versus circles, between the subject from the background. Most photographers would swim up to the subject, probably shooting it from below, Ron found a far more striking composition with this top down view, making use of the moon jellies as a background.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Prince of the waters’ by Yannick Gouguenheim (France)
The common toads start going back to the river in February in order to reproduce. The frozen waters of this small river are by then clear enough, and ideal for underwater photography. This image was taken in natural lights and apnea. I chose to work on blacklights to value this iconic species from fresh water. The wide angle lens and close-up shot adds an interesting dynamic to the picture as well. The challenge was to progress under the subject and to get a shot once the subject was aligned with the sun all while ensuring a framing including the trees on the shore.
Martin Edge: When you have a low sun in the sky and the ability to shoot upwards through snells window then all the topside influences begin to come together. Tree’s, beams, blue sky etc. This image goes even further with a precise placement within the frame of the silhouetted toad in the sunbeams. Excellent arrangement of all the elements.
COMMENDED: ‘Silversides at Twilight’ by Tony Myshlyaev (Canada)
After finding this location, the jetty and silversides were on my mind for a long time. And when the monsoon rains took a short break, I jumped in the water to execute this idea. The main obstacle was that the school was too evasive for a fisheye lens and the sun was falling too fast to execute the idea. I began to compromise my settings and already considered the endeavour a loss but then some trevally arrived to feed. This was perfect, the silversides forgot about me. Simultaneously a passerby arrived. He positioned himself perfectly on the jetty above. Seeing the opportunity, I told him not to move and pressed the shutter as quickly as possible. The next moment this image appeared on my screen. Moments later, with a smile on my face, I watched the last rays of light fade on the horizon.
Peter Rowlands: This is a beautifully taken, perfectly composed shot capturing the last moments of the day. It had very strong competition from the other images which pushed it down the order. Maybe, in hindsight, the hard work visualising and getting this shot should have been rewarded more.
WINNER: ‘Prey?’ by So Yat Wai (Hong Kong)
This photo was shot during a blackwater dive in Anilao. Even though the larvae mantis shrimp (left) is very small, it still a predator which uses its raptorial appendages to hunt. Has it spotted the prey and is ready to pounce?
Peter Rowlands: This shot works on so many levels; like a Sci Fi encounter in outer space, the fortuitous (for once) backscatter creates a perfect starry background which makes the main subject seem huge and menacing. Perfect composition leaves you in no doubt and you can only fear for the ‘little fella’ on the right.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Paddle Flap Rhinopias ‘ by John Parker (UK)
The back lit Paddle Flap Rhinopias was taken near Scuba Seraya, Tulamben, Bali. I spent almost the whole dive with dive guide “Paing” (who kindly aimed my snoot for me) trying to get a decent back lit shot of the Rhinopias. I took 30 to 40 frames to get the lighting right and get a black background which was difficult as it was daylight and at only 12 metres. I used 2 Inon Z240 strobes to light the fish. One strobe was fitted with a Retra LSD Snoot and was hand held; the second strobe was very low power to provide a bit of front fill light. I was pleased to get a good Rhinopias shot having failed the day before trying to photograph a Lacy Purple Rhinopias at 33 metres running out of deco time.
Peter Rowlands: Backlighting is hardly a new technique underwater but, when the subject is right, the technique never fails to appeal. A kiss of front lighting was a great decision.
COMMENDED: ‘larval Lionfish’ by Steven Kovacs (USA)
This image was taken on a black water drift dive in Palm Beach, Florida to look for alien looking pelagic animals, plankton and the larval stages of many creatures that drift out in the open ocean in their early stages of development. Many of the animals seen during black water dives are very small and can move quickly when illuminated by powerful dive lights, so getting a nice image is, not only challenging but, very rewarding as well. On one particular dive I was very fortunate to come across this rare tiny Lionfish in its early larval stage and was fortunate to get a photograph of it just as it flared it’s beautiful fins for the camera.
Peter Rowlands: Judging is a very subjective process and as I write this caption some two weeks after the judging I can’t help but feel that I should have fought more for this exquisite image to be pushed a little higher up the order.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Backlight Shrimp’ by Fábio Freitas (Brazil)
Shrimps are challenging objects to photograph, we have to portray their beautiful colors and shape, and especially focus on the eyes. In the late afternoon, I was diving in my favorite dive site in Bonaire called “ Something Special ” when I saw this shrimp underneath the rock in a perfect position to make a backlighting technique, using continuous lighting. Immediately I turned off my strobes and asked my buddy to put the lighting behind the shrimp, he was too smart putting the light exactly where I want to. I took only 4 pictures, and the shrimp vanished. It is very important to know the techniques and mainly to know how to use them, so we can, in some special situation, get different pictures than usual.
Martin Edge: Such delicate lighting as resulted in a frame within a frame. Precise exposure was the key to this.
COMMENDED: ‘Nudi Art’ by Katherine Lu (Singapore)
I shot this photo in the local waters of Singapore where the visibility is 3m on average. Scuba divers I know are always surprised that I dive there and most don’t even know there is great macro right off our shores. I wanted to do something different and turn a nudibranch commonly found in our waters into a piece of art. I have always been fascinated by bubbles and the inspiration for this photo came about when I was reading about aquatic plants that produce oxygen bubbles from photosynthesis. The images of the bubbles sticking to the green leaves had an abstract quality and hence came the idea to create Nudi Art.
Alex Mustard: A very memorable image, taking a common subject and transforming it into something truly original through the photographer’s ingenuity. Shows that common subjects and challenging local conditions can produce wonderful pictures.
WINNER: ‘Your home and my home’ by Qing Lin (Canada)
Clown anemonefish and anemones enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The parasitic isopods like to hang out in the mouths of anemonefish. Perhaps because of the isopods, Clown anemonefish often open their mouths. These three particular fish were very curious. As I approached, they danced about the camera lens. It took me six dives, patience and luck to capture the exact moment when all three fish opened their mouths to reveal their guests. Finally, on the last day, on the last dive, I succeeded.
Martin Edge: One of my favourite fish to photograph is the clown. They make great images and when combined within a complementary colourful anemone they will always stand out. In recent years we are seeing more and more parasites within the mouth of the clowns and it was this that we noticed when judging. Now, I’ve seen many individual clowns with this parasite but never have I seen a parasite in each of three. Add to this behaviour a colourful anemone lined up across the image. Six eyes all in pin sharp focus, looking into the lens of the author. Talk about ‘Peak of the Action’ This was one of my favourite shots from the entire competition
RUNNER UP: ‘Humpback whale feeding on krill.’ by Jean Tresfon (South Africa)
Every summer hundreds of humpback whales gather off the Cape Town coast in a massive feeding aggregation. Working as part of a film crew I was privileged to have a chance to photograph this phenomenon. Although the water visibility was really good, inside the krill patch it was much reduced. Without warning the whales appeared just metres away with their pleats distended as they surfaced with huge mouthfuls of krill. Realising that they must be feeding deeper down I descended into the darker water to find the thickest concentration of krill. Suddenly a humpback appeared right in front of me, its huge mouth wide open as it sieved the water for the tiny crustaceans. I took several images before it disappeared into the gloom and then I was surrounded by a multitude of massive bodies as the rest of the pod took its turn to feed. Not a little intimidating!
Peter Rowlands: What an amazing shot and how must it have felt actually being there! The framing is well timed with great eye contact. All I can really add is Wow!
THIRD: ‘Cleaner’ by Liang Fu (China)
I found this cleaning station at 26 meters. On the first dive, I took a few front facing photos with cleaner shrimps in the moray eel’s mouth. When I surfaced, I came up with an idea of a side-face moray eel, widely opening its mouth with the cleaner shrimp inside. So I tried a second dive and it turned out to be how I had imagined it.
Martin Edge: I’m sure that the majority (including myself) would have been more than happy to capture the cleaner shrimp within the moray eel’s mouth. However Liang Fu went one step further. He came up with the idea to progress the exact same subject but to introduce some imagination and creative lighting between dives. This is creative thinking both in and out of the water at its best. A well deserved third place in a challenging category.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Dolphins hunting’ by Greg Lecoeur (France)
Since last year, sardines have become victims of overfishing and climate change. They are the main food source of marine life, many species such as pinguins, sea lions, sharks, dolphins and more… are dependent on them for their survival. During their migration along the wild coast, all the predators work together to hunt sardines but the action is more and more unpredictable. To capture this moment, I had spent several days on the ocean to have one chance to witness this behaviour.
Alex Mustard: Action, action, action. Dolphins with sardines spilling out of their mouths. What more can you ask for in a behaviour category.
COMMENDED: ‘Toads mating’ by Luc Rooman (Belgium)
For several years we have been following toads mating in the fresh water lake of Turnhout (Belgium) usually in the months of March or April if the weather conditions are 8°C and with humid weather. The toads are in the shallow areas of the lake where we can take photos with natural light while snorkeling.
Peter Rowlands: Behaviour and the results of behaviour both caught in a well balanced composition.
COMMENDED: ‘The Game’ by Edwar Herreño (Colombia)
6:30 am and a 4 metre tiger shark was about to breakfast on a hawksbill turtle next to the boat. I took my camera, jumped into one of the skiffs and went closer. That was one of the image that I had wanted to get for years (I had been working there for 11 years doing 4 dives per day). It was dark so I pumped up the ISO to 800; then when I got close, I stuck half of my body into the water; one of the skiff drivers was holding my legs. I took as many pictures as I could but they moved a lot! The Tiger was trying to bite the turtles head off while the turtle defended herself by showing her back. It went on like that until one of them gave up.
Alex Mustard: The week after judging Italian scientists discovered a fossil of a 100 million year old shark feeding on a turtle. Showing this isn’t anything new in the ocean. Photos that capture the moment, certainly are something new.
WINNER: ‘Face to face’ by ifj. Lorincz Ferenc (Hungary)
We were photographing a big school of bat fish in front of the fully blue background in Shark Rafeen, Rash Mohamed National Park in Egypt, but it is extremely hard to capture a school of fish in a nice position, especially with divers swimming by all the time, so I gave up trying. Not so far from the others I noticed a crevice in a rock, which fish used as a cleaning station, and slowly, very slowly, I swam into the gap, switching places with the cleaning fish. This made it possible to photograph this bat fish front on.
Peter Rowlands: One of the most useful things about UPY Yearbooks is that they are perfect reference works for underwater photographers to see exactly what works and wins in this competition. Here is a great example of what really works as a portrait. The eye contact is immediate and they are pin sharp but it is the mouth and lips which deliver the character. The lighting and colour contrast lifts the subject from the background and, for me, the four little fish in the background are the icing on the cake.
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Imp of darkness’ by Damien Mauric (UK)
On his visit to the Galapagos islands, Charles Darwin was revolted by the animals’ appearance, writing: “The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large, disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them ‘imps of darkness’. They assuredly well-become the land they inhabit.” The marine iguana are all but monsters. Endemic to the Galapagos, it’s a rare privilege to share a moment underwater with this animal now considered as an endangered species.
Alex Mustard: Prehistoric, this iguana looks like an ancient sea monster. A fantastic animal portrait.
COMMENDED: ‘Green Turtles in the rays’ by Greg Lecoeur (France)
During a diving trip to Tenerife, I came across these green turtles. It was early morning and the sunbeams pierced the surface. I adjusted the setting of my camera and I waited for the turtles to come close enough to trigger my camera. After a little while, the turtles were circling around us and it was a great opportunity to photograph them.
Alex Mustard: A perfectly judged composition balancing the three elements – two turtles and the setting sun. Greg has timed the image to perfection to capture perfect symmetry in the turtle’s poses.
WINNER: ‘The wreck of the Louilla at sunset’ by Csaba Tökölyi (Hungary)
This is the wreck of the Louilla resting on top of Gordon reef in the Straits of Tiran on the edge of the Sinai. Beneath her lies a pile of her anchor chains, giving the form of a whale. Wrecks become part of the eco-system in no time. Soft corals develop very soon and they can become shelter for schools of juvenile fish. But also, they can have a devastating effect on their surroundings. This wreck sits on top of Gordon reef, battered by the waves and is slowly deteriorating. Last summer, part of the superstructure collapsed, and the wreck lost it’s epic, cinematic look. In a few decades, the reef should be free again from the remains of this once huge freighter.
Martin Edge: This image immediately caught my eye in the first round of judging ‘Wrecks’. An ideal subject for a split shot, superb and subtle use (I believe) of fill in flash’ on both top and bottom of the wreck with the low sun in the far background. The compositional weight of the foreground, both under & over is also very well balanced. I’ve seen quite a few attempts at this wreck before but never as well executed as this.
COMMENDED: ‘Last Flight’ by Steve Jones (UK)
This USAAF B-17G Flying Fortress crash landed on approach to the island of Vis, Croatia after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing raid over Europe in 1944, which killed the co-pilot Ernest Vienneau and led to engine failure. The surviving crew escaped in dinghies. This spectacular wreck of a famous World War 2 bomber is in remarkable condition and lies at 72 metres. I only had one dive on the wreck and the depth gave me very limited time in which to work so good communication between myself and my buddy, Andi Marovic was essential: I thoroughly briefed him on what I was trying to achieve before the dive so he could also visualise the image I was aiming for. I wanted to capture an image that showed the true scale of the aircraft so I shot with natural light and colour balanced the image during post processing.
Peter Rowlands: I still can’t believe it but I had to fight the other judges to keep this shot in the top 10. OK, the quality of images in this category was extremely high but I found this to be such a powerful shot yet so simple in it’s execution. As is often the case where another diver is included for scale, a significant part of the credit should also go to them for their contribution to the composition.
COMMENDED: ‘Three Warriors’ by Nadya Kulagina (Kazakhstan)
Having seen hundreds of images of these three beautiful Fiats that rest in one of the holds of the Umbria wreck, I decided to take an image that would stand out from the others. The idea was to use off-camera strobes to light up the cabins of the three cars. Unfortunately, one of the strobes was too far and refused to fire. The hold with the cars is relatively small and very dark, so I had to be very careful not to kick up silt and rust. And I was very limited on time as the rest of the group was already breathing down my neck. To me, these three cars stand tall as the famous three warriors by a Russian artist Victor Vasnetsov, hence the title.
Alex Mustard: A pleasing composition and a strong idea, that would surely have finished even higher with a more reliable strobe!
UP AND COMIMING
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Medusa Blenny on the Lookout’ by Jade Hoksbergen (UK)
My fascination with blennies started in early 2016 when I was living in Saint Lucia and got my hands on an underwater camera for the first time. Having lived in the Philippines previously, blennies were a novelty to me despite their widespread presence in Saint Lucia. I thought they also made extremely interesting subjects due the range in their facial expression, sometimes akin to the grimaces one would associate with gargoyles. For this shot, I wanted illustrate the intricate detail of this blenny whilst showing how its colour and texture blends seamlessly with its environment.
Alex Mustard: Delicate pastel colours and soft textures frame this pin-sharp and characterful portrait.
COMMENDED: ‘Whale calf posing’ by Christophe Lapeze (France)
I travelled to French Polynesia for a once in a life moment of playing with a whale calf and I decided to devote a whole week to this. One morning, the magic happened. A mother and a calf were sleeping quietly at 15 meters. When they feel safe and unafraid, they can really come close to you. And this six tonne 6 meter calf was amazingly playful. Strobes were not allowed but you don’t need them. The contrast of the deep blue and the sunlight were enough. The difficulty was to be at the right place according to the sunlight and to get a gracious pose from the calf: another photographer on the other side, the whale posing, a few bubbles out of his blow-hole, a short eye contact, Click! Fixed in my memory forever.
Peter Rowlands: I am naturally drawn to shots like these and especially to subjects like these. I fully accept that as an image in the Up and Coming Category it has much stronger competition but this has captured the ‘This is what it’s like ‘being there’ factor.
British Waters Wide Angle
WINNER: ‘Eye to eye’ by Melvin Redeker (The Netherlands)
In 2011 I saw my first orcas in the North Sea. It was the inspiration for our Dutch photo project ‘In the North Sea’. We needed the iconic killer whales to raise attention that the North Sea has many fantastic ecosystems and habitats. But first I needed to learn diving and handle an underwater camera. We had studied the behavior of the Mousa pod over a few weeks and decided the best opportunity would come if I hid on the seabed just below the coastal rocks while the orcas are hunting seals. So I was dropped by Fiona (my wife) from our RIB in an area where we anticipated them to come for seal hunting. Staring in a wall of water, suddenly the pod appeared. Totally silent. Eye to eye with these mighty apex predators, my heart skipped a few beats.
Peter Rowlands: My heart skips a beat just looking at this image! The eye contact and the close proximity together with the silence. This is a groundbreaking shot for British waters.
RUNNER UP: ‘Competition ‘ by Richard Shucksmith (UK)
I was out off the coast making images for Scotland: The Big Picture – a project about rewilding that produces images to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland. Hundreds of gannets were circling the boat looking for the fish that were being thrown over the side. Suddenly a single bird dives and the others seeing it as an indicator and 20, 30, 40 birds are diving at once. Because of this behaviour competition between gannets is always going occur creating several gannets diving for the same fish. I could hear the birds as they hit the water right above my head just before they appeared in front of the camera. A great experience.
Martin Edge: Superb capture by the author. The power of the gannets is so very well emphasised in this particular frame. In the post process it must have been a challenge which specific image to enter into this competition. The author choose well We all loved this shot!
HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Amphibious helicopter’ by Steve Jones (UK)
This Wessex Naval helicopter was purposely sunk at the National Diving and Activity Centre in Chepstow and being such a photogenic wreck it is an excellent location to practice photography and lighting skills. Remote strobe was used for this shot, with my own strobe triggering one attached to the diver via a remote sensor. The important thing was to get the angle of the beam correct and my buddy, Terry Ayling’s arm helps diffuse the strobe beam preventing it from overpowering the image. The wreck lies at 25 metres.
Alex Mustard: The composition produces a dynamic image and the off-camera strobe draws you in. Fine work.
COMMENDED: ‘Can I help you?’ by Ellen Cuylaerts (Cayman Islands)
Last November when we visited the largest colony of grey seals in UK, the super moon caused huge tidal changes, some nasty currents and bad visibility. But being in the water with these curious creatures is a joy even if you can only see them when you turn around at the surface and they look at you, all big eyes, before they disappear again in the cloud of murkiness. We stayed in the water as long as the tides allowed us, changed locations a few times and when we were dropped very close to some rocks without kelp beds around, the sun came out and improved the visibility greatly. As if the seals knew this would be their chance on a nice portrait, they came really close, I added some Sola light to the ambient light to be able to dial down my settings a bit and catch the low sun rays lighting the whiskers from both sides!
Alex Mustard: Beautiful light and a curious pose made this our stand out seal image.
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