Underwater photographers are a unique breed of picture-takers. They venture into the mysterious depths of the ocean to discover interesting and unusual things and then capture an image for the rest of us to see.
Each year, thanks to the international Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, we can all share in many adventures by viewing more than 100 artful images of watery environments. All of the amazing winners and acclaimed finalists, along with comments from the photographers and judges, can be seen in the annual yearbook (PDF 27 mb). In this blog post, I’ll show you four of my favorite pictures. (You can click to enlarge.)
This stunning photo of clownfish, taken by Canadian Qing Lin while diving in Indonesia, is titled “Your Home and My Home.” It shows three clownfish, each with a parasitic isopod in its mouth. Meanwhile, as many people know, clownfish themselves live in a symbiotic relationship with the sea anemone. The fish protect the anemone from small fish that would eat them, while the anemone’s stinging tentacles protect the clownfish from larger predators.
“One of my favorite fish to photograph is the clown,” wrote Martin Edge, one of the judges in the competition. “Now, I’ve seen many individual clowns with this parasite, but never have I seen a parasite in each of three. Add to this behavior a colorful 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 favorite shots from the entire competition.”
The photographer said it took him six dives and a lot of patience and luck to capture the exact moment when all three fish opened their mouths to reveal their “guests.”
Nick Blake of Great Britain was named the British Underwater Photographer of the Year for this picture taken at Mexico’s Kukulkan Cenote, a natural sinkhole on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
“I left my strobes behind for the natural light shot I wanted and positioned myself in the shadows of the cavern,” Nick writes. “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.”
Wild gannets fighting for fish became the second-place photo in the wide-angle category for British photographers. Dive photographer Richard Shucksmith, who was working on a shooting project off the coast of Scotland, attracted hundreds of these large seabirds with a handout of fish. One diving bird often triggered dozens of others to follow, he said.
“I could hear the birds as they hit the water right above my head just before they appeared in front of the camera,” Richard wrote. “A great experience.”
“Superb capture by the author,” said judge Martin Edge. “The power of the gannets is so very well emphasized in this particular frame. In the post process it must have been a challenge which specific image to enter into this competition. The author chose well. We all loved this shot!”
In its larval stage, the tiny mantis shrimp, left, has already become a fierce predator. So Yat Wai of Hong Kong won first place in the macro division with this photo, which seems to show a mantis shrimp about to attack another planktonic species. The photo was taken near Anilao, The Philippines, during a blackwater dive, in which specially rigged lines keep the diver from getting lost during a night dive well offshore.
“This shot works on so many levels,” writes judge Peter Rowlands. “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.”
In all, about 4,500 images from 67 different countries were submitted to the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest. If you are interested in underwater creatures, you will want to scan through the yearbook (PDF 27 mb) to see winning photos of everything from killer whales to jellyfish. The overall winning picture, by French diver Gabriel Barathieu, shows a hunting octopus near the tiny island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.
You can also see the photos and hear from the photographers themselves in a video presentation of the winners — an online awards ceremony. (See video below.)
The annual competition started in 1965 and today includes 10 categories, including macro and wide-angle photography as well as themes such as behavior and wrecks. The latter category includes photos of sunken ships and planes composed in artful ways that stir the emotions.