Amusing Monday: Inspiration from underwater photos

More than 5,000 underwater photographs, taken by photographers from 65 countries, were submitted for judging in the annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

“Gentle Giants” ©François Baelen/UPY2019

The contest, based in Great Britain, was started in 1965 and celebrates the art and technology of capturing images under water — from the depths of the ocean to “split shots” at the surface, from open waters to enclosed estuaries, from lakes to even swimming pools.

I first reported on this contest in Watching Our Water Ways last year and received such a positive response from readers that I decided to make it an annual feature of this blog. The 125 winning entries are shown in an online Gallery of the 2019 winners. A series of videos provides insight from the photographers telling the stories that surround their winning entries.

I’ve chosen some of my favorite photos (above and below), which can be enlarged by clicking on the images. One of the best way of viewing all the winning entries is to download the UPY 2019 Yearbook.

“Gentle Giants” — Wide Angle category

François Baelen of Reunion Island, winner of the Wide Angle category, captured an intriguing image (top photo) of humpback whales near his home in the Indian Ocean.

“At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimeters away from her tail,” François wrote. “I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn’t need to ask the playful calf; he was very curious. From down there, the scene looked unreal, and I’m glad that this photograph has captured this moment. Humpback whales are amazing and peaceful animals, and I can’t believe they are still being hunted by mankind today.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “The first moment I viewed this image I knew it would be a strong contender. For me, it’s the symmetry of the humpback and the balance between the diver and calf. Everything about it is in perfect alignment. The shape of the tail in relation to the four corners of the frame, not to mention the position of the free diver and calf. Superb imagery at its very best. Many congratulations François.”

“Big Guns” — Wrecks category

Rene B. Andersen of Denmark, winner of the Wrecks category, carefully framed this picture of the turret dislodged from the HMS Audacious, a battleship sunk by a mine off the coast of Ireland in 1914. He credited a black-and-white photo by British photographer Leigh Bishop as his inspiration.

“Big Guns” ©Rene B. Andersen/UPY2019

“I used a tripod and three Big Blue lights to illuminate the turret with the majestic 13.5” guns and myself as the model,” he said. “There was a small current, so it wasn’t easy to lay still during this long exposure shot. It took some time before achieving it, and at 64 meters (deep) the clock is ticking fast. That is the challenge with deep-wreck photography. Using the tripod, with me as a model, there was a risk that something would go wrong as I am far from the camera so I had to cross my fingers every single shot.”

Note from Judge Peter Rowlands: “So simple yet so powerful; the additional lighting of the turret and the main diver perfectly positioned. This was a very strong category this year with a deserved winner, and it’s refreshing to read the acknowledgement to Leigh Bishop’s pioneering work.”

“Caretta caretta turtle” — Marine Conservation category

Eduardo Acevedo of Spain, named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year, was able to show the problem of plastic pollution in this shot of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), a species that spends most of its life in the open ocean.

“Caretta caretta turtle” ©Eduardo Acevedo/UPY2019

“They come to the Canary Island (Spain) after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches,” Eduardo said. “In this trip of many years, they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc. In this particular case, it got trapped in a net, and it was practically impossible to escape from it. But this day it was very lucky and could escape thanks to the help of two underwater photographers who were sailing near her.”

Note from judge Alex Mustard: The problems of plastic pollution and ghost fishing are both illustrated by this struggling loggerhead turtle. I am happy to learn this individual was lucky enough to survive this deathtrap thanks to the photographer.”

“Fly High and Smile” — Portrait category

Nicholas Samaras of Greece, winner of the Portrait category, shot this picture of a ray while on a project involving a special seahorse colony near Stratoni in Northern Greece.

“Fly High and Smile” ©Nicholas Samaras/UPY2019

“On my third and last visit, I was planning to create a specific group photo of seahorses before the sunset using natural light,” he said. “Just at the time of the big finale, a small ray came into the scene! I managed to swim with him and place my camera underneath to capture a portrait of his belly with the mouth and nose looking like a smiling happy angel’s face, with the sun beams on the background softening the color to emerald.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “Superb impact from the very first moment it was presented. Perfect composition within the image frame and the understated colors. To top it off, the author’s comments above say it all… a Smiling Happy Angel’s Face. One of my favorites from the entire competition.”

“Hairy in the Sunrise” — Compact category

Enrico Somogyi of Germany took this split double-exposure image by waking up for the sunrise to get a shot of the fishing boat near Ambon, Indonesia.

“Hairy in the Sunrise” ©Enrico Somogyi /UPY2019

“This was the first picture,” he said. “The second picture with the Hairy Frogfish I take on Laha 1. Here I was using a Inon S2000 with a Snoot for the Hairy. For the blue backlighting I used a colored Fiberoptic Snoot on a Inon Z240. To get the two pictures together, I was using the double-exposure setting in the camera.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “This image was a very popular choice between the panel. Ideal for a split rendition. What makes this a winner for me, not withstanding the double exposure, is the sympathetic balance of light and color connected between the top half and bottom of the image frame.”

About the judges: Alex Mustard (2019 Chair), Peter Rowlands and Martin Edge.

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