Astounding Images from the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2017 Competition

Organizers of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest have 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. Please click images to see in full view.

Underwater Photographer of the Year, 2017
‘Dancing Octopus’ by Gabriel Barathieu (France)

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!

Gabriel Barathieu: 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.

British Underwater Photographer of the Year, 2017

‘Out of the Blue’ by Nick Blake (UK)

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!

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.

Up and coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2017
‘Oceanic in the Sky’ by Horacio Martinez (Argentina)

Peter Rowlands:  There was a lot of competitive images in this category, as you would expect but this one was a serious contender right from the start. The photographer has ‘seen’ the light and realised its dramatic effect extremely well and used it to contrast the small shark in a big, blue, lonely world. Very evocative indeed.

This was my first Red Sea experience, and my first liveaboard-based photo workshop, so everything was interesting… but arduous. We were on the last dive of the day, and I ventured a tad deeper to get closer portraits of the oceanic white tips when I noticed this shark patrolling in the distance. I took a few shots to expose for the sun beams and the surface and was pleased by the dreamlike effect. Oceanics are great subjects for close-ups as they are anything but shy. Yet, every now and then, it is great to try and capture their apparent loneliness, their wandering, and their independence in the big blue.

Most Promising British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2017
‘Orca Pod’ by Nicholai Georgiou (UK)

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.

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.

Wide angle

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.

THIRD: ‘Interaction’ by Edwar Herreño (Colombia)

I was lucky to join an expedition aboard MV ONDINA covering Raja Ampat North, Central & South. The South is one of my favourite places because only few boats go there. We went to dive to the sea mount ‘Karang Paradise’ where the biodiversity is something unique; endless coral fields, large congregations of fish and big pelagic travellers passing by. At the end of one of the dives, I found this enormous coral field full of different groups of fish. I wanted to show in my pictures the motion (I’ve taking motion pictures with very slow shutter speed for long time), so I set up my camera on top of a rock (I didn’t have my tripod), then after few minutes completey still, this big congregation of big eye jacks came and complete surround me. A magic moment!

Alex Mustard:  The jacks surging over the corals captures the density of life on Raja Ampat’s reefs. The long exposure contrasts the speed of the predators with the slow growth of the coral, which creates the ecosystem that supports them. Healthy reefs are about more than beautiful corals, they are about an abundance of fish, especially big fish.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Frozen Hunting’ by Fabrice Guerin (France)

The weather was cloudy and the temperature of water was 2°C. Orcas push fish towards the coast as this makes them easier to catch. Our boat captain stopped near a school of herring. When I was in water, I saw that it was not deep, so it presented an opportunity to photograph with the light being reflected off the sand. I waited for 20 minutes in front of shoal of herring hoping to see an orca. Suddenly a humpback whale appeared. What a surprise!! It was an amazing cold encounter!

Alex Mustard:  A stunning behavioural image of a humpback in shallow water scattering herring taken in very tough conditions. The photographer did very well in very dark waters to record this breath-taking scene sharply.

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.

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.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘The Haunted Room’ by Nadya Kulagina (Kazakhstan)

On my way back from the dive, I noticed this room flooded with light. The rays of light streaming down through portholes were lined up so nicely creating a mysterious look of what this room might have looked like when the Umbria was still intact and plying the seas. I couldn’t miss an opportunity to take a picture. The wreck lies on its side with the portholes looking up toward the surface, so the saloon is turned sideways, which is very confusing to a human eye. I flipped the camera vertically to take this shot. Since I used a very slow shutter speed to expose correctly for the sun beams and still be able see the far back of the room, I had to rest the housing on the side of the opening through which I was photographing and hold my breath in order not to blur the image.

Martin Edge:  The Wreck Cat was strong this year and one image which particularly caught my attention was this internal view. The position of the sunbeams pouring onto the decking is particularly eye-catching and the author has exposed for both midtones and highlights. The composition leads the eye back and forth through the wreck and towards a door in the distance. The depth perspective of this image and its view is most eye catching.

Highly commended, wide angle: Prince of the Waters, by Yannick Gouguenheim

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, Wide Angle: By Anatoli Myshlyaev

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.

RUNNER UP: ‘Graceful ballet ‘ by Jenny Stromvoll (Mozambique)

Since we found this dive site, which consists of a sea pen forest at 34m, we have discovered new species to the area. One of my favourite subjects has been the blue sea pen which hosts different shrimps and gobies. With its flowing lines and beautiful polyps any subject inside this orange and blue sea pen is beautifully offset and lends itself to an artistic composition. Once I learned to dive with sea pens and their inhabitants, I got to know that they are quick to retract into the sand if threatened. Coupled with this, a deep nitrox decompression dive adds to the complexity. My husband found this sea pen on a recent dive and even though he had a camera himself, he was kind enough to give me an opportunity to take some photos.

Martin Edge:  It is true to say that this was a favourite with all three judges and throughout the process we admired it more and more. It’s so simple in its composition within the frame and it has a softness to it which works so well. I anticipate that many others, faced with how to process this shot would have gone for the pin-sharp treatment, myself included but the delicate high key lighting, the colour combinations and choice of aperture are all in play with this soft, simple and eye popping image.

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.

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.

Highly Commended, Portrait: Imp of Darkness, by Damien Mauric

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, Portrait: Green Turtles in the Rays by Greg Lecoeur

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.

Commended, Portrait: By Francis Pérez

COMMENDED: ‘Sealion playing with starfish’ by Francis Pérez (Spain)

In Los Islotes there is one of the most important Sealion kindergartens in Mexico. I went there looking for pictures of sea lions eating on the big sardine banks. I was not lucky, because there were no sardines, but I found many interesting things, such as the one I show in this photo, a juvenile sea lion playing with starfish. I was surprised to see the stars passing each other or even as they approached the camera with them in the mouth, to leave them and then to catch them again. My intention was to capture the moment when sea lions caught a star with their mouths, to capture a dynamic image. I spent about four hours in the water, I came and went to the area where there were more juveniles, until finally getting closer and little by little and with respect I was able to capture this photo.

Alex Mustard:  Fun and comedic character, revealing natural play behaviour, so important in the development of intelligent sea lions.

Runner-up, British Waters Wide Angle: Competition, by Richard Shucksmith

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, British Waters Macro: By Trevor Rees

HIGHLY COMMENDED: ‘Purple baubles in a sea of yellow’ by Trevor Rees (UK)

This close up shot of jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis) was taken on a popular wreck dive near Plymouth on England’s south coast. The HMS Scylla wreck was scuttled only 13 years ago but is now well encrusted with marine life. Numerous large tightly packed jewel anemones can now be found on the top of the wreck and many of them are in a good position to get a pleasing composition. I shot as close as possible with my lens at minimum focus whilst trying to fill the frame with just tentacles and no background. Different coloured varieties exist but the ones with purple against yellow make a striking colour combination.

Alex Mustard: An attractive and original photo of a commonly shot subject. Very effective.

See more winners photographs on contest website here


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