Winners of the 2018 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest

Organizers of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest have just announced the winning photographers and images for 2018, with German photographer Tobias Friedrich being named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2018. More than 5,000 images were submitted this year by photographers from around the world. Prizes and commendations were handed out in a number of categories including Wide Angle, Macro, Wrecks, Behavior, Portrait, Black & White, Compact, Up & Coming, and, in British waters, Wide Angle, Compact, and Macro shots. UPY was once again kind enough to share some of this year’s honorees with us below, with captions written by the photographers.

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  • Breathtaking. Highly Commended, Wide Angle. “We found a pod of Orcas that were circling some herring caught in a net. The animals keep circling the net and we could approach them easily to take some close-up shots.” Photographed near Skjervoya, Norway.

  • Love Birds. Photographer Grant Thomas was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year, and this photo won in the British Waters Wide Angle category. Thomas: “I have always been fascinated by over-under photography, connecting the everyday terrestrial world that we all know with the less familiar underwater secrets. I chose Loch Lomond as the location for this shot due to its idyllic scenery, water access, and friendly swans. My initial idea was to frame a split shot of one swan feeding below the surface of the water but when I noticed how comfortable they were around me I was confident, with some patience, I could get that magical shot of the two. It was mid-day, sun high in the sky, when I waded slowly into the shallow water, allowing the swans to become comfortable with my presence. When they began searching for food below the water line I just had to wait for that perfect moment of synchronicity.” Photographed at Luss Pier, Loch Lomond, Scotland.

  • Morning Flight. Highly Commended, Black & White. “During springtime, from April to June, on the coast of Baja, California, we can witness one of the most impressive migrations of the sea. Thousands of mobula rays migrate along this coast. I tried many times to find this incredible behavior but never was able. This year, during a morning safari on the sea, we saw a different group of beautiful mobula rays. I jumped in the water and we followed them for a couple of hours and a small group moved into a shallow area where I was able to shoot in great light.” Photographed off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

  • Battle of the Tompots. Winner, British Waters Macro. “Despite appearances, these two tompot blennies are not kissing but engaged in a ferocious battle over mating rights. The British summer is mating season among tompots and competition is fierce. I went diving under Swanage Pier in search of these charismatic fish and was delighted to encounter one with the ornate, blue facial markings designed to attract a partner. To my surprise and wonder, he was soon joined by another male and they started tussling. At one point, the dust settled and they remained motionless, jaws locked together just long enough for me to capture this image. It was a very fortunate encounter and I am delighted to be able to share it through this photo.” Photographed at Swanage Pier, Swanage, Dorset, UK.

  • BSA M20 Motorbike. Commended, Wrecks. “I have dived this wreck several times and I never get tired of it! This is a well-known subject, a British World War II BSA M20 motorbike inside Hold 2 (port side, upper level) of the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm. Usually I use strobes for this kind of shoot but I had to try this with two video lights, I think the result works well and the lights are useful, specially when you, as the photographer, can see how the light is shaping and working.” Photographed in the Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt.

  • Blue Nudibranch. Commended, Macro. “It is not easy to combine blue light in a traditionally lit image. You need to make the subject pop while integrating the blue light into the photo naturally.” Photographed near Lembeh, Indonesia.

  • Fresh Otter at Sea. Third Place, British Waters Wide Angle. “I was very intrigued by this mammal who adapted to marine life and had in mind to witness of this scene. So I asked to my Scottish friend Richard Shucksmith who knows this species very well to help me to capture this image. During a dive we were very lucky to find this otter who was curious about my lens.” Photographed near Shetland, Scotland.

  • Friend or Food?! Runner-up, Macro. “I’ve had many encounters with this conger eel and I’ve have taken a few photos, but never have I seen it in such a picturesque manner as this, as if drawing you in by coiling its body and at the same time darting its eyes on a lone prey—it is because of breathtaking sights like this that I fell in love with underwater photography and to do it justice, I really aimed to capture the moment in perfect detail.” Photographed near Anilao Batangas, Philippines.

  • Crocodile Reflections. Winner, Black & White. “When diving was finished for the day, I asked the divemaster to take me back again to a place where seawater crocodiles are usually seen. I wanted to shoot them in low evening sunlight, when the sky turns into warm colors. When we arrived, the sun was already on the horizon and it was very dark in the water. I pushed ISO settings high to get some warm ambient light into the picture and set the power of my strobes low. Fortunately the crocodile was very cooperative and since we were both very calm, beautiful reflections appeared on the surface.” Photographed in Jardines de la Reina, Cuba.

  • Cenote Nariz. Highly Commended, Wide Angle. “Cenote Nariz is the entrance to a large cave system in Yucatan that I dove for the first time with my three buddies Tom Groesslinger, Rainer Schwanner, and Michael Faatz. When I saw this perfect window opening into a large room ahead of us, I signaled my team to stop. After mind mapping the spot, I swam very cautiously through the window and placed two strobes in slave mode on either side behind the opening. Then I signaled my buddies to swim through the opening. Two divers should be in the picture, catching the light from those strobes. For background lighting, each one held a slave strobe and pointed it backwards. One diver (out of sight) fired off two more strobes for even more background lighting.” Photographed in Cenote Nariz, Yucatan, Mexico.

  • The Real Illusion. Highly Commended, Wide Angle. “In my style I put great emphasis on the model and on the background. Everything together must build a perfect picture. A picture must be able to tell a story and have a special effect. ‘Only your own imagination sets the limit to possibilities!'” A photo shoot in a seven-meter-deep diving pool in Siegburg, Germany. #

  • Seal. Commended, Black & White. “It was the first time in my life I had dived with seals. There are so funny. Great memories. Los Cedros is in Baja California, somewhere between Guadalupe and Socorro. We were there specially for the seals. This was shot in the morning and the sun was shining.”

  • Unusually Parked Car. Highly Commended, Wrecks. “This car went through the ice but luckily nobody was hurt. My friend dove the car and told me that it was a perfect photo subject. I drove four hours to get there on a sunny day. We cut a hole in the ice 20 meters away. When I got to the car I could not believe my luck. The car was perfectly placed on a slope and in shallow water so that I was able to get the icy ceiling in the picture. The picture is a manual blend of two images.” Photographed in Lake Saimaa, Finland.

  • The Talk. Highly Commended, Black & White. “When I originally booked my surf trip to Fiji, I didn’t realize how close Tonga was. I had always wanted to go to swim with the whales so I made a last minute adjustment to my flight and jumped over. Everyone I talked to strongly advised against going to Tonga without a guide lined up, but I figured a bad day swimming with whales was better than going back home. As luck would have it I found a group that was leaving early. I was able to take their spot on a boat with just one other diver and it was just us hanging with this mom and her calf. The calf was a wild one, breaching and tail slapping all over the place. I love this photo because it looks like mom is giving the baby a talking to about straying too far from her.” Photographed off the North Shore of the Kingdom of Tonga.

  • In Hiding. Runner-up, Behavior. “Taken at a depth of 15 meters in 200-250 meter deep water. Towards the end of the ‘Blackwater’ dive, Edwin, one of our divemasters, called me over to show me this beautiful jellyfish, for me only to realize it had a juvenile trevally within it, and to my amazement, it was wedged between the bell and the tentacles! I had seen many jack and jelly combos before but never like this. I shot around 20 frames and right on the last few frames it turned towards me to give me this very unusual portrait of a behavior I had never seen before.” Photographed in Janao Bay, Batangas, Philippines.

  • OCD Diver Tries To Right Shipwreck. Highly Commended, Wrecks. “For six years, the 251-foot-long USS Kittiwake sat upright where it was sunk as an artificial reef. On October 8, 2017, it was discovered that powerful surge from passing hurricane Nate had rolled the ship onto its side. I raced to find a dive operator to take me out there, and was able to dive and document the shipwreck the very next day. I was showing those initial photographs to my husband and my friend when I had an idea: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if a diver with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was so bothered by the ship being on its side that they tried to right it?’ The idea for a photograph was born! My friend Simon Claeys modeled for me in the photograph. In order to make it look authentic, Simon actually ‘attempted’ to push the ship upright. The bubbles in the photograph are from his effort.” Photographed near Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

  • Ghost. Highly Commended, Macro. “The idea was to try and transfer a sense of movement to the image, to be able to capture movement frozen in an instant.” Photographed near Lembeh, Indonesia.

  • Seahorse Density. Winner, Macro. “The pond I was in has the highest density of seahorses on earth, but I’ve never seen three together like this before. I was camping on shore and had all night to shoot with the idea of backlighting a single seahorse, but finding three together was a real gift. I was super careful not to disturb them because they will swim away if they’ve had enough. I had my off-camera strobe and an underwater flashlight on a small tripod which I placed behind and below the trio. Then I waited for them to all turn in way that you could see their silhouette. The sun was setting and as it got darker the plankton really began to pile up. When the seahorses ate some of the plankton I could tell they were relaxed. We are still working on getting this special place protection so I cannot reveal the exact location.” Photographed somewhere in the Bahamas.

  • Oceanic White Tip Shark. Highly Commended, Portrait. “In recent years, oceanic whitetip sharks have become rarer in the Red Sea but they are back around the offshore reefs of Egypt. Diving with these magnificent predators is a privilege and offers incredible photographic opportunities to witness the symbiosis with pilotfish. Curious, confident, and inquisitive, they do not hesitate to approach the divers and I was able to capture this image on our decompression stop.”

  • Sunset Snorkel. Third Place, Wide Angle. “I was practicing sunset split shots in the calm waters around Ras Um Sid when I noticed several people walking down the pier with snorkel gear. My first thought was to wait until they were out of the way, but then I realized that they were the story. I wanted to preserve how the colors in the sunset seemed to mimic the colors of the corals, so I decided a silhouette shot would meet my needs best.” Photographed at Ras Um Sid, Red Sea, Egypt.

  • Gannets Feeding. Third Place, Behavior. “I captured this image in Scotland during summertime. Gannets hunt pelagic fish like mackerel by diving into the sea from a height of 30 meters, achieving speeds of 100 kilometers per hour as they strike the water and pursue their prey underwater. With the decline of fish stocks, gannets have to fight against food competition for their survival. They have learned to catch dead fish spilled overboard from fishing vessels and from bird-watching boats that take advantage of this to attract them. I was able to realize this image thanks to a fascinating and talented local photographer who shared [with] me his favorite playground in all humility. All honor goes to Richard Shucksmith, whom I thank deeply.”

  • Flower Power. Runner-up, Compact. “Having been a free-diving underwater photographer for eight years, I swim many hours every week looking for uncommon subjects to shoot. My preference is pictures made under the surface with reflections. A lot of creatures (mainly juveniles) are found there day and night looking for spots (floating sargassums, flowers, leaves, and miscellaneous objects) on which to stay. This picture shows three blennies that gather by the dozen under a sheltered spot. In this image, they are hiding under a floating hibiscus flower.” Photographed in Ouemo Bay, New Caledonia.

    The Hammer. Runner-up, Up & Coming. “It was the last day of the Enigma team shark expedition to Bahamas. The last day and I was still missing a shot I came here to take. We went down. The day before there was a storm and we did not see anything. But they were back. Glorious, mighty, curious, but shy four-meter-long ladies. The great hammerheads were slowly circulating around us. It was my last chance. The last opportunity to do what I had in my mind for months. ‘Stay calm; be patient,’ was constantly echoing in my mind. Sitting on a soft sandy bottom, facing against the sun I could have only waited. And there she was coming directly at me.” Photographed near Bimini, Bahamas.

    Tannic Water at Cenote Carwash. Commended, Wide Angle. “Maybe once a year, due to prolonged and heavy rainfall, the water at Cenote Carwash can become very tannic, meaning the water is stained a reddish brown by the tannins from decaying [leaves] and other organic matter in the run-off from the jungle. As soon as we dropped down through the water, it was clear that things were very different from a usual dive at Cenote Carwash. It was extremely dark due to the tannic water filtering out a lot of the light (hence the high ISO). The light coming through the water was very red and a bit like diving on Mars! I knew immediately that I wanted to take the classic ‘Cenote Car Wash entrance’ shot, but with this very different background with the intense shades of red.” Photographed in Cenote Carwash, Mexico.

  • Hummingfish. Highly Commended, Up & Coming. “Anyone who has spent time on a boat has probably looked down to see a flying fish gliding above the surface. They leap out of the water and fly through the air before dropping back into the ocean and swimming away. This is what one of those flying fish looks like from below. This image was taken during a blackwater dive off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida. Typically, these dives are spent anywhere between 20 and 60 feet below the surface, looking for tiny critters in the larval stages. However, when the conditions are right and the wind is calm, a whole new cast of characters near the surface comes into focus. Although I’ve seen flying fish in other colors such as white, orange, and yellow, the blue and silver is certainly my favorite.

  • Basking Shark Feeding. Commended, British Waters Wide Angle. “Basking sharks are the world’s second biggest fish. They can grow over 10 meters long. Each year dozens arrive to the rich waters off the Inner Hebrides archipelago as part of their annual migrations. A bloom in plant plankton occurs in the warming springtime waters, which leads to an explosion in the numbers of animal plankton at the height of summer. Just as these tiny animals feed on the microscopic plants, so the basking sharks feed on the zooplankton, pushing slowly forward with their massive mouths open to envelop clouds of their prey before filtering them out through specialized gill structures. It is possible to sensitively snorkel with these gentle giants—if spooked, they close their mouths and change direction. I’ve learned that the best method is to place yourself some distance in front, stay completely still, and hope for the best.” Photographed off the Isle of Coll, Scotland.

  • Pretty Lady. Highly Commended, Macro. “This is a Japanese pygmy seahorse. A lot of creatures, in order to protect themselves, will stay in their own and similar color environment, so the adjacent color in the natural color will be easier to find. When I took this shot, I used a large aperture and tried a variety of different combinations of lighting methods to blur the background to highlight the subject, but at the same time using the adjacent colors in the background, and then vivid contrast in harmony.” Photographed near Kashiwajima, Japan.

  • Stuka. Highly Commended, Wrecks. “This is an often-photographed airplane in just 23 meters of water. The photo was already planned on the surface. I guided my models to the right places by shouting as we were all on rebreathers. An overcast day gave a soft, nice, and not-too-bright light. The picture is a panorama of two images.” Photographed near Kornati, Croatia.

  • Swarm. Highly Commended, British Waters Macro. “I had been under Swanage pier for over an hour. I was getting cold and making my way back towards the entry steps. A little before getting back to the harbor wall, there was a piece of the old pier with a hollowed-out end. My eye was caught by movement within, a multitude of very small creatures moving fast to and fro. I had little time available and I fired off a few shots, hoping the Nikon focusing would do its job. I had no idea what I had captured until I downloaded the images for review. I cannot say precisely what it is other than saying it is larval forms of a marine critter. I had a slow shutter speed dialed into the camera, but the dark scene was frozen by the light from the flashguns.”

  • Perfect Wheel. Highly Commended, Wrecks. “The German ship Klaus Oldendorf went down in 1942 after hitting a mine. Today she is a very interesting wreck at 30 meters depth to the deck. This picture was actually already planned on the deck of the dive boat. We were a team of three and all had been to the wheel before. We went through the photo plan thoroughly. First we took pictures with a top light (torch) and then with backlight. I took pictures with both flash and no flash and liked this one without flash more. This picture is a panorama of two images.” Photographed off Cape Porkkala, Finland.

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