The stunning winning images in an underwater photography contest

From an octopus clinging to rubbish to a friendly tubby seal and a shark baring its teeth: The stunning winning images in an underwater photography contest

  • Underwater Photography Guide’s Ocean Art Safe Under the Sea contest attracted entries from 79 countries
  • There were 12 categories in total including ‘wide-angle’, ‘portrait’, ‘cold water’ and ‘shipwrecks’
  • The overall winning image was taken by Edwar Herreno and it shows a shark being released into the wild 

Take a dive on the wild side with these stunning underwater shots. 

They are the winning images in the Underwater Photography Guide’s Ocean Art Safe Under the Sea photo contest. 

There were 12 categories in total including ‘wide-angle’, ‘portrait’, ‘cold water’, ‘shipwrecks’ and ‘underwater conservation’ with entries pouring in from 79 countries. 

The overall winning image, which also scored first place in the ‘underwater conservation’ category, was taken by Edwar Herreno and it shows a young hammerhead shark being tended to by a marine biologist in the Galapagos Islands in a bid to keep the critically endangered species alive.

Commenting on the competition results, Scott Gietler, who is the publisher of the Underwater Photography Guide website, said: ‘The images from this special competition, especially the winning conservation image, represent hope. Hope for our oceans, hope for our travel and dive industries ravaged by coronavirus, and hope that our nations can come together.’ 

Plunge down to see some of the spellbinding winning images… 

This image called ‘Curiosity’ by Joanna Smart won first place in the ‘cold water’ category. Joanna said of the shot, which was taken off the coast of Anacapa Island in California: ‘As I swam through the dense kelp forest of Anacapa Island, I felt a tug at my fins. Turning around, I found a harbour seal, with large gazing eyes and a tubby, plump figure staring back at me from within the kelp’

This image called ‘Ocean Overlord’ came third in the ‘compact wide-angle’ category. The photographer who snapped it, Yung Sen Wu said of the shot, taken in the Red Sea, Egypt: ‘I was lucky when shooting. This oceanic whitetip shark (carcharhinus longimanus) was very interested in me, so it kept trying to get close to me. I had ample opportunity to shoot’

Eric Hou took this striking shot of a Paper Nautilus – an octopus with a brittle shell – off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines. The image, titled ‘Blanket’, came third place in the ‘underwater conservation’ category. Eric said: ‘Before the end of the dive, I suddenly found a reflective object. It turned out to be rubbish. When I was about to take it aboard, I found a Paper Nautilus riding on it’

On the left is an adorable photo by Kyungshin Kim of a small fish that he called it ‘Babysitting’. He took home third prize in the ‘macro’ category. On the right is an incredible image by Paul Cox of a female manta ray gliding under a fellow diver in Hawaii. He titled the shot ‘Arms Wide Open’ and went on to win first place in the ‘wide angle’ category. He said: ‘[The] manta found us and we spent a long six minutes together. A quiet ballet may be a way to describe it’

Yung Sen Wu took home the first prize in the ‘marine life behaviour’ category with this image titled ‘Mola Mola’. The photographer said of the image taken off the coast of Lembongan in Indonesia: ‘This is a shot of the cleaning behaviour of an ocean sunfish at a depth of 121 feet (37 metres) underwater. They are large and slow-moving. Sunfish are susceptible to a wide variety of skin parasites, sometimes over 40 species on a single fish – they are literally habitats that move’

While diving in the waters off the Baja California Sur in Mexico, Jacopo Brunetti took this incredible image of an eight-foot-long mako shark showing its sharp teeth. The photo scored first place in the ‘portrait vertical approach’ category. Jacopo said that the shark was demonstrating a ‘strange behaviour’ called ‘gaping’. He explains: ‘Mouth gaping in sharks has been considered to be either a threat display or a response to their innate territorialism especially when multiple makos are around. Makos are also attracted by the electricity of the camera, that’s why sometimes they gape at divers and bite the camera dome. This mako was a real player, he bit my dome four times on the same dive’

Yannick Bruynoghe snapped this incredible image of a whale shark swimming close to a shoal of barracuda on the Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines. The photo, titled ‘Welcome to Tubbataha’ took home the first-place prize in the ‘compact wide-angle’ category. Yannick said he had a few minutes to capture the scene before the whale shark and barracuda disappeared

This photo, titled ‘Flooded Magic Castle’ by Petr Polách, was taken during a diving expedition to the cave Chun-Ya in Yucatan, Mexico. The photographer said: ‘There are hundreds of kilometres of caves in Yucatan. In the caves, you can find a really amazing world: beautiful decorations, stalagmites and other shapes. Because there is absolute darkness in the caves, a special way of illuminating the photographed scene must be used. A total of five flashes were used for this photo’

This digitally-altered image by Francisco Sedano Vera was shot off the coast of Raja Ampat in Indonesia and it came third in the ‘underwater art’ category. Francisco, who titled the image ‘Inside Out’ said: ‘This image is the first of my series ‘inside out’ and ‘upside-down’ developed during the Covid-19 quarantine. During this hard time, we have experienced fear and anxiety but we have also adapted to the situation and showed our best inner self to the world. We have seen volunteers helping out in hospitals, trainers entertaining a whole block of buildings, singers performing from their balconies… That is exactly what this image represents: a rupture with your shell and the burst of your best inner-self’

These inquisitive sea lions were captured by Celia Kujala while she was diving off Hornby Island in Canada. The shot, titled ‘Descending from Above’, scored second place in the ‘cold water’ category. The photographer said: ‘Juvenile Steller sea lions are extremely curious. When I was diving, I watched large groups of them appear seemingly out of nowhere. It was a lovely sunny day and I wanted to capture a group of them in a unique way. In this moment, everything came together. I took this photo directly upward as they were descending toward me. Steller sea lions are listed as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. I hope this image will inspire people to want to protect them’

Gaetano Gargulo took this distressing photo showing a fish stuck in a net in the waters off Praiano in Italy. The shot, titled ‘In the Net’, came second place in the ‘underwater conservation’ category. Gaetano said: ‘This dive site is in the heart of a fishing town. On our way down to the deep wall, we flanked the net and I was struck by the agony of this large scorpion fish that was struggling to free itself. As the net is authorised by the authorities, we could not interfere but nevertheless [it] was sad to see’

This small octopus was captured at night by Eric Hou while it was hunting off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines. The image, titled ‘Eat’, came third place in the ‘marine life behaviour’ category. Eric explains that the octopus can be seen devouring a crab, with its pincers just visible

Petr Polách took this moody shot under the surface of Russia’s White Sea. The image, titled ‘Under the Ice of the White Sea’, came second in the ‘underwater art’ category. Petr said: ‘This photo was taken in the White Sea at the level of the Arctic Circle. In winter, the White Sea is covered with a layer of ice more than one metre thick. Ice breaks off the coast due to tides. This creates various, impressive shapes of ice, on which sunlight is refracted and creates a magical atmosphere. The intention of this picture is to capture this unusual atmosphere’

Yi Ping Chang was swimming in the waters off the north coast of Taiwan when this colourful scene titled ‘Hiding Behind’ was captured. It shows an emperor shrimp on a spotted sea slug. The photographer scored third place in the ‘compact behaviour’ category

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Taner Atilgan was diving in the Red Sea off Egypt when he took this photo titled ‘Famous Motorcycle of Thistlegorm’ which went on to claim first place in the ‘shipwrecks’ category. He said of the image: ‘The idea of backlighting the motorcycle in Thistlegorm wreck is definitely not new, but actually this picture was taken in 2013! Back in those days, I was a novice photographer and I was not able to post-process this shot properly. In the following years, the picture lost its eligibility for competitions due to time restrictions. This year, when Ocean Art Safe Under the Sea competition was announced, I noticed that there is a new ‘shipwreck’ category and no time restriction for submissions. I wanted to take my chance one more time’

Taeyup Kim was diving off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines when he spotted these two bright yellow gobi fish. He titled the image ‘Family’ and it came third place in the ‘macro’ category. Explaining how he captured the shot, Taeyup said: ‘I was waiting nearly 20 minutes to capture this composition. Two gobies were very close but not enough to be in one nice frame. They never leave their eggs [and] only move around. At last, they were really close, almost kissing each other’

Yatwai So shot this photo off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines. The image, titled ‘Red Carpet’ scored second place in the ‘macro’ category. It shows a goby fish hiding in a quill-like sea pen – a type of soft coral. Yatwai said:  ‘The sea pen is very common in the sandy sea bottom. You can often find a goby or small crab staying inside the pen for protection. This sea pen colour was exaggerated by lighting via a pair of narrow beam torches with orange filters that I put on the sandy bottom. [The goby] looks like a VIP walking along the luxury red carpet’

Eric Hou took this delicate image of a seahorse off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines. It came second in the ‘blackwater’ category. The photographer said of his photo titled ‘Fire’: ‘The seahorse is an object that I like very much. It often follows the flowing water, sometimes following branches or garbage straws’

‘Arms Everywhere’ came third place in the ‘cold water’ category. Mark Kirkland took the colourful image in the waters off Cape Wrath in Scotland – the most north-westerly point in mainland Britain. The photographer said: ‘This was my first ever encounter with an octopus and it couldn’t have happened in a more beautiful underwater landscape. I was on the liveaboard MV Halton, exploring the crystal clear waters of the far north coast of Scotland when we dropped onto the reef walls of Eilean Nam Ron. The visibility and abundance of life made wide-angle photography a dream’

Claudio Ceresi took this ethereal shot of a nudibranch, commonly known as a sea slug, while diving in the dark off the coast of Bali in Indonesia. The image, simply titled ‘White’, scored third place in the ‘portrait’ category 

Lewis Burnett took this spine-tingling image of a manta ray around the waters of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. The photo, called ‘Into the Light’, came second in the ‘portrait’ category. He said: ‘With many sheltered bays concentrating the plankton into thick soup these beautiful animals always have plenty of food. One of the most amazing feeding techniques to observe is ‘barrel rolling’ where they loop over and over trying to consume as much plankton as possible in a short space of time. After approaching this ray with caution she allowed me to photograph her for over an hour feeding! Magic’

Edwar Herreno was named the overall winner of the photography contest with this shot titled ‘Releasing Hope’. This photograph, which also scored first place in the ‘underwater conservation’ category was taken in the waters around the Galapagos Islands. It shows marine biologist and Galapagos island park ranger Eduardo Espinosa, handling a young hammerhead shark. Edwar says Eduardo is ‘working on a manageable plan for the conservation of this important species, now critically endangered species (IUCN list)’

While diving off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines, Lars Michaelis took this haunting shot of two skeleton shrimps fighting. He titled the shot ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ and it took home the first prize in the ‘macro’ category. The photographer said of the image: ‘When we were diving at the famous dive site Arthurs Rock, I noticed two big skeleton shrimps fighting for territory. All the other smaller shrimps kept distance and watched the fight. It was like in a boxing ring. The upper skeleton shrimp hit his rival’s head with one of his big claws. The lower one stumbled backwards’

Uwe Schmolke took this image while diving off the coast of Bali in Indonesia. He titled the shot ‘Beauty’ and it took first place in the ‘compact macro’ category. Uwe said: ‘While diving Bali, I spent some days in the Tulamben area to run some macro images. This particular nudibrach [a kind of sea slug] I found on an orange sponge, which was attached to an old rotten fishing rope on the sandy ocean floor’

‘Kiss Under the Sea’ shows two giant cuttlefish during an intimate moment. The image, which scored second place in the ‘compact behaviour’ category, was taken by Elena Markushina while diving close to the city of Whyalla, South Australia. The photographer said: The annual aggregation of giant cuttlefish in Whyalla is a unique spectacle of natural wonder. Every year at the coldest time in May to June, hundreds of these beautiful giants gather for their mating dance. This shot is of the ultimate intimate moment where a male cuttlefish is grabbing a female with his tentacles, turning her so that the two animals are face-to-face. They’re so consumed by their passion, they will let you stay very close to the action’

Jeff Molder took this otherworldly image titled ‘Blackwater Galaxy’ in the inky waters off Kona in Hawaii and it scored third place in the ‘blackwater’ category. The photographer said: ‘Drifting through the night, surrounded by millions of moving points of light, it is easy to imagine yourself floating through space. One of the most common caste of characters that ‘shows up’ on blackwater dives in Kona are siphonophores [highly active organisms that can grow up to 100 feet in length]. This siphonophore corkscrews through the water to cast out its array, forming a long spiralling net ‘fishing’ for prey and then instantly retracts it upon being disturbed by other bigger creatures’

This image titled ‘Geometry’ came third place in the ‘shipwrecks’ category. Chris Gug took the image while exploring the Vandenberg wreck off the coast of Key West in Florida. The photographer said: ‘When I stumbled upon this spot, and the vision for the shot emerged, I had to find my girlfriend (now wife) Suzanne, so I could give her the ‘will you model for me?’ mumble and hand-signal’

Stan Chen took this picture of Lemon Goby fish while diving off the coast of Lembeh island in Indonesia. The image scored first place in the ‘compact behaviour’ category. Stan said of the shot: ‘These Lemon Goby parents had spawned their eggs on a glass fragment that caught my eyes and I decided to take the shot to record how fish can coexist with human garbage. The Lemon Goby parents were very shy and they kept moving around. I waited about 40 minutes and finally, the goby parents gathered together and also opened the mouth while protecting their eggs. I immediately took the shot’

Eric Hou took this eye-catching image off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines and it scored first place in the ‘blackwater’ category. He said of the shot, titled ‘Red’: ‘The most fascinating part of black water diving is that you don’t know what will happen next second. Suddenly a blanket octopus appeared in front of me, dancing in the water like a dancer. It was unexpected’

This bold image titled ‘Bubblewand’ came first place in the ‘underwater art’ category. Photographer Rodger Klein said he took the photo during an ‘experimental shoot’ at his studio pool in Venice Beach, California. He explained: ‘I was working with artist and body painter Michael Bui and his wife Mida. I was shooting while on scuba while Mida was free diving in the pool. After about six hours of body paint work and several hours of preparation in the pool with fabric backdrops we made this image’

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