The Winners Of The 2020 Underwater Photographer Of The Year Contest Might Take Your Breath Away (58 Pics)

The 2020 Underwater Photographer of the Year contest (UPY) has just crowned its winners. More than 5,500 images were submitted by over 500 participants from around the world and the judges have had a tough time choosing the very finest.

“I know how much effort photographers put into choosing their entries,” one of the judges, Dr. Alexander Mustard MBE, said. “We try to put even more effort into picking the best of them. Our judging panel all have quite distinct tastes in underwater images, but we also all respect each other and listen to each other’s arguments and opinions. This has been the key to UPY producing such a jaw-dropping and diverse collection each year.” However, they did it and declared Greg Lecoeur from Nice, on the French Riviera, the Underwater Photographer of the Year.

The grand prize aside, contestants battled in twelve main categories and two additional ones, and UPY was once again kind enough to share the shots. Beauty really does lie beneath the surface!

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#1 Behaviour Category Winner: ‘Octopus Training’ By Pasquale Vassallo, Italy

At the end of a session of free diving, I noticed a soccer ball, in the distance and on the surface. Intrigued I approached it, and then I noticed that below it was an octopus that was being pulled along by the current. I do not know what it was doing under the ball, but I think it is training for the next football World Cup! There was time for me to take a couple of shots before the octopus let go of the ball and dropped back to the seabed.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

Past winners said that being named the Underwater Photographer of the Year is a fantastic experience. “Not just for the title, which remains very special, but it also opens up a network of contacts and is an opportunity to increase one’s profile in the media,” Davide Lopresti, the man who took home the 2016 award, explained. “All the biggest newspapers contact you; National Geographic, the Guardian, Focus, and Ansa. But it’s not just the printed press who are interested; I have been featured in most important national radio shows, too.”

#2 Behaviour Category: ‘A Fever Of Cownose Rays’ By Alex Kydd, Australia

A rare encounter with a fever of cownose rays on the Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. This was a once in a lifetime encounter with a species that is rarely documented in this region. We unexpectedly came across the rays whilst searching for whale sharks. The rays were spiralling up and down the water column from the surface to 20 meters for a brief moment until they disappeared into the deep. The images were taken whilst freediving to approximately 6 metres. The rays were circling and rubbing together in a behaviour that is still not clearly understood. It may have been possible mating or a social behaviour. The exact species of ray is still debated, it is either Rhinoptera javanica or Rhinoptera neglecta.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

Each year, the shots that make it to the final stages of the competition offer a wide range of subject matter, visual styles, and photographic techniques. “We hope to recognize and reward excellence and creativity in underwater photography within its various disciplines,” the organizers wrote. “That way, a fish portrait can be evaluated against a shipwreck, a model shot can be judged against critter behavior, and a wide-angle scenic against an abstract macro.”

Also, the UPY views 2020 as the strongest year in its existence. “As always, the category winners are jaw-dropping but this year, every single image is worthy of your attention,” Mustard commented. “UPY always aims to showcase the diversity of disciplines and photographic styles that comprise ‘underwater photography’ and we love seeing photographers pushing the technical and artistic boundaries of the genre. We also appreciate classic images when taken to new heights, and I am thrilled that UPY 2020 contains all these and more, with a real diversity of photos taken in waters from the polar oceans to the swimming pool.”

#3 Behaviour Category: ‘Turtle & Friends’ By Henley Spiers, UK

A large olive ridley turtle rests peacefully on the sea bed as it is manicured by an eager group of reef fish. Turtle shells are often populated by epibionts, or tiny ocean hitchhikers, who use the shell as a home and a way of spreading their gene pool to new areas. They do not harm the turtle in small numbers, but should their presence grow too great, the turtle will be uncomfortably encumbered. To prevent this from happening, turtles have been known to recruit the services of fish, who feed on these epibionts in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. Even so, this behaviour is rarely witnessed by divers, and I was delighted to find this scene upon dropping in for a dive at Cabo Pulmo National Park, where strict marine protection measures have resulted in a safe haven for marine life.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#4 Behaviour Category: ‘Together’ By Nadia Aly, USA

I was very lucky to see this group of aggregating mobula rays off the coast of Baja, Mexico, on my annual expedition.

A truly lucky encounter with almost perfect visibility. This group was circling for what seemed like hours, ever so slowly and it felt like there could have been 10,000 or more of them.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#5 Wide Angle Category Winner: ‘Frozen Mobile Home’ By Greg Lecoeur, France

Massive and mysterious habitats, icebergs are dynamic kingdoms that support marine life. As they swing and rotate slowly through polar currents, icebergs fertilize the oceans by carrying nutrients from land that spark blooms of phytoplankton, fundamental to the carbon cycle. During an expedition in Antarctica Peninsula with filmmaker Florian Fisher and freediver Guillaume Nery, we explored and documented the hidden face of this iceberg where crab-eater seals have taken up residence on icebergs that drift at the whim of polar currents.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#6 Macro Category: ‘Eyes’ By Keigo Kawamura, Japan

The Unicorn shrimp usually inhabits around 200 to 300 m deep, but they rise to about 40m due to breeding behavior. There are thousands to tens of thousands of shrimps but there are only a few suitable places to shoot them. The direction and density of the tide may vary depending on the direction, strength, and brightness in the ocean. I went there many times because I could only stay for 15 minutes once a day. I was lucky to be able to find and shoot the ideal situation.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#7 Macro Category: ‘Dancing In The Dark’ By Katherine Lu, USA

This shot was taken during my very first Blackwater dive trip in Anilao, in water over 200m deep. Every night the great vertical migration occurs in the ocean where creatures that live in the deep mesopelagic layers migrate up to the shallower epipelagic zone, returning to depth before dawn. I was very fortunate to have a rare encounter with the diamond squid also known as the rhomboid squid (Thysanoteuthis rhombus). This squid was not very large, and was perhaps a juvenile, but incredibly beautiful as it put on a show of lights and colours for me. While my encounter was very brief I was lucky enough to be able to capture this image before it disappeared into the darkness.

Image credits: katherineluphotography

#8 Behaviour Category: ‘Say Me’ By Paolo Isgro, Italy

This photo was taken in Tonga during a Naia liveaboard. On the second day, in the middle of lunch, the cruise director called us because there was a lot of whale action right around the boat. So in a fraction we climb out of the chair, jump into the wetsuit swallowing the last bite and dive into the water. A couple of young whales really want to play with us and minutes after minute they get closer and closer. And it was during a freediving at 10 m that I saw this whale caming so close to me: it looks at me very intensely and says “Hello” in one breath exhaling so many bubbles.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#9 Macro Category: ‘Bling’ By Lilian Koh, Singapore

It is a slow black water night in Anilao where there is not many subjects in sight and mostly not suitable to use this foreground bokeh technique. I was drifting along the current until this juvenile wunderpus octopus (wunderpus hotogenicus) came along at around 25m depth.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#10 Black & White Category: ‘Constellation Of Eagle Rays’ By Henley Spiers, UK

A school of uniquely patterned spotted eagle rays passes beneath me on an unforgettable dive in the Maldives. Like most divers, I have always found these rays to be especially spellbinding, but also highly elusive! This school passed beneath me towards the end of our dive and it was one of those rare moments of huge admiration, as well as immense inspiration. I could visualise the image I wanted and, whilst the rays glided effortlessly, I swam my heart out trying to keep up and unlock the desired camera angle. The rays continued forward and deeper, giving me just a few moments to capture this frame. Scientists have just recently confirmed that the spotting on each ray is a unique identifier, the equivalent of a human fingerprint. I love how black and white reinforces that uniqueness, keenly displaying the distinctive spotting, as well as the subtle shading differences between each individual.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#11 Behaviour Category: ‘Mating Nudibranchs’ By Steven Kovacs, USA

Traveling 5 miles off the coast of Florida at night and jumping into the ocean to drift near the surface in 600 foot depth, one can come across many wonderful and strange pelagic animals. One of these amazing animals is this pelagic Nudibranch (sea slug) that swims and lives up in the water column.

Just coming across these wonderful creatures is rewarding enough but on one particular dive I was fortunate to come across two of them together. It took a moment to realize that they were connected to each other and were, in fact, in the process of mating. What made this super rare encounter even more special is that in the split moment the photograph was taken, it appeared as if the nudibranchs were introducing themselves face to face with a handshake. A truly unique encounter in an other worldly setting.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#12 Portrait Category: ‘Angry Seahorse’ By Rooman Luc, Belgium

In June I heard that there was a seahorse at a certain dive site in the Eastern Scheldt, at a depth of 12m. From then on, I went looking for the seahorse every week, and eventually found it in August. It was posing so nicely around a pipe that I had ample time to photograph it with the snoot. This gives the seahorse an angry look, but that is fortunately a mere appearance.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#13 Wide Angle Category: ‘Her’ By Jingle Guo & Fdb, China

I have wanted to take a photo like this since the first moment I went underwater. The unprecedented quiet and solitude, and the feeling of mother nature’s embrace is what being underwater emotes in me. The aim of this photo is to express this, a feeling of being in the universe, like a baby in mother’s womb, when we’re underwater. The photo was taken at a diving venue in FuZhou, China. I used back lighting, which when it touches the tiles on the wall, creates a beautiful effect.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#14 Wide Angle Category: ‘Dragon Split’ By J. Gregory Sherman, USA

While Komodo Dragons are primarily land reptiles, they will venture into the water if something warrants investigation.

For this image we went out in a RIB to take a look at the Dragons and I had brought along my rig “just in case”. One particular Dragon came out and repeatedly got VERY close including trying to climb on and into the RIB on several occasions. I suspect that he has become habituated to humans and was looking for a handout.

In hindsight I’m not sure it was the safest thing I have ever done so I’d have to add the caveat ‘Don’t try this at home!”

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#15 Wide Angle Category: ‘Over The Reef’ By Nadia Aly, USA

I had just descended and was getting myself sorted. I had not even turned my camera and strobes on, when I saw this octopus crawling over the reef. The visibility was superb, the guides said it was the best they had seen it in a while. I quickly turned my camera gear on and took a few shots, before this octopus started hunting and moving quickly between the corals.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#16 Behaviour Category: ‘Great White Bite’ By Kimberly Jeffries, USA

For several days we visited the resting site of a deceased sperm whale hoping to capture the natural events that unfolded. We were treated to visitations from some of the most beautiful and threatened species in the world and witnessed incredible and natural feeding events. One of the most memorable visitors was this newly identified white shark. The behavior of each shark was unique not just to the species but to individual and their reactions to various divers all very different. It was thrilling to document and witness these creatures, knowing that these images would go on to help scientists put together new knowledge and understanding to help protect our oceans.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#17 British Waters Wide Angle Category: ‘Octopus And The Sunstar’ By Mark Kirkland, UK

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 visability and abundance of life made wide-angle photography a dream. I kept my distance from this small curled octopus as it traversed the reef wall. It kept it’s gaze on me as I followed it before it eventually stopped and changed from bright orange to pale yellow to blend in with the surrounding soft corals. I took this as a hint that I was outstaying my welcome and took this last photograph before leaving it to it’s day.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#18 Behaviour Category: ‘Emperor Among Drummers’ By Scott Portelli, Australia

An Emperor fish tussles for position among a school of silver drummer fish in the shallows at Lord Howe Island, Australia, competing for prime position to devour any scraps left by tourists visiting to watch this behaviour. The Emperor fish spurts a stream of water out of its mouth in an attempt to distract the other fish from a potential free meal.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#19 Portrait Category: ‘Crab-Eater Seal’ By Greg Lecoeur, France

During an expedition on a small sailboat, Guillaume Nery, Florian Fisher and myself explored the Antarctica Peninsula by diving below the surface. Although the conditions were extreme with a temperature of -1° C, we documented extraordinary marine life in a fragile ecosystem, such as on this image: crab-eater seal. We also saw leopard seals, gentoo penguins, Antarctica fur seals, and Weddel seals. All these marine animals are affected by global warming with the melting of the ice. Despite the name, Crabeater Seals don’t eat Crabs. Krill make up to 95% of a Crabeater Seal’s diet. Crabeater seals have developed a sieve-shaped tooth structure that filters krill, much like whale baleen. They suck up water containing krill, close their jaws, and push the water between their specialized teeth, trapping the krill inside.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#20 Compact Category: ‘In My Place’ By Kathrin Landgraf-Kluge, Germany

I fell in love with the super tiny underwater critters only recently, less than 3 years ago during a holiday to Lembeh. I soon returned with my compact camera equipment upgraded for super macro photography by adding a 15+ macro lens. It was during one of my first dives with the new equipment when I took this photo. We spotted this tiny Bryozoan Goby and I really loved how he looked like peeking out from a window of his home. I was lucky to get the shot like this! I only learned later that this species was only discovered 7 years ago and that this one is on the list of many photographers which makes the photo even more special for me!

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#21 Portrait Category: ‘Close Encounters’ By Pedro Jarque Krebs, Peru

The hippopotamus is one of the most dangerous animals because of its strength and territoriality. Approaching a hippopotamus in its territory and underwater can be fatal…

Therefore, my photograph was taken with a hippo in captivity, which has ideal facilities with ample space for immersion, so that I could focus on what really interests me in myp hotography, namely to portray the animals as closely as possible.

I specialize in animal photography and in general my portraits are taken either in a natural environment or in captivity and even in sanctuaries. I try to establish a more intimate relationship between the animal and the viewer, and in general I isolate the animal from any context to avoid distractions. This photograph is one of the few animal portraits I have taken without a black background.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#22 Portrait Category: ‘Close Encounters In The Swamps’ By Mirko Zanni, Switzerland

During my last trip to Florida to photograph Goliath groupers, I had to change my travel plans due to hurricane Dorian … so I went to visit the Everglades to be able to photograph the American alligator, it didn’t take long to find some alligators of considerable size and not at all afraid of my camera housing!

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#23 Compact Category: ‘Coconut Octopus’ By Enrico Somogyi, Germany

On a sunny afternoon I dived on a sandy divesite in Sugar Beach. There I found a coconut octopus crawling on the sand.

When I got closer he started a nice pose for me and I got the shot.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#24 British Waters Macro Category: ‘Scillonian Beauty’ By Malcolm Nimmo, UK

The reefs of the Isles of Scilly are covered with an abundance of marine life, including colourful anemones, soft corals and hydroids. Such diverse ecosystem supports a wonderful variety of colourful nudibranchs. Nudibranchs such as Coryphella Browni make interesting photographic subjects. Natural colours may also be used to enhance the subject’s background. For this image, the coloured backdrop is derived from a colony of purple jewel anemones on the reef behind the subject. Applying a relatively narrow depth of field ensures that the background is out of focus, producing an even, soft coloured texture.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#25 British Waters Compact Category: ‘Million Miles Away’ By Martin Edser, UK

Diving with seals is always a privilege and I love the opportunity to photograph them. Like us they have different characters and moods. Trying to capture some of these traits in a photograph is what I have tried to accomplish this year on my visit to the Farne islands. Wide angle and ambient light is my preference. The water was clear enough here to take a picture at some distance and capture this seal in what seems to be a moment of far away contemplation. The lighting, haziness of the water and surrounding fauna help to give, I believe, an ethereal quality to the image adding to the ‘million miles away’ look. The reality is of course this seal is being very attentive of me and choosing to keep its distance!

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#26 Portrait Category: ‘High Five – A Newly Hatched Hawksbill Turtle’ By Matty Smith, Australia

I flew out to PNG specifically to shoot this image. Upon arrival I knew I would only get one chance to get it right, so I spent the day testing lens & lighting experiments on a small piece of driftwood about the same size as the turtle (4cm) to get my technique perfected before the real event. In the end I opted for a 4”port with the fisheye with 2 snooted strobes. One strobe above the water pointing down and the other underwater pointing up at the hatching. When my chance came to get this shot I had less than a minute to nail it, the extensive preparation paid off.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#27 British Waters Compact Category:v’saint Peter’s Fish’ By Colin Garrett, UK

John Dory’s visit Chesil Cove every Summer and are a favourite subject of mine, particularly on our many night dives here throughout the year. The idea of the back-lit shot was nothing new to me, as I had taken one before in 2016 and had always liked it, but also knew it could be improved on if I could just get the light in the correct place. In October 2019, whilst diving with my fiancee Sarah and good friend Alex, a team effort finally managed to capture several images that I was more than happy with. This one became one of my personal favourites.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#28 British Waters Compact Category: ‘They’re Back’ By Colin Garrett, UK

The mighty Barrel Jellyfish to the best of my knowledge, had not been seen around Portland since the Summer of 2015. Myself and some diving friends had waited year after year for their return, as they make in our opinion beautiful subjects to photograph. Within the first few months of 2019 the wish became reality and I sighted my first of many. Snorkeling above this beautiful creature in clear blue water I snapped and snapped away taking seemingly endless photos. Reviewing them later, for me at least, one photo truly stood out… this one.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#29 Marine Conservation Category: ‘Unnatural Habitat’ By Shane Keena, USA

The unfortunate reality is that human impact is found everywhere… even on the tiniest and remote of islands amongst the smallest of critters.

Here, on Peleliu Island in Micronesia, a hermit crab has made use of a discarded metal can from Asia as a temporary, yet very unnatural home. Sadly, this is not the first encounter I have seen on these islands where these hermit crabs use discards for shelters and have seen them using human discards ranging from plastic Kurig single use coffee pods, to old metal bolts.

I hope images like this bring a greater awareness that there is no “away” and helps to foster a new attitude towards becoming better stewards for this beautiful planet.

Please recycle and love our planet… it’s the only one we have.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#30 Up & Coming Category: ‘Commotion In The Ocean’ By Nur Tucker, UK

This image shows my very favourite of the species, the thorny sea horse. Over time, I have tried many different techniques, with varying degrees of success, including backlighting, side lighting, snooting, panning, double exposure and silhouette shots. I love experimenting even if this comes at the expense of a wasted dive. On this particular dive, in Dumaguete (Philippines), I was keen to aim for something different and potentially offbeat. I began with a panning shot of the sea horse, captured with a 1/4 second shutter speed and a small, f/25 aperture. Then, I used the same settings to capture a panning shot of a shiny scouring pad, carried in my pocket. Both images were merged, in-camera, for the resulting double exposure shot. I must have repeated this sequence 50 times before eventually achieving this one when he made eye contact, which pleased me.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#31 Marine Conservation Category Winner: ‘Last Dawn, Last Gasp’ By Pasquale Vassallo, Italy

This winter, I went diving with some local fishermen. At 6 in the morning I was already in the water, as the nets were raised at first light. During the dive I followed the path of the fishing nets from the bottom to the surface. As the fishermen quickly hauled on the nets, I tried to take some shots of trapped fish still suffering in the mesh, such as this tuna (Euthynnus alletteratus).

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#32 Wide Angle Category: ‘Sub Zero’ By Tobias Friedrich, Germany

During an expedition in East Greenland under the ice, one diver took his video lights with him to swim underneath the iceberg. The water was minus 2 degrees with outside winds up to minus 27 degree Celsius, in which we sometimes only could do one dive per day. The whole fjord was frozen with the icebergs frozen into the surface. We had to get our gear on a snowmobile and man-powered sledge every day to an iceberg we thought could be nice and made some holes around it. Only in the water could we see the real dimensions of the whole iceberg.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#33 Wide Angle Category: ‘Beneath Starry Skies’ By Sean Landsman, Canada

The rainbow smelt is an anadromous species of fish that spawn in freshwater and grow in saltwater. Smelt enter coastal North American rivers and streams in early spring as they head toward their spawning grounds. Unfortunately, dams can impede or outright block access to these areas. This species’ movement patterns, their nutrient contribution to stream food webs, and the ability of fishways to allow smelt access to habitats above dams was the focus of my PhD research. Smelt tagged with small microchips also revealed that their upstream movements often occur at night, which this image accurately represents. It is a double exposure made in-camera and taken at the same time and place. I was inspired by Audun Rikardsen’s incredible portfolio, including many of his split-level double exposure images. This image has significant personal meaning as it embodies years of research during my PhD and many milestones in between.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#34 Macro Category: ‘Amphipod In Hd’ By Yatwaiso, Hong Kong

Both amphipods and pteropods are quite common subjects on blackwater dives. Occasionally, we find the crustacean attached to the mollusc to help it get around. I am always keen to shoot this odd couple because it is such a funny behaviour. However it is difficult because it is small, normally less than 5mm. For this shot I used a 100mm focal length macro lens and a wet lens to get a highly magnified image. Even so, I had to take around 70 frames to produce an image of optimum quality. The key to taking this photo is precise and stable buoyancy and effective finning for manoeuvring around this couple with my eye always in the viewfinder.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#35 Macro Category: ‘Aegires Sp. Nudi Crawls To A Clubs Shaped Bryozoan’ By Ludovic Galko-Rundgren, France

Tulamben is dense with tiny critters, and I mean really tiny. At first, it was the clover shaped bryozoan that attracted my eye while my guide Ajiex was showing me a small lump that was actually a nudi slowly moving towards its meal. I pulled out my SMC1 lens and asked Ajiex to help with the snoot. As per our usual routine we tried various light positions but the slight backlight became obvious with that composition. Probably the most difficult thing to achieve was to get the sharpness right on the 5mm nudibranch.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#36 Wrecks Category: ‘Panorama’ By Taeyup Kim, Republic Of Korea

This is the famous airplane wreck in Aqaba, Jordan. I tried to think how to put this big subject in a good composition after the first dive at this point. Despite being a clean environment with more than 20m visibility, the distance was troublesome to capture this large subject. So, during the second dive, I was able to capture a clear plane image using the Panorama function and by post-processing from various angles.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#37 Wrecks Category: ‘The Crow’s Nest’ By David Alper, UK

My aim was to light up the wreck at night using multiple sources of light to create unusual lighting effects. Our afternoon reconnaissance dive confirmed my pre-dive info. There was nothing but a few spikes left of her once iconic satellite dishes.

Later, I had the team target the crow’s nest. Although the sun had already set there was still a soft blue glow of dusk filtering through the water.

Each diver had at least two flashlights to light up the metal structure, which by now was silhouetted against the fading evening light. The divers, difficult to discern against the black water, added further mystery to the already unusual scene.

Detailed communication underwater was challenging. Much of what one sees was visualised before the dive and discussed on the surface. The team played their roles brilliantly and I thank them for their efforts in helping me produce this shot.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#38 Portrait Category: ‘Reflection, Common Frog (Rana Temporaria)’ By Mirko Zanni, Switzerland

In the spring in the small river of the Maggia Valley in the south part of Switzerland, frogs begin to descend from the hills to spawn. They follow small streams as they make their way to the pond to lay their eggs. I was observing them as they followed their journey and in this pool I found this female with especially bright colors, probably due to the mating period.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#39 Up & Coming Category: ‘Bait Ball Of Life’ By Emilie Ledwidge, Australia

Ningaloo Reef is home to an array of unique marine animals, including numerous species of sharks such as this grey reef shark. When I found this bait ball I dove down, holding on to some rock to stay steady and motionless hoping that I would go unnoticed by the many sharks surrounding the reef bommie. As I held my breath, seeing nothing but a wall of tiny fish, I hoped that one of the sharks would go straight through and over my head and sure enough one did.

It is moments like these that I am forever grateful for sharks to exist. As the apex predators of the reef the grey reef sharks balance the ecosystem; feeding on the dying, weak, injured and slow fish so only the strongest survive. Without sharks, without healthy fish populations and without an ocean full of life who knows what the future looks life.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#40 British Waters Wide Angle Category: ‘Big Mouth, Small Prey’ By Will Clark, UK

I still find it extraordinary that it is possible to snorkel alongside the world’s second biggest shark just off the west coast of Scotland. Each summer these huge animals usually gather in large numbers in the waters around the Inner Hebrides archipelago. Basking sharks offer no threat to humans – their food is mostly animal plankton funnelled through their enormous mouths and strained through specialised gill structures.

To photograph basking sharks, you must first spot one feeding, then get in the water as quietly as you can, some distance away in its direction of travel. You watch for any change of direction as it approaches and move accordingly. When it gets nearby you have to lie quietly at the surface with your fins up, so as to resemble a floating log. Make one wrong move such as a splash then the shark closes its mouth and dives deep below you.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#41 British Waters Wide Angle Category: ‘Blue Shark In Motion’ By Henley Spiers, UK

A blue shark captured as it swims by at speed. These sharks will cruise enormous swathes of the ocean in search of food and company. For a few years now, a population has been reliably spotted off the British southwest coast, having crossed the Atlantic to get there. A trip to swim with these charismatic animals has become a staple of the British summer for underwater photography enthusiasts. I used a slow shutter panning technique to capture an artistic rendition of this individual, as a well as a tribute to the high speeds these sharks can achieve. The work of Nick More deserves mention as an inspiration for this image.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#42 British Waters Macro Category: ‘Elegant Elegans’ By Dan Bolt, UK

This gorgeous Okenia elegans nudibranch is considered to be a rare species in the UK, but can be quite common around Torbay in south Devon. I came across this one crawling along the edge of a kelp frond which gave me the perfect opportunity to find angle that best shows off their outlandish colours.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#43 British Waters Macro Category: ‘Leopard’ By Cathy Lewis, UK

Leopard-spotted gobies (Thorogobius ephippiatus) generally hide themselves away in holes and crevices. I came across this one on the wreck of the Cita in the Isles of Scilly. He was either curious or territorial, standing his ground just long enough for me to get this head-on shot.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#44 British Waters Macro Category: ‘Stalker In The Meadow’ By Dan Bolt, UK

It was a real surprise on a late November dive to come across large numbers of these Stalked Jellyfish on one of my regular shore-dives. Usually I only ever see two or three in a year, but on this occasion my buddy and I counted well over 20 individuals all firmly holding onto blades of seagrass. Quite why so many were there at the same time remains a mystery to us, but sadly the weather stopped further diving activities before I could make more observations.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#45 British Waters Living Together Category: ‘Cone Home’ By Kirsty Andrews, UK

It’s never nice to see discarded manmade items on the sea floor, but in this case, a common lobster (Homarus gammarus) was taking advantage of the situation. A traffic cone provided a handy vantage point to overlook the seabed as well as a large lobstersized shelter on an otherwise relatively flat landscape.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#46 British Waters Compact Category: ‘Sea Loch Specialty’ By James Lynott, UK

Sea loch anemones are one of my favourite photography subjects and I am always on the lookout for one on its own in the perfect position isolated from any clutter or background. This one happened to be sitting perfectly by itself on top of a rock so I couldn’t pass up the chance to try and get a nice image of it.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#47 Wide Angle Category: ‘Rabbit Fish Zoom Blur’ By Nicholas More, UK

I have been taking motion blur pictures for a few years now. I like how the technique adds dynamism to pictures. The picture was taken in Raja Ampat, Indonesia in November 2019 and I spent the morning taking fish portrait images. I came across a school of very friendly Rabbit fish under a jetty and took lots of schooling shots. I started using the extensive zoom range of my Sigma 17-70 combined with a slow shutter speed to create zoom blur images. The picture came together when the school bunched tightly together in a vertical tower with them all facing onto the camera. I hit the shutter and zoomed in at the same time, the flash freezing the central fish with the ambient light creating a Pop-Art like effect.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#48 Wide Angle Category: ‘Fotteyo Overhangs’ By Oleg Gaponyuk, Russian Federation

Fotteyo overhangs, with golden bunches of soft corals that you can see in this picture, is a rather famous place in the southern Maldives. It is impossible to cover the cave even with a fisheye lens due to its small depth. That’s how I decided to create a panorama of this place. It was my first underwater panorama created with the use of lighting and I am so happy that such technologies push the boundaries of underwater photography.

The Maldives are experiencing difficult times as the temperature rise has led to the death of many hard corals. It is sad to see how splendid coral gardens have turned into graves of the hard pebbles.

Nevertheless, there are places that have preserved the pristine beauty, and I am happy to share it with my spectators.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#49 Macro Category: ‘Lemons’ By Mika Saareila, Finland

I wanted to photograph a Lemon fish couple with backlight and bokeh balloons. The Dive into Lembeh dive guide found a suitable target and placed the light behind it, and I could take the picture I wanted 🙂

Background backscatter and backlighting did add nice bokeh balloons to the picture 🙂

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#50 Macro Category: ‘Blennius Ocellaris’ By Alessandro Grasso, Italy

After the death of “ Pinna Nobilis” that hit the Ligurian Sea and large parts of Italy, this “Blennius ocellaris” took advantage to create its ideal breeding place by laying eggs.

I used a snoot to completely isolate the subject from the background, some very long dives were necessary to obtain this result.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#51 Wrecks Category: ‘A Glance Of Deep Sea Exploration’ By Pier Mane, South Africa

A 7.5m, 10 seater submarine is exploring the wreck of the Star Hope cruiser was sunk in 1988 on its port side on a sandy bottom at 36-40m depth. A typhoon in 2010 severed the wreck into two pieces. I timed the dive so that the small submarine would be on the same wreck, it was the first time I dove with a submarine next to me. This beautiful wreck is now home a giant Javanese moray.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#52 Behaviour Category: ‘The Hunt’ By Nadya Kulagina, Kazakhstan

I was hoping to see silversides last summer in Grand Cayman. Some were spotted around Eden Rock and when I went there, there were a lot of silversides but they were outnumbered by photographers willing to take pictures of them. So I went back to Eden Rock early the next day. As the day before, this time the silversides were still in abundance forming clouds so thick I could barely see any light not to mention tarpons hunting them. When tarpons attack silversides, they move through the school at an extremely fast speed. I was very fortunate with the timing of this shot because the tarpon that I first couldn?t see swam toward me cutting through the school of silversides, opening up some space behind and letting the light come through. A yellow sponge in the bottom left corner added more color to this shot making it more eye catching.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#53 Portrait Category: ‘Butterfly Effect’ By Lilian Koh, Singapore

Having been immersed mostly in creative macro, this is the first time I have used a snoot technique on a larger scale. Maintaining a shallow depth to capture the reflection, the snoot is used to bring focus to the model while the blue light catches the flowing veil that frames around her creating a butterfly effect.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#54 Black & White Category Winner: ‘Layered Thoughts’ By Mok Wai Hoe, Singapore

The creation of this image was inspired by in-camera double exposure photography.

This abstract style typically involves re-exposing the silhouette of a person against a textured background such as urban landscape. I was mesmerized by the aesthetics as well as the extensive possibilities of interpreting this form of visual art. At the same time, I also found no examples of the style applied underwater. Fuelled with inspiration, I spent a year researching and experimenting to marry this technique with underwater photography. This black and white image was made by first shooting a silhouette against a cloudy afternoon sky. The picture was then re-exposed against the image of a coral garden. While this image pays homage to subjects most dear to me, I hope that viewers could find their own meaning as they juxtapose the elements and contrasting textures in the picture.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#55 Compact Category: ‘Squid In Disco Fever’ By Enrico Somogyi, Germany

Here I tried a slow shutter speed picture of a reef squid at night. I used a flash with a snoot to freeze the motion and then for the colors I used two-colored lights on the left and the right side of the port. After pressing the trigger I intentionally moved the camera to create the patterns. I was happy with the result.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#56 Compact Category: ‘Jellyfish From Palau’ By Enrico Somogyi, Germany

For some years the Jellyfish lake was closed. Now it has been reopened . I tried a split shot for this beautiful creature. The flash was positioned close to the port and I used a fixed focus, because the autofocus from compact cameras is too slow. I used a small domeport with around 12cm diameter. It was not easy to handle. But in the end I captured it.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#57 Up & Coming Category: ‘Dancing Mantis Shrimp’ By Pascal Rusch, Switzerland

This shot was actually taken on one of my very first black water dives 2019 in Tulamben (Bali/Indonesia) approximately 300 meters from the shore and 10 meters below the surface.

Since my wife and I started diving 4 years ago, we have always been fascinated by the special personality of mantis shrimps and I was lucky enough having this little fellow dancing right in front of my lens for several seconds.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

#58 British Waters Wide Angle Category: ‘Cuckoo In The Blue (Male Cuckoo Wrasse With Kelp)’ By Simon Temple, UK

This image was taken at around 20m on a reef to the east of the Eddystone Lighthouse in September last year. The day’s diving was arranged by Devon Searchsearch and was my first invitation with that group. I went prepared to shoot using a Tokina 10-17 and a Kenko 1.4 teleconverter thinking this would give me lots of possibilities depending on the group’s chosen dive sites and a variety of conditions. Luckily, the conditions underwater turned out to be exceptional! The visibility was in excess of 18m and with a little sunshine, the water appeared a wonderful shade of blue. Overwhelmed with possibilities I decided to take advantage of the common and very obliging cuckoo wrasse who, by defending their territory, return again and again to the camera. I wanted to capture the rare deep blue of this offshore site so opted for low strobe power and a higher ISO.

Image credits: Underwater Photographer Of The Year

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