See Award-Winning Underwater Photos From Around the World

These 13 photos were among those recognized by the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, which showcases the best in underwater photography.

An intimate photo of an octopus swimming through shallow waters earned underwater photographer Gabriel Barathieu the Underwater Photographer of the Year award for his photo "Dancing Octopus." Barathieu's winning photograph was taken in a lagoon off the coast of the small island Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.

"The way it moves is so different from any predator on land," said competition judge Alex Mustard. "This truly could be an alien from another world.

Barathieu exercised an immense amount of patience to wait for the right shot, saying: “I had to wait for a low spring tide when the water was just 30cm deep so that the octopus would fill the water column. I got as close as possible with a wide angle lens to create this image, which makes the octopus look huge.”

Over 4,500 photographs from 67 different countries were entered into this year's contest. The competition is held by UPY London, which consists of judges experienced in underwater photography who convene to recognize the best in their field. This year's panel consisted of photographers Martin Edge, Alex Mustard, and Peter Rowlands, the latter of whom has published photos in National Geographic magazine. The contest was created as an offshoot of the British Society of Underwater Photographers, and thus has award categories specifically allocated for British citizens.

Photographer Nick Blake received the prestigious British Underwater Photographer of the Year award for this photo "Out of the Blue," taken in a freshwater sinkhole in Mexico. The sinkhole, Chac Mool Cenote, produced a spectacular light effect as the sun lit and reflected off the dark waters.

"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. My journey from diver to underwater photographer has brought many amazing photographic opportunities and I feel humbled and privileged that this image has achieved such recognition." - Nick Blake
PHOTOGRAPH BY NICK BLAKE, UPY 2017

Blake said of his approach: "Underwater photographers can move freely in three dimensions, so I adjusted my position in the water to capture the symmetrical framing of the light beams by the rocks."

"I love the enclosure of the light within the cenote," said competition judge Martin Edge. "The composition contains all the sunlight so that the eye of the viewer cannot escape."

The contest's Up and Coming Underwater Photographer and Most promising British Underwater Photographer of the Year awards went to Horacio Martinez and Nicholai Georgiou respectively.

Several other photographers were recognised in the contest's other categories of wide angle, macro, wrecks, behaviour, portrait, compact, and British waters wide angle. Winning images displayed a variety of underwater scenes from an intimate photo of a whale and her calf, to the wreckage of an aircraft sunk during WWII.

"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 seamount '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 been 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 a few minutes of being completely still, this big congregation of big-eye jacks came and completely surrounded me. A magic moment!" - Edwar Herreño
PHOTOGRAPH BY EDWAR HERREÑO, UPY 2017

"This photo was taken at sunset during a St. John’s safari in Egypt, last March. Almost at the end of the dive we came across a smack of jellyfish swimming close to the surface. I could not resist photographing this beautiful creature with the sunset in the background. After a few shots using strobes to enhance the shape of the jellyfish I got the photo I was satisfied with."- Patryk Pinski
PHOTOGRAPH BY PATRYK PINSKI, UPY 2017

"Towards the end of the dive I suddenly saw a nice anemone with clownfish. After some minutes I focused on the clownfish. I took several pictures through the aluminium tube that mounted on my port so I obtained a round mirror effect" - Luc Rooman
PHOTOGRAPH BY LUC ROOMAN, UPY 2017

"The back-lit paddle flap Rhinopias was taken near Scuba Seraya, Tulamben, Bali. I spent almost the whole dive with guide “Paing” (who kindly aimed my snoot for me) trying to get a decent back-lit shot of the Rhinopias. I took 30 to 40 frames to get the lighting right and get a black background, which was difficult as it was daylight and at only 12 meters. I used two Inon Z240 strobes to light the fish. One strobe was fitted with a Retra LSD snoot and was hand held; the second strobe was very low power to provide a bit of front-fill light. I was pleased to get a good Rhinopias shot having failed the day before trying to photograph a lacy purple Rhinopias at 33 meters running out of deco time." - John Parker
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN PARKER, UPY 2017

"With my friends, we planned to dive in April, the best moment to observe this extraordinary fish, just after the phytoplankton bloom. During the day the water was very clear but it gradually becomes loaded with macroplankton (jellyfish, ctenophores, etc.). The first observation of the Regalec occurred at dusk. It probably followed the vertical migration of plankton. This image was taken at night. Going up from the depths parallel to the chain of the buoy (anchored on a bottom of 2300 meters), this individual was observed several times for a few seconds or tens of seconds, moving away or disappearing in the depths to reappear a few meters further away. I was able to take several shots of this beautiful and exceptional fish, but he disappeared again into the darkness all too soon. It was an amazing human and naturalist experience." - Nicolas Cimiterra
PHOTOGRAPH BY NICOLAS CIMITERRA, UPY 2017

"This USAAF B-17G Flying Fortress crash-landed on approach to the island of Vis, Croatia after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing raid over Europe in 1944, which killed the co-pilot Ernest Vienneau. The surviving crew escaped in dinghies. This spectacular wreck of a famous World War 2 bomber is in remarkable condition and lies at 72 metres. I only had one dive on the wreck and the depth gave me very limited time in which to work so good communication between myself and my buddy, Andi Marovic was essential: I thoroughly briefed him on what I was trying to achieve before the dive so he could also visualise the image I was aiming for. I wanted to capture an image that showed the true scale of the aircraft so I shot with natural light and colour balanced the image during post processing." - Steve Jones
PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE JONES, UPY 2017

"I travelled to French Polynesia for a once-in-a-life moment of playing with a whale calf and I decided to devote a whole week to this. One morning, the magic happened. A mother and a calf were sleeping quietly at 15 meters. When they feel safe and unafraid, they can really come close to you. And this six-tonne, six-meter calf was amazingly playful. Strobes were not allowed but you don't need them. The contrast of the deep blue and the sunlight were enough. The difficulty was to be at the right place according to the sunlight and to get a gracious pose from the calf: another photographer on the other side, the whale posing, a few bubbles out of his blow-hole, a short eye contact, Click! Fixed in my memory forever." - Christophe Lapeze
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTOPHE LAPEZE, UPY 2017

"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 and 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 an endangered species." - Damien Mauric
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAMIEN MAURIC, UPY 2017

"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." - Greg Lecoeur
PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG LECOEUR, UPY 2017

"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." - Francis Pérez
PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANCIS PÉREZ, UPY 2017

"El Bajón is an impressive dive located at El Hierro Island marine reserve and, due to its non-fishing status in the area, some dusky groupers (Epinephelus marginatus) have been able to grow and reach large sizes (the species is classified as endangered in the IUCN Red List). It is interesting that these large specimens have grown accustomed to divers and, sometimes, they let photographers get close, or very close, like in this picture (other times they just ignore all divers). It is a pleasure just being able to dive with these giants and it is even better when they collaborate and stand looking at their reflection on the dome port for some minutes, letting the photographer experiment with light and composition." - Dave Baker
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE BAKER, UPY 2017

Header Image: "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. Also, I didn't need flash because I had lots of natural light." - Gabriel Barathieu PHOTOGRAPH BY GABRIEL BARATHIEU, UPY 2017

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit