An astounding photo of five whale sharks, feeding together at night in the waters of the Maldives has seen Rafael Fernandez Caballero from Spain triumph over 4200 entries by underwater photographers from 71 countries and crowned as Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022.
Fernandez’s photograph, ‘Giants Of The Night’ features five whale sharks feeding together on nocturnal plankton that have been concentrated in the lights of a boat which captures a unique event, taken in demanding conditions/
‘It was already incredible when one whale shark came to our boat,’ said Fernandez. ‘But more and more kept arriving. I was diving with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe it as their numbers grew. He counted 11 sharks that night – a once in a lifetime encounter that nobody thought was possible.;
‘This image took my breath away from the first viewing and I never tired coming back to it,’ said competition judge, Peter Rowlands. ‘Scale, light and the sheer numbers of big subjects, this was, by some distance, our winning image.’
‘Photography needs light and simply recording these giants in a dark ocean is a massive achievement,’ added fellow judge, Alex Mustard. ‘To do this with such beautiful light and careful composition of the five sharks is outstanding.’
Other winners included Matty Smith, named British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 for his ‘Great White Split’ portrait of a great white shark taken in the Neptune Islands, South Australia; Thien Nguyen Ngoc from Vietnam, who was named ‘The Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022 for his aerial photo ‘Big Appetite’, featuring two boats trawling for anchovies in Phu Yen province of Vietnam; Quico Abadal, from Spain, won the accolade for Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 for his creative image ‘Supernova In Paradise’; and finally, Finland’s Pekka Tuuri, for his picture ‘All You Need Is Love’, of mating frogs, which won the My Backyard award for pictures taken close to home.
Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition, based in the UK, that celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. British photographer Phil Smith was the first underwater Photographer of the Year, named in 1965. Today’s competition attracts entries from all around the world, has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters. This year’s judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.
‘Restriction on travel over the last year may have stopped many photographers visiting their favourite waters, but it hasn’t stifled their creativity,’ said Alex Mustard. ‘The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest aims to celebrate underwater photography in all its forms and we are delighted that many of this year’s awarded images come from home countries and some are even taken in swimming pools
Category Winner and Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022
Category: Wide Angle
‘Giants of the Night‘ – Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2022
Location: Ari Atoll, Maldives; Camera: Nikonz7 II; Lens: Nikon 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED FISHEYE NIKKOR AF-S; ISO: 5000; Aperture: f/4.2; Shutter: 1/80; Lighting: One OrcaTorch D950V; Housing: Isotta Z7II/Z6II
In the ocean, magic can always happen. But sometimes, you only can think you’re dreaming. This was the case that night in the Maldives.
At the beginning of the night, one whale shark came to the light of our boat BlueForce One, we jumped in the water and then another whale shark came. We were so happy when, a couple of hours later, out of the blue, madness happened and whale sharks started to come in big numbers. I was together with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We counted at the same time 11 whale sharks surrounding us. It was a unique moment that no one there had thought it could even be possible. Magic happens in the ocean every day, but if we don’t protect the oceans and sharks, these moments will soon be a thing of the past.
It is said that Jacques Cousteau only saw three whale sharks in his whole life, so a photo of five together is something special. But this stunning image is about far more numbers, although it required precision timing to find a moment that they would all fit in the frame and with all their faces visible. In the dead of night, the biggest migration of life on earth occurs when billions of plankton rise from the depths. And here have aggregated in the golden lights of a boat providing a feast fit for giants. Darkness was the opportunity, but also the photographic challenge for Rafael to see and successfully photograph such a grand scene in the inky sea. What a spectacle, a frame with more life than water. – Alex Mustard
Category Runner Up and British Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022
‘Great White Split – Matty Smith/UPY 2022
Location: North Neptune Islands, Australia; Camera: NikonZ6II; Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8 S Series; ISO: 2800; Aperture: F8; Shutter: 1/1000; Lighting natural light; Housing: Aquatica Digital
I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait of a great white shark for a couple of years. Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own carbon pole and remote trigger. This enabled me to safely lower my camera and housing into the water with my own 12” split shot dome port attached. Surprisingly the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera with no extra bait needed, in fact, it was a battle to stop them from biting the dome port! We had wonderfully calm seas and nice evening side lighting for this naturally lit image.
This split shot of a Great White Shark truly has some character. Excellent work by the photographer by trying out different techniques until he got the result he wanted. A truly deserved ‘Runner Up’ in this category. – Tobias Friedrich
Category Winner and the ‘Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022
Category: Marine Conservation
‘Big Appetite’ – Thien Nguyen Ngoc/UPY 2022
Location: Hon Yen, Vietnam; Camera: Hasselblad DJI Mavic Pro 2; Lens: 28mm f/2.8; ISO: 100; Aperture: f/2.8; Shutter: 1/60; Lighting: none; Housing: none
An aerial perspective of busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen , Phu Yen province, Vietnam, many local fisherman families along the coastline will follow the near-shore currents to catch the anchovy during peak season. Salted anchovy is the most important raw material to create traditional Vietnamese fish sauce but anchovies are a little fish with a big impact. When they are overfished, the whales, tunas, sea birds… and other marine predators that rely on them as a dietary staple face starvation and population decline critically. And so far Vietnam is also facing this anchovy overfishing situation, according to the survey results of the Institute of Seafood Research, the reserves and catches of anchovies in the waters of Vietnam have decreased by 20-30 per cent in the past 10 years.
A stark visual reminder of man’s reach and control over the surrounding habitat and its devastating effect on the natural balance. – Peter Rowlands
Category Third and Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2022
Category: British Waters Macro
Diamonds and Rust – Paul Pettitt/UPY 2022
Location: Swanage Pier, England; Camera: NikonD500; Lens: 60mm; ISO: 250; Aperture: f22; Shutter: 1/200; Lighting: 1x inon 240; Housing: Nauticam
This picture was taken on a bright afternoon when I knew the sun would be on the west side of the Pier. The Sea Gooseberries had been around for a while and on this particular day, the water was like glass. I floated in the spot I wanted and waited for them to slowly drift by. The background colours represent the rust and weed growth on a metal crossbeam.
Images like this leap out despite being subtle. The colours are celebratory and the subject perfectly placed to produce a stand out image in this category. – Peter Rowlands
Category Winner and My Backyard Winner
All You Need Is Love – Pekka Tuuri/UPY 2022
Location: Vantaa, Finland; Camera: Canon5D Mark III; Lens: EF8-15 mm F4 + Kenko 1.4 teleconverter @15mm; ISO: 640; Aperture: 11; Shutter: 1/30; Lighting: Ambient; Housing: Subal 5DIII
All you need is love! This love pond is in my backyard, a 20-minute drive from home. And it has rewarded me plentifully over the past ten years. It is full of love in late April. The common frogs come first, then toads and finally newts. I spent four days and four nighttime sessions in it in 2021. I wore a drysuit with argon, lots of undergarments and a heated vest to survive in the five-degree water. I floated and stayed put among the frogs and quite soon they accepted me and my camera as a part of the scenery. The frogs climb on top of my camera, make grunting sounds in my ears and squeeze between my face and the backplate of the camera. The active spawning time lasts about two days and nights. What an experience with lots of photo ops!
This image truly made me laugh when I saw it the first time. What an iconic moment and excellent reaction by the remarkable Pekka Tuuri. He is truly one of the underwater photographers in the world who always came up with different ideas and outstanding, different images from places just around the corner from his home in Finland. Excellent composition and light, very well done. – Tobias Friedrich
Category Winner and Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022
Category: Up & Coming
‘Supernova in Paradise’ – Quico Abadal/UPY 2022
Location: Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand; Camera: Olympus EM-1 Mark II; Lens: 8mm PRO f/1.8; ISO: 200; Aperture: f/5; Shutter: 1/160; Lighting: Olympus UFL-3; Housing: Olympus
I first met Jeniya having breakfast at Zest, one of my favourite food spots in Koh Tao. We talked for a long time and we clicked quite well. A couple of days later we recorded a very cool video together. I knew I wanted to shoot more with her, she moved quite poetically underwater. So after a couple of months, we met at the end of Sairee beach. She was wearing a stunning long white dress and we just planned to shoot mostly split shots with the sunset. I’d use the strobes to illuminate the underwater scene and the sun would do the rest. It was a pretty challenging shot since I didn’t have any fins or a wetsuit, so I would easily sink. Also, it was tricky to gain focus properly on the subject. What I like about this photograph is the imperfection of backscatter, recreating space and making it perfect to me.
In this category, we are always looking for exciting new talent bringing fresh visions to underwater photography. This image is a fabulous example. Simple subject matter, elevated into an artistic vision by the imagination, ideas and talent of the photographer and model. – Alex Mustard
Category Winner and My Backyard Runner Up
Mimicry – Javier Murcia/UPY 2022
Location: La Azohia, España; Camera: NikonD850; Lens: Nikon AF Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8D; ISO: 200; Aperture: f/8; Shutter: 1/250; Lighting: Inon z330; Housing: Isotta D850
This image is the result of many hours working with the species that live in the seagrass meadows. Both species, both the pipefish (Syngnathus abaster) and the green prawn (Hippolyte sp.) live on the leaves of seagrasses. It is not the first time that I have seen this curious behaviour; I have been able to observe it on 4 or 5 occasions but I had never been able to take a good photo of it (after many hours and days looking for the moment). Sometimes the shrimp would move and other times the pipefish would quickly hide in my presence. The pipefish looks like a seagrass leaf and for this reason, some prawns merge with its body thinking that they are leaves that move. Both are mimetic species.
A natural history story concentrated and distilled by the photographer’s composition into a graphically powerful and minimalist photo. This is a special moment, capturing the meeting of the seagrass shrimp and the seagrass pipefish, both in perfect focus.- Alex Mustard
Winner – Category: Wrecks
Abandoned Ship – Alex Dawson Photogprahy/UPY2022
Location: Tyrifjord wreck, Norway; Camera: NikonD850; Lens: Nikkor 8-15mm fisheye; ISO: 500; Aperture: F4.5; Shutter: 1/50; Lighting: 1x Bigblue light’ Housing: Sea&Sea MDX-D850
The wreck of Tyrifjord is one of the favourite wrecks in the Gulen dive resort area of Norway. She sits in approximately 40 metres and is very sheltered from most winds. This is one of the dives we always try to do on our wreck safari that we try to do almost every year. We are a mixed group of Norwegians, Swedish, Danish and Dutch that usually meet up. The highlight of the wreck is always the huge extra steering wheel in the aft. You can see the 50+ foot dive boat up on the surface from 40 meters depth at the top.
Excellent composed image of a truly not easy subject. With poor visibility and lighting conditions, wrecks in those depths are not easy to photograph. Alex did a great job by a minimalistic, but also intense and dramatic lighting of the steering wheel, maybe one of the most recognizable part of a ship, which drags the viewer straight into it. I knew immediately when I saw the image for the first time that it would go far in the competition. – Tobias Friedrich
Winner – Category: Portrait
Rapunzel on Fire ,-) – Thomas Heckmann/UPY 2022
Location: Own underwater photo studio, Deutschland; Camera: NikonD800E; Lens: Nikkor 16-35 mm @ 20mm; ISO: 100; Aperture: 13; Shutter: 1/200; Lighting: Subtronic Mega, Nova, pro160, Fusion, Retra Snoot; Housing: Seacam
Our image Idea was to create a completely black silhouette in the foreground, but at the same time make eye contact with the viewer. To make the hair glow, the camera settings were for the silhouette and three powerful strobes were needed, hidden in the background. These background strobes were triggered by long cables and an additional RSU . For the face, I used a combination of video light/strobe (Subtronic Fusion) with Retra LSD snoot for the front.
This highly unusual image using strong colours and contrasts had a winning appeal that endured every time. – Peter Rowlands
Winner – Category: Black & White
Sarah’s Underwater World – Kerrie Burow/UPY 2022
Location: Central Queensland, Australia; Camera: CanonEOS 5D Mark IV; Lens: EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM; ISO: 200; Aperture: f/9.0; Shutter: 1/250; Lighting: Inon Z-330; Housing: Isotta
This shot was taken a year into the Coronavirus pandemic; my 7-year-old niece Sarah stares with wonder into my housing dome while on one breath underwater.
The scene portrays the therapeutic power of water which so many of us experienced during the pandemic. The underwater world offered peace, comfort and hope – for the anxious, the depressed and the grieving. It gave us a chance to feel joy and adventure again as well as freedom from the heavyweight of the pandemic – even if just for a moment while on one breath.
The portrait was taken using an unobtrusive photojournalist technique. I minimalised my presence, gave no instructions to Sarah and, instead, allowed the scene to evolve naturally.
Haunting yet compelling, this very striking portrait uses the simplicity of black and white to great effect. Colour would have been so distracting. – Peter Rowlands
Winner – Category: Compact
‘Peace’ – Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022
Location: Pond in Leipzig, Germany; Camera: Sony RX100vii; Lens: Fantasea UWL-09; ISO: 160; Aperture: f/8; Shutter: 1/2000; Lighting: 3x Backscatter Miniflash; Housing: Fantasea
Once a year at the end of March it is mating time for the toads. It lasts only a few days and only at this time is it possible to get very close to them. Normally they are very shy. I was trying to get a split shot with this toad when he started to crawl on my small domeport. I got some pictures from this action and this was my favourite pic.
The Compact Category is subjectless which makes it hard to shoot for and even harder to judge but this well lit, unambiguous image created an appeal that was unanimous with the judges. – Peter Rowlands
Winner – Category: British Waters Wide Angle
‘Gannet Storm’ – Henley Spiers/UPY 2022
Location: Shetland, Scotland, UK; Camera: NikonD850; Lens: Nikon 28-70mm @ 35mm with Nauticam WACP-1; ISO: 125; Aperture: f/22; Shutter: 1/8
Lighting: 2 x Inon Z240; Housing: Nauticam NA D850
A northern gannet swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds. 40,000 gannets visit the nearby cliffs annually to lay and care for a single egg, fishing for food nearby. Hitting the frigid water faster than an Olympic diver, these incredible birds have evolved airsacs in the head and chest to survive these repeated heavy impacts. From underwater, the sound was thunderous as streamlined, white torpedos pierced the surface. I wanted to create a novel image of these handsome seabirds and resolved to try and capture their movement through a slow exposure. The speed of the gannets led to innumerable failures but in this frame we retain strong eye contact with the gannet, even as the scene is artistically softened. With great thanks to Richard Shucksmith, without whom this encounter with the gannets would not have been possible.
That eye and this moment. A powerful picture. Diving gannets have won this category before, but we’ve never had a portrait like this, that reveals both the personality of this predator and the energy of the action. – Alex Mustard
Winner – Category: British Waters Macro
‘Best Buddies’ – Dan Bolt/UPY 2022
Location: Loch Carron, Scotland, UK; Camera: OlympusOM-D E-M1; Lens: Olympus 60mm macro; ISO: 500; Aperture: f/8; Shutter: 1/250; Lighting: 2x Sea & Sea YS-D1 ; Housing: Aquatica A-EM1
2021 was the 10 year anniversary of my first trip to the beautiful Loch Carron, and in all that time it has never failed to produce stunning underwater images with its diverse array of marine inhabitants. My buddies know that I’m not very good at finding Yarrels blennies, and it was no exception on this dive either. We were diving on an area of reef I’d not previously explored, and after an excited squeal and waving of a torch in my direction I dropped down to see that my buddy had found not one, but two beautiful little blennies holed up in a crack in the rock.
Having my long macro lens on was an advantage as I could stand off from the reef enough to get some light into their home so we could all see their somewhat bemused little faces. Best buddies for sure!
The eyes have it and the tentacles seal it. Framed well and lit beautifully, it’s a classic. – Peter Rowlands
Winner – Category: British Waters Living Together
‘A peaceful coexistence’ – Lewis Michael Jefferies /UPY 2022
Location: Falmouth, Cornwall, England; Camera: Sony A7iii; Lens: Sony 16-35; ISO: 320; Aperture: f22; Shutter: 1/250; Lighting: 2x Inon Z240; Housing: Nauticam A7riii
In the summer months jellyfish frequent the British isles in larger numbers thought to be attracted by the warmer waters. The summer of 2021 was no exception and there were huge numbers of these Compass jellyfish in Falmouth Bay. It was a perfect summers evening – clear and calm with hardly a breath of wind. We grabbed the paddleboard and camera and headed to the beach in search of jellyfish. I had a sunset shot like this – loosely – in mind and fortunately, all the elements lined up to create something quite memorable.
I hope my image can inspire others to explore and appreciate the wonders that are found right in our backyard, in British waters.
This image truly reflects the spirit of this category. It’s also perfectly executed with the right moment when the lens beam is just behind the SUP paddler. Very well done and for me from the beginning I saw this image as the favourite winner for this category. – Tobias Friedrich
Category Winner and My Backyard Highly Commended
Category: British Waters Compact
‘Rock pool star’ – Martin Stevens/UPY 2022
Location: Cornwall (Falmouth), UK; Camera: CanonG9X MKII; Lens: Weefine WFL-02 Fisheye; ISO: 160; Aperture: f/11; Shutter: 1/60; Lighting: Natural light; Housing: Fantasea FG9X
Living from shallow down to deep water and reaching impressive sizes, spiny starfish are abundant in Cornwall. I’ve often taken photos of them underwater, but on a low tide, they can be found in the exposed rock pools. Last year we had very low spring tides, and I wanted to attempt some split shots of a starfish in the pools. So, I attached a fisheye wet lens and was lucky with bright conditions, and after a while came across a large starfish in a gully flanked by exposed kelp. The water was clear and calm, and given that starfish aren’t the quickest of creatures I could compose some photos with the gully and kelp behind and a little of the starfish showing through the water from above. At the same time, seaweed is most vibrant in the spring, which added a splash of red colour to the scene.
Excellent example of what can be done in your backyard with the least effort. Very nice composition and good catch to see the opportunity in this situation. Even though I wish it would have been cropped a little bit more to straighten the horizon. – Tobias Friedrich