The Underwater Photography Guide has announced the winners of its 2021 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition. While travel restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic continue to present challenges to travelling photographers, the 10th annual competition has proven once more a testament to the high calibre of talent found among the global community of underwater artists.
This year’s Best of Show is unique among previous Ocean Art competition winners for featuring freshwater fish – a pair of pike locked in a ferocious battle captured by photographer Luc Rooman at the Domein Muisbroek dive site near Antwerp, Belgium.
Other Ocean Art 2021 category winners include stirring black & white scenes in the competition’s Black & White category; images that bring hope and solutions for ocean conservation; exhibitions of imaginative photographic technique; and dramatic animal portraits. Judges Tony Wu, Mark Strickland, and Marty Snyderman evaluated thousands of entries from 81 countries before selecting the final set of images.
Over $35,000 in prizes were awarded, with the top prizes including trips aboard the Indonesian liveaboards Coralia, Oceanic and Ondina and resort packages at Villa Markisa in Bali, Eco Divers Lembeh, Siladen Resort & Spa and El Galleon/Asia Divers in the Philippines. Premium gear prizes were provided by Sea & Sea, SeaLife, Ikelite, and Think Tank.
13 different categories were available in the 2021 Ocean Art Competition to ensure a competitive contest for all levels and disciplines of underwater photography. Entries received covered a wide range of novel photographic techniques and fresh ideas, according to the competition’s publishers.
‘We were excited to see photographers continue to travel locally and internationally to capture amazing photos,’ said Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Travel owner and Underwater Photography Guide publisher, Scott Gietler. ‘For the incredible best of show, they did not have to travel far. To obtain such a gripping / jaw-biting / jaw-dropping photo, the photographer almost had to have had a personal relationship with these two fish!’
The winning photographs in each category are shown below. For a complete list of winners and honourable mentions, visit the Underwater Photography Guide at www.uwphotographyguide.com/ocean-art-contest-winners-2021
Best in Show and First Place: Marine Life Behavior
Luc Rooman – ‘Snoeken’
The Story: This photograph was captured during a night dive in October at the dive site, Domein Muisbroek, near Antwerp, Belgium. To my surprise, I came across these fighting pike. I was lucky enough to photograph a whole series of pictures of these two pike.
Location: Domein Muisbroek, Belgium
Equipment Used: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, Nikon 60 mm lens, Hugyfot underwater housing, Subtonic strobes
Camera Settings: f/14, 125, ISO 200
First Place: Wide Angle
Eduardo Acevedo – ‘Family’
The Story: A group of pilot whales resides in clear waters in the southwest of the channel between the islands of Tenerife and La Gomera. We can see adult females with calves and juvenile whales swimming together. It is normal to see this group of interrelated individuals apart from the big males. This image combines the pilot whales with the reflections created by the crystal seas.
Location: Los Gigantes, Tenerife Island, Canary Islands, Spain
Equipment Used: Canon 5D Mark IV, Seacam Housing for Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon lens 15mm. No strobe
Camera Settings: f/9, 1/100 , ISO 200
First Place: Macro
Nigel Motyer – ‘Blenny Grabs A Quick Meal’
The Story: This is a shot taken on a night dive where we were looking for the famous epaulette walking sharks. This little guy caught my eye and I stayed with him for a few images hoping to get some portraits. I loved the colour around the eyes and the expressive face so I thought he would make a great photo subject. As I shot some images, I noticed my lights attracted some zooplankton, and then I saw the blenny became really active feeding on the plankton. In the shot you can see the blenny lining up a strike on a passing copepod. I love the focus on the blenny’s face in this image.
Location: Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Equipment Used: Nikon D750 Camera. Nikon 105MM Macro Lens, Nauticam Housing, Dual Inon Z230 Strobes
Camera Settings: F32, 1/160 sec, ISO 640
First Place: Portrait
Paolo Bausani – ‘Joker’
The Story: This shot catches the moment when a fish opens its mouth wide showing the internal gills. The picture highlights the bright and vivid colour of male anthias, typical of the courtship period
Location: Italy, Argentario, Argentarola Rock
Equipment Used: Nikon D500 Camera, Nikkor 60mm Macro Lens, Nauticam Housing, Dual One Strobe
Camera Settings: F22, 1/17250, ISO 100
First Place: Coldwater
Matthew Sullivan – ‘Traffic Jam’
The Story: I anchored myself against a rock at the base of a small plunge pool and watched wave after wave of pink salmon cruise by and make the leap up the falls to head towards spawning grounds upstream. The fish are so singularly focused on their mission, they paid no mind to me at all, I was just part of their environment.
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Equipment Used: Nikon D500, Nikonos 13mm RS, Nauticam Housing, 2x Retra Flashes
Camera Settings: F7, 1/10 sec, ISO 160
First Place: Nudibranch
Salvatore Ianniello – ‘Spawning’
The Story: A Godiva quadricolor spawning, seen from below. This photo was taken in the Mediterranean in a lagoon of the Gulf of Naples, Italy.
Location: Naples, Italy
Equipment Used: Nikon 800e Camera, Nikon 60mm Macro Lens, +4 Macro Wet Lens, Dual Inon Z240 Strobes
Camera Settings: F28, 1/320 sec, ISO 160
First Place: Blackwater
Steven Kovacs – ‘Reflections’
The Story: Occasionally during a blackwater dive, flying fish can be found cruising along the surface with their reflections visible. The challenge of trying to obtain a photograph showing this phenomenon is the movement of the water on the surface that tends to toss divers around, thus making it very difficult to stabilize and frame a picture at the right angle. Occasionally conditions are good enough to allow for such pictures.
Location: Palm Beach, Florida
Equipment Used: Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm Macro Lens, Ikelite Housing, Dual Ikelite DS160 Strobes
Camera Settings: F29, 1/250 sec, ISO 320
First Place: Underwater Conservation
Catherine Holmes – ‘Coral Tree’
The Story: In this image, a diver examines the progress of coral fragment growth on a coral tree, set up by CORALL, Coral Reef Restoration Alliance in Barbados to propagate new coral growth from live fragments.
As highlighted at COP26 this year, coral reefs are the superstars of the ocean, being one of the most biodiverse ecosystems, home to almost half the fish species, absorbing 97 per cent of wave activity protecting landmasses and critical to the livelihoods of millions worldwide.
Coral restoration projects have been set up in many locations across the world, trying to combat the unprecedented loss of habitat-forming hard corals over recent decades caused by rising water temperatures, pollution, disruptive fishing practices, disease, and local predators like crown of thorns starfish. Global warming causing coral bleaching after high water temperatures has however had the most profound negative effect of all.
Restoration projects vary in methodology. In Barbados, like the Caymans and Maldives, coral gardens have been constructed to act as nurseries for the growing fragments of coral prior to transplantation back onto the damaged reefs. Artificial trees are suspended from the surface by flotation devices allowing the fragments of coral attached to the branches to be bathed by moving currents.
There is a high percentage of success in the growth of branching corals and a survival rate of 66 per cent, but there is a need for global efforts for restoration on a large scale. At present the many fragmented local efforts, that whilst effective in the short time, long term do not yet have sufficient impact, and are always susceptible to climate disasters.
Equipment Used: Nikon D500 Camera, Nauticam Housing, Dual Inon Z330 Strobes. Nikon 8-15mm Fisheye Lens
Camera Settings: F13, 1/250, ISO 400
First Place: Underwater Art
Jenny Stock – ‘Magical Fairy Wisps’
The Story: While diving in Cuba I caught some captivating images of vivid fairy basslet. The complementary colours of this fish lent themselves to artistic creation. Through the use of masks and filters in post-processing, I crafted the basslet bodies to disperse into wisps of colourful smokey clouds against a jet black background.
Location: Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
Equipment Used: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100mm Macro Lens, Nauticam Housing, Dual Inon Strobes
Camera Settings: F25, 1/100, ISO 500
First Place: Black & White
Tom St George – ‘Family’
The Story: I joined Ellen Cuylaerts and my partner Julia Gugelmeier for a cave dive at Cenote Zacil Ha. After spending some time swimming through some very small passages the cave suddenly opens up and presents you with these giant speleothems which took millennia to form. The diver, Ellen, is dwarfed by the massive columns as she hovers awestruck and motionless, while Julia uses a video light to expertly backlight her and stay completely hidden from the camera (photographing in underwater caves is always a team effort!).
This image worked particularly well for me in black and white with the interplay of light and shadow, and the incredible textures revealed by the backlighting – most of the light is coming from the off-camera video light with the on-camera strobes used to add just a touch of fill.
Location: Cenote Zacil Ha, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Equipment Used: Sony A7SII, Sigma 15mm fisheye (with Metabones adapter), Nauticam Housing, Nauticam 8.5″ Dome Port, 2 x Inon Z330 Strobes, Big Blue 30K Lumen Video Light
Camera Settings: F8, 1/125 sec, ISO 6400
First Place: Compact Wide Angle
Kate Rister – ‘Motherhood’
The Story: Humpback whale mothers and their calves are seen annually in the shallow waters off of Moorea, Tahiti – typically between August and October. It’s important to approach a mother and calf slowly and with respect – not every pair will stay in the area once they spot you. We were fortunate that this mother was quite comfortable in our presence, even encouraging her shy calf to get a closer look at us by pushing him towards us with her nose.
Location: Moorea, Tahiti
Equipment Used: Sony RXIV 100, Nauticam Housing, Nauticam Wide Angle Wet Lens
Camera Settings: F5, 1/160 sec, ISO 320
First Place: Compact Macro
Kathrin Landgraf-Kluge – ‘Party Time’
The Story: I took this photo during my first diving holiday in Egypt last year. I had just gotten a new camera before that I wanted to test there. I didn’t know what to expect and I was hoping for some tiny underwater critters, which are my favourites. It was at the end of a dive at the house reef and we were just heading to the exit when a diver from another group grabbed me and showed me this gathering of Idiomysis shrimps. I had seen solitary Idiomysis shrimps before but I had never seen anything comparable to this. An ‘Idiomysis shrimp party’ with hundreds of them staying together in one place. Unbelievable! The biggest challenge in taking this photo was to get them into focus because they were super tiny with a size of less than 3mm each, and they were moving together like a small swarm of bees.
Location: Egypt, Makadi Bay
Equipment Used: Canon G7X Mark IIII, Dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 Strobes , 5+ and 15+ Macro Lenses
Camera Settings: F11, 1/100 sec, ISO 160
First Place: Compact Behavior
PT Hirschfield – ‘Mating Seahorses’
The Story: After many hundreds of dives with the Mornington Peninsula’s Bigbelly seahorses and observing these animals in their pre-mating dances which can last for several days, this was my first opportunity to witness a female transferring her eggs into the male’s pouch.
I had just descended from the Rye Pier divers’ platform and had not yet done any test shots on my camera when I noticed the seahorses already joined at the abdomen in the water column in the distance. They quickly separated and I wondered whether I had missed my only opportunity to document their union.
As the pair settled back onto the sand, I noticed that they stayed close to each other and seemed to continue their dancing ritual, moving gracefully and flirtatiously around each other, so I suspected their union was not yet finished. I waited and watched for a few more minutes while quickly trying to adjust my camera settings to something that might work to capture their mating act should they come together again.
When they started to rise again into the water column, I kept a slight distance so as not to spook them, being prepared to crop my image slightly in order to capture the action without disturbing it by being too close. It was exhilarating to finally cross this special act of seahorse egg transfer (which lasted only a few brief moments) from my underwater photography Bucket List.
Location: Rye Pier, Victoria, Australia
Equipment Used: Canon G12 Camera, Sea & Sea YS-D2J Strobe
Camera Settings: F7.1, 1/125 sec, ISO 100
For more from The Underwater Photography Guide and the complete list of Ocean Art 2021 winners, visit www.uwphotographyguide.com
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