The winners of the 12th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest, organised by the Underwater Photography Guide, have been announced. The latest iteration of the awards was held with strict rules against the use of AI-generated imagery.
‘Although the AI revolution has quickly changed the global photographic landscape,’ said UPG’s editor-in-chief, Nirupam Nigam, ‘this year’s winners are a testament to humanity’s creative perseverance over machine. With new rules against the use of generative AI imagery in our primary categories, these photos are 100 per cent real.
‘This year’s best-in-show image features a rare and fascinating portrait of a crab-eating macaque resolutely swimming through the ocean, captured by Suliman Alatiqi. The photo is a result of weeks of planning and documentation, and it represents the zeal and commitment needed to capture the world’s best underwater image.’
More than $120,000 of prizes were awarded in this year’s contest – the largest prize fund in the Ocean Art Competition’s history; possibly the world – provided by some of the world’s top scuba diving resorts, liveaboard operators and underwater photo gear manufacturers.
The Ocean Art 2023 contest featured 14 different categories, in which thousands of entries were submitted from more than 90 countries. Judging was carried out by prestigious underwater photographers Tony Wu, Mark Strickland and Marty Snyderman.
Check out the winning entries in each category below. A complete list of the winning photos, runners-up and honourable mentions can be seen on the Underwater Photography Guide’s Ocean Art 2023 Winners Page.
Best in Show and winner, Portrait Category
‘Aquatic Primate’, by Suliman Alatiqi
The Story: During fieldwork at Phi Phi Islands, Thailand, spanning several weeks, I focused my efforts on documenting the maritime behavior of the Crab-eating macaque with particular focus on their water forages. The macaques have adapted very well to living around the sea and will venture into the water for various reasons including transportation, scavenging, cooling down and playing. Highly efficient swimmers, they can dive for up to half a minute and can cover short distances faster than most humans. This photo offers a rare glimpse of the swimming movement of a male macaque.
Location: Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Equipment Used: Nikon D850, Nauticam NA-D850 Housin, Nikon 8-15mm AF-S FISHEYE f/3.5-4.5E ED, Sea & Sea YS-D2J strobe
Camera Settings: Aperture: F18, shutter speed: 1/250 sec, ISO 640
Winner, Wide Angle
‘Bunk Buddies’ – Suliman Alatiqi
The Story: Whitetip reef sharks are one of the few shark species that rest in place. At Roca Partida, a small island, real estate is limited for the many whitetips that live there and they can often be seen bunking together. I wanted to get a photo of all of them facing me and with a lot of patience and a careful approach I managed to do so.
Location: Roca Partida, Mexico
Equipment Used: Nikon D850, Nauticam D850 Housing, Nikon 8-15mm AF-S Fisheye NIKKOR f/3.5-4.5E ED Len, Seacam 160D Strobes
Camera Settings: Aperture: F14 Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec ISO: 640
Alberto Casati – ‘Cavalluccio’
The Story: During the dive, I saw this little subject and I decide to take the picture using a snoot with technical backlighting.
Location: Puerto Galera, Mindoro, Philippines
Equipment Used: Canon 5D Mark III, Sea & Sea Canon 5D Mark III Housing, Sigma 70mm F2.8 DG Macro Art Lens, Inon Z330 Strobes with Snoot
Camera Settings: Aperture: F16 Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec ISO: 100
Winner, Marine Life Behavior
Kenji Sato – ‘The Birthday’
The Story: Black cardinal fish live in shallow coastal waters, and males raise eggs they receive from females in their mouth (mouth brooder). The eggs hatch in about a week. Until they hatch, males stay still behind a rock and feed the eggs with fresh seawater. At first, I did not know when the eggs would hatch, but after a few observations, I could tell when the eggs would hatch. Hatching occurs within a few hours after sunset. At the moment of hatching, the father swims upward and spits out the babies in an instant. So, it’s difficult to take a picture.
It is said that the number of fries in a single hatching is about 20,000, so the moment of hatching is quite impressive. As soon as the babies hatched, they scattered all over the place. I hope that many of the fry will grow up and survive next year.
Location: Miura Peninsula in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Equipment Used: Canon EOS 7D, Zillion ZAP7D, Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM, Inon Z-240,Fisheye FIX NEO Premium
Camera Settings: Aperture: F7.75 Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec ISO: 320
Alessandro Giannaccini – ‘Lunch Time’
The Story: In the photo, an Italian green frog is seen devouring an insect, specifically a scolopendra. This remarkable moment occurred during lunchtime at Porta Lake, a protected natural area—a muddy swamp teeming with aquatic plants, insects, and amphibians located in Tuscany, Italy. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I witnessed this unique and swift scene unfold. The entire sequence lasted only a few seconds. In an instant, the frog skillfully captured and consumed the scolopendra, resulting in a sophisticated yet fortuitous photograph!
Location: Porta Lake, Tuscany, Italy
Equipment Used: Nikon D850, Isotta Nikon D850 Underwater Housing, Nikon 8-15mm NIKKOR Lens, Dual Subtronic Alfa Pro
Camera Settings: Aperture: F29 Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec ISO: 100
Peter Pogany – ‘After the Wedding’
The Story: In the past two years I dove in Anilao on three separate occasions. We encountered this species on our first tour and were delighted to find that they were mating. My two diving buddies busied themselves with the nudibranchs, and by the time it was my turn I had no air left. I hardly hoped to get a second chance to observe this special event. But on our third tour I caught them ‘in flagranti’.
Location: Anilao, Batangas, Philippines
Equipment Used: Sony A7R IV, Nauticam A7R IV Housing, Sony FE 90mm f2.8 Macro Lens, Backscatter Mini Flash 2 with Backscatter Optical Snoot
Camera Settings: Aperture: F18 Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec ISO: 200
Keigo Kawamura – ‘Squid Hunting’
The Story: I collect and photograph floating creatures at night, Bonfire style. Many squid and shrimp will gather in the underwater torch. The squid in the photo is known to be the smallest in the world, and the pygmy squid successfully preyed on a shrimp as large as its own body. Pygmy squid eat shrimp by inserting their mouths into the gaps between their shells.
Equipment Used: Canon EOS R6, Marelux MX-R6 Housing, Canon EF 24-70mm F4L IS USM Lens, Retra Flash
Camera Settings: Aperture: F16 Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec ISO: 640
Winner, Underwater Conservation
Victor Huertas – ‘Release of Newborn Blacktip Shark During Study on Shark Adaptation to Climate Change’
The Story: Professor Jodie Rummer releases a newborn blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in Mo’orea, French Polynesia, after tagging it, and collecting biometric data. Professor Rummer leads Physioshark, a research team headquartered at James Cook University in Australia that investigates the impact of climate change on the physiological performance of newborn sharks in tropical shark nurseries. These habitats typically occur in shallow waters and are therefore highly exposed to rising temperatures and lower oxygen concentrations. Scientists are untangling the challenges newborn sharks face in such rapidly changing environmental conditions. Professor Rummer and her students have so far been able to show how despite the burden climate change is placing on the physiology of young sharks, these are displaying an exceptional resilience to these changes, giving scientists hope that they will be able to adjust to a warming ocean.
Location: Papeto’ai, Mo’orea, French Polynesia
Equipment Used: Canon 5D Mark II, Aquatica Canon 5D Mark II Housing, Sigma 15mm F2.8 Fisheye Len, Dual Ikelite DS161 Strobes
Camera Settings: Aperture: F14 Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec ISO: 160
Winner, Underwater Digital Art
Justin Lutsky – ‘Water Sprite’
The Story: ‘Water Sprite’ was captured in the crystal-clear waters of Florida’s natural springs. I’ve been travelling to Florida to shoot for years, as the springs’ clarity and natural beauty create a breathtaking canvas for underwater portraits. For this image, I worked with professional mermaid and underwater performer, Abbey Blake.
Everything in this image was shot practically and captured in-camera. Abbey wore a mesh bodysuit to which we attached the fairy wings, and together we ventured out into the springs in early January.
We captured this shot in fairly shallow waters, late in the afternoon after the sun started to dip below the tree line. I used mostly natural light, using the sun as a backlight, and just a small amount of front-fill light from my on-camera strobe.
Abbey and I would submerge simultaneously using a breath-hold technique, capturing multiple photos before resurfacing to review and discuss. To achieve a comfortable pose on the crevasse’s edge, Abbey had to exhale most of her air to fully descend.
The water temperature was a brisk 72 degrees, giving us a narrow window to capture the shot before the risk of hypothermia set in. Additionally, this location presented another hurdle, being a favoured spot for local cave divers. We frequently had to pause our attempts, waiting for divers to pass through the frame. This is where working with someone as talented as Abbey really helps. Her ability to perform under such demanding conditions and limiting time constraints made all the difference in our success in capturing the shot.
The majority of post-processing done was blending in the harsh, noticeable lines of the body suit as well as overall colour toning and levels adjustments to bring focus to the subject and enhance the overall drama of the underwater landscape.
Location: Ginnie Springs, Florida, USA
Equipment Used: Sony A7R III, Nauticam Sony A7R III Housing with Zen DP-230 Port, Sony 12-24mm Lens, Inon Z330 Strobe
Camera Settings: Aperture: F7.1 Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec ISO: 100
Winner, Black & White
Joergen Rasmussen – ‘Sealion playing in sardine ball’
The Story: Each November, sardines aggregate offshore the Mexican west coast. This in turn attracts many predators. Working with a local fisherman, we search the deep water offshore near the continental shelf and we spotted a lonely sea lion. The sea lion was chasing the sardines and the ball was constantly changing shape as the sealion broke it up.
Location: Magdalena, Baja California, Mexico
Equipment Used: Nikon D850, Seacam Nikon D850 Housing, Nikon 13mm RS Adapted Lens, Ambient Light
Camera Settings: Aperture: F7.1 Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec ISO: 400
Winner, Underwater Fashion
Lucie Drlikova – ‘Tea Party’
The Story: This photo is part of my project Once Upon a Dream in Waterland, which I have been working on since 2017. All the scenes are real, including the food and cakes, which were made from concrete and covered with special coloured foam, photographed underwater. Costumes, props, and scenes are handmade by me.
About my project Once Upon a Dream in Waterland: Once upon a time, in magical, enchanted depths, in the land of the endless water, there lived a girl named Stella. When she was born, her godmother, the Sea Angel, gave her the book ‘Once Upon a Dream in Waterland’. While Stella is sleeping, she is dreaming stories from her favourite fairytale book. Alice in Waterland is one of those stories.
The project represents a return to my childhood, to the stories that I imagined as a child and these are the stories, I wanted to tell one day to my daughter. Unfortunately, she was never born.
This is the reason I am working on my project, to tell the underwater stories and in the time this project became my baby.
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Equipment Used: Nikon Z7II, Nauticam Nikon Z7II Housing, Nikon 17-35mm Lens, Subtronic Strobes
Camera Settings: Aperture: F7.1 Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec ISO: 500
Compact Wide Angle
Bryat Turffs, ‘Beauty of the Swamp’
The Story: Exploring new environments, especially seldom visited ones, is one of the greatest pleasures of underwater photography for me. The Everglades is a rightfully foreboding environment, but also one of great beauty and interest. To capture this image, I was careful about avoiding risks, like alligators, in the area that I was snorkelling. Shooting with my GoPro made getting the camera close to my subjects easy. In this frame, I sought to capture a beautiful, native, Florida Gar against the backdrop of a cypress dome with light rays filtering through the trees. As a fish nerd, observing the many beautiful species that call this environment home is another joy. This image also features native largemouth bass in the background. Although not featured here, many of my frames from this day of shooting also captured invasive fishes, illustrating just one of the many impacts human actions have had on this imperilled ecosystem.
Location: Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
Equipment Used: GoPro with AOI Ultra Wide Lens
Camera Settings: Aperture: F2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/180 sec ISO: 791
Winner, Compact Macro
Imogen Manins – ‘Underwater Fireworks’
The Story: In the shallow waters of Naarm (Port Phillip Bay), sparse colonies of Tubular Hydroids poke their heads out of the sand in cold, shallow water. There are hundreds of individuals, but at just 4cm or so tall it’s easy to dismiss these tiny animals which are endemic to the Great Southern Reef of Australia. Each individual here is either male or female and extend their outer tentacles to catch passing plankton.
Blairgowrie Pier is a sheltered site, well known to local divers for the spectacular colours of sessile and invertebrate creatures. After 90 minutes in 12°C water, my fingers were becoming numb. Usually, I exit the site at the dive platform, but this time I began a shore exit, noticing tiny hydroids on the sandy bottom. After inspecting several groups, I chanced on this beautifully arranged colony of ‘Underwater Fireworks’. Trying not to disturb the sand was challenging in this environment. I watched the tentacles move delicately in the water, making small adjustments until I was happy with the composition.
Location: Mornington Peninsula, Australia
Equipment Used:Olympus TG6, Olympus PT-09 TG-6 Housin, Backscatter M52 Wide Lens, Sea & Sea YS-D3 Strobe
Camera Settings: Aperture: 13 Shutter Speed: 1/50 sec ISO: 200
Winner, Compact Behavior
Derek Singer – ‘Stay at Home Mom’
The Story: While GPOs are a common sight here in the Pacific Northwest, seeing a female nesting is rare enough that when someone does find one, word of mouth spreads quickly. In this case, my dive group had heard a couple of nests were found at Sund Rock, an excellent site for finding GPOs in general. Since their dens tend to be in crevices and cuts in the rocks, getting a well-lit and well-composed photo with a large full-frame camera can be difficult (and risky if you’re shooting with a dome). Although the female will spend months caring for her eggs, we can never predict when they’ll hatch and she’ll die. I was intent on making the most of my opportunity since it may have been my only one.
Therefore, I decided to bring my TG-6 instead of my normal SLR. With the smaller form factor and very short minimum focusing distance, I was confident I could get the camera and the strobes close enough to capture a striking image. It turned out to be a good call because this particular nest was tightly ensconced in a pile of rocks. I captured a series of close-ups of the mama octopus circulating water through her eggs before getting distracted by another GPO wandering out in the open. This specific image best portrayed the tightness of the quarters and balanced the mama and her eggs. From the RAW file, my edits were focused primarily on boosting the contrast to make the colours and textures pop.
Location: Sund Rock, Hoodsport, Washington, USA
Equipment Used: Olympus TG-6, Nauticam Olympus TG-6 Housing, Ikelite DS161 Strobes
Camera Settings: Aperture: F18 Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec ISO: 100
For more information about the Ocean Art contest and the Underwater Photography Guide, head to www.uwphotographyguide.com