From a large humpback whale to a tiny nudibranch, this year's winners in the Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition (organized by the Underwater Photography Guide) display marine life in a dazzling display of colors and details.
"This year’s outstanding underwater images in the Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition continue to raise the bar for underwater photographers. Myself and the other 3 judges were honored to be viewing such amazing results of the dedication and drive of the human spirit," commented Scott Gietler, owner of Bluewater Photo and Travel and publisher of the Underwater Photography Guide.
The judges selected winners in 16 categories, including "Best in Show." Duncan Murrell's photograph of three giant devil rays took home the top prize. Murrell captured the photograph in Honda Bay on the Province of Palawan in the Philippines. In describing the image, he said the "spinetail devil rays, (Mobula japanica) engaged in rarely observed or photographed courtship behaviour with two males pursuing one female."
You can see the other first-place category winners below, which are broken down by type of camera used, action and framing.
"This unique encounter happened in September 2018 in Reunion Island (Western Indian Ocean) where the humpback whales come here to breed and give birth. The mother was resting 15 meters down, while her calf was enjoying his new human friends.
"Trust : this is what came to my mind, when this close to 30 ton-animal, still hunted today by mankind, allowed me to freedive behind her and take that shot.
"From down there, everything seemed unreal: that huge tail centimeters away from me, the calf, my friend free diving symetrically [sic]. I knew I would not get a shot like this one again.
"The post production was all about getting a good white balance and reducing noise, because this photo was taken with natural light only, 15 meters deep." — François Baelen
"One of the things that makes guiding a blackwater dive so rewarding is the chance to spread my passion to the 6 eager customers. But even guides have to let loose, and for that we find empty boat seats and tag along to hone our skills. On this night, I was going holo holo (for pleasure) when I found this sharp-eared enope squid just under the surface. Most enope squids are small and thus difficult to shoot. As they mature, the difficult paralarva comes into its own. Every detail in the arms, organs, and chromatophores blasts to life in radiant color. Such was the case with this gem of a specimen. At around 3 inches in length, it was easily the largest and prettiest sharp-eared enope squid I recall finding. I caught the guide's glance and let him show it to the nearby customers, but soon the animal fled down, so I followed where the guide couldn't. We descended past forty feet, fifty feet, sixty feet while I continued watching, studying, and shooting. Anywhere else and these would be shallow depths, but the middle of the ocean at night is a lonely place. I cruised slowly by seventy feet, the guide's torch watching me. At eighty feet the kraken's dancing and squirming still entranced me. Finally, at ninety feet deep, it was time to leave my new little friend at peace." — Jeff Milisen
"During a dive in Anilao, Philippines I found this nudibranch and I waited for the best time to make this shot." — Flavio Vailati
"Hairy shrimp have always been one of my favourite subjects, due to the variety of colors and types of similar species of shrimps. Shooting a hairy shrimp is also a challenging task due to its tiny size and nature. They like to hop from one place to another while photographers try to photograph it. Great patience is needed to wait for the perfect moment to press the shutter, the environment, the background, the composition, and of course, the focus on the subject." — Edison So
"'Background first!' was an important tip given by prominent underwater photographer Mark Strickland during an underwater photo workshop organised by Bluewater Travel in a trip to Socorro in 2017. I was new to underwater photography.
"So during a dive in the famous El Boiler when this giant oceanic manta ray suddenly showed up from the blue, I realised that the chance of getting a decent shot of it was slim due to the distance and the presence of too many divers around it. I remembered 'Background first!.'
"I then quickly looked around and found that another diver, Marissa, was a few meters away from me and behind her was the landmark pinnacle of El Boiler. Visibility was crystal. I thought Marissa, together with the structure of the pinnacle, might be able to create an interesting background showing both the location of the dive site and the scale of the giant manta. I swam away from the group towards the direction of Marissa, hoping the manta would follow. With luck, the manta left the group later and approached Marissa for an investigation. Hence this photo.
"I must thank Mark and Marissa, because without them this photo would not be successful." — Alvin Cheung
"Before you enter the water with a pod of dolphins, you never know what the interaction will be like. Sometimes you may have a great encounter, where the dolphins will curiously swim around you or show you some kind of playful behaviour. Other times they may leave you without interest. The best way to interact with them is to let them decide. Times where you are accepted by the pod are truly a magical experience. These intelligent creatures display so much interesting behaviour and in this case they playfully and curiously swimmed by me." — Eugene Kitsios
"I started diving in March 2017. I instantly fell in love with the underwater world and I started taking a camera on dives in December 2017. I had no photography experience above or below water (smart phone aside), but the many challenges and creative opportunities involved make the steep learning curve enjoyable. I have so much to learn, which is very exciting.
"After flooding my first camera, an ordeal I’m told happens to everyone eventually, I decided to upgrade to a full frame camera. I got my new camera just in time for a unique event that occurs at Blairgowrie Pier, in Victoria, Australia.
"Each spring in the cool 15°C water, Big-belly seahorse fry appear in large numbers. They cling to loose sea grass and weeds near the water's surface, where they hunt in the shelter of the pier. This particular photo is the outcome of 4 hours of diving between night shifts as a firefighter.
"Using a 90mm lens was (and is) a challenge for me, it’s so easy to lose the subject, particularly when it's a 2cm long sea horse moving along in surface waves and current. I'm drawn to black backgrounds, and it was broad daylight, so I was shooting with a narrow aperture." — Steven Walsh
"I have been fortunate enough to have a Japanese guide who showed me a couple of clownfishes with their baby eggs. I never had the chance to shoot this type of interaction before so it was a big challenge for me. The adults swam endlessly around the eggs in order to oxygen them. Because of their endless movements it was difficult to get the perfect moment. To achieve the perfect shot I needed patience and a big part of luck. The guide and I stayed more than half an hour and I took more than 50 photos. I really wanted to show how some parent fishes cared for their babies. In this regard these clown fishes are not so different from us." — Fabrice Dudenhofer
"Each year I eagerly await the return of the spider crabs en masse as they gather to shed their old shells, presumably finding 'safety in numbers' from predators such as stingrays, angel sharks and octopuses as they all moult in close proximity together. In reality, the most fierce predator of spider crabs is other spider crabs. I have occasionally seen them 'on the march' prior to settling to moult the old brown shells they have outgrown, snacking on another crab's leg as they wander with thousands of others in massive circles around and beneath the pier. Once the crabs have moulted, they become extremely vulnerable as it takes approximately three days for their new, orange shell to harden. Often they climb the pylons of the pier, hoping the height will keep them out of predators' reach. Some survive the ordeal of the moult only to become an instant soft-shelled meal for another hungry animal. I stumbled across this harrowing sight which I both filmed and photographed: a ravenous unmolted spider crab, fiercely feasting upon a freshly moulted crab. It dug its claws deeply into its victim's back, pinning it down before transferring the fresh threads of still living crab meat into its merciless mouth. Between bites, the Cannibal Crab and its hapless victim stared back into my lens — one seeming defiant but justified by its need to feed, the other in all the resigned pathos of the final miserable moments of its life. The survival rate of crabs after they moult is quite low as the hundreds of thousands who have gathered steadily reduce to those lucky hundreds who will live long enough for their shells to harden before heading back out into the depths of the bay before the cycle continues the following year." — PT Hirschfield
"This is my first time to meet jellyfish in Taiwan NorthEast Coast for shore dive! When I did night dive in 2018 summer time, I saw this beautiful jellyfish dancing in the dark! I followed her for a while and took many shots when she transformed into different shape. Suddenly, my diving buddy who is also my husband, Stan Chen, was so creative and used his torch to make the backlight for this unique jellyfish. In order to make good shots, we followed her over 1 mile and against the current. When we finished the dive, it's already sunrise time at 5:30 am but we made it! We got the beautiful pose for the dancing jellyfish with an unique spotlight!" — Melody Chuang
"I was trying to create an image right out of the camera using special own-made backgrounds. But at the end, it was the photoshop filter 'swirl' which helped me a lot to end up with this creative image." — Bruno Van Saen
"Before this trip, hairy shrimp were on my wish list. Fortunately my dive guide found it for me and my friends. It was my first time to see red hairy shrimp. It's not easy to take photos of it, because it jumps a lot. After this photo, my camera didn't work at all. I'm so lucky at least this nice shot came out of it!!!" — Sejung Jang
"The spotted rat fish, a resident of the northeastern part of the Pacific Ocean, usually lives between 50 and 400 meters and prefers temperatures no higher than 9 degrees. However, it tends to approach in shallow water during the spring and fall. While swimming, it can perform rotations and twists as if it were flying. The photo was taken in a night dive in front of God's Pocket dive resort." — Claudio Zori
"A beautiful soft coral anchors and grows on mangrove roots. Two remote strobes were used to highlight the details of mangrove roots in the background, which also provided water surface reflection." — Yen-Yi Lee
Photographer Greg Lecoeur did not submit a caption with his image.