While it may still be winter in many parts of the world, warmer weather is right around the corner, which means trips to beach and island getaways for many. Maybe this year's Underwater Photographer of the Year winners can inspire your wanderlust to explore the oceans.
Beginning in 1965, the competition is one of the oldest in the world and "seeks to celebrate photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes and even swimming pools." Today, there are 13 categories including special honors for up-and-coming photographers, marine conservation and most promising British photographer. Since the awards are based out of the United Kingdom, there are also several categories specifically for photographs taken in British waters.
British photographer Richard Barnden is this year's Underwater Photographer of the Year for his dramatic image of a pack of gray reef sharks feasting on a parrotfish in French Polynesia.
"As the sun sets on Fakarava South Pass, the estimated 700 sharks that are patrolling the mouth of the channel by day, begins to hunt at night," Barnden wrote in his submission. "The gauntlet is about to unfold. Descending into the darkness I can feel my heart beating a little faster than normal as hundreds of sharks are now covering the bottom. This unlucky parrotfish dodged in and out of the patch coral heads looking for somewhere to hide as swarms of sharks followed in hot pursuit. One grey reef shark suddenly grabbed the parrotfish by its head as the another twisted underneath it to get a better grip. In desperation it hurtled straight towards me as I snapped a few passing shots and curled up into a ball as the frenzy of sharks shot past, leaving only but a few falling parrotfish scales behind."
Barnden also won the British Underwater Photographer of the Year and the Behavior category. From a seal adorably posing for the camera to a sunken battleship, check out the other winning images below. You can also download the 2019 yearbook, which features all 125 finalists.
Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year
"Overwater, beautiful resorts and palm trees in super clear sky. Underwater, nearly 1m depth, colorful and untouched hard corals with some reef fishes. For the first dive here, I was running out of time for preparing ascent. And I request only diving this specific area for the nice split shots. I worked for about 30 minutes. I met 2 difficult points. Surface was not that calm because of the surrounding boat which made waves. Secondly my posture was really unstable in super shallow depth, surrounding hard corals for lifting my dome and getting right composition. Frankly, I was waiting gray reef shark and black-tip reef shark near here coming into this composition. I failed but I like this paradise." — Taeyup Kim
Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year
"The Caretta caretta turtles spend much of their life in the open ocean. They come to the Canary Island after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches. In this trip of many years they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc. In this particular case it got trapped in a net and it was practically impossible to escape from it... but this day it was very lucky and could escape thanks to the help of two underwater photographers who were sailing near her." — Eduardo Acevedo
Most Promising British Underwater Photographer
"Being a passionate diver and snorkeler, I spend much of my spare time in UK waters particularly around Plymouth Sound, Torbay and the Isles of Scilly. All are beautiful and diverse marine environments. Towards the end of July, you may be lucky enough to encounter a compass jellyfish, pulsating gently through the surface waters. Not only are they fascinating creatures but they make potentially beautiful photographic subjects. This photograph was taken whilst snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly in only a few metres of water, shooting directly upwards to capture the surface features and a partial Snell’s windows. Maintaining both the surface features and subject illumination requires high strobe power settings and hence careful strobe positioning. Hopefully this image highlights the beautiful marine environments we are lucky to have around the UK." — Malcolm Nimmo
"At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimetres away from her tail. I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn't need to ask the playful calf : he was very curious. From down there, the scene looked unreal and I'm glad that this photograph has captured this moment. Humpback whales are amazing and peaceful animals and I still can't believe they are still being hunted by mankind today." — François Baelen
"In the first three months of the year I often go to the Gulf of Trieste in the north-east of Italy where I do night dives to take pictures of small cuttlefishes, more precisely of the species "Sepiola sp.". The hope, given the period, is to find the cuttlefish during the mating phase. During the research I found this Sepiola that moved about a half meter from the bottom. Looking at his way of moving, I was reminded of the idea of trying to make a panning shot and to photograph the effect of the movement to give dynamism to the image. Using the slow sync flash technique, after some unsuccessful attempts and after changing the parameters of my camera, I managed to capture an image that represents the movement and good visual impact. (actually they move in the opposite direction... but that's another story)." — Fabio Iardino
"My inspiration for this picture is Leigh Bishop’s black and white image of the HMS Audacious turret. The HMS Audacious, which is laying on 64 meters in Malin Head, Ireland, was a dreadnought battleship which struck a mine in 1914. After she capsized, the shells magazine exploded and she sank. I used a tripod and 3 Big Blue video lights to illuminate the turret with the majestic 13.5” guns and myself as the model. There was a small current so it wasn't easy to lay still during this long exposure shot. It took some time before achieving this shot and at 64 meters, the clock is ticking fast. That is the challenge with deep wreck photography. When I used the tripod with me as a model, there was a risk that something would go wrong as I am far from the camera so I had to cross my fingers every single shot." — René B. Andersen
"Abandoned by swimmers and divers for many years because of the gold mine just on the edge of the gulf, Stratoni is a well kept secret for scuba divers and macro photographers. I visited Stratoni three times in August 2018 for a photo project dedicated to the seahorse colony that managed to survive there. On my third and last visit I was planning to create a specific group photo of seahorses, before the sunset using natural light. Just on time of the big finale, a small ray came into the scene! Hidden in the sand a few centimetres from my camera, took off swimming in the shallows. I managed to swim with him and place my camera underneath to capture a portrait of his belly with the mouth and nose looking like a smiling happy angel’s face, with the sun beams on the background softening the colour to emerald." — Nicholas Samaras
Black & White
"10 metres down, I found myself hovering between two worlds. Below, an enormous school of fish covered the bottom as far as I could see. Above, a single Cormorant patrolled the surface, catching its breath and peering down at a potential underwater feast. The cormorant, better designed for swimming than flying, would dive down at speed, aggressively pursuing the fish. The school would move in unison to escape the bird’s sharp beak, making it difficult to isolate a single target. More often than not, the bird returned to the surface empty handed and peace would momentarily be restored. I would squint up at the sunny surface, trying to keep track of the predator and anticipate the next underwater raid. This image captures the hostile, black silhouette of the cormorant as it dives down onto its prey, who for a brief moment, remain unaware of the danger above." — Henley Spiers
"I woke up early in the morning to get a half and half shoot with a fisher boat and the Sunrise. This was the first picture. The second picture with the Hairy Frogfish I take on Laha 1. Here I was using a Inon S2000 with a Snoot for the Hairy. For the blue backlighting I used a colored Fiberoptic Snoot on a Inon Z240. To get the two Pictures together I was using the double Exposure Setting in the camera." — Enrico Somogyi
British Waters Wide Angle
"Our dive group was on a private charter with Dive Scilly late last summer. The skipper dropped us on this lovely wall festooned with invertebrate life. I was keen to capture a good wide angle scenic featuring jewel anemones and a diver. When diving in the UK I've found the visibility is rarely good enough for making contrasty wide angle pictures, let alone including a model. On this occasion the offshore site afforded us with clear water. I took advantage of the opportunity, and encouraged my wife and model Paula to work her way into the frame. I took 20 shots in a series on this portion of the wall before settling on this image." — Robert Bailey
British Waters Macro
"Easter 2018 found me diving in Loch Duich on the west coast of Scotland. My target subject was the fireworks anemone which are found on the muddy sea bed towards the head of the loch. However, while searching for these, I spotted a length of plastic pipe lying partially buried in the mud. Moving cautiously to avoid stirring up the silt, I reached the open end and was delighted to find this collection of marine life. A long clawed squat lobster posed proudly outside his man-made home, which he shared with numerous brittlestars, while dainty sea loch anemones decorated the entrance. To capture the beauty of this scene I chose to restrict the lighting to one strobe, snooted for a spotlight effect to avoid illuminating the unattractive background and angled to avoid lighting the interior of the pipe and to give a black background to the squat lobster." — Arthur Kingdon
British Waters Living Together
"Easter 2018 found me diving in Loch Duich on the west coast of Scotland. My target subject was the fireworks anemone which are found on the muddy sea bed towards the head of the loch. However, while searching for these, I spotted a length of plastic pipe lying partially buried in the mud. Moving cautiously to avoid stirring up the silt, I reached the open end and was delighted to find this collection of marine life. A long clawed squat lobster posed proudly outside his man-made home, which he shared with numerous brittlestars, while dainty sea loch anemones decorated the entrance. To capture the beauty of this scene I chose to restrict the lighting to one strobe, snooted for a spotlight effect to avoid illuminating the unattractive background and angled to avoid lighting the interior of the pipe and to give a black background to the squat lobster." — Victoria Walker
British Waters Compact
"If ever there was an invitation to play this was it! I love diving with and photographing seals, and have dived with them round the UK but this was my first trip to The Farne Islands and what a 'Sealfest' I was treated to. The younger pups especially were very curious of us, the lumbering black bubble monsters. This is great for us as photographers as we can wait for them to become increasingly inquisitive. This adorable seal pirouetted and arabesqued around me before sliding in and flicking sand over itself in a final attempt to get me to play - and it nearly worked! Using the ambient light and managing the aperture and shutter speed I have tried to focus and lock on the face but also capture a sense of movement, but the irresistible pose and eyes though are all this seal's own work." — Martin Edser