The annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition has announced its winners for 2022, exhibiting a spectacular portfolio demonstrating how beautiful, bizarre, and vulnerable our oceans, lakes, and river ecosystems are.
Showcasing talent from all over the globe, the UK-based competition has 13 categories challenging photographers to put forward their best work in Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour, and Wreck photography.
British Underwater Photographer of the Year went to Matty Smith for his image “Great White Split” (shown above). In it, we see a great white shark caught between the ocean and its surface off the Neptune Islands, South Australia.
Smith achieved the unique perspective with the help of a special supersize dome port for his camera, as well as a carbon pole and remote trigger allowing him to snap the shot from a safe distance.
“I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait of a great white shark for a couple of years,” explained Smith.
“Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own carbon pole and remote trigger. Surprisingly the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera with no extra bait needed, in fact it was a battle to stop them biting the dome port!”
Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 went to Rafael Fernandez Caballero for an astonishing photo of a nighttime feast among a group of whale sharks in the Maldives.
Conveniently for the whale sharks – and Fernandez – the lights of a boat had concentrated their nightly feed of plankton, bringing these ocean giants within shot with just enough light to see.
“In the ocean magic can always happen. But when magic happens all together, you only can think you’re dreaming. This was the case of that night in Maldives,” said Fernandez.
“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.”
Photographer Thien Nguyen Ngoc from Vietnam was awarded “The Save Our Seas Foundation” Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022.
His aerial photo “Big Appetite” highlights the struggle for keystone species such as the anchovy: a staple in Vietnamese ingredients but whose population is rapidly declining, having knock-on effects for whales, sea birds, and other marine predators.
Category winner and My Backyard Winner Pekka Tuuri demonstrated that you don’t always need to head to the farthest reaches to capture memorable photographs. His photo “All You Need Is Love” was taken in a pond 20 minutes from his home.
“It is full of love in late April,” said Tuuri. “The common frogs come first, then toads and finally newts. I spent four days and four night time 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!”
Indeed, finding beauty in unexpected places was something of a running theme for the competition throughout the pandemic.
“Restriction on travel over the last year may have stopped many photographers visiting their favourite waters, but it hasn’t stifled their creativity,” commented judge Mustard in a release emailed to IFLScience.
“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.”
Got some watery opportunities on your doorstep? It's time to start shooting for next year.