The winners of the 2018 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition were recently announced. The competition run by the Underwater Photography Guide is in its 7th year and shows of the best marine photographs taken in a variety of categories. I go through some of the winning entries and my personal favourites.
The Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition is the leading underwater photo competition in the world and highlights some of the most prestigious work in the field. With a total prize pot of $80,000 it is also one of the most lucrative competitions in the photography world. Thousands of images were submitted in 2018 from photographers spanning 70 countries. The judging panel was made up of world renowned experts Tony Wu, Martin Edge, Marty Snyderman and Scott Gietler. There were 16 categories in total including wide-angle, macro, portrait, animal behaviour, reefscapes and many more. I am going to take you through some of the winning entries and my personal favourites to highlight how beautiful and impressive the art form can be.
I am only going to show off my top 10 pictures from the competition. It is a subjective list and is by no means representative of how well the pictures performed in the event. To check out the entries yourself and pick your own favourites check out the full list here.
We’ll kick it off with not only the winner in the marine life behaviour category but also the photo voted best in show of the entire competition. ‘Devil Ray Ballet’ by Duncan Murrell features three devil rays in Honda Bay in the Phillipines. What makes this photo so special is that it captures the rarely seen courtship rituals of these animals who are extremely elusive and shy. In the picture two males chase a female in an aggressive yet beautiful display to win the females attention. The photographer describes the encounter as “without a doubt one of my most amazing intimate wildlife encounters”.
The next entry ‘Gentle giants’ by François Baelen was the winner of the wide-angle category. It was taken off Saint-Gilles on the French Reunion Island and features a humpback whale, her calf and a free diver. François was also free diving when the photo was taken and recounts “everything seemed unreal. That huge tail centimeters away from me, the calf, my friend free diving symetrically. I knew I would not get a shot like this one again”. It is a fantastic example of the up close and meaningful interactions humans can have with marine life.
The runner up in the wide-angle category was ‘Paddle Borders Sunset’ by Grant Thomas taken in Ha’apai, Tonga. This beautiful split surface shot was taken “to demonstrate the innate bond humans have with the ocean”. Personally I really like how the sunset colours highlight the vibrant corals underneath. There is something very peaceful in how this photo captures the paddle borders enjoying a closeness to nature like this.
Turning to the portrait category the next entry was only honourably mentioned although I personally think it was one of the best. “Curiosity” by Kyler Badten captures an up close interaction with a green turtle in Hawaii. Sea turtles, in particular greens, will often instinctively flee from divers and swimmers so for one to come directly towards the camera is a rare occurance. According to Badten the turtle was fascinated with its own reflection in his camera dome and he was worried it was going to bump into it.
This photo is personally one of my favourites but only managed 5th place in the talent packed wide-angle category. “Eclipse” by Edwar Herreno features a massive group of golden rays off Bat Island in Costa Rica. Golden rays migrate in these large groups through Costa Rica every year and Edwar has been trying to capture this image for years. Along with some researchers he used drones to identify the perfect location and then laid in wait for the rays to appear. He describes how they passed over him saying “when they came on top of me, I was in shock and forgot that I had a camera in my hands”.
The next entry is titled ‘New Life’ by Flavio Vailati and features an octopus wrapped around thousands of her tiny eggs. It was taken at Capo Noli in Italy and came 5th place in the marine life behaviour category. It’s something that is very rarely seen because octopuses are extremely well adapted to hiding, especially during reproduction. What I enjoy about this photo is how perfectly curled up the arm is in the centre of the shot and how the mother wraps her entire body around the eggs to protect them.
Following the theme of parenting this next picture ‘Love of a Father’ is the second entry by François Baelen to make my list. This time he managed 3rd place in marine life behaviour for a photo that was taken at Padangbai in Bali . It features a male clownfish caring for his eggs something that the fathers are predominantly responsible for in this species. The males will clean the eggs near constantly and use his flippers to help them breathe. What is so impressive to me is how well focused the shot is on both the father and the eggs considering how small they are.
The next entry earned 3rd place in the macro category and cleverly utilises the slow sync flash technique. Photographer Fabio Iardino captured the image of a fast moving cuttlefish on a night dive in the Trieste Gulf in Italy. It is aptly named ‘Speedy Cuttlefish’ but for me it’s not just the blur of movement that is so impressive but the vibrant colours of the animal that can only be captured at night.
This picture was a runner up in the compact macro category by Matteo Pighi and is creatively named ‘Yellow Gobies in a Bottle’. Although more time could have been spent on the title this photo taken on a dive in the Phillipines does convey a strong message. The fact these animals reside inside a discarded beer bottle not only shows how we are polluting and mistreating the oceans, but also that some species are capable of adapting to this new reality and making the most of a bad situation.
This final picture was an honourable mention in the reefscape category but is unfortunately becoming a more common sight on reefs across the world. ‘Field of White’ by Brett M Garner highlights the extent of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. He described the quick change in the reef’s appearance as “rapid and jarring” and says swimming over it now is a “beautiful experience yet one tinged with deep sadness”.
The art of underwater photography
What makes underwater photography so beautiful and impressive is that it requires a tremendous skill set to explore and capture a completely different world to the one we live in. Not only do you have to be an accomplished photographer but also be able to have the swimming and diving skills to move around underwater. Capturing images underwater also creates more challenges with varying visibilities and differences in the way light behaves. You also need the patience and knowledge required to find rare species and capture their unique behaviours. If you want to try it for yourself check out the Underwater Photography Guide website.