Eye-Opening Winners of the Close-up Photographer of the Year Contest

Two Salamanders in a Northern Pitcher Plant

“Nature’s Pitfall” by Samantha Stephens (Canada). Overall winner and Winner Animals.
“Northern Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) are carnivorous, allowing them to survive in nutrient-poor bog environments. Here there is no rich soil, but rather a floating mat of Sphagnum moss. Instead of drawing nutrients up through its roots, this plant relies on trapping prey in its specialized bell-shaped leaves, called pitchers. Typically, these plants feast on invertebrates – such as moths and flies – but recently, researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station discovered a surprising new item on the plant’s menu: juvenile Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum).
This population of Northern Pitcher Plants in Algonquin Provincial Park is the first to be found regularly consuming vertebrate prey. For a plant that’s used to capture tiny invertebrate, a juvenile Spotted Salamander is a hefty feast!”

Canadian photographer Samantha Stephens was named Close-up Photographer of the Year 04 for her striking image of two salamanders being consumed by a carnivorous pitcher plant in Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada. Stephens' image beat out over 9,000 other entries from 54 countries to take home the title and cash prize of £2,500 (approximately $3,000). The contest, which is supported by Affinity Photo 2, is a spectacular showcase for micro and macro photography and honors the small details of life that often go overlooked.

For Stephens, a professional photographer, her winning image came about as she shadowed researchers in the park. “Northern Pitcher Plants normally feast on moths and flies but researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station recently discovered a surprising new item on the plant’s menu: juvenile Spotted Salamanders,” she shares. “While following researchers on their daily surveys I saw a pitcher with two salamanders floating at the surface of the pitcher’s fluid, both at the same stage of decay. I knew it was a special and fleeting moment. The next day, both salamanders had sunk to the bottom of the pitcher.”

Stephens' photograph also won the Animals category, which is one of 11 hosted by the contest. Insects, Plants, Fungi, Intimate Landscape, Underwater, Butterflies & Insects, Invertebrate Portrait, Manmade, and Micro are other categories where these professional and amateur photographers were asked to shine. There is also a youth category for photographers under 18 years of age, which was won by 17-year-old British photographer Nathan Benstead. His lovely photo of slime mold growing on a log was captured as he wandered in his local forest.

From an artistic photo of termites under attack to a look at how a spider disguises itself to catch prey, all of the winning photographs are a marvelous look at the world in detail. Check out some of our favorite images from the top three photographs in each category and peruse the top 100 photos on the Close-up Photographer of the Year website.

The winners of the Close-up Photographer of the Year 04 contest showcase the world's small details.

Gordian Worm

“Gordian Worm Knot” by Ben Revell (Australia). 2nd Place, Invertebrate Portrait.
“It was early autumn as a friend and I were exploring the rainforest creeks of the Australian Sunshine Coast Hinterland by night when we stumbled upon this remarkable scene. Emerging from the abdomen of a fire back huntsman spider was this long cylindrical worm. I had read about these horrific creatures before, but this was the first time I had witnessed a Gordian Worm.
Named after the impossible knots they form when out of water, these parasitic worms thankfully only infect invertebrates. After hatching, their microscopic larvae swim free in water and are ingested by drinking insects. They grow inside the stomach of the insect until they move through the stomach lining and begin devouring the non-vital organs of its victim. Reaching maturity, the worm releases a mind controlling agent, forcing its now zombie like host to walk to water where it bursts through the abdomen and drops into the water to complete its life cycle.
I was able to scoop the worm out of the water placing it on the rock as it knotted up and allowed me to photograph it. It's often a challenge photographing in environments with slippery rocks and flowing water as it is hard on the gear and difficult to find a comfortable position to shoot from. I was using my regular macro set up with an external flash and a homemade diffuser to soften the light. I often explore natural areas by night trying to document some of the remarkable and less seen wildlife that occurs in these places.”

Atlas Moth on a Leaf in India

“Atlas Moth” by Uday Hegde (India). 2nd Place, Butterflies & Dragonflies.
“This beautiful Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) was found during my daily walk in our areca nut plantation in Sirsi, India. As our plantation is surrounded by evergreen forest a lot of frogs, snakes, insects, and butterflies take shelter there. These huge moths often have a wingspan that extends beyond nine inches. I wanted to show the moth in its habitat, so I decided to shoot this picture with a wide-angle macro lens. I set-up the camera, tripod, flash and trigger away from the moth so that it would not get disturbed. Once I felt happy with the set-up I placed my camera near the moth, composed the frame, and took 5-6 shots.”

Aplosonyx nigriceps Eating Circle in a Leaf

“Little Naughty Draw Circle” by Minghui Yuan (China). 3rd Place, Insects.
“The beetle ‘Aplosonyx nigriceps' has developed a clever tactic to be able to eat the ‘Alocasia macrorrhiza' leaves and avoid the toxic alkalis that the plant secretes. It nibbles a 3cm circle on the leaves to cut off the toxin transmission before feasting inside the circle free of poison.”

Ice Encasing Comatricha on a Fence Post

“Ice Encrusted Comatricha” by Barry Webb (UK). Winner, Fungi.
“In January last year, following two days of freezing fog and sub-zero temperatures, I found some mature Comatricha, growing on an old fence post lying on a pile of discarded, rotting timber. I was attracted to the way the ice had encased the slime mold, creating strange, windswept, leaf-like shapes. The tallest one was only 3mm high, including the ice. The final image is the result of 55 focus-bracketed images combined in Zerene Stacker.”

Artistic Photo of Two Drops of Oil Merging

“Oil & Water 44” by Matt Vacca (USA). Winner, Manmade.
“This picture was captured as two drops of oil were merging. I’m intrigued by polarity and experimenting with oil and water has become a rich source of abstract expression. The symbiotic relationship that evolves from naturally opposing elements has become metaphoric for me. I am constantly learning and finding new inspiration, as I watch and continue to be fascinated by the dance that plays out through a macro lens.”

Snake’s-head fritillary in a Meadow in France

“Next To My Tree” by Sébastien Blomme (France). Winner, Plants.
“Snake’s-head fritillary is one of my favorite flowers. This one was taken in the city of Toulouse, France. It usually grows on wet meadows but can also be found in forests. In this image, I wanted to introduce some context, but keep the flower as the center of interest. I managed to get a tree in the background and decided to keep it out of focus so that its shape is only suggested.”

The annual photo competition showcases micro and macro photography.

Triangular Spider species (Arkys curtulus) Sitting on a Leaf

“Mayan Derriere” by Jamie Hall (UK). Winner, Invertebrate Portrait.
“This Triangular Spider species (Arkys curtulus) is an ambush predator, not a web-based hunter like most. To hunt its prey, it sits compact and curled up on a leaf, mimicking bird poo or other bio-debris. Balanced abdomen-side down, eyes up, it looks to the sky and watches for an unsuspecting fly or other insects to wander onto the leaf. The abdomen on this species has some very pronounced and interesting markings, which reminded me of the Mayan carvings on rocks and stones. This individual was photographed in a conservation park in Brisbane, Australia.”

Reflection in Water of a Building at Canary Wharf in London

“Frequency” by Mike Curry (UK). Winner, Intimate Landscape.
“This is a reflection of a building at Canary Wharf in London taken in November. The water was moving in a very fluid way and I was there to try out my new Sony DSC-RX100M6 – I was particularly keen to test the camera’s fast burst and slow motion video modes. I was struggling to get it to focus on the water’s surface, but after about two hours of failed attempts it suddenly worked, and the results were amazing!”

Sahara sand viper in the Negev desert in Israel

“A Tale in the Sand” by Paul Lennart Schmid (Germany). 3rd Place, Animals.
“After three luckless attempts of searching for Sahara sand vipers (Cerastes vipera) in rainy conditions, we finally had a dry day and night that brought us success. We followed the tracks of this snake for over a hundred meters through the dunes of the Negev desert in Israel. At times, our eyes were almost directly over the sand so as not to lose the trail. We even saw that it had crossed our foot tracks from earlier in the night. After quite a while we finally found this specimen digging itself into the sand to get into an ambush position, right next to the tracks of a dune gecko (Stenodactylus petrii) that had turned around at the right moment before becoming a meal.”

Dew-covered Male Banded Demoiselle on a reed stem

“Veiled” by Wim Vooijs (Netherlands). Winner, Butterflies & Dragonflies.
“I found this dew-covered male Banded Demoiselle on a reed stem among the streams near my hometown, Ede in the Netherlands. Banded Demoiselles are easy to approach as they rest and dry in the early morning. I tried to find an angle that would produce bokeh bubbles in the warm light, creating the atmosphere that I desired in the picture.
I like to emphasize the beauty of these insects by showing their strength and vulnerability. I’m not after a record shot, more an emotional portrait – maybe this is due to my background as a portrait photographer.”

Nuptial Flight of Termites in Indiain

“Intruder” by Anirban Dutta (India). Winner, Insects.
“Before the start of the monsoon every year, some species of termite swarm in the late afternoon and early evening – this behavior is known as nuptial flight. One day I witnessed this event near a petrol pump in the town of Cooch Behar, India. There were thousands of termites drawn to the powerful street light, and one black drongo. This bird spent almost 20 minutes swooping through the termites, snatching and eating them as it went.
I shot multiple exposures to capture this event, which I had never seen before. Three frames were recorded and combined in-camera. The first one with a high shutter speed and in Kelvin white balance, the second with a high shutter speed isolating the drongo, and the third with a slow shutter speed in Tungsten white balance.”

Stalked Jellyfish Photographed Under Ice in Russia's White Sea

“Little Predator” by Viktor Lyagushkin (Georgia). Winner, Underwater.
“This is a Lucernaria quadricornis (Stauromedusae), a stalked jellyfish, photographed beneath the ice of the White Sea in Russia – the only freezing sea in Europe. The green color of the water is a sign of spring as algae grow.
The ‘leg' of the jellyfish helps it to attach to a stone or seaweed. Its tentacles project up or down, waiting for prey. If its hunt is successful, it catches the prey and collapses its tentacles into a fist. If the hunting site is no good, Lucernaria walks away on its ‘leg' or sometimes its ‘hands'.”

Over 9,000 photos from 54 countries were submitted to this year's contest.

Log Covered in Slime Mold

“Hemitrichia Calyculata” by Nathan Benstead (UK). Winner, Young.
“I was walking through my local woodland, inspecting rotten logs and sticks last winter, when I came across a log covered in slime mold fruiting bodies or sporangia. I set up my camera gear and focused on a small cluster amongst the moss.”

Bluespotted klipfish Perched Among Mediterranean Mussels

“Beauty and the Beast” by Kate Jonker (South Africa). 2nd Place, Underwater.
“As I was shallowing up after a 25-meter dive at Steenbras Deep in the center of False Bay, South Africa I came across a small patch of Mediterranean mussels. This invasive species, brought to the waters off Cape Town in the bilge of passing ships in the 1980s, is a beast, replacing the colorful marine life on shallower sections of some reefs with dark patches.
Whilst I was investigating the impact these mussels were having on this particular section of reef, I found a beautiful Bluespotted klipfish (Pavoclinus caeruleopunctatus) perched amongst the mussel shells. He peered up at me cautiously, watching my attempts to battle the surge whilst photographing him with a shallow depth of field. My aim was to capture his beauty whilst softening the sharp edges of the mussels. A challenge not only due to the limited dive time I had remaining but because of the surge that was washing me to and fro whilst I tried to focus on his eye.”

Snake’s Head Fritillaries in a Meadow in the UK

“Thawing Beauty” by Jay Birmingham (UK). 2nd Place, Plants.
“I am fortunate enough to live near a location where snake’s head fritillaries grow natively. Broad Meadow, near Tamworth in the UK, floods regularly and creates the ideal conditions for these beautiful flowers. The flowers move easily in the wind, so I waited for a morning when there was no breeze. There had also been an overnight frost. This combined with the mist and rising sun, created some beautiful conditions for photography.
In order to maximize focus and make sure the flower stood out against the background, I shot wide open at f/2.8 using a 180mm macro lens. I then stacked a few images together where I had focused on different parts of the flower.”

Micro Photo of Batrachospermum (a kind of red algae)

“Batrachospermum Red Algae” by Marek Miś (Poland). Winner, Micro.
“I took a sample of Batrachospermum (a kind of red algae) from a small river in Wigry National Park, Poland. Although it has natural beauty, it doesn’t look great using bright-field illumination. However, by combining polarized light and darkfield techniques I managed to get a colorful and interesting picture.
It was challenging to show more than one or two “twigs” of algae because even a 4x microscope objective shows too small a part. To capture it properly, I made a panorama consisting of nine images stitched together during post-processing. To expand the depth of field, which is very shallow using a microscope, each of the nine images consists of several frames combined in one output image in Helicon Focus. The final image is the result of combining more than 100 separate shots.”

Water Flowing Through Rock Formations in Norway

“Artwork of Nature II” by Klaus Axelsen (Norway). 2nd Place, Intimate Landscape.
“A July capture from Marmorslottet in Nordland, Norway. The rock formations and the water flowing through it invited an intimate capture of the details and structures of these unique rock formations and potholes.”

Artistic Photo of a Waxcap in the Mist

“Scarlet Waxcap in Early Morning Dew” by Jeremy Lintott (UK). 2nd Place, Fungi.
“Arriving early on a beautiful misty morning to meet a fellow enthusiast for a day of fungi photography at Ebernoe Woods last October, I spotted a large number of waxcaps growing around the periphery of a nearby cricket pitch. The whole area was covered in spider webs and early morning dew creating an ethereal scene. Using a small beanbag to rest my camera at ground level I took a series of 12 focus-bracketed images at a wide aperture. This enabled me to achieve maximum detail in the waxcap whilst maintaining the soft back- and foreground.”

Close Up Photo of Schistidium moss

“Schistidium Capsule” by Harald Cederlund (Sweden). 3rd Place, Micro.
“I am fascinated by the Schistidium mosses. The intricate capsules look like tiny flowers when viewed up close. With the peristome teeth extended, the capsule is only about 1mm wide, yet from afar the mosses often give a drab blackish impression. They thrive on exposed surfaces such as rocks on the shoreline or forest edge and persist unnoticed on concrete slabs in city locations. I picked this one up from a concrete foundation close to where I live in Ulleråker, Sweden and shot it in my living room. By combining long exposures with a flash I could create some ambiance and not just a black background.”

Small Toads Hiding in Paw Print of a Mastiff

“The Footprint Friend” by Juan Jesus Gonzalez Ahumada (Spain). 2nd Place, Animals.
“As this pond dried up, hundreds of miniature toads, barely a centimeter in size began to wander around seeking refuge. A pair of them found safety in the huge paw print of a mastiff that was left in the mud when it came to quench its thirst at the water’s edge.”

Close-Up Photographer of the Year: Website | Instagram | Facebook 

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by CUPOTY.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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