Photo Contest Winners Give a Close-Up Look at the Beauty of Water

Newt feeding on frog spawn at night

“Between the Stars” by Tibor Litauszki (Hungary). Overall Winner.
“‘In Germany, where I live, there are many clear and slow-flowing streams that provide excellent habitat for alpine newts. I have been following their lives for years, and last year was no exception. A few days after the frogs lay their eggs, at dusk, the newts appear and feast on the spawn all through the night. I wanted to capture this moment underwater. To do this, I placed my camera in an underwater housing, attached it with weights, and placed it under the frogs’ eggs. I was a bit nervous at first because I wasn't sure if the underwater housing was completely waterproof. But I figured that if no bubbles appeared, my camera would stay dry. I manually set the focus on the lens beforehand and hoped to get lucky. Waiting nearby until it got dark, I illuminated the first newt that appeared with an LED light and triggered the camera with a homemade wired remote release.”

In between its annual contest, the Close-up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY) runs a special challenge for photographers. This year's theme, Water, sparked a set of inspiring entries, and now the winner has been revealed. Hungarian photographer Tibor Litauszki won for his fascinating photo of an alpine newt feasting on frog eggs.

To get the photo, Litauszki used underwater housing and weights to place his camera under the eggs. He then patiently waited until after dark, when the first newt appeared, and triggered the camera remotely. Considering that he wasn't completely sure that underwater housing would be waterproof, this was a bold move. But his faith in his creative vision paid off with the photo and the win.

‘We asked photographers to show us work on a Water theme. Our callout was answered with images of seahorses swimming through kelp, flowers bejeweled with rain, and insects drying out their wings before taking flight, among so many other things,” shares CUPOTY co-founder Tracy Calder. “As usual, looking at all the entries was both educational and inspiring.”   

Ian Gilmour and Sebastien Blomme round out the winner's podium with their unique takes on the theme. In Gilmour's artistic image, which came in second place, frozen water is used to encase flowers, providing an interesting look at the blooms' details. Blomme's third-place image highlights water's importance to insects such as dragonflies. He patiently waited until he was able to capture one spreading its wings as it touched down at a pond near his home in France. The final image is notable for its use of reflection and natural light.

In addition to the winners, CUPOTY also published a list of exceptional finalists. The notable photos include an image of a snake emerging from a murky pond, a charming set of bonnet mushrooms under the rain, and a look at how barnacles are using ocean plastic as their homes. As a whole, the Water Challenge is an incredible platform to showcase the talents of these photographers as CUPOTY gears up to begin allowing entries to the annual competition in May.

The Close-up Photographer of the Year has announced the winners of its Water Challenge.

Wild poppies and tiarella flowers in ice

“Poppies Tiarella in Ice” by Ian Gilmour (UK). 2nd Place.
“I submerged some wild poppies in water with tiarella flowers and froze them overnight. I then placed the frozen block on a lightbox and photographed them using my Venus Laowa super macro lens. My first attempt was unsuccessful as the water was cloudy, so I boiled the water before re-freezing for the second attempt, which seemed to give a better result.”

Dragonfly perching on the water

“The Ice Skater” by Sebastien Blomme (France). 3rd Place.
“For a long time, the idea of ​​capturing the graceful ballet of dragonflies flying over the Garonne (the river that winds near my home) had been running through my head. It’s enchanting to observe hundreds of these creatures circling, skilfully capturing midges and other insects in mid-flight every summer. One day, I settled in the water at a spot where I had noticed a dragonfly regularly returned to rest. I waited patiently for its return. At each appearance I fired my camera in burst mode, hoping to capture the moment when its wings would be spread in all their glory. After a hundred attempts, I finally managed to obtain the image I desired.”

Snake popping its head out of a pond

“Periscope” by Marco Maggesi (Italy). Finalist.
“This beautiful snake was looking for prey in a pond. I was really lucky because it stopped right in front of me to taste the air. The light was very soft because it was a cloudy day. I used a 300mm lens to capture this portrait. I will never forget this encounter.”

Bonnet mushrooms in the rain

“Milking Bonnets” by Tony North (UK). Finalist.
“‘I found this clump of mushrooms with an almost perfect shape and number in Marbury Country Park, UK. I lit the scene from behind with an LED panel, both to fill the bonnets with light and to illuminate the droplets, which I created with a fine mist spray. My aim was to enhance the natural beauty of the fungi by adding more light and atmosphere. I focus bracketed 40 frames of the bonnets, then took one shot with the fungi and the “rain.” I combined the files later in Photoshop.”

The photography challenge runs in between CUPOTY's annual contest, which is opening for entries in May.

Damselfly covered in dew

“Long Over Dew” by Pete Burford (UK). Finalist.
“At Mousecroft pool, Shrewsbury, I photographed this damselfly covered in dew during the early morning hours, at around 3 am, in May. Given that insects are cold-blooded and need warmth to move, they typically rest at night. The sudden drop in temperature causes dew to cling to them. This moment is ideal for portraits as they cannot move or fly. As they warm up with the rising sun in the morning, they wipe away the moisture and fly off. To enhance the visual appeal, I used a colored background card to add contrast and additional hues to the image. Afterward, I stacked the frames in Helicon Focus, edited in Lightroom and Photoshop, and then finished off with Topaz DeNoise.”

Slime moulds and raindrops

“Slime Molds and Raindrops” by Barry Webb (British).
“Following overnight rain, I came across a colony of 2mm tall Physarum album slime mold fruiting bodies on a short section of beech branch, lying in leaf litter on the woodland floor. On closer inspection, I spotted this little group encased in raindrops. Carefully positioning the branch in a suitable position, taking care not to disturb the droplets, I shot 101 focus bracketed images to capture the full depth of the subjects. The resulting images were focus stacked using Zerene Stacker software.”

Nigella flower in the water

“Sparkling Crown” by Claudia Gaupp (Germany). Finalist.
“Love-in-the-Mist (Nigella damascena) is the epitome of early summer for me. I have always been fascinated by the variety of nigella flowers. From the bud to the dried seed capsule – each phase holds its own secret. In this case, I was intrigued by the details of the stamens and petals, which are surrounded by net-like leaves. Shortly after a rain shower, the tiny drops of water caught in the leaves made me think of a sparkling crown on the bloom. I took the picture in my garden in natural evening light and converted it in post-processing to a very cool blue-green background to match the blue of the flower.”

Springtail (Neanura muscorum) covered in dew droplets

“Moss Springtail” by Alexis Tinker-Tsavalas (Greece / Canada). Finalist.
“While searching for macro subjects on dead wood in winter, I came across this springtail (Neanura muscorum) covered in dew droplets. Normally, this species is quite active, which makes focus stacking almost impossible, but this individual stayed quite still, giving me the opportunity to get a high-magnification focus stack. I used Zerene Stacker to combine the frames and sharpened the final image with Topaz DeNoise AI.”

Icy crystals in a pond

“Pond Geometry” by Abby Raeder (United States). Finalist.
“The earliest signs of a changing season are captivating to me. By mid-November, nights become bitingly cold. At morning’s light, I visited a pond in Vermont to find the first ice of the season. For me, this scene is thrilling beyond words. Seeing the physical change of water into a striking geometric marvel is an experience that makes me appreciate the glories of life.”

Moths on a brand in Sweden

“Last Flight” by Harald Cederlund (Sweden). Finalist.
“‘In early autumn, large quantities of moths were swarming in the mountain birch forest of Grövelsjön, Sweden—giving the hike through it a certain dream-like quality. My hiking buddy wasn’t feeling great, so we had to stay and rest in a mountain station, allowing me time to explore the immediate surroundings with my camera. I followed the trail down to Linnés källa—a spring that was supposedly discovered by the botanist Carl Linnaeus. Its surface was littered with large quantities of dead moths, along with some autumn leaves, grasses, and algae. It looked to me as if the moths were still dancing over a meadow somewhere, taking one last flight. Later on, I combined five frames in Zerene Stacker to give a greater depth of field.”

Plastic bottle with gooseneck barnacles attached

“Plastic Sailors” by Sandra Stalker (UK). Finalist.
“Hundreds of items covered in gooseneck barnacles wash up on Chesil Beach, in the UK, every year, carried there by winter storms. These are non-native to the UK and have usually traveled across the Atlantic. This particular item was a plastic bottle with a colony of goose barnacles and some fishing net I found on the beach. To tell the story of ocean litter becoming a habitat for wildlife, I took them to the sheltered side of Chesil in Portland harbor and re-floated them there. The water was about 8°C, I was in a wetsuit, and the water was incredibly choppy from the wind, which kept blowing the bottle away from me. I shot upwards as I loved the reflection on the surface of the water while keeping the bottle and barnacles as the main focus of the image.”

Frog peeking out of the pond

“You See Better With Four Eyes” by Gabi Swart (Germany). Finalist.
“This picture was taken in a pond near Ladenburg, Germany. It was shot from a low angle so that the reflection of the frog’s eyes are just visible. I then decided to turn it upside down to confuse the viewer and encourage him/her to look more closely.”

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My Modern Met is 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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