“Crab-Eater Seal” by Greg Lecoeur Best in Show, 1st Place Coldwater. Shot in the Antarctica Peninsula.
For the eighth year, top underwater photographers from around the world have submitted their best work to the Ocean Art Underwater Photography Competition. Organized by Underwater Photography Guide, the contest awards over $85,000 in prizes to its winners and, in looking at the photos, the earnings are well deserved.
Included in the 16 categories were two new divisions for Conservation and Blackwater Diving, which makes the field of work even richer. With thousands of entries from 78 different countries, the judges had the tough task of selecting the winners. For those familiar with underwater photography, the top photographer awarded has a familiar name—Greg Lecoeur. The French photographer is known for his award-winning imagery and dedication to showing life in the ocean. For Ocean Art, he took home “Best in Show” for his striking image of a crab-eater seal in the cold waters of Antarctica.
Lecoeur took hope the top prize, but this competition has also highlighted other great photographers—a name to watch is Jules Casey. Her charming photo of six seahorses sitting together on a weed not only garnered her the “Rising Star Photographer Award,” but she was also a close runner up for Best in Show. The Australian photographer is a freediver who is actually new to still photography, as she switched over from video quite recently.
It was a close race and the expert panel of judges had a lot to take in and appreciate. “I continue to be amazed by the wonderful images that today's underwater photographers are producing,” shares Underwater Photography Guide publisher Scott Gietler. “The two new categories, Conservation and Blackwater, were true standout categories. Especially the Conservation category – the winning images produce powerful emotion, and will influence a new generation of ocean conservation.”
See more of the incredible winning entries and learn the stories behind these spectacular underwater photos below.
“Seahorse Bus” by Jules Casey Rising Star Photographer Award, Best of Show runner up, 1st Place Novice Macro. Shot in Blairgowrie marina. Victoria, Australia. “I've been taking videos of baby seahorses for about 3 years but only recently changed over to still photography. I picked up a second-hand TG4 early in 2019 & I've spent almost every day in the water with it since. Capturing 6 baby seahorses all facing in the same direction while sharing a piece of weed is an extremely challenging shot. These babies will often pull in different directions & face away from the camera. So I'm absolutely delighted to be able to share such a split second in time before this scene changed dramatically. Under Blairgowrie Marina has become a popular nursery for the birth of these baby Short Head Seahorses and also the Bigbelly Seahorses. I've seen as many as 20 babies sharing the same weed. You only have a short window of opportunity to capture this because their survival rate is so low.”
“Lemon Goby” by Stan Chen 1st Place in Compact Macro. Shot in Lembeh, Indonesia. “These Lemon Goby parents spawned their eggs on a glass fragment that caught my eyes. I decided to take shot to record this because it presented how fish can coexist with human garbage. The Lemon Goby parents were very shy and they kept moving around. So I held my breath carefully and waited about 40 minutes and finally, the goby parents gathered together and protected their eggs. I immediately took the shot and captured this unique picture. It was an unforgettable moment for me to see how great the goby parents are to utilize human waste for their hatching eggs. And life continues….”
“Treats from Mooloolah River” by Jenny Stock 1st Place in Nudibranchs. Shot in Queensland, Australia. “The Mooloolah River is a rich treasure trove of nudibranchs. Over 350 species have been found along the 600m river bank. The real challenge is to get a photograph that depicts the stunning form of these tiny creatures. I fell in love with flabellina lotus in particular. I returned to the river every weekend for four months to try to achieve an image where the flabellina's vivid purple cerata popped against a jet black background.”
“Open Mouth Grouper” by Ferenc Lorincz 1st Place in Compact Behavior. Shot in Red Sea, Egypt. “I was taking this picture at a cleaning station. The fish let me approach as they were focused on cleaning the fish. At the house reef, this was observed on several dives. The cleaning station is an excellent scene for the underwater photographer.”
“Blur of Sweetlips” by Nicholas More. 1st Place Wide Angle. Shot in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. “This photograph was taken in November 2019 during the last morning of a liveaboard trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia. We were diving Saundereck Jetty when I came across this school of Yellow Ribbon Sweetlips at approximately 25m, over a patch of hard corals. What I found really beautiful about the scene was the cloud of Convict Blennies swarming all over the reef. Ribbon Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus polytaenia) are nocturnal hunters but during the day they form dense schools on the reefs of Raja Ampat, sheltering from the strong current. Capturing this classic schooling behavior was at the top of my photographic hit-list. To allow the sweetlips to be the center of attention, I used a slow shutter speed and accelerated panning to blur the background. This effect also helps to reinforce the unity of the school moving as a group, in the same direction.”
“Victim” by Shane Gross 1st Place in Conservation. Shot in Eleuthera, Bahamas. “My dive buddy came to me in tears talking about a poor turtle that was already long dead, tangled in fishing line. She didn't have time to remove the line so she told me where it was and I went back. I didn't want any scavengers to also become entangled. I took my camera because images like this can become warnings for the future. We don't want any other turtles, or any creatures, to become doomed to the same unfortunate fate: drowned and wasted thanks to our negligence.”
“Clownfish Eggs” by Paolo Isgro. 1st Place in Supermacro. Shot in Tulamben, Indonesia. “My friend and divemaster Ajiex Dharma in Tulamben was able to find these clownfish eggs and assist me during the shoot holding the snoot in the right position. I used a 24 mm lens and an electronic reverse ring adaptor + 40 mm extension ring to get a great magnification. 5 mm fills the long side of the frame – this means 4.5X optical magnification on my cropped Canon 7D sensor.”
“Look at Me” by Davide Lombroso 2nd Place in Portrait. Shot in Saline Joniche, Italy. “During a fantastic night dive, we had the possibility to meet this wonderful fish when during the night it's quite easy to have closer and closer.”
“Blanket Octopus” by Paolo Bausani 2nd Place in Blackwater. Shot in Anilao, Philippines. “This image represents a Blanket Octopus (Tremoctopus spp.) pictured during a night, blackwater dive in Anilao (Philippines); blanket octopuses are very elusive and quite hard to find; When threatened, the blanket octopus extends its fleshy curtains to look like a disco icon.”
“A Friendly Ride” by Paula Vianna 1st Place in Marine Life Behavior. Shot in Queensland, Australia. “Pink whip rays catching a ride on a small-eyed ray. The theory is that by doing this they seek protection from predators, save energy and also get leftovers from the big ray. This rare behavior was captured on the SS Yongala shipwreck, on the Great Barrier Reef off Ayr, in Queensland, Australia, and has been registered on the same dive site for around a decade, with different individual small-eyed rays… Could this be passing on through generations?”
“Mangrove Soft Coral” by Nicholas More 2nd Place in Reefscapes. Shot in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. “We were snorkeling the Bluewater mangroves around the Nampele Islands, Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. We found red soft corals (Dendronephthya sp.) growing attached to the roots of red mangrove trees (Rhizophora mangle) beneath the canopy of the mangrove forest. These soft corals made for a beautiful subject against a pretty and unusual background. Thankfully the resident saltwater crocodiles did not make an appearance!!”
“Radiography” by Stephano Cerbai 1st Place Macro. Shot in Puerto Galera, Philippines. “This photo was taken in Puerto Galera, in the Philippines. During a daytime dive, I saw this seahorse, and I decided to put the flash behind him with the “Snoot”, creating a backlight.”
“Blended” by Talia Greis 1st Place in Compact Wide Angle. Shot in Sydney, Australia. “I had never seen or even heard of this magnificent king of camouflage prior to taking its shot, as it's a rare sighting that requires an equal balance of luck and persistence. The yellow-crested weed fish can be found deep amongst the kelp gardens of Shelly Beach, and is so similar in appearance to its environment, that finding one requires active investigation. It's movements sway like the seaweed it buries itself in, its color almost identical, making it the ultimate master of disguise. The only way to capture this moment was to hang back, remain still, and wait for the perfect moment it decided to surface and analyze my presence.”
“The Blue Arch” by George Kuo-Wei Kao 2nd Place in Novice Wide Angle. Shot in Cebu, Philippines. “A single sardine is small, but a school of sardines is tremendous – especially when the water is clear and blue. To find the right ocean conditions, we surveyed several dive shops and asked if they could provide early morning diving. In the afternoon, diving in a sea of sardine poop which can lower the visibility a lot. This was our best shot during 3 dives at the same site.”
“Hiding in Flowers” by Leon Zhao 2nd Place in Supermacro. Shot in Bali, Indonesia. “Ladybugs is one of my favorite super macro objects. they are tiny, beautiful and sensitive. Most ladybugs are living in sea fans or soft coral. So in this shot, I did my best to try to show the relationship between the ladybug and its surroundings. Luckily, when I shot this image, the dive site has a weak current and the soft coral opened their tentacles which made the photo more interesting.”
“Hairy at Sunrise” by Enrico Somogyi 2nd Place in Underwater Art.