Close Encounters With Sharks Win 2022 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest

Over Under Portrait of a Great White Shark

“Great white split” by Matty Smith (Australia). Winner, Portrait and British Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022.
“I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait of a great white shark for a couple of years. Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own carbon pole and remote trigger. This enabled me to safely lower my camera and housing into the water with my own 12” split shot dome port attached. 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! We had wonderfully calm seas and nice evening side lighting for this naturally lit image.”

The prestigious Underwater Photographer of the Year competition is back and the 2022 winners are better than ever. Spain's Rafael Fernandez Caballero was named Underwater Photographer of the Year while Australia's Matty Smith took the title of British Underwater Photographer of the Year. Both photographers were awarded for their incredible images of sharks.

Fernandez Caballero's award-winning image was taken in the Maldives and shows a group of whale sharks feeding on nocturnal plankton that had been attracted by the lights of the boat he was on. He immediately jumped into the water and was treated to an unbelievable experience.

“It was already incredible when one whale shark came to our boat,” explains Fernandez Caballero. “But more and more kept arriving. I was diving with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe it as their numbers grew. He counted eleven sharks that night—a once in a lifetime encounter that nobody thought was possible.”

Smith, who was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year, had a close encounter of his own with a shark. The Englishman, who now lives in Australia, spent years building a special camera to get the over-under portrait of a great white shark that he'd been dreaming of. In fact, his invention was so attractive to the sharks that he actually had to stop them from biting it.

But wildlife isn't the only living being on display with these underwater photos. Humans also took center stage in several categories. Quico Abadal's artistic image of a woman at sunset on a Thai beach is purposely displayed upside-down. The photographer's creative decision earned him the title of Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year.

“In this category, we are always looking for exciting new talent bringing fresh visions to underwater photography,” shares competition judge Alex Mustard. “This image is a fabulous example. Simple subject matter, elevated into an artistic image by the imagination, ideas, and talent of the photographer and model.”

With 4,200 images entered in the contest from photographers across 71 countries, the competition was stiff. Scroll down to see more of the award-winning underwater photography.

Check out our favorite winning images from the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 competition.

Sharks in the Maldives

“Giants of the night” by Rafael Fernandez Caballero (Spain). Winner, Wide Angle and Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022.
“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. At the beginning of the night one whale shark came to the light of our boat BlueForce One, we jumped in the water and then another whale shark came. We were so happy when, a couple of hours later, 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. Magic happens in the ocean every day, but if we don’t protect the oceans and sharks, these moments will soon be a thing of the past.”

Artistic Underwater Portrait

“Sairee beach Koh Tao” by Quico Abadal (Spain). Winner, Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022.
“I first met Jeniya having breakfast at Zest, one of my favourite food spots of Koh Tao. We talked for long and we clicked quite well. A couple of days later we recorded a very cool video together. I knew I wanted to shoot more with her, she moved quite poetically underwater. So after a couple of months we met at the end of Sairee beach. She was wearing a stunning long white dress and we just planned to shoot mostly split shots with the sunset. I’d use the strobes to illuminate the underwater scene and the sun would do the rest. It was a pretty challenging shot, since I didn’t have any fins or wetsuit, so I would easily sink. Also it was tricky to gain focus properly on the subject. What I like about this photograph is the imperfection of backscatter, recreating space and making it perfect to me.”

Split Photo of a Toad

“Peace” by Enrico Somogyi (Germany). Winner, Compact.
“Once a year at the end of March it is mating time for the toads. It last only few days and only at this time is it possible to get very close to them. Normally they are very shy. I was trying to get a split shot with this toad, when he started to crawl on my small domeport. I got some pictures from this action and this was my favorite pic.”

Anemone fish embryos

“City of Angels” by David Alpert (United Kingdom). Second Place, Macro.
“Just hours before they are due to hatch – these anemone fish embryos stare out into the world beyond. Their large eyes give a sense of foreboding for what lies beyond. Around spring tide, with water volumes at their greatest, a couple hours after dusk, for maximum protection from predators, they will be cast adrift onto the ocean currents to try to navigate their way through to adulthood.
All are male. They will hope to establish themselves with an anemone to form a symbiotic relationship. Only the dominant male will breed with the single female, the largest in the group. When she dies, he will alter his sex to become the next breeding female. And so the cycle is complete – in balance – but first they must hatch – getting close now – will it be tonight? Yes – the day after I took this picture they were gone.”

Predatory Fish Eating Another Fish

“The Circle of Life” by Javier Murcia (Spain). Runner Up, Behavior.
“This image is the result of many years working on animal behavior. A diseased species is usually easy prey for a predator since it uses little energy. In this case, a Mediterranean predatory fish (Sereranus scriba) has hunted a green fish (Labrus viridis), an endemic species to the Mediterranean and abundant in the Posidonia oceanica meadows. The moment was unique, the green wrasse swam slowly and roughly, it was probably sick, and a few meters away I could see the sawing hiding among the dense posidonia meadow to hunt it down. It was a matter of being patient and in the blink of an eye I caught it. It was so interested in swallowing it that I was able to get within a few inches without flinching. And so is the cycle of life.”

Black and White Underwater Portrait of a Young Girl

“Sarah’s Underwater World” by Kerrie Burow (Australia). Winner, Black and White.
“This shot was taken a year into the Coronavirus pandemic; my 7-year-old niece Sarah stares with wonder into my housing dome while on one breath underwater.
The scene portrays the therapeutic power of water which so many of us experienced during the pandemic. The underwater world offered peace, comfort and hope – for the anxious, the depressed and the grieving. It gave us a chance to feel joy and adventure again as well as freedom from the heavy weight of the pandemic – even if just for a moment while on one breath.”

Artistic Underwater Portrait

“Rapunzel on Fire” by Thomas Heckmann (Germany). Winner, Portrait.
“Our image Idea was to create a completely black silhouette in the foreground, but at the same time make eye contact with the viewer. To make the hair glow, the camera settings were for the silhouette and three powerful strobes were needed hidden in the background. These background strobes were triggered by long cables and an additional RSU . For the face I used a combination of video light/strobe (Subtronic Fusion) with Retra LSD snoot for the front.”

Red Anemone

“Beauty on a red anemone skirt” by Yazid Shaari (Oman). Runner Up, Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year.
“I had just travelled back home from a very exciting underwater photography workshop and if I had learned any thing from this experience it was to find an attractive background and then look for a subject to complement the scene. I caught a glimpse of a red anemone skirt in between the rocks and I have never seen this color in our area before, so I started to play with the lighting to get the right exposure, when suddenly I can detect some kind of movement in the view finder only to find this beautiful goby, very uncommon to our dive sites, but a very pleasant surprise.”

Sea Gooseberries on Colorful Water

“Diamonds and Rust” by Paul Pettitt (United Kingdom). Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2022.
“This picture was taken on a bright afternoon when I knew the sun would be on the west side of the Pier. The Sea Gooseberries had been around for a while and on this particular day the water was like glass. I floated in the spot I wanted and waited for them to slowly drift by. The background colors represent the rust and weed growth on a metal cross beam.”

Blennies Peaking Out of a Rock

“Best Buddies” by Dan Bolt (United Kingdom). Winner, British Waters Macro.
“2021 was the 10 year anniversary of my first trip to the beautiful Loch Carron, and in all that time it has never failed to produce stunning underwater images with its diverse array of marine inhabitants. My buddies know that I’m not very good at finding Yarrels blennies, and it was no exception on this dive either. We were diving on an area of reef I’d not previously explored, and after an excited squeal and waving of a torch in my direction I dropped down to see that my buddy had found not one, but two beautiful little blennies holed up in a crack in the rock.
Having my long macro lens on was an advantage as I could stand-off from the reef enough to get some light into their home so we could all see their some-what bemused little faces. Best buddies for sure!”

Shipwreck of Tyrifjord in Norway

“Abandoned Ship” by Alex Dawson (Sweden). Winner, Wrecks.
“The wreck of Tyrifjord is one of the favorite wrecks in the Gulen dive resort area of Norway. She sits in approximately 40 meters and is very sheltered from most winds. This is one of the dives we always try to do on our wreck safari that we try to do almost every year. We are a mixed group of Norwegians, Swedish, Danish and Dutch that usually meet up. The highlight of the wreck is always the huge extra steering wheel in the aft. You can see the 50+ foot dive boat up on the surface from 40 meters depth at the top.”

Turtle Hatchling Swimming Near Heron Island

“Against All Odds” by Hannah Le Leu (Australia). Third Place, Wide Angle.
“At Heron Island, Australia, a Green Sea Turtle hatchling cautiously surfaces for air to a sky full of hungry birds. Against all odds, this hatchling must battle through the conditions of a raging storm whilst evading a myriad of predators. Not only has the tropical storm brought out thousands of circling birds, but there are also patrolling sharks and large schools of fish on the hunt for baby turtles. Only 1 in 1000 of these hatchlings will survive; will this one survive against all odds?”

Frogs Mating

“All You Need Is Love” by Pekka Tuuri (Finland). Winner, Behavior. Winner, My Backyard.
“All you need is love! This love pond is in my backyard, a 20 minute drive from home. And it has rewarded me plentifully over the past ten years. It is full of love in late April. 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!”

Grey Seal Pup Yawning

“Yawn” by Henley Spiers (United Kingdom). Third Place, British Waters Wide Angle.
“A grey seal pup stretches and performs an exaggerated yawn as it awakens from a snooze in the kelp. I find it hard not to smile when looking at this image and hope it has the same effect on others. There is a kinship one feels when sharing the water with marine mammals and these seals are amongst the best underwater companions. With enviable aquatic grace, seal pups have an irresistible zest for life, exhibiting curiosity, playfulness and affection. Just weeks after birth, pups are abandoned to fend for themselves, but they exhibit no anxiety at the world which awaits, exploring it with insatiable energy and joyfulness. The pups actively seek out divers and snorkelers, leading to wildlife encounters in which everyone wins. Best of all, with one of the largest grey seal populations in the world, British waters are the perfect place to visit these charismatic pinnipeds.”

Over Under Photo with a Starfish

“Rock pool star” by Martin Stevens (United Kingdom). Winner, British Waters Compact.
“Living from shallow down to deep water and reaching impressive sizes, spiny starfish are abundant in Cornwall. I've often taken photos of them underwater, but on a low tide they can be found in the exposed rock pools. Last year we had very low spring tides, and I wanted to attempt some split shots of a starfish in the pools. So, I attached a fisheye wet lens and was lucky with bright conditions, and after a while came across a large starfish in a gully flanked by exposed kelp. The water was clear and calm, and given that starfish aren't the quickest of creatures I could compose some photos with the gully and kelp behind and a little of the starfish showing through the water from above. At the same time, seaweed is most vibrant in the spring, which added a splash of red color to the scene.”

Over Under Photo with Paddle Boarder and Jellyfish

“A peaceful coexistence” by Lewis Jefferies (United Kingdom). British Waters Living Together.
“In the summer months Jelly fish frequent the British isles in larger numbers, thought to be attracted by the warmer waters. The summer of 2021 was no exception and there were huge numbers of these Compass jellyfish in Falmouth Bay. It was a perfect summers evening – clear and calm with hardly a breath of wind. We grabbed the paddle board and camera and headed to the beach in search of jellyfish. I had a sunset shot like this – loosely – in mind and fortunately all the elements lined up to create something quite memorable.
I hope my image can inspire others to explore and appreciate the wonders that are found right in our backyard, in British waters.”

Aerial View of Anchovy Fishing in Vietnam

“Big appetite” by Thien Nguyen Ngoc (Vietnam). Winner, ‘Save Our Seas Foundation' Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022.
“An aerial perspective of busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen, Phu Yen province, Vietnam, many local fisherman families along the coastline will follow the near-shore currents to catch the anchovy during peak season. Salted anchovy is the most important raw material to create traditional Vietnamese fish sauce but anchovies are a little fish with a big impact. When they are overfished, the whales, tunas, sea birds… and other marine predators that rely on them as a dietary staple face starvation and population decline critically. And so far Vietnam is also facing this anchovy overfishing situation, according to the survey results of the Institute of Seafood Research, the reserves and catches of anchovies in the waters of Vietnam have decreased by 20-30% in the past 10 years.”

Underwater Photographer of the Year: Website | Facebook | Instagram 

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by UPY.

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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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