Underwater photographers have their chance to shine every year in a prestigious competition that started over 50 years ago with the Brighton Underwater Film Festival. Organized by Bernard Eaton in 1965, the UK-hosted competition has come to attract hundreds of talented photographers each year, with a record 5500 photo entries in 2020. This year’s winners of the Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY) awards are sure to inspire wonder and awe.
Despite a plethora of complications due to pandemic policies, dedicated divers from around the world managed to submit an impressive 4,200 visual records of aquatic experiences unlikely for most to witness first-hand. Alex Mustard, the competition judge told Daily Mail UK, “Restriction on travel over the past year may have stopped many photographers visiting their favourite waters, but it hasn’t stifled their creativity.”
Celebrating “photography beneath the surface of the world’s oceans, lakes, rivers, and even swimming pools,” the competition amassed a wide range of images from all over the world. A sharks’ midnight feeding frenzy, a deep-sea shipwreck in Norway, and a flooded underwater mine in Sweden are among the winners.
The top award called “Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022” was given to Dancing With the Giants of the Night, a shot taken by Rafael Fernandez Caballero from Spain. It was a riveting image of five whale sharks feeding together in the Maldives at night.
Caballero described the situation, “It was already incredible when one whale shark came to our boat but more and more kept arriving. I was diving with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe it as their number grew. He counted 11 sharks that night—a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that nobody thought was possible.”
Kerrie Burrow of Australia won the Black and White category, with Sarah’s Underwater World, a dreamy tribute to water, which provided much-needed relief and therapy after many months of strict pandemic measures. After a long separation from her family due to state borders being closed, she jumped in the water with her two nieces and her camera. Burrow described the image of her seven-year-old niece as portraying “the absolute joy and wonder of being in the water.”
Since many photographers were unable to travel in search of great shots, a brand-new category, called “My Backyard Award 2022,” was created to accommodate the pandemic situation. Pekka Tuuri from Finland took the prize for this one, with a shot of three affectionate frogs in an aquatic embrace. The scene was discovered at a favorite pond near his home, and he calls the photo All You Need is Love.
The British heritage of UPY inspired two additional limited categories. First, is the “British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022,” won by Matty Smith, A 3.5m Great White Curiously Approaches My Lens, a breath-taking photograph of a big white shark swimming through the sea near the Neptune Islands in South Australia. The other category is the “Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2022,” awarded to Paul Pettitt for his work Diamond and Rust, a gleaming underwater photograph taken near a pier one day.
Another new category this year, “Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022” was created to recognize initiatives to conserve our seas and wildlife. Thien Nguyen Ngoc won the category with his photo Season of Anchovy Fishery. Nguyen Ngoc hopes his dramatic overhead view of anchovy fishing will raise awareness about the serious threat of overfishing in his country of Vietnam and around the world.
Scroll down to see more winners and runners-up: