Winning images from the 10th annual Ocean Art Underwater photo contest
Recently, winners and finalists were announced for the 10th annual Ocean Art Underwater competition. Organized by Underwater Photography Guide, the contest has attracted entries showcasing underwater wildlife, portraits of animals and humans, and a variety of critters for a decade. Thousands of images were submitted from photographers in 81 countries.
Over $35,000 worth of prizes from sponsors were awarded. This year’s Overall winning image showcased a pair of pike fish battling it out. The complete list of winners, plus links to each category’s finalist images, can be found on the contest page. Interested in taking photos like the ones in this showcase? One of the competition’s sponsors offers up underwater photography workshops and trips.
Overall Winner and 1st Place, Marine Life Behavior: ‘Snoeken’ by Luc Rooman
The Story: This photograph was captured during a night dive in October at the dive site, Domein Muisbroek, near Antwerp, Belgium. To my surprise, I came across these fighting pike. I was lucky enough to photograph a whole series of pictures of these 2 pike.
Location: Domein Muisbroek, Belgium
Equipment Used: Nikon D810 DSLR camera, Nikon 60 mm lens, Hugyfot underwater housing, Subtonic strobes
Camera Settings: f/14, 125, ISO 200
1st Place, Wide Angle: ‘Family’ by Eduardo Acevedo
The Story: A group of pilot whales resides in clears waters in the south west of the channel between the islands of Tenerife and La Gomera. We can see adult females with calves and juvenile whales swimming together. It is normal to see this group of interrelated individuals apart from the big males. This image combines the pilot whales with the reflections created by the crystal seas.
Location: Los Gigantes, Tenerife Island, Canary Islands, Spain
Equipment Used: Canon 5D Mark IV, Seacam Housing for Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon lens 15mm. No strobe
Camera Settings: f/9, 1/100 , ISO 200
1st Place, Macro: ‘Blenny Grabs A Quick Meal’ by Nigel Motyer
The Story: This is a shot taken on a night dive where we were looking for the famous Epaulette Walking sharks. This little guy caught my eye and I stayed with him for a few images hoping to get some portraits. I loved the colour around the eyes and the expressive face so I thought this little guy would make a great photo subject.
As I shot some images, I noticed my lights attracted some zoo plankton, and then I saw the Blenny became really active feeding on the plankton. In the shot you can see the Blenny lining up a strike on a passing copepod. I love the focus on the Blenny’s face in this image.
Location: Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Equipment Used: Nikon D750 Camera. Nikon 105MM Macro Lens, Nauticam Housing, Dual Inon Z230 Strobes
Camera Settings: F32, 1/160 sec, ISO 640
Honorable Mention, Macro: ‘Pike Dinner’ by Lionel Houde
The Story: September 2021, at 20h00 during the end of a deep dive ( 33 meters), in an old quary close to the Rhine near Strasbourg. I saw an unusual agitation around 5 meters deep. A big pike was hunting another one and caught it. My approach was very slow. I stopped. After a few minutes, the pike came to me in the dark and I shot it. At the end of this story the big pike swallowed the other one hidden in the milfoil grass.
Location: France, Strasbourg, Holtzheim
Equipment Used: Olympus EM1 Camera, Housing Aquatica AE-M1 Housing, Dual Retra Pro Strobes, Panasonic Lumix 7/14mm f-4 Lens, Port Aquatica SW8
Camera Settings: F5.6, 1/100 sec, ISO 320
1st Place, Portrait: ‘Joker’ by Paolo Bausani
The Story: This shot catches the moment when a fish opens its mouth wide showing the internal gills. The picture highlights the bright and vivid color of male anthias, typical of the courtship period
Location: Italy, Argentario, Argentarola Rock
Equipment Used: Nikon D500 Camera, Nikkor 60mm Macro Lens, Nauticam Housing, Dual One Strobe
Camera Settings: F22, 1/17250, ISO 100
1st Place, Nudibranch: ‘Spawning’ by Salvatore Ianniello
The Story: A Godiva quadricolor spawning, seen from below. This photo was taken in the Mediterranean in a lagoon of the Gulf of Naples, Italy.
Location: Napales, Italy
Equipment Used: Nikon 800e Camera, Nikon 60mm Macro Lens, +4 Macro Wet Lens, Dual Inon Z240 Strobes
Camera Settings: F28, 1/320 sec, ISO 160
1st Place, Blackwater: ‘Reflections’ by Steven Kovacs
The Story: Occasionally during a blackwater dive, flying fish can be found cruising along the surface with their reflections visible. The challenge of trying to obtain a photograph showing this phenomenon is the movement of the water on the surface that tends to toss divers around, thus making it very difficult to stabilize and frame a picture at the right angle. Occasionally conditions are just good enough to allow for such pictures. as it was this night when I was also lucky enough to have a curious flying fish swim over to check me out.
Location: Palm Beach, Florida
Equipment Used: Nikon D500, Nikon 60mm Macro Lens, Ikelite Housing, Dual Ikelite DS160 Strobes
Camera Settings: F29, 1/250 sec, ISO 320
1st Place Underwater Conservation: ‘Coral Tree’ by Catherine Holmes
The Story: In this image, a diver examines the progress of coral fragment growth on a coral tree, set up by CORALL, Coral Reef Restoration Alliance in Barbados to propagate new coral growth from live fragments.
As highlighted at COP26 this year, coral reefs are the superstars of the ocean, being one of the most biodiverse ecosystems, home to almost half the fish species, absorbing 97 percent of wave activity protecting land masses and critical to the livelihoods of millions worldwide.
Coral restoration projects have been set up in many locations across the world, trying to combat the unprecedented loss of habitat forming hard corals over recent decades caused by rising water temperatures, pollution, disruptive fishing practices, disease, and local predators like crown of thorns starfish. Global warming causing coral bleaching after high water temperatures has however had the most profound negative effect of all.
Restoration projects vary in methodology. In Barbados, like the Caymans and Maldives, coral gardens have been constructed to act as nurseries for the growing fragments of coral prior to transplantation back onto the damaged reefs. Artificial trees are suspended from the surface by flotation devices allowing the fragments of coral attached to the branches to be bathed by moving currents.
There is a high percentage of success in the growth of branching corals and a survival rate of 66 percent, but there is a need for global efforts for restoration on a large scale. At present the many fragmented local efforts, that whilst effective in the short time, long term do not yet have sufficient impact, and are always susceptible to climate disasters.
Equipment Used: Nikon D500 Camera, Nauticam Housing, Dual Inon Z330 Strobes. Nikon 8-15mm Fisheye Lens
Camera Settings: F13, 1/250, ISO 400
2nd Place, Underwater Conservation: ‘Smoke Break’ by Steven Kovacs
The Story: During a dive at a popular local dive site, I was stunned to come across this small Lizardfish that had mistaken a cigarette butt drifting by for a fish. Even more shocking was that the Lizardfish did not realize its mistake and continued to swallow the discarded butt as I photographed the spectacle.
Fearing it would ultimately kill the unfortunate animal if it succeeded, I decided to intervene and took away its harmful meal choice. Sadly, I think this photograph illustrates how people can negatively impact and harm the environment with even the smallest of actions.
Location: Blue Heron Bridge, Florida, USA
Equipment Used: Nikon D7000 Camera, Canon 105mm Macro Lens, Ikelite Housing , Dual Ikelite DS160 Strobes
Camera Settings: F25, 1/250 sec, ISO 250
1st Place, Underwater Art: ‘Magical Fairy Wisps’ by Jenny Stock
The Story: Whilst diving in Cuba I caught some captivating images of vivid fairy basslet. The complementary colours of this fish lent themselves to artistic creation. Through the use of masks and filters in post processing, I crafted the basslet bodies to disperse into wisps of colourful smokey clouds against a jet black background.
Location: Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
Equipment Used: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 100mm Macro Lens, Nauticam Housing, Dual Inon Strobes
Camera Settings: F25, 1/100, ISO 500
1st Place, Black & White: ‘Ancient Caves’ by Tom St George
The Story: I joined Ellen Cuylaerts and my partner Julia Gugelmeier for a cave dive at Cenote Zacil Ha. After spending some time swimming through some very small passages the cave suddenly opens up and presents you with these giant speleothems which took millenia to form. The diver, Ellen, is dwarfed by the massive columns as she hovers awestruck and motionless, while Julia uses a video light to expertly backlight her and stay completely hidden from the camera (photographing in underwater caves is always a team effort!).
This image worked particularly well for me in black and white with the interplay of light and shadow, and the incredible textures revealed by the backlighting – most of the light is coming from the off-camera video light with the on-camera strobes used to add just a touch of fill.
Location: Cenote Zacil Ha, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Equipment Used: Sony A7SII, Sigma 15mm fisheye (with Metabones adapter), Nauticam Housing, Nauticam 8.5″ Dome Port, 2 x Inon Z330 Strobes, Big Blue 30K Lumen Video Light
Camera Settings: F8, 1/125 sec, ISO 6400
1st Place, Compact Wide Angle: ‘Motherhood’ by Kate Rister
The Story: Humpback whale mothers and their calves are seen annually in the shallow waters off of Moorea, Tahiti – typically between August and October. It’s important to approach a mother and calf slowly and with respect – not every pair will stay in the area once they spot you. We were fortunate that this mother was quite comfortable in our presence, even encouraging her shy calf to get a closer look at us by pushing him towards us with her nose.
Location: Moorea, Tahiti
Equipment Used: Sony RXIV 100, Nauticam Housing, Nauticam Wide Angle Wet Lens
Camera Settings: F5, 1/160 sec, ISO 320
3rd Place, Compact Behavior: ‘Coral Tip Forest’ by Nicole Helgason
The Story: I arrived a week earlier in the Solomon Islands on a mission to photograph healthy coral colonies. We set out for the day from Tavanipupu Island Resort to a place they can sand island. The island is just that, a mound of sand surrounded by coral. Much of the coral on one side of the island had already been killed by the shifting sands while the far side of the island was alive and vibrant with healthy coral colonies.
As I was swimming through the shallows I spotted this plating Acropora tenuis coral which was easily 3 feet across. The top of the coral was incredibly flat as if the branch tips might touch the sky at low tide. I knew this would be a fantastic subject for the top-down coral shot I’ve always dreamed of. I snapped a few shots from different angles of the coral and then floated above waiting for the perfect light.
All it took was one shot and I knew I had something special. This image has always been one of my all-time favorite photographs from the trip as the little tentacles on the side of the Acropora branches invite you to look deeper into the coral.
Location: Solomon Islands, Marau sound, Sand Island
Equipment Used: Canon G7X, Fantasea Housing, XAdventurer M6000 Lights
Camera Settings: F701, 1/400 sec, ISO 125