24 breathtaking underwater photos

© Martin Edser/UPY2019A playful seal swims underwater.
  • The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition announced their 2019 winners.
  • The winning image was of sharks hunting in French Polynesia.

The annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition brings together the best photos of aquatic creatures, shipwrecks, and other marvels lurking beneath bodies of water.

Here are the winning and runner up underwater photos in every category. You can see last year’s winners here.

Captions have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Runner Up, British Waters Compact — “Split Level Frog Spawning” by Ian Michael Wade

© Ian Wade/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“Heading back to my favourite spawning site each year is a photography highlight in my calendar. On this occasion, I really struggled to find frogs spawning! After an hour or so carefully searching I spotted these two common frogs in amplexus just under the surface.”

Winner, British Waters Compact — “Playtime?” by Martin Edser

© Martin Edser/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“This adorable seal pirouetted and arabesqued around me before sliding in and flicking sand over itself in a final attempt to get me to play – and it nearly worked!”

Runner Up, British Waters Living Together — “Lovely Legs” by Arthur Kingdon

© Arthur Kingdon/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“Man-made structures, such as piers, are popular with underwater photographers as they are usually home to a wide variety of marine life in relatively shallow water. The legs provide a good surface for plant and animal life to cling to, which in turn provide shelter for fish and invertebrates. This pier, situated on the west coast of Scotland, is swept by nutrient-rich currents and the marine life is particularly prolific.”

Winner, British Waters Living Together — “Morning Tide Mackerel” by Victoria Walker

© Victoria Walker/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“This huge shoal of mackerel forgot to check the tide time table! Caught out by the spring low tide in St. Ives harbour, hundreds of mackerel found themselves stuck for a few hours until the tide came back in.”

Runner Up, British Waters Macro —”Swanage Sea Hare” by Paul Pettitt

© Paul Pettitt/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“This picture of a sea hare was taken just before the major restoration works commenced on Swanage Pier. The subject was crawling along a broken pier leg that was beautifully covered in growth, and was perfectly positioned for me to take a picture of its unmistakable face at the right angle. “

Winner, British Waters Macro — “Beauty in the Mud” by Arthur Kingdon

© Arthur Kingdon/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“I spotted a length of plastic pipe lying partially buried in the mud. Moving cautiously to avoid stirring up the silt, I reached the open end and was delighted to find this collection of marine life. A long-clawed squat lobster posed proudly outside his man-made home, which he shared with numerous brittlestars, while dainty sea loch anemones decorated the entrance.”

Runner Up, British Waters Wide Angle — “Jack Perks” by Jack Perks

© Jack Perks/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“I’m always on the lookout for unusual freshwater subjects, and grass snakes are a species I’ve been after for years. I was told about a pond used for natural swimming and the odd grass snake that hangs around the lily pads for frogs. I put my drysuit on and got into the water and could see one slithering along the surface.”

Winner, British Waters Wide Angle — “Off the Wall” by Robert Bailey

© Robert Bailey/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“Our dive group was on a private charter with Dive Scilly late last summer. The skipper dropped us on this lovely wall festooned with invertebrate life. I was keen to capture a good wide-angle scenic featuring jewel anemones and a diver.”

Runner Up, Compact — “Glow In The Dark” by ManBD

© ManBD/UPY2019Location: Indonesia

“Shaun the Sheep is everyone’s favourite nudibranch, but I wanted to make it different than others. I decided to do light from the bottom instead of from the back.”

Winner, Compact — “Hairy in the Sunrise” by Enrico Somogyi

© Enrico Somogyi/UPY2019Location: Indonesia

“I woke up early in the morning to get a half and half shoot with a fishing boat and the sunrise. This was the first picture.”

Runner Up, Black and White — “Mercury Tunnel” by Ken Kiefer

© Ken Kiefer/UPY2019Location: Grand Cayman

“My wife and I were visiting Cayman for the first time. We were mostly diving from a boat on this trip and heard a rumour about silversides making a short appearance near Devil’s Grotto at Eden Rock. We gathered up all of our gear and rushed over to try out this shore dive and search for the tarpon and silversides. It is a rare event, but absolutely magical to witness.”

Winner, Black and White — “Between Two Worlds” by Henley Spiers

© Henley Spiers/UPY2019Location: Mexico

“This image captures the hostile, black silhouette of the cormorant as it dives down onto its prey, who, for a brief moment, remain unaware of the danger above.”

Runner Up, Portrait — “Oh No, Godzilla” by Bruce Sudweeks

© Bruce Sudweeks/UPY2019Location: Galapagos Islands

“The Galapagos Islands are the only place on the planet that you can see marine iguanas in their natural habitat. This photo looks like the fictional character Godzilla that is smiling before starting some mischief.”

Winner, Portrait — “Fly High and Smile” by Nicholas Samaras

© Nicholas Samaras/UPY2019Location: Greece

“I visited Stratoni three times in August 2018 for a photo project dedicated to the seahorse colony that managed to survive there. On my third and last visit I was planning to create a specific group photo of seahorses before sunset using natural light. Just in time for the big finale, a small ray came onto the scene!”

Runner Up, Wrecks — “Wreck of the Chrisoula K” by Tobias Friedrich

© Tobias Friedrich/UPY2019Location: Egypt

“Because the bow sections of the Chrisoula K wreck in the Red Sea are too big to be taken in one image, my idea was to create a panoramic view from multiple images and merge them together to get a nice view of the whole wreck from that perspective.”

Winner, Wrecks — “Big Guns” by René B. Andersen

© René B. Andersen/UPY2019Location: Ireland

“There was a small current so it wasn’t easy to lay still during this long exposure shot. That is the challenge with deep wreck photography.”

Runner Up, Macro — “Inside the Eggs” by Flavio Vailati

© Flavio Vailati/UPY2019Location: Philippines

“I went to the Philippines to photograph these critters. I had already seen this nudibranch on these eggs, but to make this shot I had to wait for it to position itself in the point that I had imagined.”

Winner, Macro — “Fast Cuttlefish” by Fabio FabioIardino

© Fabio FabioIardino/UPY2019Location: Italy

“In the first three months of the year I often go to the Gulf of Trieste in the northeast of Italy where I do night dives to take pictures of small cuttlefish, more precisely of the species ‘Sepiola sp.’ The hope, given the period, is to find the cuttlefish during the mating phase.”

Runner Up, Wide Angle — “Curious Crabeater” by Jessica Farrer

© Jessica Farrer/UPY2019Location: Antarctica

“We were in a spot known as the Iceberg Graveyard on the Antarctic Peninsula, where massive ice giants come to rest on a rocky bottom. There was a group of eight crabeater seals cavorting around the bergs and they spent the better part of an hour spy hopping, splashing and circling around us. It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had with this species.”

Winner, Wide Angle — “Gentle Giants” by François Baelen

© François Baelen/UPY2019Location: Reunion Island

“At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimeters away from her tail. I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn’t need to ask the playful calf: he was very curious.”

Winner, Most Promising British Underwater Photographer — “Marine Compass” by Malcolm Nimmo

© Malcolm Nimmo/UPY2019Location: United Kingdom

“This photograph was taken whilst snorkelling in the Isles of Scilly in only a few metres of water, shooting directly upwards to capture the surface features and a partial Snell’s windows.”

Winner, Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year — “Caretta Caretta Turtle” by Eduardo Acevedo

© Eduardo Acevedo/UPY2019Location: Tenerife, Canary Island

“The Caretta Caretta turtles spend much of their life in the open ocean. They come to the Canary Island after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches. In this trip of many years they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc. In this particular case it got trapped in a net and it was practically impossible to escape from it … but this day, it was very lucky and could escape thanks to the help of two underwater photographers who were sailing near her.”

Winner, Up and Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year — “Paradise” by Taeyup Kim

© Taeyup Kim/UPY2019Location: French Polynesia

“Overwater, beautiful resorts and palm trees in a super clear sky. Underwater, nearly one meter of depth, colourful and untouched hard corals, with some reef fishes.”


© Richard Barnden/UPY2019Location: French Polynesia

“As the sun sets on Fakarava South Pass, the estimated 700 sharks that are patrolling the mouth of the channel by day begin to hunt at night.”

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