And The Winners Are

A PANORAMIC PHOTOGRAPH of British World War II military vehicles deep inside the Thistlegorm wreck has seen German photographer Tobias Friedrich named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2018.

Friedrich’s photograph triumphed over 5000 other underwater images entered into the UK-based contest by photographers from all over the world.

Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition that has been revived in recent years. British photographer Phil Smith was the first UPY, named in 1965.

Today’s competition has 11 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as three categories for photos taken specifically in British waters.

The judges, experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Martin Edge and Alex Mustard, named a top three along with a number of highly commended photographers in each category, and also named the British, Up & Coming and Most Promising British UPYs.

The pictures here are the winning shots (and one Highly Commended) in each category.

Appeared in DIVER April 2018

Category 1 – Wide Angle: Greg Lecoeur (France) – Humpback Whale Spy Hopping

“Each year, I go to Tonga to lead a small group of nature enthusiasts to photograph humpback whales.

Tonga offers probably the best opportunity to interact with the whales in blue water.

“This year was very special; with my friends we had some of the best moments in my underwater photographer’s life. Very curious and playful whales came to investigate us and adopt the spy-hopping posture in front of our masks.

“Although weighing several tens of tons, this mammal off Vavau’ showed incredible agility and power in holding itself vertically in the water. It was very impressive and we could feel the power of nature, but we were invaded at the same time by a feeling of gentleness. I had the chance to freeze this spectacular moment with a split shot.”

Taken with a Nikon D7200,  Tokina 10-17mm lens, Nauticam NA D7200 housing, natural light, ISO 200, f/9, 1/500th.

Alex Mustard comments: “An amazing subject, caught at the precise peak of the action. Greg’s split level is an image that truly justifies being a split level. The gesture of the humpback reaching out with its pectoral fin completes the moment.”

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Category 2 – Macro: Shane Gross (Canada) – Seahorse Density

“The pond I was in [in the Bahamas] has the highest density of seahorses on Earth, but I’ve never seen three together like this before. I was camping on shore and had all night to shoot with the idea of backlighting a single seahorse, but finding three together was a real gift.

“I was super-careful not to disturb them because they will swim away if they’ve had enough. I had my off-camera strobe and an underwater flashlight on a small tripod which I placed behind and below the trio.

“Then I waited for them to all turn in a way that you could see their silhouette.

“The sun was setting, and as it got darker the plankton really began to pile up. When the seahorses ate some of the plankton I could tell they were relaxed.

“We are still working on getting this special place protection, so I cannot reveal the exact location.”

Taken with a Nikon D500, Nikkor 60mm Macro lens; Aquatica AD500 housing. Sea & Sea YS 250 strobe. ISO 100, f/25, 1/15th.

Alex Mustard comments: “There is no denying that this UPY judge has a soft spot for seahorses, but Shane’s captivating frame offers a really fresh interpretation on this iconic subject, with three individuals silhouetted in a soup of prey, against a carefully exposed backlight.”

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Category 3 – Wrecks / Underwater Photographer of the Year: Tobias Friedrich (Germany) – Cycle-War

“For a few years now I had had this image in mind as the motorcycles on this truck inside the Thistlegorm lie so perfectly together, but you can only barely capture it because the wall is very close and you can’t move backwards enough to capture the whole scenery.

“As a result I had to create a panoramic image of the same scene to capture the whole cargo deck, including some lights that give the image more depth.”

Taken with a Canon1DX MK II, Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens, Seacam Silver housing, Seacam Seaflash 150D, Keldan Video lights. ISO 4000, f/8, 1/30th

Peter Rowlands comments: “This is a quite extraordinary shot which must be viewed as large as possible. The bigger the better. And yet it is of a subject which has been photographed literally thousands of times.

“The artistic skill is to visualise such an image and the photographic talent is to achieve it. Perfectly lit and composed, I predict that there will never be a better shot of this subject from now on.”

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Category 4 – Behaviour: Filippo Borghi (Italy) – The Fisherman

“In wintertime in the Izu peninsula in the Tokyo area of Japan, the Asiatic cormorant stops for couple of months before moving to China. So this is the best moment to try to shoot this amazing seabird while it is diving and fishing.

“I spent two days at Osezaki in very shallow waters from 5-8m waiting for the right moment to take this photo. Luckily four birds stayed in the area for two days in search of sardines and didn’t care about my presence during their diving sessions.”

Taken with a Nikon D800E, Tokina 10-17mm lens, Subal housing, Ikelite DS 160 strobe. ISO 400, f/14, 1/250th

Martin Edge comments: “This is one of my top four images in this year’s competition – flawless in every way.  Congratulations!”

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Category 5 – Portrait: Tanya Houppermans (USA) – Sand Tiger Shark Surrounded by Tiny Baitfish

“I always look forward to diving the wreck of the Caribsea in North Carolina and seeing the fierce-looking, but docile, sand tiger sharks that frequent the wreck.

“On this day as I descended to the wreck, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Millions of tiny fish were grouped in an enormous baitball above the wreck, with dozens of sand tigers lazily meandering among the fish. As I slowly swam to the center of the baitball, I looked up and noticed a sand tiger a few feet above me.

“I swam on my back underneath her, trying not to startle her. As I moved with the shark through the water the baitfish parted, giving me a clear shot of the underside of this beautiful shark, and also one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had yet as an underwater photographer.”

Taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1,  Olympus m.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens, i-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2 strobe, Nauticam NA-EM1housing. ISO 320,  f/3.5, 1/250th

Martin Edge comments: “Congratulations, this is one of my favourite images from the entire competition. Beautifully cropped – stellar shot.”

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Category 6 – Black & White: Borut Furlan (Slovenia) – Crocodile Reflections

“When diving was finished for the day [in Jadines de la Reina in Cuba], I asked the divemaster to take me back again to a place where saltwater crocodiles are usually seen. I wanted to shoot them in low evening sunlight, when the sky turns into warm colours.

“When we arrived, the sun was already on the horizon and it was very dark in the water. I pushed ISO settings high to get some warm ambient light into the picture and set the power of my strobes low.

“Fortunately the crocodile was very co-operative and, since we were both very calm, beautiful reflections appeared on the surface. I shot many images with his reflections, and this one was my favourite.

“Since there is a strong graphic element in this picture, conversion into black and white made it even more powerful.”

Taken with a Nikon D800, Nikonos RS 13mm f/2.8 lens, Seacam housing, Seacam 150 strobe, ISO 800, f/16, 1/10th

Alex Mustard comments: “Crocodiles are popular subjects; their jaws are both eye-catching and graphic. Borut’s image perfectly suits black and white, with the sinuous reflections on the surface of the inky water.”

0418 upy2018 cat6 furlan

Category 7 – Compact: Simone Matucci (New Zealand) – Dancing with the Giants

“Escaping the New Zealand winter for a magical week in Tonga’s underwater dreamland dancing with whales, my wife and I spent five days and nights at sea, sailing the Ha’apai islands and swimming with humpbacks. Not another single boat was in sight all week.

“The beauty of the encounters that we had are truly transcending. These two adult humpbacks at Ha’apai had such a connection with us in the water.  It was the most wild and incredible thing I have probably witnessed in my entire life.

“Humpback whales are such a magnificent species and they need our protection. The entire ocean needs our help. Now is the time more than ever, we lose it all. I hope that my photography brings out the ocean conservationist in all of us and helps to spread awareness to help save the ocean!”

Taken with a Sony RX100 Mk 4, Dyron wide-angle lens, Aquapazza housing, natural light, ISO 100,  f/7.1, 1/400th

Peter Rowlands comments: “What better example can there be of the old adage ‘F8 and be there’, except that today’s compact cameras are so capable (and this takes nothing away from the photographer) that it should now be: ‘Be there and press the shutter’.”

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Category 8 – Up & Coming / Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year: Man BD (Malaysia) – Roar

“I was shooting this nudibranch [at Yos Dive Lembeh house reef] and focusing on its behaviour to get just the right shot. While this was happening a moray eel suddenly appeared out of the blue behind the nudi. I was shocked for a while, but decided it would be a  great composition.

“A few minutes flew by and to my surprise another nudi appeared right behind the other one, maybe to mate. Having both nudis and a moray eel was a double surprise for me.

“I then decided to wait a while longer for the nudi to be in frame with the moray eel roaring behind. It took about 30 minutes to get this shot, and it was well worth it.”

Taken with an Olympus Tough TG-4, Olympus PT-056 housing, internal flash, ISO 200, f/6, 1/200th

Martin Edge comments: “Another of my favourites in the competition. The mouth and head of the moray take up more than 50% of the image frame, which is all out of focus, but the result is a superb demonstration of blur which I would never have believed would work against the nudis.

The soft left eye of the moray together with the moray’s gleaming white teeth towards the bottom round off this image but there is still more to come! The nudis look as if they are planning their escape in different directions. One superb image!”

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Category 9 – British Waters Wide Angle / British Underwater Photographer of the Year: Grant Thomas (UK) – Love Birds

“I have always been fascinated by over-under photography, connecting the everyday terrestrial world that we all know with the less familiar underwater secrets.

“I chose Loch Lomond as the location for this shot due to its idyllic scenery, water access and friendly swans. My initial idea was to frame a split-shot of one swan feeding below the surface of the water, but when I noticed how  comfortable they were around me I was confident, with some patience, that I could get that magical shot of the two.

“It was mid-day, sun high in the sky.

I waded slowly into the shallow water, allowing the swans to become comfortable with my presence.

“When they began searching for food below the waterline I just had to wait for that perfect moment of synchronicity. ”

Taken with a Canon 5D MkIII,  Tokina 10-17mm lens, Ikelite housing, two Inon Z240 strobes, ISO 125, f/14, 1/80th.

Martin Edge comments:  ”The judging panel were impressed when we first viewed this image but, as you know, opinions can change. In this case the swans image got better and better over the days of judging. ”

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Category 9 – British Waters Wide Angle (Highly Commended) / Most Promising British U/W Photographer of the Year: Tony Stephenson (UK) – How Many Pike?

“I live in the East Midlands a long way from the sea and, as a result, a lot of my diving takes place in the quarry at Stoney Cove, the UK’s National Diving Centre.
“I love photographing pike, and on this particular dive during the Easter holidays, a “group” of males were looking for a mate. Once they found one they pursued her relentlessly, and were completely transfixed on gaining her attention.

“This allowed me to get close in front of the fish, fill the frame and aim to get lots of good eye contact. I was delighted by the results. I hope that I have demonstrated that UK inland diving can throw up some amazing sights that are a pleasure to witness and photograph.”

Taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 MkII, Panasonic Lumix G 8mm fisheye lens, Nauticam NA-EM10 Mark 11 housing, two Inon Z240 strobes, ISO 200, f/4.5, 1/125th

Peter Rowlands comments: “We were not short of pike pictures to look at, but this one captured us all. We did agree, however, that a touch of extra light (or Photoshop lightening) on the central character would have helped.”

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Category 10 – British Waters Macro: Henley Spiers (UK) – Battle of the Tompots

“These two tompot blennies are not kissing but engaged in a ferocious battle over mating rights. The British summer is mating season among tompots and competition is fierce.

“I went diving under Swanage Pier in search of these charismatic fish and was delighted to encounter one with the ornate, blue facial markings designed to attract a partner. To my surprise and wonder, he was soon joined by another male, and they started tussling.

“At one point, the dust settled and they remained motionless, jaws locked together, just long enough for me to capture this image. It was a very fortunate encounter and I am delighted to be able to share it through this photo.”

Taken with a Nikon D7200, Nikon 60mm lens, Nauticam NA D7200 housing, two Inon Z240 strobes, ISO 100, f/4.5, 1/125th

Peter Rowlands comments:  ”Who says British fish lack colour and character? This shot has got it right in all the right places. Sharp when needed and blurred when not. It concentrates and rewards the viewer’s eye.”

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Category 11 – British Waters Compact: Vicky Paynter (UK) – Scratchy Seal

“I had a free weekend, so took up a last-minute space on our club trip to the Farne Islands, home to thousands of grey seals (also known as Atlantic seals). Each autumn hundreds of pups are born there.

“We’d arrived just before then but there were still plenty of younger seals keen to interact and explore these strange bubbling divers. This picture was taken on the second dive of the day, when my two buddies acted as seal magnets and we had some glorious encounters.

“This seal obviously had an itch to scratch, because at one point he lay on his back waiting for his belly to be rubbed and, as we were leaving him, he was giving his tail a good scratch, pulling some interesting shapes in the process. This must have led to the satisfied grin he appears to be sporting!”

Taken with a Canon Power Shot S110, Ikelite:Ultra Compact 6242.11housing, ISO 160, f/2.8, 1/500th

Martin Edge comments: ”A very well-executed image; the lighting, focus and composition are very well done. I’m drawn to the reflection on the back of this seal. A worthy winner.”

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Full Results

Full results and details of the 2018 UPY Yearbook can

be found at

© All images copyright of respective owner/UPY 2018

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