Shrimp & star bag Underwater Close-up win

Dreamtime (© Simon Theuma / CUPOTY 5)
Dreamtime (© Simon Theuma / CUPOTY 5)

Australian photographer Simon Theuma has won the highly competitive Underwater category in the fifth annual Close-up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY 5) competition, with his work Dreamtime.

CUPOTY was started in 2018 by UK-based Tracey and Dan Calder, with the aim of revealing hidden wonders of the world through close-up, macro and micro photography, though the Underwater category is a more recent addition. The couple say that the 2023 competition attracted almost 12,000 entries from 67 countries. 

The 11 category winners and Top 100 close-up photographs were selected by a jury of 23 photographers, scientists, naturalists, journalists and picture editors through 20 collective hours of deliberations on Zoom, with underwater photographers Angel Fitor and Scott Portelli among the judges.

“Like an intricate tapestry of the marine ecosystem, this image captures the relationship between a commensal shrimp and a mosaic sea star,” said Theuma, describing his winning shot. “Dreamtime Aboriginal art reminds us of the delicate balance that exists in the grand tapestry of our natural world – this ancient wisdom serves as an important reminder to preserve what we have. 

“To capture this image, I needed to use a snooted strobe, which was set at an acute angle to the subject. This set-up accentuated the depth and beautiful texture of the two organisms. Additionally, I enhanced magnification by using a +15 wet lens dioptre.” 

(Dreamtime was taken using a Nikon D850 + 85mm f2.8G lens, Sea&Sea housing, YS-250 Pro strobes, Inon UCL67 +15 Wet Dioptre and snoot, 1/200th, f/14, ISO 64)

Underwater runners-up

Second place in the Underwater category went to Heart Of The Sea, an image captured on a blackwater night dive in Romblon in the Philippines by Chinese photographer Liang Fu, who explained how it had come about. 

Heart Of The Sea (© Liang Fu / CUPOTY 5)
Heart Of The Sea (© Liang Fu / CUPOTY 5)

“I saw something shining under my searchlight at 28m deep. As I swam closer to investigate, I found a lava moray eel curled into a heart shape. I was extremely fortunate to capture this moment with my camera.

“The eel remained at that depth for less than 10 seconds before swimming down and disappearing into the darkness.” (Taken with a Canon EOS R5 + Canon RF 35mm F2.8L MACRO IS USM, two strobes, 1/200th, f/13, ISO 400)

Third place was awarded to US diver Chris Gug for Pinkaboo, taken in Misool in Indonesia’s West Papua. “For years, I had been wanting to make a relatively simple image of a golden damselfish set against a background of red sea whip coral,” said Gug. 

“But on multiple trips to various South Pacific diving locations, there was always some problem with the sea whips – one branch would be broken, lack of current caused the polyps to be retracted, the damselfish was too rough… just always something to make me cringe with OCD! 

Pinkaboo (© Chris Gug / CUPOTY 5)
Pinkaboo (© Chris Gug / CUPOTY 5)

“So when I found this little gem living in what are clearly not red sea whips, I had to twist my mind out of its rigidity, and realise that the gorgonian coral background I was searching for was indeed a different species, and was right in front of me! 

“As a traditional fisheye-lens shooter, water-contact optics have been a game-changer in underwater wide-angle photography. While not quite as wide as a fisheye lens, they still cover a large field of vision, while maintaining far superior corner sharpness, and don’t introduce the extreme barrel distortion of a fisheye lens. 

“Using Nauticam’s revolutionary WACP-1 lens/port allowed me to use a medium zoom, and create a close-focus wide-angle view from just a few inches away that, unlike a fisheye lens, appears flat and maintains focus on the entire coral environment.” (Taken with a Nikon D850 + AF Nikkor 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5D, Nauticam housing, WACP-1 lens / port, dual Ikelite DS-161 strobes, 1/50th, f/14, ISO 320)

Other Top 100 Underwater images

Other images entered in the Underwater category to make the CUPOTY 5 Top 100 included:

Pisces Constellation (© Csaba Daróczi / CUPOTY 5)
Pisces Constellation (© Csaba Daróczi / CUPOTY 5)

Hungarian Csaba Daróczi’s Pisces Constellation showed freshwater fish gathered in a pond on a moonlit night in Soltvadkert, Hungary. Daróczi was in fact awarded the title Close-up Photographer of the Year 5, but for a topside bird picture, showing a Eurasian nuthatch in flight. (Taken with a Nikon Z6 + Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide Angle Macro lens, self-made stand, two strobes, 30sec, f/4-22, ISO 4000)

Gimme Shelter (© Henley Spiers / CUPOTY 5)
Gimme Shelter (© Henley Spiers / CUPOTY 5)

UK diver Henley Spiers’ Gimme Shelter showed a juvenile fish sheltering in the open eastern Pacific beneath a blue button hydroid. (Taken with a Nikon D850 + 28-70mm f/2.8 AF-S, Nauticam housing, 1/500th, f/13, ISO 800)

Entourage (© Jake Wilton / CUPOTY 5)
Entourage (© Jake Wilton / CUPOTY 5)

A reef manta ray with an entourage of juvenile golden trevally at Ningaloo Reef was the subject of Australian photographer Jake Wilton’s composition Entourage. (Taken with a Nikon D810 + Nikkor AF-S Fisheye 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED, 1/250th, f/9, ISO 640)

Juvenile Anglerfish (© Koji Shinke / CUPOTY 5)
Juvenile Anglerfish (© Koji Shinke / CUPOTY 5)

Koji Shinke from Japan captured this Juvenile Anglerfish at Osezaki in Numazu Shizuoka. (Taken with a Nikon D810 + 105mm f/2.8 Sea&Sea housing, two Retra Flash Pro strobes, 1/250th, f/16, ISO 160)

Cloud Nine (© Laura Storm / CUPOTY 5)
Cloud Nine (© Laura Storm / CUPOTY 5)

Laura Storm from the UK took Cloud Nine, showing a ghost goby in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia, hiding among the undulating textures and swirls of its pink sponge daybed. (Taken with a Canon EOS 800D + EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM, two INON s2000 strobes with filters, Sea&Sea RDX750 housing with DX Macro Port 52, Light & Motion Sola 1200 focus light, 1/80th, f/14, ISO 200)

Alpine Water Salamander (© Luc Rooman / CUPOTY 5)
Alpine Water Salamander (© Luc Rooman / CUPOTY 5)

Belgian Luc Rooman’s Alpine Water Salamander rests on a water lily prior to surfacing, in a freshwater lake at De Melle, Antwerp. (Taken with a Nikon D500 + 16-35mm f/4, two Subtronic strobes, 1/160th, f/22, ISO 100

Fairy Shrimp Showing Colourful Eggs (© René Krekels / CUPOTY 5)
Fairy Shrimp Showing Colourful Eggs (© René Krekels / CUPOTY 5)

Fairy Shrimp Showing Colourful Eggs, taken in Germany, is the self-explanatory title of this photograph by Netherlands biologist René Krekels. (Taken with a Canon R5 + MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens, strobes, 1/250th, f/8, ISO 250)

In the Moonlight (© Sandra Stalker / CUPOTY 5)
In the Moonlight (© Sandra Stalker / CUPOTY 5)

Finally In the Moonlight, by a third British photographer, Sandra Stalker, shows a stalked jellyfish clinging to seaweed in turbulent waters at Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset. (Taken with a Sony A7R IV + Meyer Optic Trioplan 50 vintage lens, Nauticam housing, two Backscatter miniflashes and two strobes, one with a blue filter, one with a snoot, 1/320th, f/2.8, ISO 50)

‘Best yet’

These and other shortlisted Underwater CUPOTY entries can be seen in an online gallery, along with the Top 100 entries in all the other categories, which are: Animals, Insects, Butterflies & Dragonflies, Invertebrate Portrait, Plants, Fungi & Slime Moulds, Intimate Landscape, Human Made, Micro (images created using a microscope) and Young Close-up Photographer of the Year (17 or under).

“Thanks to these creative and original pictures, I now know that tadpoles can eat birds, ants fire acid like water-pistols and bees sometimes hold each other’s legs while they sleep,” says Tracey Calder.

“Personally, I think this is our best collection of winning images yet, and I’m so grateful to those who entered, as it allows us to see and learn from their work, and to recognise how incredible and surprising the world is.”

The competition is supported by Affinity Photo 2, Nikon, Zerene Stacker, Datacolor, NiSi, Greenwings Wildlife Holidays and Sigma UK. Category winners receive a universal licence for all three Affinity apps (Photo, Designer + Publisher) for macOS, Windows & iPadOS. 

Entries for CUPOTY 6 open in May. Divers wishing to enter can receive details by signing up to the newsletter.

Also on Divernet: 10 underwater close-ups that seduced judges

LET’S KEEP IN TOUCH!

Get a weekly roundup of all Divernet news and articles Scuba Mask
We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Connect With Us

0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x