The Passenger strikes gold in DPG Masters

The Passenger (© Marco Gargiulo /
(© Marco Gargiulo /

“Best of Show” prize in the 2023 DPG Masters Underwater Imaging Competition has been awarded to Italian photographer Marco Gargiulo for The Passenger, his split-shot (above) of a juvenile imperial blackfish riding a jellyfish beneath the Mount Vesuvius volcano. The Italian's photograph also took the Gold award in the Over-Under category.

The winning images and short films entered
 in the annual contest have just been announced, with the website DivePhotoGuide, which organises the event, saying that thousands of photographers and film-makers from dozens of countries had competed in what it describes as the “world championship” of international underwater imaging events.

Entries in the seven image
categories and video section were judged by a panel of photographers comprising Stephen Frink, Renee Capozzola, Scott ‘Gutsy’ Tuason, Allison Vitsky Sallmon, Matty Smith and Amanda Cotton. 

Top three and Highly Commended awards are given in each category, with the winners sharing prizes valued at US $75,000. As in previous competitions, 15% of the entry fee proceeds is earmarked for marine conservation.

“It’s not often you see snow on the Vesuvius volcano here in the Gulf of Naples, where I live in Sorrento,” said Gargiulo of The Passenger. “It soon vanishes due to the mild temperatures. I’ve always wanted to take a photo, and I finally managed to get into the water to do it. 

“During my walk along the Marina Grande in Sorrento, my usual place for winter night-diving, the wind pushed a large quantity of jellyfish along the coast. I was lucky to find one that had a small passenger on board.”

“Most remarkable for me is the juxtaposition of a blackwater subject against wide-angle topside with sunlight,” commented judge Capozzola. “I initially thought this must be a composite, so to learn this photograph was one image clinched the decision in my view.”

“Possibly the highest compliment I can give an underwater shot is wondering: ‘How did they do that?’,” added Frink. “I look at this over/under and marvel at how perfectly aligned the interface is between the topside and the underwater, despite the surface chop. 

“The blend of strobe light for the underwater subject and the ambient light in the background is masterful. Combining artistic vision with significant technical mastery makes this the winner for me.”


(© Fabien Michenet /
(© Fabien Michenet /

Gold in the Traditional category went to Sea Lions At Work by Fabien Michenet from France, a photograph taken in Baja California. “Every year, in the south of Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast of Mexico, a sardine run occurs between October and November,” says Michenet.

“As millions of Pacific sardines gather over seamounts, fin whales, humpbacks, striped marlin, mahi-mahi, Pacific sea-lions and other predators are attracted by the feast. 

“After a few hours of searching, we found this baitball of densely packed sardines, and we observed marlin and mahi-mahi – particularly abundant this year due to the El Niño phenomenon – feeding on the fish. 

“Suddenly, a group of sea-lions took over the area, denying other predators access. Keeping the sun at my back, I positioned myself so that the scene was illuminated symmetrically, taking a few images as the ball of churning fish, surrounded by sea-lions, moved away.”


(© Byron Conroy /
(© Byron Conroy /

UK diver Byron Conroy, whose work scored highly in several categories of the competition, won in the Macro category with Gone Fishin’, taken in Indonesia’s Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi. “For a long time, I have been an admirer of frogfish,” he said. “The way they hunt fascinates me, so the challenge was to capture this special behaviour in all its glory. 

“To get this shot, I had a snoot positioned on my camera locked in place, and waited patiently for the moment when the lure came out. A shot like this can take patience, as the fish needs to be relaxed to exhibit its usual behaviour. 

“The snooted subject with the black background draws the eye into the action, and the black negative space was chosen to give the idea that any potential meal could be about to enter the scene.”

Wide Angle

(© Suliman Alatigi /
(© Suliman Alatigi /

Gold-winner Wishing Well, showing a crab-eating macaque gazing at the water from the edge of a rocky platform, as seen through Snell’s Window {where everything topside appears through a 96° cone of light), was taken in Thailand by Kuwaiti photographer Suliman Alatiqi while on a tour of the Phi Phi Islands. 

“I noticed that the animals tend to stay on cliffs close to the water during the day,” he said. “This made me think about the possibility of capturing an underwater perspective of the animal with the scenery above. 

“The biggest challenge was lighting a subject completely above the water, as I did not want a silhouette. After some experimenting, I waited patiently for the right opportunity and managed to get this moment on breath-hold. The macaque seemed inquisitive about my approach, which made the photo possible.”


© Yinan Liu /
(© Yinan Liu /

“When we went out to sea in the morning, we passed a small island and saw the fishermen on the island cutting up sharks and throwing the unused parts on the beach,” said Chinese photographer Yinan Liu of his winning shot in the Conservation category, Massacre. Like the winner of the Traditional category, it was taken in Magdalena Bay in Mexico’s Baja California.

“When we returned in the afternoon, due to the high tide, the abandoned parts had been brought out into the sea, allowing me to go under water and capture this heartbreaking scene. I hope that through this photo, more people can work together to protect sharks. If there is no trade, there will be no killing.”

Black & White

© Martin Broen /
(© Martin Broen /

Another image captured in Mexico was Parallel Universes by Martin Broen, but this time it was taken in Cenote Xa’ay Ha, Tulum on the Yucatan peninsula. The US photographer had also topped the Black & White category in the previous two years, as well as scooping the Grand Prize on both occasions.

“Over the year, I have had the pleasure of capturing the beauty of over 250 different Mexican cenotes,” he said. “One of the most fascinating aspects of these cave systems is their stunning formation enclosure and decorations, and the ability to move freely to explore them in every direction and in a perfectly translucent environment. 

“Nothing exemplifies this freedom of movement more than breaking from your bi-dimensional constraints and jumping into vertical opening tunnels – as if entering a parallel universe.”


(© Magnus Lundgren /
(© Magnus Lundgren /

Gold in the Blackwater category went to the colourful Flamenco Pose by Sweden’s Magnus Lundgren, taken in Anilao, Batangas in the Philippines.

“It was a night filled with drama when I encountered one of my dream subjects in Balayan Bay,” he says. “The Taal volcano was erupting, sending fireworks into the dark sky like a huge dragon, and the deep, thundering sound of earthquakes rolled through the ocean. 

“At the same time, this female blanket octopus appeared from nowhere, out of the dark, in front of my camera. She started rolling out her long blanket, ending up in this Batman-like pose.

“False eyes decorating her flamenco-style webbing between her arms stared back at me. It is believed that the blanket is probably used to spook or confuse predators.”

Short Film

(© Alfred Schaschl /

The Magic Triangle tells “an illusory story of an ocean-lover who dives through a hole in the ice and experiences the bizarre beauty of the tropical ocean”, explained videographer Alfred Schaschl, who shot his Short Film winner in Weissensee, Carinthia, in his home country of Austria, and also in Dauin in the Philippines.

UK successes

Five UK divers featured among the runners-up, including further successes for Byron Conroy (Silfra Sunrise, Silver / Black & White and Speedy Boxfish, Honourable Mention / Macro); Simon Hilbourne (Problem Props, Bronze / Conservation); Annie Guttridge (Trio, Bronze / Wide Angle); Francis Glassup (Amongst Clouds of Sediment, Honourable Mention / Black & White); and Michael Fafalios (Beneath the Horizon, Bronze / Short Film).

(© Annie Guttridge /
(© Annie Guttridge /
(© Michael Fafalios /

All the winning images and videos can be found at

Also on Divernet: Spitting image scoops pool in contest, Planet Ocean: Tides Are Changing winners, Winning images for World Oceans Day 2022


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