A photograph of five whale sharks feeding on nocturnal plankton concentrated in a boat’s lights, taken in demanding conditions in the Maldives, has won Spanish diver Rafael Fernandez Caballero the title of Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY) 2022.
The UK-based competition’s judges considered the work the best of the 4200 underwater pictures entered by photographers from 71 countries. “It was already incredible when one whale shark came to our boat but more and more kept arriving,” explained Caballero of his winning image Giants Of The Night.
“I was diving with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe it as their numbers grew. He counted 11 sharks that night – a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that nobody thought was possible.”
“This image took my breath away from the first viewing and I never tired coming back to it,” commented judge Peter Rowlands.
“Scale, light and the sheer numbers of big subjects – this was, by some distance, our winning image,” added Alex Mustard. “Photography needs light and simply recording these giants in a dark ocean is a massive achievement. To do this with such beautiful light and careful composition of the five sharks is outstanding.
Mustard noted that while travel restrictions over the past year might have stopped many photographers visiting their favourite waters it had not stifled their creativity. “The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest aims to celebrate underwater photography in all its forms and we are delighted that many of this year’s awarded images come from home countries – and some are even taken in swimming pools,” he said.
Matty Smith, an Englishman now living in Australia, was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year for Great White Split, a shark portrait taken in the Neptune Islands.
“I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait for years,” said Smith. “Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own equipment to get the camera exactly where I wanted.”
He built a supersize dome-port for his camera, with a carbon pole and remote trigger. “Surprisingly, the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera; in fact it was a battle to stop them biting it!”
“This split shot of the most famous fish in the sea truly captures its character,” said competition judge Tobias Friedrich. “An excellent reward for the perseverance of the photographer, experimenting with different techniques until he got the result he wanted.”
Thien Nguyen Ngoc from Vietnam was named Save Our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year for his aerial photo Big Appetite. It shows boats straining the waters for anchovies in the country’s Phu Yen province.
“Salted anchovy is the most important raw material in traditional Vietnamese fish sauce,” said the photographer, “but these little fish are a keystone of the ecosystem.
“The reserves and catches of anchovies have decreased by 20-30% in the past 10 years. When they are overfished, the whales, tuna, seabirds and other marine predators face starvation and critical population declines.”
“A stark visual reminder of man’s reach and control over the surrounding habitat and its devastating effect on the natural balance,” was how Rowlands described the image. “The mouths of these nets dwarf the people casting them, and the tight composition speaks about our squeeze on nature,” said Mustard.
Quico Abadal from Spain was named Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year for his creative image Supernova In Paradise, taken at sunset off Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand and purposely shown upside-down.
“This photo features Jeniya, who moves so poetically in the water,” explained Abadal. “What I like about this photograph is the imperfection of backscatter in the dark water, creating the feeling of outer space and making it perfect to me.”
“In this category we are always looking for exciting new talent bringing fresh visions to underwater photography,” said Mustard. “This image is a fabulous example. Simple subject matter, elevated into an artistic image by the imagination, ideas and talent of the photographer and model.”
The international Underwater Photographer of the Year competition, which originated in 1965, has 13 categories with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, including four categories for photos taken in British waters. For all the results, photographers’ statements and judges’ comments, visit Underwater Photographer of the Year.