Mating red snapper help Wu to win

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Mating red snapper help Wu to win

The winner of the Underwater category in the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 competition, organised by London's Natural History Museum, has been named as Tony Wu. The American won with his picture Snapper Party.

For several days each month, thousands of two-spot red snapper gather to spawn around Palau in the Pacific, filling the water with sperm and eggs as predators line up to take advantage.

Wu says he couldn’t understand why there were so few photos of the event until his first attempt in 2012. The unrelenting currents were ideal for sweeping the eggs away fast but made it difficult to keep up with the fish. Also, the light was low and the water cloudy with sperm and eggs.

Wu has returned every year and, noticing that the spawning ran “like a chain reaction up and down the mass of fish”, finally succeeded by positioning himself so that the action came to him.

He noted that the fish rapidly changed colour during mating from red to a multitude of hues and patterns, while the two white spots near the dorsal fin seemed to fade and reappear. His winning picture captured a dynamic arc of spawning fish amid clouds of eggs in the oblique morning light.

Wu used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera with 15mm f2.8 lens in a Zillion housing with a Pro One optical dome-port, shooting at 1/200sec at f9, ISO 640.

The other underwater photo to win one of the 10 categories – Impressions – is Star Player by Luis Javier Sandoval of Mexico. He says that as soon as he slipped into the water off the island of Espiritu Santo in the Gulf of California, the curious young California sea-lions came towards him.

Sandoval had dived from the boat at sunrise, looking for a picture of friendly subjects in warm light taken at a slow shutter speed. One pup dived, grabbed a starfish from the seabed and started throwing it to the photographer, who reckons young sea-lions play games to hone their fishing and other skills.

As the pup was playing very close to the waves’ breaking point, Sandoval’s timing had to be spot-on. He captured the sea-lion’s playful nature by angling his camera up towards the light just as it offered him the starfish, and another pup slipped by near the rocks.

Sandoval used a Nikon D7000 camera with Tokina 10-17mm f3.5-4.5 lens at 10mm in an Aquatica housing with two Sea & Sea YS-110 strobes, shooting at 1/8sec at f13, ISO 100.

The exhibition featuring the 100 shortlisted images opens at the NHM on Friday 21 October, and continues until 10 September next year. Tickets are now on sale here and the next competition opens for entries on 24 October until 15 December.

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