The Best of Show image in the 2021 Ocean Art contest is a first for the US-based underwater photo competition, because in its 10-year history freshwater fish have never secured the overall prize before.
The two pike locked in a ferocious battle were encountered by Belgian diver Luc Rooman on an October night-dive at the Domein Muisbroek dive-site near Antwerp. He took a series of shots and this one, entitled Snoeken, topped Marine Life Behaviour, one of the competition’s 13 categories.
Rooman was using a Nikon D810 DSLR camera with 60 mm lens in a Hugyfot underwater housing with Subtronic strobes (f/14, 125th, ISO 200).
The photograph was one of what the organisers said were thousands of entries from 81 countries, evaluated by a judging panel that included underwater photographers Tony Wu, Mark Strickland and Marty Snyderman.
“We were excited to see photographers continue to travel locally and internationally to capture amazing photos,” commented Scott Gietler, publisher of the Underwater Photography Guide (UWG), which organises the competition.
“For the incredible Best of Show, they didn’t have to travel far. To obtain such a gripping / jaw-biting / jaw-dropping photo, the photographer almost had to have had a personal relationship with these two fish!”
More than US $35,000 in resort and liveaboard holiday and dive-gear prizes were awarded, which UWG says makes the Ocean Art prize value among the highest in the world. Rooman, for example, won an Oceanic liveaboard cruise in Indonesia, with a half-price trip for a companion.
British underwater photographers Catherine Holmes and Jenny Stock triumphed in the Underwater Conservation and Underwater Art categories respectively. Holmes’ Coral Tree shows a diver examining the progress of live coral-fragment growth on an artificial tree set up by the Coral Reef Restoration Alliance in Barbados.
“There is a high percentage of success in the growth of branching corals and a survival rate of 66%,” says Holmes, who used a Nikon D500 with 8-15mm fisheye in a Nauticam housing and dual Inon Z330 strobes (f/13, 1/250th, ISO 400).
Jenny Stock’s Magical Fairy Wisps is based on an image of fairy basslets taken while she was diving in Jardines de la Reina in Cuba. “The complementary colours of this fish lent themselves to artistic creation,” she says. “Through the use of masks and filters in post-processing, I crafted the basslet bodies to disperse into wisps of colourful smoky clouds against a jet-black background.”
She used a Canon 5D Mk IV with 100mm macro lens in a Nauticam housing with dual Inon strobes (f/25, 1/100th, ISO 500)
2021 also saw the introduction of a Black & White category, with Tom St George taking first prize with Ancient Caves, a shot taken in Tulum, Mexico.
“I joined Ellen Cuylaerts and my partner Julia Gugelmeier for a cave-dive at Cenote Zacil Ha,” says St George. “The cave suddenly opens up and presents you with these giant speleothems that took millennia to form.
“The diver, Ellen, is dwarfed by the massive columns as she hovers awestruck and motionless, while Julia uses a video light to expertly backlight her and stay completely hidden from the camera – photographing in underwater caves is always a team effort!
“This image worked particularly well for me in black and white with the interplay of light and shadow, and the incredible textures revealed by the backlighting – most of the light is coming from the off-camera video light with the on-camera strobes used to add just a touch of fill.”
“While we continue to see challenges and travel restrictions brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 10th annual competition was a testament to the high calibre of craftsmanship found in our global community of underwater artists,” says UWG.
All the winning photos, along with other placed images and honourable mentions, can be seen at the UWG site.
18 Jan 22