From the team at BBC Wildlife Magazine

Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022

From backyard frogs to whale sharks, the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 competition showcases the best new marine and freshwater pictures from at home and around the world.

Published: February 11, 2022 at 1:00 pm
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Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition, based in the UK, that celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. British photographer Phil Smith was the first Underwater Photographer of the Year, named in 1965.

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The competition attracts entries from all around the world, has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as macro, wide angle, behaviour and wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters.

This year's competition received over 4,200 underwater images, submitted by photographers from 71 countries.

This year’s judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.

“Restriction on travel over the last year may have stopped many photographers visiting their favourite waters, but it hasn’t stifled their creativity,” comments judge Mustard. “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.”


To view the images as a slideshow, click on the arrows in the top right hand corner of the photos below.

Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022

Giants of the night
Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022: Giants of the night. © Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2022 Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2022

Rafael Fernandez Caballero won the Wide Angle category, as well as scooping the overall Underwater Photographer of the Year prize for his shot of five whale sharks feeding in the Maldives.

Rafael said: "In the ocean magic can always happen. But when magic happens all together, you only can think you’re dreaming. This was the case of that night in Maldives.

"At the beginning of the night one whale shark came to the light of our boat, BlueForce One, we jumped in the water and then another whale shark came.

"We were so happy when, a couple of hours later, out of the blue, madness happened and whale sharks started to come in big numbers. I was together with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We counted at the same time 11 whale sharks surrounding us.

"It was a unique moment that no one there had thought it could even be possible. Magic happens in the ocean every day, but if we don’t protect the oceans and sharks, these moments will soon be a thing of the past."

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My Backyard Winner 2022

Common frogs
My Backyard Winner 2022: All You Need Is Love © Pekka Tuuri/UPY 2022 Pekka Tuuri/UPY 2022

Pekka Tuuri ventured no further that in his backyard pond for this image, although it wasn't as simple to take as that may sound. The picture won the Behaviour category, as well as the My Back Yard prize.

Pekka: "All you need is love! This love pond is in my backyard, a 20-minute drive from home. And it has rewarded me plentifully over the past ten years.

"It is full of love in late April. The common frogs come first, then toads and finally newts. I spent four days and four night time sessions in it in 2021. I wore a drysuit with argon, lots of undergarments and a heated vest to survive in the five degree water. I floated and stayed put among the frogs and quite soon they accepted me and my camera as a part of the scenery.

"The frogs climb on top of my camera, make grunting sounds in my ears and squeeze between my face and the backplate of the camera. The active spawning time lasts about two days and nights. What an experience with lots of photo ops!"


British Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022

Great white shark photo
British Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022: Great white split © Matty Smith/UPY 2022 Matty Smith/UPY 2022

The British Underwater Photographer of the Year prize went to Matty Smith for his great white shark portrait, which was also a runner up in the Portrait category.

Matty: "I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait of a great white shark for a couple of years. Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own carbon pole and remote trigger. This enabled me to safely lower my camera and housing into the water with my own 12” split shot dome port attached.

"Surprisingly the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera with no extra bait needed – in fact it was a battle to stop them biting the dome port! We had wonderfully calm seas and nice evening side lighting for this naturally lit image."


Up and Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022

Supernova in paradise © Quico Abadal/UPY 2022
Up and Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022: Supernova in paradise © Quico Abadal/UPY 2022 Quico Abadal/UPY 2022

Quico Abadal won this year's Up and Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year gong for this photo, taken at Sairee beach Koh Tao, Thailand.

Quico: "I first met Jeniya having breakfast at Zest, one of my favourite food spots of Koh Tao. We talked for long and we clicked quite well. A couple of days later we recorded a very cool video together.

"I knew I wanted to shoot more with her, she moved quite poetically underwater. So after a couple of months we met at the end of Sairee beach. She was wearing a stunning long white dress and we just planned to shoot mostly split shots with the sunset. I’d use the strobes to illuminate the underwater scene and the sun would do the rest.

"It was a pretty challenging shot, since I didn’t have any fins or wetsuit, so I would easily sink. Also it was tricky to gain focus properly on the subject. What I like about this photograph is the imperfection of backscatter, recreating space and making it perfect to me."


Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2022

Diamonds and Rust. © Paul Pettitt/UPY 2022
Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2022: Diamonds and Rust. © Paul Pettitt/UPY 2022 Paul Pettitt/UPY 2022

The subtle colours of Paul Pettitt's photograph of sea gooseberries at Swanage Pier, England, won Paul the title of Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2022.

Paul: "This picture was taken on a bright afternoon when I knew the sun would be on the west side of the Pier. The sea gooseberries had been around for a while and on this particular day the water was like glass. I floated in the spot I wanted and waited for them to slowly drift by. The background colours represent the rust and weed growth on a metal cross beam."


'Save Our Seas Foundation' Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022

Two fishing boats cast out their nets
'Save Our Seas Foundation' Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022: Big appetite. © Thien Nguyen Ngoc/UPY 2022 Thien Nguyen Ngoc/UPY 2022

The winner of the Marine Conservation category, Thien Nguyen Ngoc, also netted the award for 'Save Our Seas Foundation' Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022 for this shot of anchovy fishing boats at Hon Yen, in Vietnam's Phu Yen province.

Thien: "An aerial perspective of busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen, Phu Yen province, Vietnam, many local fisherman families along the coastline will follow the near-shore currents to catch the anchovy during peak season.

"Salted anchovy is the most important raw material to create traditional Vietnamese fish sauce but anchovies are a little fish with a big impact. When they are overfished, the whales, tunas, sea birds... and other marine predators that rely on them as a dietary staple face starvation and population decline critically.

"And so far Vietnam is also facing this anchovy overfishing situation, according to the survey results of the Institute of Seafood Research, the reserves and catches of anchovies in the waters of Vietnam have decreased by 20-30% in the past 10 years."


Wide Angle category

Sunset Ray. © Andy Schmid/UPY 2022
Wide Angle category runner-up: Sunset Ray. © Andy Schmid/UPY 2022 Andy Schmid/UPY 2022

"I had heard and seen so many good things about the 'Tuna Factory' dive site close to Malé in the Maldives and was looking forward to diving this site hoping to see guitar rays or big sharks like bull or tiger sharks that are regularly seen there.

"Because it was the last dive on a liveaboard trip before I flew out early the next day however I had to stay shallow. So while everybody else went deep looking for bigger fish I stayed up in the shallows and played around with what the site had to offer: schooling bannerfishes, stingrays and moray eels that are looking for tuna skins, bones and heads that are dumped into the ocean by the tuna factory.

"I quickly found a great spot where I could shoot against the setting sun, framing the schooling bannerfishes and the pink whiprays that were constantly circling the area."

Against All Odds. © Hannah Le Leu/UPY 2021
Wide Angle category third place: Against All Odds. © Hannah Le Leu/UPY 2022

"At Heron Island, Australia, a green sea turtle hatchling cautiously surfaces for air to a sky full of hungry birds. Against all odds, this hatchling must battle through the conditions of a raging storm whilst evading a myriad of predators.

"Not only has the tropical storm brought out thousands of circling birds, but there are also patrolling sharks and large schools of fish on the hunt for baby turtles. Only 1 in 1,000 of these hatchlings will survive; will this one survive against all odds?"


Macro category

Mimicry. © Javier Murcia/UPY 2022
Macro category winner: Mimicry. © Javier Murcia/UPY 2022 © Javier Murcia/UPY 2022

"This image is the result of many hours working with the species that live in the seagrass meadows. Both species, both the pipefish (Syngnathus abaster) and the green prawn (Hippolyte sp.) live on the leaves of seagrasses.

"It is not the first time that I have seen this curious behaviour; I have been able to observe it on 4 or 5 occasions but I had never been able to take a good photo of it (after many hours and days looking for the moment). Sometimes the shrimp would move and other times the pipefish would quickly hide in my presence.

"The pipefish looks like a seagrass leaf and for this reason some prawns merge with its body thinking that they are leaves that move. Both are mimetic species."

City of Angels. © David Alpert/UPY 2022
Macro category runner-up: City of Angels. © David Alpert/UPY 2022 David Alpert/UPY 2022

"Just hours before they are due to hatch – these anemone fish embryos stare out into the world beyond. Their large eyes give a sense of foreboding for what lies beyond. Around spring tide, with water volumes at their greatest, a couple hours after dusk, for maximum protection from predators, they will be cast adrift onto the ocean currents to try to navigate their way through to adulthood.

"All are male. They will hope to establish themselves with an anemone to form a symbiotic relationship. Only the dominant male will breed with the single female, the largest in the group. When she dies, he will alter his sex to become the next breeding female. And so the cycle is complete – in balance. But first they must hatch – getting close now – will it be tonight? Yes – the day after I took this picture they were gone."


Wrecks category

Abandoned ship. © Alex Dawson/UPY 2022
Wrecks category winner: Abandoned ship. © Alex Dawson/UPY 2022 Alex Dawson/UPY 2022

"The wreck of Tyrifjord is one of the favourite wrecks in the Gulen dive resort area of Norway. She sits in approximately 40 metres and is very sheltered from most winds. This is one of the dives we always try to do on our wreck safari that we try to do almost every year.

"We are a mixed group of Norwegians, Swedish, Danish and Dutch that usually meet up. The highlight of the wreck is always the huge extra steering wheel in the aft. You can see the 50+ foot dive boat up on the surface from 40 meters depth at the top."

Glassfish Synchronicity. © Catherine Holmes/UPY 2022
Wrecks category runner-up: Glassfish Synchronicity. © Catherine Holmes/UPY 2022 Catherine Holmes/UPY 2022

"Wrecks around the world are the ideal habitat for new coral growth, and safe haven for many fish. At last, returning to the Red Sea, Egypt in November, I was entranced by the synchronisation of the glassfish circling under the overhanging wreck structures that abound there.

"One late afternoon we dived the Dunraven wreck, sunk in 1876 on the Southern edge of Sha’ab Mahmoud. At 30 metres and completely upside down, it has broken into two sections creating swim-throughs where large numbers of glassfish congregate. I spent a considerable time watching their movements, inspired by their constant swirling into large circular clouds that then engulfed incoming fish and divers.

"To portray the energy and atmosphere inside the wreck in my image, I decided to move the camera in the same circular motion as the fish were travelling, in addition to slowing the shutter speed down to capture the movement."


Behaviour category

the Circle of Life. © Javier Murcia/UPY 2022
Runner-up: The Circle of Life. © Javier Murcia/UPY 2022 Javier Murcia/UPY 2022

"This image is the result of many years working on animal behaviour. A diseased species is usually easy prey for a predator since it uses little energy. In this case, a Mediterranean predatory fish (Sereranus scriba) has hunted a green fish (Labrus viridis), an endemic species to the Mediterranean and abundant in the Posidonia oceanica meadows.

"The moment was unique. The green wrasse swam slowly and roughly, it was probably sick, and a few meters away I could see the sawing hiding among the dense posidonia meadow to hunt it down. It was a matter of being patient and in the blink of an eye I caught it. It was so interested in swallowing it that I was able to get within a few inches without flinching. And so is the cycle of life."

Hunting. © Damir Zurub/UPY 2022
Behaviour category third place: Hunting. © Damir Zurub/UPY 2022 Damir Zurub/UPY 2022

"A striped marlin in the middle of hunting a bait-ball in Mexico. The captured scene is an action shot of a striped marlin mid-hunt.

"I travelled to Puerto San Carlos with the plan to photograph marlins, mobulas and whales. The idea behind the photo was to try and recreate the sense of thrill when sharing the ocean with a predator who is in the middle of catching its prey.

"The photograph was quite difficult to catch considering the constant movement of the bait ball and the school of marlins, requiring constant adjustment mid-water. Being able to share the ocean with the marlins during this moment was breathtaking and memorable."


Portrait category

Rapunzel on Fire. © Thomas Heckmann/UPY 2022
Portrait category winner: Rapunzel on Fire. © Thomas Heckmann/UPY 2022 Thomas Heckmann/UPY 2022

"Our image idea was to create a completely black silhouette in the foreground, but at the same time make eye contact with the viewer. To make the hair glow, the camera settings were for the silhouette and three powerful strobes were needed hidden in the background.

"These background strobes were triggered by long cables and an additional RSU. For the face I used a combination of video light/strobe (Subtronic Fusion) with Retra LSD snoot for the front."

Longevity Meditation. © Daniele Comin/UPY 2022
Portrait category third place: Longevity Meditation. © Daniele Comin/UPY 2022 Daniele Comin/UPY 2022

"I was in a naturalistic day trip in San Cristobal, Galápagos. I didn't expect to get many underwater opportunities but I almost always carry a camera with me. Late in the afternoon we stopped at the famous Leon Dormido Dive Site so I took my camera and I went to do some freediving.

"Conditions were very bad: no light and dark green water. It wasn't easy to set the camera for a good shot. The purpose of this part of the trip was to find hammerheads underwater. However, instead of hammerheads, I saw a group of green turtles. I decided to observe them a little bit.

"One Green Turtle was 'meditating' so I gently approached, trying not to disturb her. I took three shots before she seemed to notice my presence and so I went away. She stayed in the same position for another 10 minutes."


Black and White category

Sarah’s Underwater World. © Kerrie Burow/UPY 2022
Black and White category winner: Sarah’s Underwater World. © Kerrie Burow/UPY 2022 Kerrie Burow/UPY 2022

"This shot was taken a year into the Coronavirus pandemic; my 7-year-old niece Sarah stares with wonder into my housing dome while on one breath underwater.

"The scene portrays the therapeutic power of water which so many of us experienced during the pandemic. The underwater world offered peace, comfort and hope – for the anxious, the depressed and the grieving. It gave us a chance to feel joy and adventure again as well as freedom from the heavy weight of the pandemic – even if just for a moment while on one breath."

Evening with sharks and birds. © Borut Furlan/UPY 2022
Black and White category runner-up:Evening with sharks and birds. © Borut Furlan/UPY 2022 Borut Furlan/UPY 2022

"I was in Moorea with my daughter in September 2021, in the middle of complete lock-down. All dive shops and boat rentals were closed and tourists were not allowed to move out from their hotels (except 1km for recreation...). Fortunately our apartment was quite close to the famous spot in the lagoon with sharks and rays and the owner of apartment arranged us two kayaks for 'recreation'.

"So we put our snorkelling equipment and my housing on kayaks and paddled to the spot. We were three days completely alone there with all the shark, rays and birds just for us. In three days I took more than 5,000 images, I kept about 200 and I was satisfied with about 10 of them. The image above is one of my best ones."


Compact category

Peace. © Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022
Compact category winner: Peace. © Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022 Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022

"Once a year at the end of March it is mating time for the toads. It last only few days and only at this time is it possible to get very close to them.

"Normally they are very shy. I was trying to get a split shot with this toad, when he started to crawl on my small domeport. I got some pictures from this action and this was my favourite pic."

Colours of a Quarry. © Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022
Compact category third place: Colours of a Quarry. © Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022 Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2022

"There is a quarry near my hometown called Westbruch. Koi carp live in this area, along with many other types of fish. For this pic I was using a Raynox Circular Fisheye Lens behind a 4inch Dome which I adapted to a Fantasea Housing .

"The colourful reflection comes from a reflection tube which I placed inside the Raynox Circular Fisheylens. The green, red and orange colours together with the reflections gives a dreamy look' which I like a lot."


Up and Coming category

Beauty on a red anemone skirt. © Yazid El Shaari/UPY 2022
Up and Coming category runner-up: Beauty on a red anemone skirt. © Yazid El Shaari/UPY 2022 Yazid El Shaari/UPY 2022

"I had just travelled back home from a very exciting underwater photography workshop and if I had learned any thing from this experience it was to find an attractive background and then look for a subject to complement the scene.

"I caught a glimpse of a red anemone skirt in between the rocks and I have never seen this colour in our area before, so I started to play with the lighting to get the right exposure, when suddenly I can detect some kind of movement in the view finder only to find this beautiful goby, very uncommon to our dive sites, but a very pleasant surprise."


British Waters Wide Angle category

Gannet Storm. © Henley Spiers/UPY 2022
British Waters Wide Angle category winner: Gannet Storm. © Henley Spiers/UPY 2022 Henley Spiers/UPY 2022

"A northern gannet swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds. Forty-thousand gannets visit the nearby cliffs annually to lay and care for a single egg, fishing for food nearby. Hitting the frigid water faster than an Olympic diver, these incredible birds have evolved airsacs in the head and chest to survive these repeated heavy impacts. From underwater, the sound was thunderous as streamlined, white torpedos pierced the surface.

"I wanted to create a novel image of these handsome seabirds and resolved to try and capture their movement through a slow exposure. The speed of the gannets led to innumerable failures but in this frame we retain strong eye contact with the gannet, even as the scene is artistically softened."

Grayling in summer sunlight. © Paul Colley/UPY 2022
British Waters Wide Angle category runner-up: Grayling in summer sunlight. © Paul Colley/UPY 2022 Paul Colley/UPY 2022

"I've been photographing grayling for some years now and my intent is always to create memorable images of UK river life to support the conservation of wildlife and habitat. Both are under threat from over-abstraction of water, unsustainable land development and sewage dumping.

"The combination of a cooperative fish and strong natural light is often elusive, but on this day it clicked. I usually use remote control cameras, but this was a traditional approach, getting into the river with waders and waiting patiently for the fish to approach. To help composition, I used a remote screen above water to relay a live feed from a GoPro mounted above my main camera."


British Waters Macro category

Best Buddies. © Dan Bolt/UPY 2022
British Waters Macro category winner: Best Buddies. © Dan Bolt/UPY 2022 Dan Bolt/UPY 2022

"2021 was the 10-year anniversary of my first trip to the beautiful Loch Carron, and in all that time it has never failed to produce stunning underwater images with its diverse array of marine inhabitants. My buddies know that I’m not very good at finding Yarrels blennies, and it was no exception on this dive either.

"We were diving on an area of reef I’d not previously explored, and after an excited squeal and waving of a torch in my direction I dropped down to see that my buddy had found not one, but two beautiful little blennies holed up in a crack in the rock.

"Having my long macro lens on was an advantage as I could stand-off from the reef enough to get some light into their home so we could all see their some-what bemused little faces. Best buddies for sure!"

Hello! © Dan Bolt/UPY 2022
British Waters Macro category runner-up: Hello! © Dan Bolt/UPY 2022 Dan Bolt/UPY 2022

"The low-lying reef on this site is home to as many as a dozen of these beautiful male Corkwing wrasse busily building theirs nests in the spring and early summer. They will spend weeks building the next by cropping nearby seaweeds and placing them in a rocky crevice with their mouths. If they are lucky enough to attract a female, for a few weeks after mating they will defend the nest and keep the eggs clean and fresh by blowing and wafting water over them constantly.

"This individual was happy to ignore me after a careful approach, and spent over an hour just sitting and observing his behaviour. This allowed me to get very close to him indeed without being a disturbance, such a privilege!"


British Waters Living Together category

A peaceful coexistence. © Lewis Michael Jefferies /UPY 2022
British Waters Living Together category winner: A peaceful coexistence. © Lewis Michael Jefferies /UPY 2022 Lewis Michael Jefferies /UPY 2022

"In the summer months jellyfish frequent the British isles in larger numbers, thought to be attracted by the warmer waters. The summer of 2021 was no exception and there were huge numbers of these Compass jellyfish in Falmouth Bay.

"It was a perfect summers evening – clear and calm with hardly a breath of wind. We grabbed the paddle board and camera and headed to the beach in search of jellyfish. I had a sunset shot like this – loosely – in mind and fortunately all the elements lined up to create something quite memorable."

SS Persier. ©Kirsty Andrews/UPY 2022
British Waters Living Together category runner-up: SS Persier. ©Kirsty Andrews/UPY 2022 Kirsty Andrews/UPY 2022

"The Persier is a crowd pleaser of a wreck. The usual dive plan involves descending on to the boilers and following the prop shaft to the stern. Wreck appreciators can see the various parts of the vessel laid out before them, history buffs will be aware of the wreck's story as a casualty of the Second World War.

"To me, the main draw is the wildlife: there are always shoaling bib and patrolling spider crabs as you can see in the picture, but also fields of pink sea fans, and potentially conger eels, anglerfish and thornback rays, to name but a few."


British Waters Compact category

Rock pool star. © Martin Stevens/UPY 2022
British Waters Compact category winner: Rock pool star. © Martin Stevens/UPY 2022 Martin Stevens/UPY 2022

"Living from shallow down to deep water and reaching impressive sizes, spiny starfish are abundant in Cornwall. I've often taken photos of them underwater, but on a low tide they can be found in the exposed rock pools. Last year we had very low spring tides, and I wanted to attempt some split shots of a starfish in the pools.

"So, I attached a fisheye wet lens and was lucky with bright conditions, and after a while came across a large starfish in a gully flanked by exposed kelp. The water was clear and calm, and given that starfish aren't the quickest of creatures I could compose some photos with the gully and kelp behind and a little of the starfish showing through the water from above. At the same time, seaweed is most vibrant in the spring, which added a splash of red colour to the scene."

Fluorescent Fireworks. © James Lynott/UPY 2022
British Waters Compact category runner-up: Fluorescent Fireworks. © James Lynott/UPY 2022 James Lynott/UPY 2022

"I don’t think I will ever tire of viewing and capturing images of fireworks anemones fluorescing under blue light, there is so much variation in the fluorescence patterns between individuals as well as the shapes created by the position of the tentacles in the water.

"This shot was taken in Loch Long during a night dive in October 2021 and it is one of my favourites so far. I was quite lucky with this one that the main tentacles just curled up slightly while leaving the brightly fluorescing inner tentacles in full view.

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"I used a FireDiveGear excitation filter over my strobe to provide the blue light together with the FireDiveGear barrier filter in front of my camera lens to block excess reflected blue light."


View previous winning images from Underwater Photographer of the Year:
Wide angle category winner, and overall Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021: Sharks' Skylight, French Polynesia. © Renee Capozzola (USA)/Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021
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