Marvel at a sea of award-winning underwater photos

From smiling sharks to curious sea lions, lone divers and the mysteries deep inside a shipwreck, these prize-grabbing photos will transport you to a hidden world.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
1 of 32 Gabriel Barathieu/UPY 2017

Dancing octopus

French photographer Gabriel Barathieu won the top honor earlier this month in the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest. He took his winning shot, "Dancing Octopus," off Mayotte Island in July.

The image beat out 4,500 photos taken by photographers from 67 countries. "Both balletic and malevolent, this image shows that the octopus means business as it hunts in a shallow lagoon," one judge wrote. "The way it moves is so different from any predator on land, this truly could be an alien from another world."

2 of 32 Nick Blake//UPY2017

Out of the blue

Nick Blake won the British Underwater Photographer of the Year honor for 2017, capturing this image, "Out of the Blue," in the waters off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in December.

"I left my strobes behind for the natural light shot I wanted and positioned myself in the shadows of the cavern," Blake said. "Moving my eye around the viewfinder, I could see that the rock outline of the cavern around me made for a pleasing symmetry and I adjusted my position to balance the frame. The light show flickered on and off as the sun was periodically covered by cloud and as it reappeared, I beckoned to my buddy and dive guide, Andrea Costanza of ProDive, to edge into the illumination of some of the stronger beams, completing the composition."

3 of 32 Horacio Martinez/UPY 2017

Oceanic in the sky

Horacio Martinez of Argentina won the Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year. He took this image, "Oceanic in the Sky," in Egypt's Red Sea in April.

"We were on the last dive of the day and I ventured a tad deeper to get closer portraits of the Oceanic White Tips, when I noticed this shark patrolling in the distance," Martinez said. "I took a few shots to expose for the sun beams and the surface, and was pleased by the dreamlike effect. Oceanics are great subjects for close-ups as they are anything but shy. Yet, every now and then it is great to try and capture their apparent loneliness, their wandering, and their independence in the big blue."

4 of 32 Nicholai Georgiou/UPY

Orca pod

Nicholai Georgiou was named Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2017, with help from this image taken in Norway in November.

"Orcas are easily the most beautiful, intelligent and confident animals I've ever had the honor of spending time with," Georgiou said. "This photo was taken during an amazing week free-diving with wild Orca in Norway. The days are quite short in winter and the water was around 5 degrees but we wore a thick wetsuit and of course with Orca around, the cold was quickly forgotten. The light had a really nice colour from the setting sun as this graceful pod of Orca swam by nice and close. It was a moment which will be hard to top and I'm glad to have this image to share it."

5 of 32 Edward Herreño/UPY 2017

Magic moment

Edward Herreño of Colombia took third place in the wide-angle category with this photo taken in November off the coast of Indonesia.

"I was lucky to join an expedition aboard MV Ondina covering Raja Ampat North, Central & South," Herreño said. "The South is one of my favourite places because only few boats go there. We went to dive to the sea mount 'Karang Paradise' where the biodiversity is something unique; endless coral fields, large congregations of fish and big pelagic travelers passing by. At the end of one of the dives, I found this enormous coral field full of different groups of fish. I wanted to show in my pictures the motion (I've taking motion pictures with very slow shutter speed for long time), so I set up my camera on top of a rock (I didn't have my tripod), then after few minutes completely still, this big congregation of big eye jacks came and complete surround me. A magic moment!"

6 of 32 Eero Hallfors/UPY 2017

Dog, or polar bear?

Eero Hällfors of Finland was highly commended for this image, "Walking," taken in December in his home country.

"It was the first cold days last November and the lake had just frozen," Hällfors said. "I had a plan to do some ice diving and take nice pictures of the lake getting stronger ice cover. I didn't have much success with this plan so I started to look upwards through the ice in order to locate my fellows on the ice. Instead of them I realized that our two dogs were walking just above me with my wife. The other dogs stood still for a moment to sniff the ice - that is when I took this pic."

7 of 32 So Yat Wai/UPY 2017


So Yat Wai of Hong Kong won first place in the macro category with this image, titled "Prey?" It was taken in May in the Philippines.

"This photo was shot during a blackwater dive in Anilao," the photographer said. "Even though the larvae mantis shrimp (left) is very small, it still a predator which uses its raptorial appendages to hunt. Has it spotted the prey and is ready to pounce?"

8 of 32 Jenny Stromvoll/UPY 2017

Graceful ballet

Jenny Stromvoll of Mozambique was named runner-up in the macro category for "Graceful Ballet," taken in December off the coast of her home country.

"Since we found this dive site, which consists of a sea pen forest at 34m, we have discovered new species to the area," Stromvoll said. "One of my favorite subjects has been the blue sea pen which hosts different shrimps and gobies. With its flowing lines and beautiful polyps, any subject inside this orange and blue sea pen is beautifully offset and lends itself to an artistic composition."

9 of 32 Csaba Tokolyi/UPY 2017

Shipwreck at sunset

Csaba Tökölyi of Hungary claimed first place in the wrecks category with this image, captioned "The wreck of the Louilla at sunset," taken in Egypt in June 2014.

"This is the wreck of the Louilla resting on top of Gordon Reef in the Straits of Tiran on the edge of the Sinai," Tökölyi said. "Beneath her lies a pile of her anchor chains, giving the form of a whale. Wrecks become part of the ecosystem in no time. Soft corals develop very soon and they can become shelter for schools of juvenile fish. But also, they can have a devastating effect on their surroundings. This wreck sits on top of Gordon Reef, battered by the waves and is slowly deteriorating. Last summer, part of the superstructure collapsed, and the wreck lost its epic, cinematic look. In a few decades, the reef should be free again from the remains of this once-huge freighter."

10 of 32 Marcus Blatchford/UPY 2017

Bomber down below

Marcus Blatchford of the UK was commended in the wrecks category for "Jill Bomber," taken in November off the Federated States of Micronesia.

"I visited Truk Lagoon to dive the infamous 'Ghost Fleet,'" Blatchford said. "After a week this was a bit of a (curve) ball compared to the rest of the huge, amazing shipwrecks we dived and simply just a plane. To be more exact a Nakajima B6N 'Jill' Bomber. The resort we stayed in, 'Blue Lagoon,' in WW2 was a Japanese airfield. The Jill is around 200m from the bar. My tactics changed for the plane, up until this point I had been aiming for simple photographs but for the Jill I decided to try to map the area using 3D photogrammetry. I captured 408 photos of the aircraft which when fed into some very cleaver whizz-bangery resulted in a complete orbital 3D model."

11 of 32 Qing Lin/UPY 2017

Mouth guests

Qing Lin of Canada won first place in the behaviour category for this image, "Your Home and My Home," taken off Indonesia in February 2016.

"The parasitic isopods like to hang out in the mouths of anemone fish," the photographer wrote. "Perhaps because of the isopods, clown anemone fish often open their mouths. These three particular fish were very curious. As I approached, they danced about the camera lens. It took me six dives, patience and luck to capture the exact moment when all three fish opened their mouths to reveal their guests. Finally, on the last day, on the last dive, I succeeded."

12 of 32 Pasquale Vassallo/UPY 2017

Hitching a ride

Pasquale Vassallo of Italy was highly commended for this photo, submitted in the behaviour category and taken off the Gulf of Naples in November.

"Over the past few months, my photographic work has focused primarily on the large presence of species of jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo, in the Gulf of Naples," Vassallo wrote. "In this picture a couple of crabs, Liocarcinus vernalis species, are its tenants. When the jellyfish rub the sandy seabed, the crabs jump on it and get carried to different areas."

13 of 32 Lorincz Ferencz/UPY 2017

Face to face

Lorincz Ferenc won first place in the portrait category with this image taken in the Red Sea in August.

"We were photographing a big school of bat fish in front of the fully blue background in Shark Rafeen, Rash Mohamed National Park in Egypt, but it is extremely hard to capture a school of fish in a nice position, especially with divers swimming by all the time, so I gave up trying," the photographer said. "Not so far from the others, I noticed a crevice in a rock, which fish used as a cleaning station, and slowly, very slowly, I swam into the gap, switching places with the cleaning fish. This made it possible to photograph this bat fish front on."

14 of 32 Francis Pérez/UPY 2017

Sea lion playing with starfish

Spanish photographer Francis Pérez took this image in October in Mexican waters. It won a commendation in the portrait category.

"In Los Islotes, there is one of the most important sea lion kindergartens in Mexico," the photographer explains. "I went there looking for pictures of sea lions eating on the big sardine banks. I was not lucky, because there were no sardines, but I found many interesting things, such as the one I show in this photo, a juvenile sea lion playing with starfish...My intention was to capture the moment when sea lions caught a star with their mouths, to capture a dynamic image. I spent about four hours in the water, I came and went to the area where there were more juveniles, until finally getting closer little by little, and with respect, I was able to capture this photo."

15 of 32 Jenny Stromvoll/UPY 2017

I've got my eye on you

Jenny Stromvoll of Mozambique won the compact category with this image, taken in April in her home country's waters.

"I have shot many whip gobies, but this particular shot was taken with the Inon compact bug-eye lens which added a lot of character to the goby's eye," she explained. "The trick was to get close enough without the goby moving away. I was fortunate enough to find a very forgiving goby who allowed me into his private space. I knew I had to get down low and shoot up to include the surface of the water. I shot this scene many times before getting the image I was after."

16 of 32 Fabio Russo/UPY 2017


Fabio Russo of Italy was commended for this entry in the compact ategory, taken in Italian waters in July.

"The ventral side of an ocellate torpedo, or eyed electric ray (Torpedo torpedo), is not easy to photograph," Russo said. "I took advantage of a free swimming one and quickly descended to the seabed to shoot its underside. For attack and defense, the torpedo can deliver a strong electric shock of up to 200 volts, so it's not a good idea to touch it."

17 of 32 Jenny Stromvoll/UPY 2017

Coral safe haven

Jenny Stromvoll, the winner in the compact camera category with another image, also was highly commended for this photo, taken off Mozambique in June.

"I wanted to get a photograph with a lot of depth to it, which was achieved by framing the goby with the soft coral branches," she said. "Personally this is one of my favourite photos as it has such a feminine touch to it."

18 of 32 Linda McKean/UPY 2017

Welcome to the jungle

American photographer Linda McKean was commended for this entry in the compact category, taken in September off the Bahamas.

"Diving with Blue Iguana Charters and all the shark action at Tiger Beach, the Bahamas was one of the most exciting (underwater photography) opportunities of my life," she wrote. "I really wasn't sure what it would be like but the best way I can describe it is that we were surrounded by sharks. The most numerous were the Caribbean Reef and Lemon Sharks, but the stars of the show were clearly the magnificent female Tiger Sharks. Their beauty, size and graceful movement captivated me as they slowly cruised the area and I wanted to capture that feeling in my photographs. I was about two meters off the bottom when I took this face-on shot of one of the Tiger Sharks the dive crew called 'Smiley' due to the little crooked smile she always seems to have on her face."

19 of 32 Jenny Stromvoll/UPY 2017

Hello, world!

Jenny Stromvoll again -- the photographer was commended for this entry in the compact category, taken off Mozambique in January 2015.

"I found this cluster of Cuttlefish eggs on a reef called Doodles in Ponta do Ouro," she said. "All the eggs looked dark to start with, however, as I looked closer, I noticed one slightly more opaque than the rest. This one was getting ready to hatch! In order to ready himself for defensive maneuvers in the outside world, he absorbed the last drops of ink which his mother had infused into the egg sac. This is when I pressed the shutter button. Moments later the tiny creature set off to start his new life in the big blue."

20 of 32 Sean Landsman/UPY 2017

Turbulent flow

Canadian Sean Landsman scored a runner-up award in the up and coming category for this image, taken off Prince Edward Island in April.

"This image is part of a larger project to document the anadromous (adult growth in saltwater, birth/spawning in freshwater) fishes of eastern North Americ," Landsman explains. "It depicts a migratory alewife barreling through the turbulent flow at the base of a fish ladder. This location in Prince Edward Island, Canada has a dam that impedes access to the spawning habitat. Alewife need slow-moving pond or lake environments to spawn in and can only access them with fish ladders or similar structures if a dam is present. Anadromous fishes, like alewife, transport high-quality marine-derived nutrients into freshwater ecosystems, providing food for all sorts of aquatic organisms. It was very difficult to see the fish moving through the bubbly water, much less time my trigger finger with their movements correctly. It took dozens of frames to get this one image, but all it takes is one!"

21 of 32 Léna Remy/UPY 2017

Through the coral window

French photographer Léna Remy was commended in the up-and-coming photographer category for this image, taken in August 2015 off the coast of Bali.

"I noticed this yellow fish turning quickly around the coral," said Remy. "I positioned myself to have blue water background surrounded by red coral. I waited for the fish to take this posture in the middle of the coral window. I was happy to capture the short moment the fish looked at the camera, exactly in the middle of the blue."

22 of 32 Richard Shucksmith

Taking a dive

British photographer Richard Shucksmith was the runner-up in the British waters wide angle category for this image, taken off Scotland in July.

"Suddenly a single (gannet) dives, and the others see it as an indicator and 20, 30, 40 birds are diving at once," he said. "I could hear the birds as they hit the water right above my head just before they appeared in front of the camera. A great experience."

23 of 32 Ellen Cuylaerts/UPY 2017

Can I help you?

Ellen Cuylaerts of the Cayman Islands was commended in the British waters wide angle category for this image, taken off the coast of England in November.

"As if the seals knew this would be their chance on a nice portrait, they came really close," she said. "I added some Sola light to the ambient light to be able to dial down my settings a bit and catch the low sun rays lighting the whiskers from both sides!"

24 of 32 Kirsty Andrews/UPY 2017

Dragon display

British photographer Kirsty Andrews won the British waters macro category with this image, taken off Cornwall in July.

"This cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) noticed me before I noticed it," Andrews wrote. "As I passed, it was skulking behind a rock and wafting its tentacles in what was either a kelpy camouflage tactic or an attempt to warn me away. ... To me, the outstretched strobe-lit tentacles against a dark background bring to mind a fearsome Chinese dragon."

25 of 32 Matt Doggett/UPY 2017

Shrimp star

British photographer Matt Doggett was named runner-up in the British waters macro category for this image taken off Scotland in January 2016.

"Whilst diving in Loch Carron over the New Year we noticed that these tiny, colourful amphipod shrimps occurred in their hundreds amongst the kelp in a narrow depth band between around 5-8m," he said. "They seemed to be feeding on the bryozoan Membranipora membranacea (a colonial animal) which grows on the kelp fronds and provides both the foreground and background to this image."

26 of 32 Trevor Rees

The eyes have it

This image by British photographer Trevor Rees, taken off Scotland in July 2014, was highly commended in the British waters macro category

"I've tried many times to photograph these long clawed squat lobsters (Munida rugosa)," Rees said. "They are a common subject but finding a cooperative one was the key to this shot -- so that I could inch slowly forward and get an intimate, closely framed head-on composition."

27 of 32 Trevor Rees/UPY 2017

Purple baubles in a sea of yellow

Another work by Trevor Rees, this entry was highly commended in the British waters macro category.

"This close-up shot of jewel anemones (Corynactis viridis) was taken on a popular wreck dive near Plymouth on England's south coast," Rees said. "The HMS Scylla wreck was scuttled only 13 years ago but is now well encrusted with marine life."

28 of 32 Simon Yates/UPY 2017


British photographer Simon Yates won the British waters compact category with this image taken in Loch Dulch, Scotland in August 2015.

"This was taken on my second shore diving trip to Scotland at Loch Duich near Inverinate," Yates said. "I had seen images of fireworks anemones (Pachycerianthus multiplicatus) taken by other photographers previously and wanted to find and photograph them myself."

29 of 32 Ian Wade/UPY 2017

Sticking your neck out

British photographer Ian Wade placed third in the British waters compact category with this image, taken in Somerset in April 2015.

"Photographing mute swans underwater has been a ongoing project of mine which has lasted five years." he said. "I found a location where the swans were used to interaction with people, so getting close to them was made much easier. To get this shot I ended up getting very wet and had to swim out to the middle of the marina."

30 of 32 Paula Bailey/UPY 2017

Know a good dentist?

British photographer Paula Bailey was highly commended in the British waters compact category for this photo taken in St. Abbs, Scotland in June 2015.

"I love seeking out wolf fish, and as my husband and I dive St. Abbs every year I am pretty good at it now, I recognise the cracks that (they) are likely to inhabit," she said. "I love them as a subject because they have so much character. ... The older ones with the very uneven teeth are my favourite."

31 of 32 Paula Bailey/UPY 2017

Lovely lobster

Paula Bailey's image of a lobster, taken in Scotland in June 2015, was highly commended in the British waters compact category.

"When I am struggling for a good subject on a dive I often seek out a lobster," she said. "I love their character, especially when they rush you!"

32 of 32 Charles Erb/UPY 2017

Pretty in pink

British photographer Charles Erb was honored with a commendation in the British waters compact category for this image, taken in Scotland in June.

"The site where I took this image, West Harker near Eyemouth in Scotland, is home to many large and colourful Dahlia Anemones," he said. "I particularly liked this specimen which made a lovely contrast with the green water. I did not notice the shrimp which was hiding under the skirt of the anemone until after I had taken the image."

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