These are the Beautiful (and Tragic) Winners of the 2019 Ocean Art Photo Contest

The Underwater Photography Guide has announced the winners of their 8th annual Ocean Art Underwater Photography Competition: a selection that runs the gamut between beautiful, eye popping and, in the case of the Conservation category winner, tragic and unnerving.

This year’s contest attracted “thousands” of entries from 78 countries across the world. Some $85,000 worth of prizes were awarded to the winning photographers, who submitted images to one 16 categories, including: Wide Angle, Macro, Super Macro, Underwater Art, Conservation, and Reefscapes.

The overall winner or “Best in Show” was given to photographer Greg Laceur for his 1st Place entry into the Cold Water category. The undeniably eye-catching action shot shows a crab-eater seal moving between chunks of ice in the freezing water of the Antarctic:

Caption: During an expedition on a small sailboat, we explored the Antarctica Peninsula by diving below the surface. Although the conditions were extreme with a temperature of -1°C, we documented extraordinary marine fauna at home in a fragile ecosystem, such as on this image: crabeater seal. We also saw leopard seals, gentoo penguins, Antarctica fur seals, and wedded seals. All these marine animals are affected by global warming with the melting of the ice.

Despite the name, Crabeater Seals don’t eat Crabs. Krill make up to 95% of a Crabeater Seal’s diet. Crabeater seals have developed a sieve-shaped tooth structure that filters krill, much like whale baleen. They suck up water containing krill, close their jaws, and push the water between their specialized teeth, trapping the krill inside.

Scroll down to see the 1st Place winners of each of the remaining 15 categories, including two new categories that were added this year: “Blackwater” and “Conservation.”

1st Place, Wide Angle – Nicholas More

Caption: This photograph was taken in November 2019 during the last morning of a live-aboard trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia. We were diving Saundereck Jetty when I came across this school of Yellow Ribbon Sweetlips at approximately 25m, over a patch of hard corals.

What I found really beautiful about the scene was the cloud of Convict Blennies swarming all over the reef. Ribbon Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus polytaenia) are nocturnal hunters but during the day they form dense schools on the reefs of Raja Ampat, sheltering from the strong current. Capturing this classic schooling behaviour was at the top of my photographic hit-list.

To allow the sweetlips to be centre of attention, I used a slow shutter speed and accelerated panning to blur the background. This effect also helps to reinforce the unity of the school moving as a group, in the same direction.

1st Place, Macro – Stefano Cerbai

Caption: This photo was taken in Puerto Galera, in the Philippines. During a daytime dive I saw this seahorse, and I decided to put the flash behind him with the “Snoot”, creating a backlight.

1st Place, Marine Life Behavior – Paula Vianna

Caption: Pink whip rays catching a ride on a small-eyed ray. The theory is that by doing this they seek protection from predators, save energy and also get leftovers from the big ray.

This rare behavior was captured on the SS Yongala shipwreck, on the Great Barrier Reef off Ayr, in Queensland, Australia, and has been registered on the same dive site for around a decade, with different individual small-eyed rays… Could this be passing on through generations?

1st Place, Portrait – Virginia Salzedo

Caption: During a night dive I met this nice seahorse. I was immediately surprised by his punk hairstyle.

1st Place, Nudibranch – Jenny Stock

Caption: The Mooloolah River is a rich treasure trove of nudibranchs. Over 350 species have been found along the 600m river bank. The real challenge is to get a photograph that depicts the stunning form of these tiny creatures. I fell in love with flabellina lotus in particular.

I returned to the river every weekend for four months to try to achieve an image where the flabellina’s vivid purple cerata popped against a jet black background.

1st Place, Supermacro – Paolo Isgro

Caption: There are three key components that resulted in this photo…

  1. I used a 24 mm lens and an electronic reverse ring adaptor + 40mm extension ring to get a great magnification. 5 mm fills the long side of the frame – this means 4.5X optical magnification on my cropped Canon 7D sensor (22.5 mm).
  2. My friend and dive master Ajiex Dharma in Tulamben was able to find these clown fish eggs and assist me during the shoot holding the snoot in the right position.
  3. A lot of patience to manually focus and composing this shot

1st Place, Reefscapes – Eduardo Acevedo Fernandez

Caption: Sweet lips are very common in the Raja Ampat area. You can see them in popular dive sites such as Kape Cree and Sawandarek jetty. But this time, I was lucky.

I was able to find a small group of this fish in shallow water, around 14 meters deep, with full cover by glass fish. The conditions were perfect, clean water, not too deep, and sunny. It was a great opportunity which I’ll always remember with this incredible photo.

1st Place, Blackwater – Fabien Michenet

Caption: The observation of juvenile deepsea fish is possible during blackwater drift dives offshore as some species begin their life in the epipelagic zone (between the surface and 200m).

Finding and photographing these juveniles is certainly one of the most fascinating aspects of these dives above the deep sea bottom.

This individual is called a Snaketooth deepsea swallower (Champsodontidae -Kali macrodon). It lives its adult life posed on the deep sediment waiting for preys passing nearby. With a very large head and very develloped pelvic and pectoral fins, it has a very different morphology from the adult.

As soon as they are disturbed, these fish could tend to let themselves sink to the deep. Before taking the first shot of this beautiful juvenile, I took care to reduced the intensity of my focus lights and properly orient the flashes so as not to overexpose the shiny eyes and properly illuminate the fins.

1st Place, Conservation – Shane Gross

Caption: My dive buddy came to me in tears talking about a poor turtle that was already long dead, tangled in fishing line. She didn’t have time to remove the line so she told me where it was and I went back. I didn’t want any scavengers to also become entangled.

I took my camera because images like this can become warnings for the future. We don’t want any other turtles, or any creatures, to become doomed to the same unfortunate fate: drowned and wasted thanks to our negligence.

1st Place, Underwater Art – Francisco Sedano

Caption: No description provided.

1st Place, Novice Wide Angle – George Kuo-Wei Kao

Caption: I was taking a photo of a cute school of sweetlips at about 28 meters deep. I couldn’t get a satisfying composition until my guide showed up and looked like a shepherd of the school.

1st Place, Novice Macro – Julie Casey

Caption: I’ve been taking videos of baby seahorses for about 3 years but only recently changed over to still photography. I picked up a second hand TG4 early in 2019 & I’ve spent almost every day in the water with it since.

Capturing 6 baby seahorses all facing in the same direction while sharing a piece of weed is an extremely challenging shot. These babies will often pull in different directions & face away from the camera. So I’m absolutely delighted to be able to share such a split second in time before this scene changed dramatically.

Under Blairgowrie Marina has become a popular nursery for the birth of these baby Short Head Seahorses and also the Bigbelly Seahorses. I’ve seen as many as 20 babies sharing the same weed. You only have a short window of opportunity to capture this because their survival rate is so low.

1st Place, Compact Wide Angle – Talia Greis

Caption: I had never seen or even heard of this magnificent king of camouflage prior to taking its shot, as it’s a rare sighting that requires an equal balance of luck and persistence.

The yellow crested weedfish can be found deep amongst the kelp gardens of Shelly Beach, and is so similar in appearance to its environment, that finding one requires active investigation. Its movements sway like the seaweed it buries itself in, its color almost identical, making it the ultimate master of disguise.

The only way to capture this moment was to hang back, remain still, and wait for the perfect moment it decided to surface and analyze my presence.

1st Place, Compact Macro – Stan Chen

Caption: These Lemon Goby parents spawned their eggs on a glass fragment that caught my eyes. I decided to take shot to record this because it presented how fish can coexist with human garbage.

The Lemon Goby parents were very shy and they kept moving around. So I held my breath carefully and waited about 40 minutes and finally, the goby parents gathered together and protected their eggs. I immediately took the shot and captured this unique picture.

It was an unforgettable moment for me to see how great the goby parents are to utilize human waste for their hatching eggs. And life continues….

1st Place, Compact Behavior – Ferenc Lorincz

Caption: I was taking this picture at a cleaning station. The fish let me approach as they were focused on cleaning the fish. At the house reef this was observed on several dives. The cleaning station is an excellent scene for the underwater photographer.

To see all of the Top 5 photos from each category, as well as some spectacular Honorable Mentions, head over to the Underwater Photography Guide website. The contest admitted that the images submitted this year were exceptional, making judging “very difficult,” and proving that “the winning images are some of the best in the world.”

Looking through the winning images, it’s hard to disagree with that statement.

Image credits: All images used courtesy of Underwater Photography Guide/Ocean Art Photo Contest

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