9 stunning shots of life below the water

Dive into the winning images from the Ocean Art Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo contest…

Man has explored virtually every inch of land with a camera, but below the surface still remains much of a mystery. Well, if you love seeing what lies beneath then take a look at the winning images from the 9th annual Ocean Art 2020 Underwater Photography competition.

Despite 2020 being anything but a normal year, the competition yielded some extraordinary frames, with thousands of entries received from over 80 countries. The top prize and Bes In Show image went to Gaetano Dario Gargiulo, who also took first place in the Wide-Angle category for an image entitled ‘The Day Of The Tentacle’, which was captured in New South Wales, Australia using a Nikon D850 paired with a 8-15mm lens. Gaetano commented; ‘On the day of the photo, I remained in the tide pool as the tide was too low to venture outside of its boundaries. In one of the shallowest parts of the pool I noticed an octopus. I placed my camera near its den and the octopus started interacting with it. It came completely out of the den and to our amazement it started shooting pictures! My son (3 y.o. in the background) was very curious about the octopus.

Image by Gaetano Dario Gargiulo / Ocean Art Underwater contest

First place in the Macro category went to Galice Hoarau for an image entitled ‘Seahorse’, which was captured in Siladen, Indonesia using an Olympus E-M1 II with a 60mm macro lens. Galaice commented; ‘Pontoh’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi) is one of the smallest and most recently discovered seahorses. They live on reef walls and can be challenging to find. This particular individual was hanging out from the wall, allowing the use of a snoot to backlight it.’ 

Image by Galice Hoarau/ Ocean Art Underwater Contest

This stunning image needs to be looked at twice and won Steven Kovacs First Place in the Marine Life Behaviour category. Entitled ‘Mating Crabs’ and captured at Palm Beach, Florida using a Nikon D500 DSLR, Steven commented; ‘Sargassum Swimming Crabs are a fairly common find in the waters off Florida, especially when matts of Sargassum can be found floating on the surface. At night they can be found diving into the depths,  well clear of their protective homes,  in search of food.  On this occasion, as I swept my lights side to side searching through the darkness for subjects to photograph during a blackwater dive, I was surprised to find these two crabs in a mating embrace diving and spinning past me as I swam at 50 feet.  This was the first time encountering this behaviour over several years of open ocean diving and I was fortunate to be able to capture a photograph before the amorous couple disappeared even deeper into the darkness.’

Image by Steven Kovacs / Ocean Art Underwater contest

First Place in the Cold Water category went to Jon Anderson for this ethereal frame entitled ‘Cathedral Of Kelp’, which was captured in Monterey, California using a Nikon D850 with a Nikon 16-35mm lens. Jon commented; ‘Blue rockfish and giant kelp are two species more or less guaranteed at Monastery Beach, that is if the conditions allow you to dive this site. The orientation of the beach leaves it fairly exposed to incoming swells from the open ocean, often making it difficult or impossible to dive safely. Many days when it can be done safely, thick coastal fog blocks out sun almost entirely and nutrient rich upwellings reduce visibility to just a few feet and cast a green haze into the water. On rare occasions the stars align at Monastery Beach providing calm seas, outstanding visibility, and cathedral-like beams of intense light that pierce through the kelp canopy. On these days the kelp forest becomes one of the most beautiful underwater environments on Earth. With brand new strobes attached to my housing it was difficult but I forced myself to shut them off and focused on capturing the dramatic ambience of the dancing light beams.’

Image by Jon Anderson / Ocean Art Underwater contest

One of the more poignant frames from the contest was the winner of the Underwater Conservation category. This incredible frame from Christophe Chellapermal entitled ‘French Riviera Corona Mask’ was captured at La Sallis, Antibes, France with a Nikon D500 paired with a 12-25mm lens and shows the pollution caused by the pandemic. Christophe commented; ‘This picture was taken in Antibes on the French Riviera in the summer of 2020.  Every week, activist Laurent Lombard with the NGO ‘Operation Mer Propre’ organizes meetings with local environmentalists in an effort to clean up the coast. Many people don’t realize that the Mediterranean is tragically one of the most polluted seas, where plastic waste drifting and breaking down into micro plastic has sadly become the norm. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I believed we were living in a world where youth like Greta Thunberg were illuminating the fact that they were left with the burden of the environmental damage that preceding generations had created.  Just at the moment when a movement was galvanizing to take action, COVID-19 hit and many people’s priorities shifted.  Sadly, these masks, a symbol of our irreverence for the environment, will be left in the ocean long after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, further damaging an already fragile environment resulting in an even heavier burden on the next generation.  When I captured this photo, I wanted to represent that the simplest of actions, like ignorantly discarding a mask, are resulting in further devastation just under the surface.  Similarly, the simplest of actions are required to help amend our failures.  I invite everyone seeing this picture to be inspired to take initiative, however they can, to be conscious of the actions they are taking.’

Image by Christophe Chellapermal / Ocean Art Underwater Contest

First Place in the Underwater Art category went to Jenny Stock, for this image entitled ‘Crocosmile’, which was captured at Gardens of the Queen National Park, Cuba using a Canon 5D Mk IV paired with a 100mm macro lens. Jenny commented; ‘Whilst snorkelling with this crocodile in Cuba I was dazzled by his jagged teeth. It prompted me to get in the water with my macro lens. Mirroring this toothy capture produced a unique image reminiscent of a Rorschach test. For me, intriguing faces appear in the water’s reflection. What do you see?’

Image by Jenny Stock / Ocean Art Underwater contest

First Place in the Nudibranchs category went to Wen Chou Wu, for a spectacular image entitled ‘Quarantine’, which was captured near Green Island in Taiwan using an Olympus E-M5 MkII. Wen commented; ‘ I dove in an abandoned port in Green Island last October. The depth of this port is only 3 meters. I found bubble algaes on the sand everywhere. Suddenly I noticed a crystal bubble algae. This nudi got into the bubble algae, it hides, eats and lives in the bubble algaes. This nudi is only 5mm and it moves very slowly. I waited patiently for it to turn around. Many people have experienced this kind of quarantine life this year, and I think this photo is suitable for this difficult time.’

Image by Wen Chou Wu / Ocean Art Underwater Contest

Second Place in the Wide-Angle category was this spine-chilling frame from Gilles Auroux . Entitled ‘Bullet’, the image was captured near Pico Island, Azores Archipelago using a Sony a7R IV paired with a 8-15mm fisheye lens. Gilles commented; ‘Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) are definitely one of the most elegant species of shark with their thin elongated body, and also one of the fastest. I tried to show this characteristic and chose to shoot it from very close (around 30-50 cm) and in this exact posture. In the photo, it looks like a bullet or a missile, putting the emphasis on its very long nose (even exaggerating it thanks to the use of a fisheye lens) while the rest of the body almost disappears in the back, allowing me to reinforce the sensation of speed it conveys.’

Image by Gilles Auroux / Ocean Art Underwater contest

Second Place in the Cold Water Category went to Johan Sundelin for this enchanting frame entitled ‘Waiting For The Kiss’, which was captured in Halland in Sweden using a Nikon D850. Johan commented; ‘On a previous visit to this lake I had noticed the very colourful water lilies striving for the surface in the rising spring temperature. When returning I hoped to get a shot of a pike in between the beautiful leaves. I instead ended up in the middle of mating common toads and this guy made a short stop-over before continuing his hunt for a female.’

Image by Johan Sundelin / Ocean Art Underwater contest