'Dancing Octopus' Wins Top Honors in Underwater Photo Contest

A dazzling cavern and a close-up of an orca pod help round out the visual feast.

The winning entries have been announced in the annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition. This year's contest drew from 4,500 entries submitted from photographers in 67 countries.

First prize went to France's Gabriel Barathieu for "Dancing Octopus," taken on Mayotte Island in the Indian Ocean. "I had to wait for a low spring tide when the water was just 30 centimeters deep (1 foot) so that the octopus would fill the water column," said Barathieu. "I got as close as possible with a wide angle lens to create this image, which makes the octopus look huge."

"Both balletic and malevolent, this image shows that the octopus means business as it hunts in a shallow lagoon," said contest judge Alex Mustard. "The way it moves is so different from any predator on land, this truly could be an alien from another world. A truly memorable creature, beautifully photographed."

The UK's Nick Blake was named British Photographer of Year for "Out of the Blue," shot in Mexico's Kukulkan Cenote, Yucatan Peninsula.

"I left my strobes behind for the natural light shot I wanted and positioned myself in the shadows of the cavern," said Blake. "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."

Argentina's Horacio Martinez was named Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year, thanks to this shot, "Oceanic in the Sky," taken in the Red Sea.

"There was a lot of competitive images in this category, as you would expect but this one was a serious contender right from the start," offered judge Peter Rowlands. "The photographer has 'seen' the light and realized its dramatic effect extremely well and used it to contrast the small shark in a big, blue, lonely world. Very evocative indeed."

Most Promising British Underwater Photograph for 2017 went to Nicholai Georgiou for "Orca Pod," a group of killer whales photographed off Tromso, Norway. The light had a really nice color 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," Georgiou said.

"Most underwater photographers would be happy to get a shot of a single killer whale in its environment," said Rowlands, "but Nicholai had the composure not to panic and time the shot perfectly as a pod of killer whales passed by heading into the setting sun. I'm jealous."

Highly Commended in the wide angle category was "Prince of the waters," from France's Yannick Gouguenheim. The up-from-below shot of a common frog was taken in the Lamalou River.

"When you have a low sun in the sky and the ability to shoot upwards through Snell's window, then all the topside influences begin to come together," said contest judge Martin Edge. "Trees, beams, blue sky etc. This image goes even further, with a precise placement within the frame of the silhouetted toad in the sunbeams. Excellent arrangement of all the elements."

"Nudi art," Commended in the Macro category, from Katherine Lu, celebrated the nudibranch.

"I shot this photo in the local waters of Singapore where the visibility is 3 meters on average," Lu said of her creation. "Scuba divers I know are always surprised that I dive there and most don't even know there is great macro right off our shores. I wanted to do something different and turn a nudibranch commonly found in our waters into a piece of art. I have always been fascinated by bubbles and the inspiration for this photo came about when I was reading about aquatic plants that produce oxygen bubbles from photosynthesis. The images of the bubbles sticking to the green leaves had an abstract quality and hence came the idea to create 'Nudibranch Art.'"

Compact Camera category winner Jenny Stromvoll show "I've got my eye on you!" in Frekkie, Mozambique. "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," said Stromvoll. "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."

Commended in the Portrait category was this long-snouted seahorse from the Gulf of Rijeka in the Northern Adriatic Sea.

"I tried photographing this seahorse for several months because I wanted to do exactly this type of photography with double exposure made directly underwater without changing the lens and performing two consecutive shots," Moretti explained. "When at last I have found him I thought that this was the chance of a lifetime ... I consider [it] among the best I've done in my long career as an underwater photographer."

Canada's Qing Lin shot Behavior category winner "Your home and my home" in Lembeh Indonesia.

"Clown anemone fish and anemones enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The parasitic isopods like to hang out in the mouths of anemone fish," said Lin. "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."

Commended in the Wrecks category was "Jill Bomber," the UK's Marcus Blatchford's photo taken in Truk Lagoon, off the Federated States of Micronesia.

"I visited Truk Lagoon to dive the infamous 'Ghost Fleet,'" said Blatchford. "After a week this was a bit of a curveball compared to the rest of the huge, amazing shipwrecks we dived and was 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 200 meters 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 whizzbangery, resulted in a complete orbital 3D model."