Astonishing, award-winning photography from Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019

A thrilling photograph showing the exact moment a pack of grey reef sharks catch and devour a parrotfish sees British photographer Richard Barnden named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019. Barnden’s photograph triumphed over 5000 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 65 countries around the world.

“The Gauntlet” was taken underwate on the reefs of French Polynesia. Chair of the judges, Dr Alexander Mustard MBE, commented, “Using a wide angle lens, the photographer takes us into the full drama of the hunt, as a melee of grey reef sharks rise like a breaking wave to tear apart their prey, truly revealing the ocean’s wilder side.”

Spanish photographer, Eduardo Acevedo from Tenerife, was named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2019 for his photo showing a loggerhead turtle entangled in a discarded plastic fishing net. Judge Mustard said “plastic pollution and ghost fishing are ever increasing serious issues threatening the ocean, this sad image highlights both issues”.

Images we loved:

Caretta caretta Turtle

Winner, Marine Conservation and Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2019: Eduardo Acevedo (Spain)

The Caretta caretta turtles spend much of their life in the open ocean. They come to the Canary Island after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches. In this trip of many years  they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc. In this particular case it got trapped in a net and it was practically impossible to escape from it… but this day it was very lucky and could escape thanks to the help of two underwater photographers who were sailing near her.

EDUARDOACEVEDO - caretta turtle

Photo: Eduardo Acevedo/ UPY2019

Silent Killer

Third, Marine Conservation: Naom Kotler (Israel)

After a stormy day I want on a normal dive when I came across so much garbage everywhere, so I decided to put my camera down and start filling my BCD pockets with plastic cups and other plastic waste. One plastic cup took my attention as it looked strange from a distance. When I got close I was shocked from what I saw. Inside the squeezed cup there was a seahorse trapped and drifting in the current. My heart was sore how this poor seahorse was slowly suffocating inside the plastic cup. I was rushed to help him, BUT it was important to me to take a few quick shots, so I can try to explain to people how bad the use of the plastic products is especially close to the beaches as they can easily end up in our seas and turn into a silent killer.

garbage sea Noam Kortler - 1024 x 683

Photo: Noam Kortler/ UPY 2019

The Gauntlet

Winner, Behavior, British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019, and Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019: Richard Barnden

As the sun sets on Fakarava South Pass, the estimated 700 sharks that are patrolling the mouth of the channel by day, begins to hunt at night. The gauntlet is about to unfold. Descending into the darkness I can feel my heart beating a little faster than normal as hundreds of sharks are now covering the bottom. This unlucky parrotfish dodged in and out of the patch coral heads looking for somewhere to hide as swarms of sharks followed in hot pursuit. One grey reef shark suddenly grabbed the parrotfish by its head as the another twisted underneath it to get a better grip. In desperation it hurtled straight towards me as I snapped a few passing shots and curled up into a ball as the frenzy of sharks shot past, leaving only but a few falling parrotfish scales behind.

sharks RichardBarnden

Photo: Richard Barnden/ UPY2019

Oh No, Godzilla

Runner-Up, Portrait: Bruce Sudweeks (United States)

The Galapagos Islands are the only place on the planet that you can see marine Iguanas in their natural habitant. This photo looks like the fictional character Godzilla that is smiling before starting some mischief.

godzilla-BruceSudweeks iguana

Photo: Bruce Sudweeks/ UPY2019

Grass snake swimming along a garden pond

Runner Up, British Waters Wide Angle: Jack Perks (United Kingdom)

I’m always on the look out for unusual freshwater subjects and grass snakes are a species I’ve been after for years. I was told about a pond used for natural swimming and the odd grass snake that hangs around the lilly pads for frogs. I put my Hammond drysuit on and got into the water and could see one slithering along the surface. Slowly making my way towards it with my head only just poking above I got the spilt shot. Many people don’t realise how aquatic grass snakes are and often spend time by the water, it was a picture I was chuffed to get!

Grass snake JackPerks

Photo: Jack Perks/ UPY2019

Gentle Giants

Winner, Wide Angle: François Baelen

At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimetres away from her tail. I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn’t need to ask the playful calf : he was very curious.

From down there, the scene looked unreal and I’m glad that this photograph has captured this moment. Humpback whales are amazing and peaceful animals and I still can’t believe they are still being hunted by mankind today.

humpback whale FrançoisBAELEN - 1024 x 683

Photo: François Baelen/ UPY 2019

Curious Crabeater

Runner-Up, Wide Angle: Jessica Farrer

As a biologist I have been working with seals for many years and traveling to the Antarctic since 2009. This is a photo from one of my favorite encounters. It was captured on a snowy dramatic day, the sky could not have been more perfect. We were in a spot known as the Iceberg Graveyard on the Antarctic Peninsula, where massive ice giants come to rest on a rocky bottom. There was a group of 8 crabeater seals cavorting around the bergs and they spent the better part of an hour spy hopping, splashing and circling around us. It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had with this species. Out of all the shots this was my favorite. This curious Antarctic seal in his incredible polar home.


Photo: Jessica Farrer/ UPY2019

Curios bear’s cubs

Commended, Wide Angle: Mikhail Korostelev

For this image I used a camera with a remote control. I put the camera in shallow water and waited nearby for the moment. One day a mother bear came close and started fishing. Her 4 cubs 1.5 years old were bored. They started to play with each other and suddenly found a camera under the water and started to explore it.

bear cubs Mikhail Korostelev - 1024 x 683

Photo: Mikhail Korostelev/ UPY2019


Winner, Up and Coming: Taeyup Kim (Korea, Republic of)

Overwater, beautiful resorts and palm trees in super clear sky. Underwater, nearly 1m depth, colorful and untouched hard corals with some reef fishes. For the first dive here, I was running out of time for preparing ascent. And I request only diving this specific area for the nice split shots. I worked for about 30 minutes. I met 2 difficult points. Surface was not that calm because of the surrounding boat which made waves. Secondly my posture was really unstable in super shallow depth, surrounding hard corals for lifting my dome and getting right composition. Frankly, I was waiting gray reef shark and black-tip reef shark near here coming into this composition. I failed but I like this paradise.

Paradise TaeyupKim

Photo: Taeyup Kim/ UPY2019

My Place Under the Boat

Runner-Up, Up and Coming: Matej Begoc (Slovenia)

This shot was taken in a remote bay of Solta island, during this year sailing in Croatia. I was aiming to capture just the silhouette surrounded by the beautiful radiant blue background. It took few attempts before her legs, arms and hair were in perfect composition. It was far more difficult for my girlfriend to sit under the boat and pose without any additional weights, then it was for me taking the shot.

my place under the boat MatejBegoc - 1024 x 683

Photo: Matej Begoc/ UPY2019

About Underwater Photographer of the Year

Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition, based in the UK, that seeks to celebrate photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes and even swimming pools. This year’s judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Martin Edge and Alex Mustard. Get the free 175 page downloadable Yearbook here.

Also Read:

Award-winning Underwater Photography that will blow your mind

Underwater Photographer of the Year: Award-finning images from our oceans