Winning Photos Capture Fascinating Life Underwater

From great white sharks to amorous frogs, images show best of life underwater.

great white shark

Matty Smith / UPY 2022

So much goes on under the water. There are floating jellyfish, mating frogs, and schools of great white sharks.

These winning photographs from the 2022 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition captured so much of the activity above and below the water. The images were chosen from 4,200 underwater photos entered by photographers from 71 countries. 

Based in the United Kingdom, the annual competition honors photos taken beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers, and swimming pools. The first Underwater Photographer of the Year was named in 1965. The competition now has 13 categories, as well as four that are specific to photos shot in British waters.

The photo above, "Great White Split," was a runner-up in the portrait category and winner of the British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 award.

Matty Smith describes his photo, taken in the North Neptune Islands of Australia:

"I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait of a great white shark for a couple of years. Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own carbon pole and remote trigger. This enabled me to safely lower my camera and housing into the water with my own 12” split shot dome port attached. Surprisingly the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera with no extra bait needed, in fact it was a battle to stop them biting the dome port! We had wonderfully calm seas and nice evening side lighting for this naturally lit image."

Here are some of the other winners in the competition.

Wide Angle Winner and Underwater Photographer Of The Year 2022

great white sharks

Rafael Fernandez Caballero / UPY 2022

The overall winner of the competition also featured sharks.

Rafael Fernandez Caballero of Spain shot "Giants of the Night" in the Maldives.

"In the ocean magic can always happen. But when magic happens all together, you only can think you’re dreaming. This was the case of that night in Maldives.
At the beginning of the night one whale shark came to the light of our boat BlueForce One, we jumped in the water and then another whale shark came. We were so happy when, a couple of hours later, out of the blue, madness happened and whale sharks started to come in big numbers. I was together with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We counted at the same time 11 whale sharks surrounding us. It was a unique moment that no one there had thought it could even be possible.
Magic happens in the ocean every day, but if we don’t protect the oceans and sharks, these moments will soon be a thing of the past."

Competition judge Alex Mustard said of the winning photo, "It is said that Jacques Cousteau only saw three whale sharks in his whole life, so a photo of five together is something special. But this stunning image is about far more numbers, although it required precision timing to find a moment that they would all fit in frame and with all their faces visible. In the dead of night, the biggest migration of life on occurs when billions on plankton rise from the depths. And here have aggregated in the golden lights of a boat providing a feast fit for giants. Darkness was the opportunity, but also the photographic challenge for Rafael to see and successfully photograph such a grand scene in the inky sea. What a spectacle, a frame with more life than water."

Behaviour Winner and My Backyard Winner

frogs mating

Pekka Tuuri / UPY 2022

"All You Need is Love" was photographed by Pekka Tuuri in Vantaa, Finland.

Tuuri said of the image:

"All you need is love! This love pond is in my backyard, a 20 minute drive from home. And it has rewarded me plentifully over the past ten years. It is full of love in late April. The common frogs come first, then toads and finally newts. I spent four days and four night time sessions in it in 2021. I wore a drysuit with argon, lots of undergarments and a heated vest to survive in the five degree water. I floated and stayed put among the frogs and quite soon they accepted me and my camera as a part of the scenery. The frogs climb on top of my camera, make grunting sounds in my ears and squeeze between my face and the backplate of the camera. The active spawning time lasts about two days and nights. What an experience with lots of photo ops!"

Macro Winner

pipefish and green prawn

Javier Murcia / UPY 2022

Javier Murcia photographed "Mimicry" in Cartagena, Spain.

"This image is the result of many hours working with the species that live in the seagrass meadows. Both species, both the pipefish (Syngnathus abaster) and the green prawn (Hippolyte sp.) live on the leaves of seagrasses. It is not the first time that I have seen this curious behavior; I have been able to observe it on 4 or 5 occasions but I had never been able to take a good photo of it (after many hours and days looking for the moment). Sometimes the shrimp would move and other times the pipefish would quickly hide in my presence. The pipefish looks like a seagrass leaf and for this reason some prawns merge with its body thinking that they are leaves that move. Both are mimetic species."

Marine Conservation Winner

aerial view of anchovy fishing

Thien Nguyen Ngoc / UPY 2022

Thien Nguyen Ngoc won the marine conservation category and honors as the "Save Our Seas Foundation" Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022 with "Big Appetite" taken in Vietnam.

"An aerial perspective of busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen, Phu Yen province, Vietnam, many local fisherman families along the coastline will follow the near-shore currents to catch the anchovy during peak season. Salted anchovy is the most important raw material to create traditional Vietnamese fish sauce but anchovies are a little fish with a big impact. When they are overfished, the whales, tunas, sea birds ... and other marine predators that rely on them as a dietary staple face starvation and population decline critically. And so far Vietnam is also facing this anchovy overfishing situation, according to the survey results of the Institute of Seafood Research, the reserves and catches of anchovies in the waters of Vietnam have decreased by 20-30% in the past 10 years."

Most Promising British Underwater Photographer

sea gooseberries

Paul Pettitt / UPY 2022

Paul Pettit shot "Diamonds and Rust" around Swanage Pier, England.

"This picture was taken on a bright afternoon when I knew the sun would be on the west side of the Pier. The Sea Gooseberries had been around for a while and on this particular day the water was like glass. I floated in the spot I wanted and waited for them to slowly drift by. The background colours represent the rust and weed growth on a metal cross beam."

British Waters Macro Winner


Dan Bolt / UPY 2022

Dan Bolt photographed "Best Buddies" in Loch Carron, Scotland.

"2021 was the 10 year anniversary of my first trip to the beautiful Loch Carron, and in all that time it has never failed to produce stunning underwater images with its diverse array of marine inhabitants. My buddies know that I’m not very good at finding Yarrels blennies, and it was no exception on this dive either. We were diving on an area of reef I’d not previously explored, and after an excited squeal and waving of a torch in my direction I dropped down to see that my buddy had found not one, but two beautiful little blennies holed up in a crack in the rock. 
Having my long macro lens on was an advantage as I could stand-off from the reef enough to get some light into their home so we could all see their some-what bemused little faces. Best buddies for sure!"

British Waters Wide Angle Winner

northern gannet

Henley Spiers / UPY 2022

Henley Spiers captured "Gannet Storm" in Scotland.

"A northern gannet swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds. 40,000 gannets visit the nearby cliffs annually to lay and care for a single egg, fishing for food nearby. Hitting the frigid water faster than an Olympic diver, these incredible birds have evolved air sacs in the head and chest to survive these repeated heavy impacts. From underwater, the sound was thunderous as streamlined, white torpedos pierced the surface. I wanted to create a novel image of these handsome seabirds and resolved to try and capture their movement through a slow exposure. The speed of the gannets led to innumerable failures but in this frame we retain strong eye contact with the gannet, even as the scene is artistically softened. With great thanks to Richard Shucksmith, without whom this encounter with the gannets would not have been possible."