Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY) is as prestigious a photo competition as its name connotes. Results are featured in a number of distinguished and widely shared publications like Vanity Fair, CNN, in addition to countless other dive magazines and websites, lending widespread notoriety to the UPY winners.
UPY2023 saw a handful of Ikelite Ambassadors and customers being honored, and we got a chance to hear the stories behind some of these shots. Read on to learn more about these winning images and the photographers behind the lens.
Ikelite Ambassador | Steve Kovacs
Highly Commended Portrait
"Bony-Eared Assfish" © Steven Kovacs
"I feel very honored to place in UPY 2023.
The biggest challenge to making this photograph was finding the animal. It is exceedingly rare and I have seen it only a couple of times in 10 years of blackwater diving. Once the fish was found, it was then a matter of trying to get a pleasing portrait showing its character.
I think this picture works for a couple of reasons. First, it is an incredibly beautiful fish and very different from what is usually seen. This uniqueness makes it stand out, especially because there are no other pictures of the animal out there because of its aforementioned rarity. Second, the angle of the portrait is very dramatic, with the fish conveying intense eye contact with the viewer. The streamers and fins are nicely splayed and oriented, thus showing the full beauty of the fish. I feel very fortunate that everything came together in that exact moment I decided to pressed the shutter."
- Steven Kovacs
Ikelite Ambassador | Bryant Turffs
3rd Place Behaviour
"Chew With Your Mouth Closed!" © Bryant Turffs
Highly Commended Portrait
"Eye of the Beholder" © Bryant Turffs
"I am honored to have had recognition for these two images, made with the same subject during the same encounter. This turned out to be my most successful day of image making for the whole year! In preparing for and shooting images for contests, I have invested time in improving not only the technical elements of photography, but also the artistic elements that make a good image. All that preparation though cannot replace a bit of well timed luck in finding a cooperative and charismatic subject.
The star of these images is a common snapping turtle, an ecologically important and seldom photographed, if not rare, species that inhabits the south eastern United States. I’m grateful that she was tolerant of my presence and that I was able to capture her behavior and character well enough to be recognized in this prestigious contest!
In making these images I utilized an APS-C Canon 7D Mark II, the precursor to the R7. This allowed me to use the excellent Tokina Fisheye lens, which provides a good focal length for medium to large subjects. Balanced lighting, utilizing both ambient light and my DS160 Strobes, captured the beautiful clear Florida spring, and highlighted the subjects details."
- Bryant Turffs
Ikelite Customer | Douglas Klug
Highly Commended Wide Angle
"Kelp Forest Gold" © Douglas Klug
“I’m honored to be recognized among the winning entries for the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 (UPY2023) contest, and proud to represent to true beauty of a Southern California Kelp Forest with this image.
The encounter took place during a November day when near perfect conditions underwater met with sunny skies and a rich kelp forest. Part of the magic of this shot was that the dive site I was diving, until just a few months earlier, had been devoid of kelp and looked nothing like it does in the image. As conditions around Santa Cruz Island lined up through the summer, the dive sight morphed into vibrant underwater world and became a regular stop for fall diving.
In Southern California, Garibaldi are the self-proclaimed “kings” of the kelp forest and when this young adult took an interest in me, I thought I had a chance to really show off the beauty of this underwater world. I used the modeling light mounted on top of my housing to illuminate the fish as it made inquisitive passes, allowing it to better see its own reflection in the dome port. This technique, described in a previous Ikelite article regarding responsible manipulation of marine life for photography, only enticed the fish to interact more and move closer, setting up the shot for the fish with a background of sunbeams and flowing kelp.”
- Douglas Klug
Ikelite Customer | Michael Freifeld
Commended Black & White
"Rorschach" © Michael Freifeld
"I snorkeled a popular beach access dive site countless times looking for small, hidden, and unique creatures. It was a day like any other and I was using my Canon Sl2, 18-55mm kit lens and my Ikelite housing, which is super small and light for snorkeling and beach dives. As I floated along I noticed a pair of Grey Angelfish, a species that tends to swim in pairs and is a common sight on dives. They are super curious and are usually ignored for more interesting and rare species. The pair was investigating a neglected, anchored vessel with a bunch of marine growth on the bottom of the hull. The Angelfish were treating it as feeding surface and effortlessly switching orientation to feed. I dove down and began snapping away, before they curiously swam over to investigate me.I was so lucky to capture the exact moment when one of the pair flipped itself in exactly the opposite orientation of its partner. The raw image didn’t do it justice, but once transitioned to black and white, the contrast and symmetrical but also asymmetrical image was revealed. Really stoked to have been commended by such a prestigious competition, and I did it all with the most basic and cheapest kit lens around!"
Ikelite Customer | Mizael Palomeque
Commended Black & White
"Binary Code" © Mizael Palomeque
Ikelite Customer | Cecilia Velázquez
Highly Commended Black & White
"Cold Water Siren" © Cecilia Velázquez
Ikelite Customer | Chris Gug
Ikelite Customer | Ipah Uid Lynn
Highly Commended Macro
"Peas in a Pod" © Ipah Uid Lynn
Ikelite Customer | James Rokop
3rd Place Compact
Ikelite Customer | Lucy Ray
"Spaceman Zachary Ray, 7, Splashes In" © Lucy Ray
Ikelite Customer | Victor Huertas
Runner Up Black & White
"Jaws Reborn" © Victor Huertas
Congratulations to all of the winners of the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023 competition! Get a full list of all the winners, and don't miss out on downloading the UPY Yearbook where you'll get an inside look at the judge commentary and photo details.
If you're interested in submitting your work for photo competitions, don't miss our articles Tips on Entering a Photo Contest and Photo Contest Tips from a 100x Winner.
Behind the Shots: Ocean Art 2022 Winners
Up Close and Personal: A Guide to Underwater Animal Portraits
Reflections: Manipulation with Mirrors and Light for Behavioral Images
Featured Photographer: Bryant Turffs on Looking Deeper