Ocean Art Contest 2018 – The Winners in Pictures

22 January 2019

A picture of three giant devil rays performing an underwater ballet has won an ocean photography competition which showcases the beauty of untouched marine wildlife.

The Ocean Art Contest 2018 also featured dolphins, seahorses and crabs, among other less familiar deep sea creatures.

Of the thousands of images entered by photographers from 70 countries, 16 winners across categories including Macro, Wide-Angle and Novice DSLR were chosen.

Duncan Murrell’s shot of spinetail devil rays engaged in a rarely observed courtship behaviour taken in Palawan in the Philippines (above) won Best of Show.

Winners were awarded prizes worth a total of $80,000, including dive trips and cruise experiences.

Wide-Angle Winner – François Baelen

‘Gentle Giants’ – a humpback whale and her calf, by François Baelen, winner of the Wide-Angle category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: This unique encounter happened in September 2018 in Reunion Island (Western Indian Ocean) where the humpback whales come here to breed and give birth. The mother was resting 15 meters down, while her calf was enjoying his new human friends.

Trust : this is what came to my mind, when this close to 30 ton-animal, still hunted today by mankind, allowed me to free-dive behind her and take that shot.

From down there, everything seemed unreal: that huge tail centimetres away from me, the calf, my friend free diving symmetrically. I knew I would not get a shot like this one again.

The post production was all about getting a good white balance and reducing noise, because this photo was taken with natural light only, 15 meters deep.

Location:  Saint-Gilles, Reunion Island

Equipment Used:  Sony A7III Camera, Nauticam NA-A7III Housing, Sony 16-35mm Lens.

Settings: F9, 1/80 sec, ISO 400

Macro Winner – Jeff Milisen

‘Ancistrocheirus’ – a sharp-eared enope squid, by Jeff Milisen, winner of the Macro category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: One night I found this sharp-eared enope squid just under the surface. Most enope squids are small and thus difficult to shoot. As they mature, the difficult paralarva comes into its own. Every detail in the arms, organs, and chromatophores blasts to life in radiant colour. Such was the case with this gem of a specimen. At around 3 inches in length, it was easily the largest and prettiest sharp-eared enope squid I recall finding.

Location:  Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, USA

Equipment Used:  Canon T1i Camera, Ikelite Housing, Canon 60mm, Dual Ikelite DS-51 Strobes, Dual Sola Video Lights

Settings: F13, 1/200 sec, ISO 400

Portrait Winner – Claudio Zori

‘Chimaera’ – spotted rat fish, by Claudio Zori, winner of the Portrait category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story:  The spotted rat fish, a resident of the northeastern part of the Pacific Ocean, usually lives between 50 and 400 meters and prefers temperatures no higher than 9 degrees. However, it tends to approach in shallow water during the spring and fall. While swimming, it can perform rotations and twists as if it were flying. The photo was taken in a night dive in front of God’s Pocket dive resort.

Location:  God’s Pocket Part, Hurst Island, BC, Canada

Equipment Used:  Nikon D300S Camera, Sealux Housing, Tokina 10-17mm Lens, Dual Seaflash 150 Strobes

Camera Settings: F16, 1/320 sec, ISO 200

Cold Water Winner – Greg Lecoeur

‘Grey Seal Face’, by Greg Lecoeur, winner of the Cold Water category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

Nudibranchs Winner – Flavio Vailati

‘Inside the Eggs’ – Favorinus pacificus and eggs, by Flavio Vailati, winner of the Nudibranchs category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: During a dive in Anilao, Philippines I found this nudibranch and I waited for the best time to make this shot.

Location: Anilao, Philippines

Equipment Used:  Nikon D500 Camera, Nauticam Housing, Dual Sea & Sea YS-D2, Subsee +10, Retra Snoot

Settings: F22, 1/250 sec, ISO 200


Supermacro Winner – Edison So

‘Hairy flames’ – Hairy Shrimp, by Edison So, winner of the Supermacro category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: Hairy shrimp have always been one of my favourite subjects, due to the variety of colors and types of similar species of shrimps. Shooting a hairy shrimp is also a challenging task due to its tiny size and nature. They like to hop from one place to another while photographers try to photograph it. Great patience is needed to wait for the perfect moment to press the shutter, the environment, the background, the composition, and of course, the focus on the subject.

Location:  Anilao, Philippines

Equipment Used:  Canon 5D Mark III, Sea & Sea Underwater Housing, Canon 100mm Lens, Dual Sea & Sea YS-D1, Nauticam SMC, Ext. Tubes, Torch

Settings: F18, 1/200 sec, ISO 100

Novice DSLR Winner – Alvin Cheung

‘Special Encounter’ – Oceanic Manta Ray, by Alvin Cheung, winner of the Novice DSLR category,  2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: ‘Background first!’ was an important tip given by prominent underwater photographer Mark Strickland during an underwater photo workshop organised by Bluewater Travel in a trip to Socorro in 2017.  I was new to underwater photography.

So during a dive in the famous El Boiler when this giant oceanic manta ray suddenly showed up from the blue, I realised that the chance of getting a decent shot of it was slim due to the distance and the presence of too many divers around it. I remembered ‘Background first!’.

I then quickly looked around and found that another diver, Marissa, was a few meters away from me and behind her was the landmark pinnacle of El Boiler.  Visibility was crystal.  I thought Marissa, together with the structure of the pinnacle, might be able to create an interesting background showing both the location of the dive site and the scale of the giant manta.  I swam away from the group towards the direction of Marissa, hoping the manta would follow. With luck, the manta left the group later and approached Marissa for an investigation.  Hence this photo.

Location:  Socorro, Mexico

Equipment Used:  Nikon D810 Camera, Nauticam Housing,  Tokina 10-17mm Lens, Dual Inon Z-240  Strobe

Settings: F11, 1/125  sec, ISO 250

Mirrorless Wide-Angle Winner – Eugene Kitsios

‘Atlantic Spotted Dolphins’, by Eugene Kitsios, winner of the Mirrorless Wide-Angle category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: Before you enter the water with a pod of dolphins, you never know what the interaction will be like. Sometimes you may have a great encounter, where the dolphins will curiously swim around you or show you some kind of playful behaviour. Other times they may leave you without interest. The best way to interact with them is to let them decide. Times where you are accepted by the pod are truly a magical experience. These intelligent creatures display so much interesting behaviour.

Location:  Bimini, Bahamas

Equipment Used:  Olympus OM-D EM-1, Olympus Housing, Olympus 8mm Fisheye Lens, Dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobes

Settings: F5.6, 1/320 sec, ISO 200

Mirrorless Macro Winner – Steven Walsh

‘Three Baby Seahorses’ – Big-belly Seahorse, by Steven Walsh, winner of the Mirrorless Macro category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: Each spring in the cool 15°C water, Big-belly seahorse fry appear in large numbers. They cling to loose sea grass and weeds near the waters surface, where they hunt in the shelter of the pier.

Location:  Blairgowrie Pier, Victoria, Australia

Equipment Used:  Sony A7III, Ikelite Housing, Sony 90mm Macro Lens, Dual Sea & Sea YS-D2 Strobes

Settings: F22, 1/160, ISO 100

Mirrorless Behaviour Winner – Fabrice Dudenhofer

‘My Babies’ – Yellowtail clownfish (Amphiprion clarkii) oxygenating its eggs, by Fabrice Dudenhofer, winner of the Mirrorless Behaviour category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: I have been fortunate enough to have a Japanese guide who showed me a couple of clownfishes with their baby eggs. I never had the chance to shoot this type of interaction before so  it was a big challenge for me. The adults swam endlessly around the eggs in order to oxygen them. Because of their endless movements it was difficult to get the perfect moment. To achieve the perfect shot I needed patience and a big part of luck. The guide and I stayed more than half an hour and I took more than 50 photos. I really wanted to show how some parent fishes cared for their babies.

In this regard these clown fishes are not so different from us.

Location:  Amami Oshima Island, Japan

Equipment Used:  Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, Isotta Housing, Olympus 60mm Macro Lens, Dual Retra Strobes

Settings: F22, 1/250 sec, ISO 100

Compact Macro Winner – Sejung Jang

‘Hairy Shrimp, by Sejung Jang, winner of the Compact Macro category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story:  Before this trip, hairy shrimp were on my wish list. Fortunately my dive guide found it for me and my friends. It was my first time to see red hairy shrimp. It’s not easy to take photos of it, because it jumps a lot. After this photo, my camera didn’t work at all. I’m so lucky at least this nice shot came out of it!

Location: Anilao, Philippines

Equipment Used:  Olympus Tg5, Olympus housing PT-058, Weefine Snoot light

Settings: f/6.3, 1/160 sec, ISO 100

Compact Behaviour Winner – PT Hirschfield

‘Cannibal Crab’ – Spider Crabs, by PT Hirschfield, winner of the Compact Behaviour category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: Each year I eagerly await the return of the spider crabs en masse as they gather to shed their old shells, presumably finding ‘safety in numbers’ from predators such as stingrays, angel sharks and octopuses as they all moult in close proximity together. In reality, the most fierce predator of spider crabs is other spider crabs.

Location:  Victoria, Australia

Equipment Used:  Canon G12, Recsea Housing, Sea & Sea YS-D1 Strobe

Settings: F5.6, 1/125 sec, ISO 100

Underwater Art Winner – Bruno Van Saen

‘Disco Nudi’ – Hypselodoris bullocki nudibranch, by Bruno Van Saen, winner of the Underwater Art category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: I was trying to create an image right out of the camera using special own-made backgrounds. But at the end, it was the photoshop filter ‘swirl’ which helped me a lot to end up with this creative image.

Location:  Bali, Indonesia

Equipment Used:  Nikon D810, Hugyfot Housing, Nikkor 105mm VR Lens, Dual Inon Z-240 Strobes

Camera Settings: F18, 1/250, ISO100

Reefscapes Winner – Yen-Yi Lee

‘Mangrove’ – Soft coral grows on mangrove roots, by Yen-Yi Lee, winner fo the Reefscapes category, 2018 Ocean Art Contest

The Story: A beautiful soft coral anchors and grows on mangrove roots. Two remote strobes were used to highlight the details of mangrove roots in the background, which also provided water surface reflection.

Location:  Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Equipment Used:  Canon 5D Mark IV, Nauticam Housing, Seacam 150D Strobe

Settings: F16, 1/160 sec, ISO 400


Featured image: ‘Devil Ray Ballet’, by Duncan Murrell, awarded Best in Show 

Equipment Used:  Canon 6D, 15mm lens. F7, 1/200th, ISO 500, ambient light