“Boto Encantado” by Kat Zhou/UPY 2023 (USA). Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023. Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2023. Location: Brazilian Amazon “There’s a legend among locals in the Amazon that river dolphins, or “botos”, can transform into handsome men known as “boto encantado” at night to seduce women. Though I did not witness this elusive boto transformation, at dusk I was enchanted by these beautiful mammals in a different way. After seeing how botos would sometimes bring their beaks above water, I knew I want a split shot at sunset. Though the water was so dark that I was shooting blind, this dolphin gave me a perfect pose and smile! As indigenous communities settled by rivers in the Amazon, river dolphins began living in closer proximity to human populations, even making use of food scraps. Frequent dolphin sightings led to tales like boto encantado, but there’s a darker side to the legend, as it was often used to excuse pregnancies after women were assaulted or forced into prostitution. While botos are generally revered as mythical creatures, many scorned husbands have killed dolphins because of these stories. Furthermore, many river dolphins have also been killed for use as fish bait. Though there have been bans on this practice, it has not been eradicated. With this, alongside even bigger impacts like mercury poisoning due to the gold mining industry and large development projects that have disrupted the river ecosystems, I fear that one day botos will truly become no more than mythical creatures.”
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Diving Deeper: Meet the 2023 Underwater Photographer of the Year

This year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year contest was highly competitive, with photographers worldwide submitting 6,000 remarkable photos. Kat Zhou captured an image that stood out among all other entries and earned her the prestigious 2023 Underwater Photographer of the Year for her powerful snapshot of an endangered river dolphin. Her work provides a vivid peek into the magnificent and mysterious depths below, proving that underwater beauty is awe-inspiring.

Zhou’s astounding overhead and underwater depictions of the Amazon River Dolphin are a far too fleeting pleasure; these magnificent creatures were listed as Endangered on IUCN’s Red List in 2019, their numbers rapidly dwindling due to the ever-increasing human presence along Brazil’s tributaries. This public proximity endangers them and disrupts their natural behavior with often tragic consequences.

According to judging chair Alex Mustard, “Kat’s photo stands out in the tannic waters as an exemplary portrait of a rarely captured and endangered species. This image speaks volumes about its beauty and power while reminding us that their numbers are decreasing rapidly.”

Zhou’s success was undoubtedly cemented when she won both the Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year and overall winner awards. This double win marks her as an inspiring photographer to keep your eyes on, mainly since she is based in California.

Although wildlife was a popular theme amongst the winners, Brett Eldridge won an award for his unique photography of a single-engine World War II airplane. His photos offer insight into what happens when humans abandon their artifacts and allow nature to take its course. In addition to its artistic value, Eldrige’s image will enable us to explore the science behind photogrammetry modeling in greater detail. Mustard reminds us that there is much more than meets the eye with this type of photo documentation.

“Underwater photogrammetry, a groundbreaking approach that constructs a 3D panoramic representation of the studied object, has revolutionized underwater photography. This method enables academics to investigate and measure reefs and wrecks without ever needing to dive in themselves. Brett’s photograph is an exceptional example of how breathtaking these images can be - rewriting the rules for wreck photography beneath the waves by providing us with our initial look at this downed World War II fighter plane!”

Dive into the tales behind each victorious image below, then explore the finalists in our Underwater Photographer of the Year winner’s gallery.

Underwater Photographer of the Year: Website | Facebook | Instagram

a close up of an animal
“The Trunk” by Suliman Alatiqi/UPY 2023 (Kuwait). Winner, Portrait.
Location: Phuket, Thailand
“The elephant's trunk is one of the most distinctive anatomical features in the natural world and this photo aims to emphasize it. Luckily, he was curious about my camera and was happy to feel it out which gave me the opportunity to capture this perspective despite otherwise bad conditions for an over-under photo (choppy water and poor visibility). In my first attempts, the nostrils were not fully lit because of how close they were to the lens (which was necessary for the intended photographic effect). So I returned at a specific time window when I thought the sun’s angle would be optimal and managed to fully light the nostrils. This added a lot more detail to the key part of the image without which the photo would not be as effective.”
“Fade” by J. Gregory Sherman/UPY 2023 (USA). Winner, Wide Angle
Location: Stingray City, Cayman Islands
“My dive partner and I chartered a boat to arrive at Stingray City on Grand Cayman before dawn so as to capture the morning light and undisturbed sand ripples. Just as the sun broke the horizon, a line of southern stingrays headed straight for me and I captured this image as they glided across the sand. Using a large dome port allowed me to create a split image showing the intensely colorful dawn sky contrasted against the nearly monochromatic stingrays and sand beneath the surface chop.”
“Engine with a Saddle” by Brett Eldridge/UPY 2023 (United States). Winner, Wrecks
Location: Point Loma, California
“We were out scanning targets in June when we saw a very small, but promising sonar blip 230 feet deep. I geared up and jumped in hoping for something special. After some searching, my heart started racing when I first saw fish then the propeller of an almost completely intact, single-engine WW II airplane! It turned out to be a F8F-1 Bearcat, a rare aircraft that Neil Armstrong famously once said was his favorite and has been described as “An Engine With a Saddle.” Alone on the first dive with limited bottom time, I took enough photos to build a “draft” model and identify the wreck. Needing a better photogrammetry model for the UPY contest and with deadlines quickly approaching, I booked December 19th and crossed my fingers. We fortunately had epic conditions and I got the photos I needed. It was my last dive of 2022.”
“Hopeless” by Alvaro Herrero/UPY 2023 (Spain). Save Our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2023. Winner, Marine Conservation.
Location: Baja California, Mexico
“A humpback whale dies a slow, painful and agonizing death after having its tail entangled in a ropes and buoys, rendering its tail completely useless. A reflection of what not only our oceans are suffering, but also our planet, the product of man's selfishness and lack of responsibility. Taking this photograph was, for me, the saddest moment I've experienced in the ocean. Especially because I have spent so much time with humpbacks underwater, experiencing eye contact, interactions, and seeing with my own eyes how they are sentient and intelligent beings. But I'm “happy” to being able to capture that moment and show the world what is happening, what we are doing. I really hope this image make us aware , open our eyes and drive us in to make real changes.”
“El Blanco – The White One” by Don Silcock/UPY 2023 (Australia). Winner, Black & White.
Location: Península Valdés, Argentina
“The image was taken on the last morning of a five-day trip to Peninsula Valdés in Argentina, in August 2022, under a special permit to enter the water with the Southern Right Whales that gather there between June and December each year.
The mother, who can be seen in the background, accepted our presence and allowed the calf to interact with us. It was very playful but careful not to hit us with it’s tail and seemed to be really enjoying it all – almost as much as we were!
White calves are very rare and referred to locally as “El Blanco” or the white one!
Peninsula Valdés is an incredibly important safe haven and breeding ground for the Southern Right Whales of the southern Atlantic and Argentina has done an excellent job of managing it.
It was, without doubt, my best ever underwater experience!”
a close up of an animal
“Make Love Not War” by Yury Ivanov/UPY 2023 (Indonesia). Winner, Behavior.
Location: Tulamben, Bali
“A couple of coconut octopuses “making love” (mating). I knew that I can find this species of Octopus at one of dive sites near Tulamben village (Bali, Indonesia) and they are active only at night time in that place. I dive there only after 7pm hoping to photograph something unique – their mating. I`ve done more than 30 night dives at the dive site and finally I got lucky. The photo shows the end of their love.”
“Klunzinger's Wrasse In Motion” by Enrico Somogyi/UPY 2023 (Germany). Winner, Compact.
Location: Marsa Alam, Egypt
“When I was snorkeling in Marsa Alam I saw countless Klunzinger's Wrasses. One of them was particularly curious and very interested in my lens. I was able to take some good classic wide angle pictures. After a while I figured it would be a good idea to try a long exposure. So I set my camera to the smallest aperture f11, the ISO value to 64 and the exposure time to 1/13s. For this picture, I moved the camera forward a bit while the shutter was released. This created the zoom effect in the lower part of the image. I was very happy with the result.”
“Jaws Reborn” by Victor Huertas/UPY 2023 (Australia). Runner Up, Black and White.
Location: Mo'orea, French Polynesia
“I wanted to achieve two goals with this image of a newborn blacktip reef shark. First, I aimed to recreate the iconic poster image of Jaws with a much less intimidating and more accurate portrayal of a shark. Secondly, I wanted to display the array of tiny dots with sensitive organs called ampullae of Lorenzini with which sharks can detect electric fields such as those produced by their prey. I hope that this image elicits both fascination and respect for sharks and contributes to inspire people to want to learn more about these interesting animals. This image was taken at the Centre des Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement (CRIOBE) station in Mo’orea, French Polynesia, where the Physioshark research team studies the impact of climate change on sharks.”
“Curiosity Among Icebergs” by Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY 2023 (Spain). Runner Up, Portrait.
Location: Antarctic Peninsula
“For me, the leopard seal is the most special and epic predator on the planet. It can as big as 4 meters long, it has a reptilian face and the infamy of being curious and dangerous. Although, it is can be dangerous, there are incredible stories of interaction such as those of Paul Nicklen, to whom a female brought several penguins in an attempt to teach him how to hunt. As with any wild animal, respect and care must be maximum and with this species these really have to be on another level. Working with experts and following these principles, we finally had an amazing encounter with the big female leopard seal that played with us and was really curious.”
“Egg Eaters” by Kirsty Andrews/UPY 2023 (UK). Winner, British Waters Macro.
Location: Shetland, Scotland
“I have long admired others’ pictures of nudibranchs feeding on the egg coils of other nudibranch species across the world. I’d also seen this nudibranch species, Favorinus branchialis, before, and I knew that it fed in this way, but never seen it in action until recently. I was therefore thrilled to find three large specimens feeding on a big coil of eggs in Shetland, Scotland. The eggs were several inches across, in a wide spiral, so the challenge was to isolate an appealing composition of eggs and nudibranchs.”
“An Island's Wild Seas” by Theo Vickers/UPY 2023 (UK). Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2023. Winner, British Waters Wide Angle.
Location: Needles Marine Conservation Zone, Isle of Wight
“Sunlight beats down through a marine jungle of Himanthalia algae on the chalk reefs of the Needles Marine Conservation Zone. The purple-tipped tentacles of snakelocks anemones (Anemonia viridis) rising up from the forest floor. Striking rock formations, the Needles on the Isle of Wight attracts close to 500,000 visitors annually. Yet, like many of Britain’s marine habitats the beauty and biodiversity of the island’s chalk reefs that lie below, from nudibranchs and rays to cuttlefish and cuckoo wrasse, are largely unknown to most. Exploring the shallower reefs on a summer evening, my mission was to capture a wide angle image that documented this stunning local habitat, combining both the towering forests above and the anemones that rule the chalk seabed below. After several unsatisfying attempts I stumbled upon this gully packed with snakelocks, and sinking into the forest beneath, found the composition I had been seeking.”
“Pipe Reef” by Dan Bolt/UPY 2023 (UK). Winner, British Waters Living Together.
Location: Loch Fyne, Western Scotland
“We were initially interested in this site in Loch Fyne for the fields of Firework Anemones, but of equal interest was an old pipe that had this patterned concrete protective covering along its length. This shallow artificial reef was home to many different species, including some large Langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus) who were seemingly unperturbed by my presence.”
“Unsung” by Shane Gross/UPY 2023 (Canada). Winner, Macro
Location: Vancouver Island, Canada
“Walking along a rocky shoreline we would peer under rocks using a probe lens and my camera's LCD screen to check for plainfin midshipman nests. Once found I would lay on top of the barnacle-covered rocks, cutting my elbows, trying to compose images of fish most people have never heard of despite having one of the most interesting lifecycles of any animal. Plainfin midshipman are deep water fish that travel to the intertidal zone to spawn. The males sing to attract females and she will lay as many eggs as his singing deserves before moving on to the next singer. Now, the male has a chance to fertilize the eggs, but only if he is not beaten to the punch by a sneaker male who looks like a female. The singer male will then guard the nest never knowing the kids may not be his. Drama!”
“Crack Rock Blenny” by Tony Reed/UPY 2023 (UK). Winner, British Waters Compact.
Location: Babbacombe, England
“I had been going back to this spot on Crack rock to capture the variable Blenny for several weeks. He was caring over his eggs inside the crevice so I was trying to capture the point when the eggs were hatching. Being such an inquisitive little chap he was always moving around getting closer to the camera until he got to this point where I took a few shots. I didn't stay too long as I didn't want to have any negative or detrimental affects on the parenting behavior. It has been great to see an increase in the Variable Blenny around Torbay over the past couple of years.”