Nature’s Hidden Wonders: Highlights from the Close-up Photographer of the Year

Simon Theuma, “Dreamtime.” Underwater 1st Place. “Like an intricate tapestry of the marine ecosystem, this image captures the relationship between a commensal shrimp and a mosaic sea star. Dreamtime Aboriginal art reminds us of the delicate balance that exists in the grand tapestry of our natural world—this ancient wisdom serves as an important reminder to preserve what we have. To capture this image, I needed to use a snooted strobe, which was set at an acute angle to the subject. This setup accentuated the depth and beautiful texture of the two organisms. Additionally, I enhanced magnification by using a +15 wet lens dioptre.”
  • The Close-up Photographer of the Year competition showcases the intricate beauty of the natural world through macro photography.
  • The contest received nearly 12,000 entries from 67 countries, highlighting diverse subjects from insects to underwater scenes.
  • Csaba Daróczi won the overall competition with a unique black-and-white image of a bird in flight.
  • The competition encourages photographers to explore and capture the unseen marvels of nature, using innovative techniques and perspectives.

Have you ever peered closely at the world through a magnifying glass? It's like stepping into a hidden universe, one that's bustling with life and color, yet often overlooked. This is the world that macro photographers like Yuan Minghui, Manfred Auer, and Csaba Daróczi, among others, immerse themselves in. Their canvas? The minuscule, the overlooked, and the breathtakingly beautiful facets of nature.

An Artistic Ode to the Minuscule

I'll never forget my initial encounter with macro photography. It felt akin to unlocking a magical realm where diminutive beings took center stage, and each water droplet glistened as if it were a precious gem. This year's Close-up Photographer of the Year contest truly brought this magical realm into the limelight, displaying an astonishing array of nearly 12,000 entries from photographers across 67 countries.

An orange shield insect photographed on a leaf. Yuan Minghui, “Like a Flower.” Insects Finalist. “After a rainstorm, a shield bug (Pentatomidae) fell onto some decayed leaves in the mud. The gradual decay of the leaves reminded me of printed flowers, and I loved the bright contrast of the insect against it. This shield bug is like a flower that falls to the ground, bringing some bright emotions to the dark rainforest.”

Imagine, if you will, Yuan Minghui's work. After a rainstorm, a shield bug clings to the decayed leaves in the mud. Minghui likens it to a flower that has fallen to the ground, a bright emotion amidst the dark rainforest. This juxtaposition, of life and decay, of vibrancy and the ephemeral, is a theme that resonates throughout the competition.

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Laura Storm, “Cloud Nine.” Underwater Finalist. A ghost goby hides out among the undulating textures and swirls of its pink sponge daybed

The Winners: Capturing the Unseen

Csaba Daróczi's winning black-and-white photograph is a masterpiece of perspective and timing. Picture this: a bird in flight, captured from inside a hollow tree stump. It's a frame that merges the rawness of the forest with the elegance of wildlife.

Csaba Daróczi, “The Bird of the Forest.” Animals 1st Place and Overall Winner. “In the winter of 2023, I took a lot of photographs in a forest close to my home in Hungary. I found something new to photograph almost every week, and I spent several days exploring ideas and perfecting techniques. Staying curious and open-minded led me to this hollowed out tree stump, which measured around half a metre in diameter. I carefully positioned my GoPro 11 camera inside the trunk and took a few shots. I was amazed by the results. After a few days, however, I decided the composition might be improved if I included an animal in the frame. So, I returned to the spot and placed a sunflower near the hole, which the mice and birds soon found.”

And then there's Manfred Auer's portrayal of an orange isopod, a creature most would stride past without a second glance. Through his lens, this isopod becomes a protagonist in its own right, a marvel of nature's design.

The Spectrum of Nature's Palette

The competition isn't just about animals. Barry Webb's slime mold, Mirko Scortichini's cluster of blue butterflies, Laura Storm's ghost goby over pink coral - these images, take you on a journey. A journey where colors burst forth, where life exists in myriad forms, each more fascinating than the last.
A Reflection on Nature's Fragility

As I delve deeper into these images, I'm struck by a profound sense of responsibility. Simon Theuma's "Dreamtime", for instance, reminds us of the delicate balance in our natural world. It's a call to preserve, to cherish, and to coexist.

Final Thoughts: The Lens as a Storyteller

In wrapping up, the Close-up Photographer of the Year contest transcends the boundaries of a mere talent exhibition. It weaves a compelling narrative, a tapestry of visual stories that beckon us to peer deeper into our world, to cherish its nuances, and to walk gently upon this planet we share. This contest serves as a poignant reminder that beauty is often nestled in the smallest of details, waiting to be discovered in the most unexpected places.

Barry Webb, “Comatricha with Droplets.” Fungi and Slime Molds Finalist. Beautiful Comatricha nigra slime moulds gleam with water droplets on a rotting fence post in November in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, U.K.
a close up of an insect
Manfred Auer, “Orange Isopod.” Invertebrate Portrait 2nd Place. “I captured this shot during my early days as a macro photographer back in April. Just three months after getting my Olympus camera, I stumbled upon this incredible isopod in the woods behind my house in the beautiful south of Austria. This image is a result of merging 91 individual shots with varying focus points.”
a close up of a bird
Arne Bivrin, “Kiss of Death.” Animals Finalist. “I was sitting in a hide watching a heron stalking fish in the shallow water. I had my eyes on this heron and was ready when it caught the small fish. Most bird photographers like to capture the entire bird, whereas I enjoy tight portraits and details.”
Chris Gug, “Spirit of the Yucatan.” Plants Finalist. Looking through the drifting stems of lily pads in a Mexican freshwater cenote to the sky above
René Krekels, “Wood Ants Firing Acid Secretion.” Insects 1st Place. “I had been studying the lifestyle of wood ants in the Netherlands for work when I noticed the defending ants of a very large ant’s nest seemed eager to scare me off by spraying acid towards me. Luckily, it wasn’t that destructive, and it provided me with a great opportunity to photograph them defending the nest.”
Ye Fei Zhang, “Butterfly Eggs.” Micro Finalist
Mirko Scortichini, “Butterflies Storm.” Butterflies and Dragonflies Finalist. A group of Lycaenidae butterflies gather to feast upon a cowpat in Serrapetrona, Italy, in June
Liang Fu, “Heart of the Sea.” Underwater 2nd Place. “This photograph was taken during a blackwater dive in Romblon, Philippines. Blackwater diving is a type of scuba diving that takes place at night in the open ocean, with thousands of metres of water below the boat. Divers descend a rope with underwater lights as their only orientation system. When the tide and moon phase are right, creatures from the deep migrate to shallower waters. This vertical migration is one of the most remarkable natural phenomena. During the dive, I saw something shining under my searchlight at 28 metres deep. As I swam closer to investigate, I found a lava moray eel curled into a heart shape. I was extremely fortunate to capture this moment with my camera. The eel remained at that depth for less than 10 seconds before swimming down and disappearing into the darkness.”