Rafael Fernandez Caballero has been named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 for his image of five whale sharks feeding together in the Maldives.
In his picture, Dancing with the Giants of the Night, the whale sharks are seen feeding on nocturnal plankton gathered around the lights of a boat.
“It was incredible when one whale shark came to our boat – but more and more kept arriving,” Mr Caballero, from Spain, says.
“I was diving with shark researcher Gador Muntaner, who couldn’t believe it as their numbers grew.
“He counted 11 sharks that night – a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that nobody thought was possible.”
The picture came first out of 4,200 images from 71 countries.
Judge Alex Mustard says: “Photography needs light – and simply recording these giants in a dark ocean is a massive achievement..
“To do this with such beautiful light and careful composition of the five sharks is outstanding.
“Restriction on travel over the last year may have stopped many photographers visiting their favourite waters – but it hasn’t stifled their creativity.”
The annual competition, founded in 1965 in the UK, celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools.
Matty Smith, now living in Australia, was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year for a portrait of a great white shark in the Neptune Islands, South Australia.
The image, Great White Split, was produced with a dome around the camera, a carbon pole and a remote trigger to give it the striking perspective.
“I designed and constructed my own equipment to get the camera exactly where I wanted,” Smith says.
“Surprisingly, the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera
“In fact, it was a battle to stop them biting it.”
Other category winners discuss their work below.
Macro: Mimicry, by Javier Murcia, from Spain
This is a special moment, capturing the meeting of the seagrass shrimp and the seagrass pipefish in Spanish waters.
Both species live on the leaves of seagrasses.
The pipefish looks like a seagrass leaf – and for this reason, some prawns merge with its body, thinking they are leaves that move.
Wrecks: Abandoned Ship, by Alex Dawson, from Sweden
The wreck of Tyrifjord is one of the favourite wrecks in the Gulen dive-resort area of Norway.
It sits approximately 40m (130ft) underwater and is very sheltered.
The highlight of the wreck is always the huge steering wheel in the aft.
Behaviour: All You Need Is Love, by Pekka Tuuri, from Finland
This love pond is a 20-minute drive from my home [in Finland] and it has rewarded me plentifully over the past 10 years.
It was full of love in late April 2021.
I spent four days and four nights wearing a dry suit, lots of undergarments and a heated vest, to survive in the 5C water.
I floated and stayed put among the frogs – and quite soon, they accepted me and my camera as part of the scenery.
Portrait: Rapunzel on Fire, by Thomas Heckmann, from Germany
Our idea was to create a completely black silhouette in the foreground – but at the same time, make eye contact with the viewer.
To make the hair glow in the underwater studio, three powerful strobes were hidden in the background.
Black and white: Sarah’s Underwater World, by Kerrie Burow, from Australia
This shot was taken a year into the coronavirus pandemic – my seven-year-old niece Sarah stares with wonder while on one breath underwater.
The scene portrays the therapeutic power of water, which so many of us experienced during the pandemic.
I minimalised my presence, gave no instructions to Sarah and allowed the scene to evolve naturally.
Compact: Peace, by Enrico Somogyi, from Germany
Once a year, at the end of March, it is mating time for the toads.
I was trying to take a split shot with this toad [in a pond in Leipzig, Germany], when he started to crawl on my small dome port.
Up and coming: Supernova in Paradise, by Quico Abadal, from Spain
I first met Jeniya having breakfast at one of my favourite food spots in Koh Tao, Thailand.
After a couple of months, we met again, at Sairee beach.
She was wearing a stunning long white dress and we planned to shoot mostly split shots with the sunset, using strobes to illuminate the underwater scene.
It was a pretty challenging shot, since I didn’t have any fins or wetsuit.
What I like about this photograph is the imperfection of backscatter, recreating space and making it perfect to me.
British waters wide angle: Gannet Storm, by Henley Spiers, from the UK
A northern gannet swims in an artistic hail of bubbles created by diving seabirds in Shetland.
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 torpedoes pierced the surface.
I wanted to create a novel image of these handsome seabirds and resolved to try to capture their movement through a slow exposure.
British waters macro: Best Buddies, by Dan Bolt, from the UK
We were diving on an area of reef in Loch Carron, Ross-shire, I’d not previously explored.
After an excited squeal and waving of a torch in my direction, I dropped down to see my buddy had found not one but two beautiful little Yarrell’s blennies holed up in a crack in the rock.
British waters living: A Peaceful Coexistence, by Lewis Michael Jefferies, from the UK
In the summer months, jellyfish frequent the British Isles in large numbers, thought to be attracted by the warmer waters.
The summer of 2021 was no exception and there were huge numbers of these compass jellyfish in Falmouth Bay, Cornwall.
I hope my image can inspire others to explore and appreciate the wonders found right in our backyard, in British waters.
British waters compact: Rock Pool Star, by Martin Stevens, from the UK
Living from shallow water to deep water and reaching impressive sizes, spiny starfish are abundant in Cornwall.
I’ve often taken photos of them underwater – but on a low tide, they can be found in the exposed rock pools.
I attached a fisheye wet lens and was lucky with bright conditions.
After a while, I came across a large starfish in a gully flanked by exposed kelp.
Save Our Seas Foundation, Marine Conservation: Big Appetite, by Thien Nguyen Ngoc, from Vietnam
An aerial perspective of busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen, Phu Yen province, Vietnam.
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 over-fished, the whales, tunas, sea birds, and other marine predators that rely on them as a dietary staple, face starvation and population decline.
All pictures are subject to copyright.