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Sunset Dance of Sharks and Gulls Wins Underwater Photographer of the Year



A graceful photograph of blacktip reef sharks cruising beneath sea gulls at sunset in French Polynesia sees Renee Capozzola from the United States named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021. Capozzola’s photograph triumphed over 4500 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 68 countries around the world. She is the first female photographer to be named overall winner of the prestigious international photography contest.

To shoot “Sharks’ Skylight” Capozzola travelled from her home in California, out across the Pacific Ocean, to the tiny island of Moorea in August 2020. “French Polynesia strongly protects its sharks, it is my favourite place to photograph them,” she explains. “I dedicated several evenings to photographing in the shallows at sunset, and I was finally rewarded with this scene: glass-calm water, a rich sunset, sharks and even birds.

© Renee Capozzola/UPY2021

Chair of the competition judges, Dr Alexander Mustard MBE, commented “this is a photograph of hope, a glimpse of how the ocean can be when we give it a chance, thriving with spectacular life both below and above the surface. The photographer not only persevered until this serendipitous scene unfolded, but more importantly Renee had the talent to capture this precise moment. The gorgeous lighting is sympathetic, but the picture is made by the elegance of the composition as sharks, sunset and seabirds fleetingly converge. Judging this year’s competition was a pleasure, a much-needed escape into the underwater world, I hope everyone enjoys immersing themselves in these fabulous images.”

The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Mark Kirkland, from Glasgow (Scotland) was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 for his inner-city wildlife vision “While You Are Sleeping” taken close to his home, in early March 2020. “This small muddy pond is an unlikely haven for wildlife, squeezed between a housing estate, supermarket and factory. But for a few nights each year, while the city sleeps, it comes alive with frogs. This frame was the culmination of 25 hours over 4 winter nights of lying stationary in darkness. Was it time well spent? Absolutely!

© Mark Kirkland/UPY2021

Competition judge, Mustard commented “this remarkable image shows that even in the centre of the city of Glasgow, frogs and world class underwater photography can thrive.” Fellow judge Peter Rowlands added “I think it is a masterpiece. Savour it.

In the same contest, Karim Iliya from the United States was named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2021 for his graphic photo “Crowded Island” representing over-population and the pressure is exerts on the sea, with an aerial view of a small island in Panama. This category is open to both underwater and above water photographs highlighting conservation issues in the ocean, this is the first time an above water picture has triumphed.

© Karim Iliya/UPY2021

This densely inhabited village is a visual microcosm, a reminder of how humans across the planet are over-consuming space,” explained Iliya. “Our relationship with nature and the importance of protecting it becomes very apparent when you look at our species from above and see how we monopolize space, forcing nature out.”

Competition judge Rowlands commented “a stark visual reminder of how we humans overrun the land, then overfish the surrounding sea. This photo captures the unnatural and unsustainable imbalance perfectly.” Mustard added “all the problems facing the ocean come down to this – too many people.

The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition also aims to promote new photographic talent. SJ Alice Bennett, from the UK, but living in Mexico, was named as Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 for a stylish photo of divers exploring a cave. Her image “Tying In” has a contemporary feel and relies on both advanced scuba diving and photographic techniques. “This photo was shot was taken during cave training,” explained Bennett “the two divers are followed closely by lighting assistants creating the beautiful halo effects that pick them out from the darkness.

© SJ Alice Bennett/UPY2021

Judge Mustard explains the photo’s appeal “we always reward photographic innovation in this category and the control of light in a totally dark cave combined with the shallow depth of field empower this image with a fresh vision and truly capture the spirit of exploring underwater and underground.

Gallery of Category Winners

For all the images places in Underwater Photographer of the Year view the gallery or download the free yearbook by clicking here.

  • © Renee Capozzola/UPY2021

  • © Mark Kirkland/UPY2021

  • © Karim Iliya/UPY2021

  • © Alice Bennett/UPY2021

  • Marine Conservation: © Karim Iliya/UPY2021

  • British Waters Compact: © Ian Wade/UPY2021

  • British Waters Living Together: © Kirsty Andrews/UPY2021

  • British Waters Macro: © Mark Kirkland/UPY2021

  • British Waters Wide Angle: © Mark Kirkland

  • Up and coming: © SJ Alice Bennett/UPY2021

  • Compact: © Jack Berthomier/UPY2021

  • Black and White: © Diana Fernie/UPY2021

  • Portrait: © Ryohe IIto/UPY2021

  • Behaviour: © Karim Iliya/UPY2021

  • Wreck: © Tobias Friedrich/UPY2021

  • Wide Angle: © Renee Capozzola/UPY2021

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit



Scubaverse UWP Winners Gallery: Raffaele Livornese



Each month we give the winner of the Scubaverse Underwater Photography competition the opportunity to show off a little more of their work in a gallery. The January winner was Raffaele Livornese and you can see his winning image at the top of this page.

What do you love about diving & underwater photography?

I love the sensation of liberty when I’m diving and love so much uw photography because it permits me to report to all the people what they normally are unable to see. Often I love the interaction with some animals I’m shooting, they looks at me curiously, it seems they are trying to understand what I’m doing.

Where do you dive?

I dive normally in Italy on Sunday or when I’m free from work, but 2 times a year I travel with my wife, 1 time for macro photography and 1 time for wide-angle photography, so we look for the best destinations like Philippines, Indonesia and Baja California.

What equipment do you use?

I use a Nikon D850 full frame camera with a Hugyfot housing, Nikkor 60mm and 105mm macro lens, Sigma 15mm fisheye lens and a Nikkor 16-35 wide angle zoom lens. For the light I have 2 Inon Z330 strobes and an Orcatorch D910V focus light.

Where can our readers see more of your work?

To enter the latest Scubaverse Underwater Photography competition, with a chance to win some great prizes as well as have your own gallery published, head over to the competition page and upload up to 3 images.

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DAN’s new travel insurance has you covered



As we look beyond the pandemic to the spring and summer ahead, many of us are eager to get out and see the world. If you’re planning to hit the road in 2021, don’t leave home without insurance.

For 40 years, DAN has protected divers against the risks associated with dive injuries. With this experience they have gained an intimate understanding of what can and does go wrong — for travelers as well as divers. Available to U.S. residents, DAN’s new travel insurance plans offer coverage for events including trip cancellations, missed connections, illnesses and injuries, baggage delays — and even qualifying COVID-19-related cancellations and interruptions.

With optional cancel-for-any-reason coverage, these plans are ideal for any kind of travel, from family road trips to long international stays, and can be purchased to cover a singular adventure or an entire year of travel. From delays to emergencies to lost dive gear, the events covered by these plans have been customized to meet divers’ needs and today’s changing circumstances.

If you’re looking forward to a change of scenery in 2021, DAN has you covered.

To find out more, visit the DAN website here.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email

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