Celebrating the details most people overlook, the Close-up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY) competition, devoted to macro and micro photography, has selected this year’s winners from more than 9,000 entries from 54 countries.
Close-up Photographer of the Year, founded in 2018 by photojournalists Tracy and Dan Calder, is an annual competition organized in association with Affinity Photo to encourage photographers to slow down, enjoy their craft, and make long-lasting connections with the world around them.
Canadian photographer Samantha Stephens has been awarded the title Close-up Photographer of the Year, with her striking image of a pair of salamanders being consumed by a carnivorous pitcher plant in Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada.
‘Northern Pitcher Plants normally feast on moths and flies but researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station recently discovered a surprising new item on the plant’s menu: juvenile Spotted Salamanders,’ says Stephens. “While following researchers on their daily surveys, I saw a pitcher with two salamanders floating at the surface of the pitcher’s fluid, both at the same stage of decay. I knew it was a special and fleeting moment. The next day, both salamanders had sunk to the bottom of the pitcher.”
This population of Northern Pitcher Plants in Algonquin Provincial Park is the first to be found regularly consuming a vertebrate prey. For a plant that’s accustomed to capturing tiny invertebrate, a juvenile Spotted Salamander is a hefty feast.
The overall winner photographer was awarded a $3,000 cash prize and the Close-up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY) trophy.
The competition also selected winners in 11 categories: Animals, Insects, Plants, Fungi, Intimate Landscape, Underwater, Butterflies & Insects, Invertebrate Portrait, Manmade, Micro (for images created using a microscope) and Young Close-up Photographer of the Year (for entrants aged 17 or under.)
“Countless times, looking at the Top 100 pictures, I have sat in astonishment at the skill and curiosity of the entrants in capturing the incredible wonder of the world,” says CUPOTY co-founder Tracy Calder.
The 17-year-old British photographer Nathan Benstead was crowned Young Close-up Photographer of the Year with his picture of slime molds. “I was walking through my local woodland when I came across a log covered in slime mold fruiting bodies,” he recalls. “I set up my camera gear and focused on a cluster amongst the moss.”
Following is a selection of winning images from each category:
“Last July, I was on a trip to a small island above Germany, known for its gannet colony,” Pansier said. “The wind was blowing very hard and the birds had difficulty landing on the huge cliff. A number of birds sat on their nests and watched the bystanders intently, just like this one. It seemed to be saying, “Don’t come any closer!” I took this photo from a distance and the bird’s angry appearance immediately appealed to me.”
Explains the photographer: “After seeing a great blue heron hunting in a field, I witnessed it strike one vole after another. I sat down along the path beside the field, and it kept inching closer and closer as it hunted until it was within 10 meters from me. Due to its close proximity, I was able to capture all of the details of its scarred and blood soaked bill, the clump of dirt at the end of the bill from striking the vole on the ground, and the details of the vole in all of its agony.”
“As this pond near Monda, Spain,dried up,” Gonzalez explained, “hundreds of miniature toads, barely a centimeter in size, began to wander around seeking refuge. A pair of them found safety in the huge paw print of a mastiff that was left in the mud when it came to quench its thirst at the water’s edge.”
All Winners and Finalists of Animals category are here.
“This is the story of termites and a clever drongo,” Dutta explains. “We all know some species of termites swar-fly in the afternoon and early evening. Like most nocturnal insects, they are drawn to light sources. One day, I saw these near a petrol pump. But the rare thing was one black drongo bird among them. Drongos are very clever in snatching prey. As the termites flew around the light, the drongo kept catching them for close to 20 minutes, until all vanished and the drongo disappeared.
‘The beetle Aplosonyx nigriceps has developed a clever tactic to be able to eat the Alocasia macrorrhiza leaves and avoid the toxic alkalis that the plant secretes,” says Minghui. “It nibbles a three-centimeter circle on the leaves to cut off the toxin transmission before feasting inside the circle free of poison.”
This beetle was photographed in Nonggang National Reserve, Guangxi Province, China.’
A small robber fly with a small beetle it has claimed as prey. “Robber flies are incredible predators,” explains Wills. ”Armed with a sharp proboscis, immobilizing venom, large compound eyes to locate prey and wings to maneuver through the air. I was amazed at this small fly’s ability to pierce right through the hard protective elytra of the beetle.
While the macro lens may make these subjects look massive, the fly was only about 10mm long. This scene highlights some of the incredible arthropod biodiversity that can be where you least expect it, such as an overgrown fence line in the suburbs of a city.”
All Insects winners and finalists are here
Sébastien Blomme won the highly competitive Plants category with his photograph of a delicate Snake’s-head fritillary framed by the distant shape of a tree.
Says Blomme: “Snake’s-head fritillary is one of my favourite flowers. This one was taken in the city of Toulouse, France. It usually grows on wet meadows but can also be found in forests. In this image, I wanted to introduce some context, but keep the flower as the center of interest. I managed to get a tree in the background and decided to keep it out of focus so that its shape is only suggested.’
“This clematis flower was grown in my garden in Ellon, Scotland,” says Leonard. “It was pressed and dried in a microwave, placed on an LED light panel and lit with LED stand lights to balance the lighting.
This was my first attempt at this sort of flower photography. It took some experimentation with various types of paper sandwiching the flower in the microwave – but tissue paper surrounded by kitchen paper seemed to work well.”
“Three greater pasque flowers right after sunrise in early spring near Vienna – with Sahara dust in the air,” Spranz recalls. “It’s a rare occasion and always gives an unreal light condition.”
Plants category winners and finalists here
“In January last year, following two days of freezing fog and sub-zero temperatures, I found some mature Comatricha growing on an old fence post lying on a pile of discarded, rotting timber,” recalls Webb. “I was attracted to the way the ice had encased the slime mold, creating strange, windswept, leaf-like shapes. The tallest one was only three millimeters high, including the ice.”
An orange Ebernoe cricket pitch fungus at dawn with dew is lassoed by spider webs.
“Many happy hours in winter can be spent crawling around under a holly tree searching for slime molds,” Jeremy says. “This tiny slime mold, around one millimeter tall, often grows in leaf litter. This one was growing along the edge of a holly leaf in a Hertfordshire woodland.”
The challenge photographing slime molds is their tiny size.
“Last autumn, I went to one of my local spots called the Linnerheide, where I knew there were amethyst deceiver mushrooms,” says Nevels. “I wanted to photograph them in the backlight of the setting sun against the trees on the edge of the forest. In addition, I wanted to apply a special technique where you place the lens right in front of a small mushroom so that it is reflected in the light in the background. In the photo, you can see this reflection on the left while the two mushrooms on the right are about 10 centimeters from the lens, which I initially focused on.
I was just about to make the photo when a fly landed on the mushroom. This was an opportunity. Still kneeling on the forest floor, with the camera on the ground, I quickly shifted my focus point to the fly, focused and pressed the shutter button. Fortunately, the fly stayed in place so I could take multiple photos”
The winners and finalists of the Fungi category here.
A tiny jellyfish that appears to walk on its “hands” by Viktor Lyagushkin is the Underwater winner.
“This is a Lucernaria quadricornis (Stauromedusae), a stalked jellyfish, photographed beneath the ice of the White Sea in Russia – the only freezing sea in Europe,” says Lyagushkin. “The green colour of the water is a sign of spring as algae grows.
The “leg” of the jellyfish helps it to attach to a stone or seaweed. Its tentacles project up or down, waiting for prey. If its hunt is successful, it catches the prey and collapses its tentacles into a fist. If the hunting site is no good, Lucernaria walks away on its “leg” or sometimes its ‘hands’.”
“As I was shallowing up after a 25-meter dive at Steenbras Deep in the center of False Bay, South Africa, I came across a small patch of Mediterranean mussels,” says Jonker. “This invasive species, brought to the waters off Cape Town in the bilge of passing ships in the 1980s, is replacing the colourful marine life on shallower sections of some reefs with dark patches.
Whilst I was investigating the impact these mussels were having on this particular section of reef, I found a beautiful Bluespotted klipfish perched amongst the mussel shells. He peered up at me cautiously, watching my attempts to battle the surge whilst photographing him with a shallow depth of field. My aim was to capture his beauty whilst softening the sharp edges of the mussels.”
All underwater finalists here.
A spider that mimics bird poo by Jamie Hall won the Invertebrate Portrait category.
“This Triangular Spider species is an ambush predator, not a web-based hunter like most,” Hall explains. “To hunt its prey, it sits compact and curled up on a leaf, mimicking bird poo or other bio-debris.
Balanced abdomen-side down, eyes up, it looks to the sky and watches for an unsuspecting fly or other insect to wander onto the leaf. The abdomen on this species has some very pronounced and interesting markings, which reminded me of the Mayan carvings on rocks and stone. This individual was photographed in a conservation park in Brisbane, Australia.”
‘This image is a 12-shot handheld stack of a male Polyphemus moth,” says Salb. “I photographed it in the fall after it emerged from a cocoon.
Several hours after emerging, I placed a piece of broken bark in front of him and he slowly worked his way on to it and posed in the manner seen in the image. He flew away in the hopes of finding a mate.”
All Invertebrate winners and finalists here.
Butterflies and Dragonflies
Wim Vooijs cleverly reduced a damselfly to a series of shimmering light circles to win the Butterflies & Dragonflies category.
“I found this dew-covered male Banded Demoiselle on a reed stem among the streams near my hometown, Ede, in the Netherlands,” says Voojis. “Banded Demoiselles are easy to approach as they rest and dry in the early morning. I tried to find an angle that would produce bokeh bubbles in the warm light, creating the atmosphere that I desired in the picture.
I like to emphasize the beauty of these insects by showing their strength and vulnerability — maybe this is due to my background as a portrait photographer.”
‘This beautiful Atlas moth was found during my daily walk in our areca nut plantation in Sirsi, India,” says Uday.
“As our plantation is surrounded by evergreen forestm a lot of frogs, snakes, insects and butterflies take shelter there. These huge moths often have a wingspan that extends beyond nine inches. I wanted to show the moth in its habitat, so I decided to shoot this picture with a wide-angle macro lens.”
‘This picture was taken in July, in a small nature reserve close to the town of Fribourg, Switzerland. The damselfly was sitting on a blade of grass, but flew away when I slowly approached, eventually placing itself on the tip of these grass spikelets.
I managed to take some shots, trying to align my camera with the body of the damselfly. The constant moving of the grass caused by the wind and the insect’s movements made things tricky, but after a few seconds, I had my shot.”
All Butterflies and Dragonflies winners here.
Matt Vacca captured the moment two blobs of oil separated to create a human-like portrait, winning this category.
‘This picture was captured as two drops of oil were merging,” he recalls. “I’m intrigued by polarity and experimenting with oil and water has become a rich source of abstract expression. The symbiotic relationship that evolves from naturally opposing elements has become metaphoric for me as I watch and continue to be fascinated by the dance that plays out through a macro lens.”
This image shows a dandelion seed refracting the image of a sunflower through water drops.
All Manmade category’s shortlisted photos are here.
After two hours, Mike Curry finally got a picture of a building reflected in the water at Canary Wharf that satisfied his high standards, gaining him first place in the Intimate Landscape category.
“‘This is a reflection of a building at Canary Wharf in London taken in November,” he says. “The water was moving in a very fluid way. I was struggling to get it to focus on the water’s surface, but after about two hours of failed attempts it suddenly worked, and the results were amazing.”
“This sea fan had washed up on the rugged and wild northeast coast of Aruba,” says Richardson. “I dipped the sea fan in the sea water and photographed the rugged coast and the sea through it. The photo was taken on April 28, 2022.
Intimate Landscape winners and finalists are here.
‘I took a sample of Batrachospermum (a kind of red algae) from a small river in Wigry National Park, Poland,” says Miś. “Although it has natural beauty, it doesn’t look great using bright-field illumination. However, by combining polarized light and darkfield techniques, I managed to get a colorful and interesting picture.”
Says Cederlund: “I am fascinated by the Schistidium mosses. The intricate capsules look like tiny flowers when viewed up close.
With the peristome teeth extended, the capsule is only about 1 millimeter wide, yet from afar the mosses often give a drab blackish impression. They thrive on exposed surfaces such as rocks on the shoreline or forest edges and persist unnoticed on concrete slabs in city locations. I picked this one up from a concrete foundation close to where I live in Ulleråker, Sweden, and shot it in my living room.
All Winners and Finalists of Micro category are here.
‘In Berlin, there is a lot of urban wildlife, such as this population of starlings living at Alexanderplatz,” says Trexler. “When trying some creative photography with a photographer friend, we noticed the birds eating the leftovers from humans.
I positioned my wide-angle lens on the table and triggered the camera wireless when the starlings came close to it. With this picture I want to show the coexistence between human and nature and how interesting and diverse this relationship can be.”
‘Ever since I started photographing wildlife, kingfishers have been one of my favorite birds and I always look out for them,” says Lorenz.
I watched this kingfisher for many days, to know exactly where it would land and catch fish from. Once I knew its favorite fishing spot, I set my camouflage tent up in shallow water. My legs were wet as I waited. After many mornings at the lake, I finally got lucky and the kingfisher started cleaning its feathers and stretching out its wings right in front of me while the light and conditions were good.”
The Top 100 entries can be seen here.