Rafael Fernandez Caballero has been named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 for his image of five whale sharks feeding together in the Maldives.

Whale sharks eat plankton in the light from a boat 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 annualĀ 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.

A Great White shark swims in the sea in 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.

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Macro: Mimicry, by Javier Murcia, from Spain

A seagrass shrimp and a seagrass pipefish

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.

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Wrecks: Abandoned Ship, by Alex Dawson, from Sweden

The wreck of Tyrifjord in the Gulen dive resort area of Norway

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.

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Behaviour: All You Need Is Love, by Pekka Tuuri, from Finland

Frogs mate together surrounded by frogspawn

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.

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Portrait: Rapunzel on Fire, by Thomas Heckmann, from Germany

An underwater studio portrait of a woman with hair lit by red light

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.

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Black and white: Sarah’s Underwater World, by Kerrie Burow, from Australia

A black and white portrait of a girl underwater

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.

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Compact: Peace, by Enrico Somogyi, from Germany

A toad seen in a pond in Leipzig, 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.