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Aiming to reveal the hidden wonders of the world through close-up, macro and micro photography, the Close-Up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY) has announced the winners and finalists of its annual competition.
Fielding more than 12,000 entries from 67 countries, a jury of photographers, scientists, naturalists, journalists and picture editors chose the overall winner as well as the winners and Top 100 pictures in 11 categories: Animals, Insects, Butterflies & Dragonflies, Invertebrate Portrait, Underwater, Plants, Fungi & Slime Moulds, Intimate Landscape, Human Made, Micro (images created using a microscope) and Young (for entrants ages 17 and under.)
CUPOTY, 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.
‘Thanks to these creative and original pictures, I now know that ants fire acid like water pistols and bees sometimes hold each other’s legs while they sleep,” says co-founder Tracy Calder.
Hungarian photographer Csaba Daróczi won the title of Close-Up Photographer of the Year and a £2,500 ($3,100) cash prize with a striking picture of a Eurasian nuthatch in flight taken from inside a hollowed-out tree stump (below).
See all the top 100 pictures here.
The Bird of The Forest: “In the winter of 2023, I took a lot of photographs in a forest close to my home in Kiskőrös, Hungary,” the winning photographer explains. “I found something new to photograph almost every week, like this hollowed out tree stump, which measured around half a metre in diameter. I took a few first shots and was amazed by the results. I wanted to include an animal in the frame, so I placed a sunflower near the hole, which the mice and birds soon found.”
Dune Wrestling: A battle between a pair of Secret Toadhead agamas (lizards) during a territorial conflict in Chornye Zemli Nature Reserve, in Russia’s Kalmykia semi-desert.
“I visited this small dune for several years,” Tyakht recalled. “Each visit added new information about the most interesting local residents, the Toadhead agamas. I observed their mating behavior, building new burrows, hunting insects, and territorial conflicts. These fights while defending their territory were the most exciting spectacle. A whole ritual with initial “negotiations” with the help of various movements of the tail, demonstration of intimidating poses and a preliminary warlike dance culminated in a tough fight. This is one of the moments of such a fight in which small lizards look like grappling wrestlers on a sports mat.”
Kiss of Death: “I was sitting in a hide watching a heron stalking fish in the shallow water,” said Bivrin. “Most bird photographers like to capture the entire bird, whereas I enjoy tight portraits and details.”
Picking Flowers: An African elephant picks water lily flowers to eat in Chobe National Park, Botswana.
“As flood water reaches the Chobe river (all the way from its starting point in Angola) the waterways are transformed with a wave of flowers and 2023 was one of the best displays I have ever seen,” said Steel.
“As elephants and buffalo occasionally crossed through the flowers, it was just a matter of perseverance to get a mix of perfect lighting, a dense patch of flowers, and a willing elephant. A once-in-a-lifetime moment.”
Butterflies, Dragonflies And Other Tiny Insects
The Wedding Guest: An oak peacock moth (Antheraea yamamai) rests on a window as a wedding party takes place inside.
“I was photographing a wedding in a forest clearing in the beautiful surroundings of Uzsa, Hungary,” said Daróczi. “The hall lights attracted a lot of insects to the windows. At one point, I saw some guests taking pictures with their phones next to one of the red lights. I waited until everyone had finished their pictures, and then it was my turn.”
Letting Go: A pair of four-spotted skimmer dragonflies release from one another after mating in-flight in Square Lake Park, Washington.
“Capturing these dragonflies mating is particularly difficult because they connect and mate in-flight without any warning and for only a few seconds,” said Russell. “After disconnecting, the female will deposit the eggs in the water as the male hovers near her to ward off other males who would try to also mate with her.”
Firing Acid Secretions: Wood ants defend their community by spraying acid in the Netherlands.
“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 seeming eager to scare me off by spraying acid towards me,” said Krekels. “Luckily, it wasn’t that destructive and it provided me with a great opportunity to photograph them defending their nest.’’
Mosquito Egg Raft, floating on water in Buckinghamshire, U.K.
“I spotted dozens of these tiny mosquito egg rafts on the surface of a water butt while I was working as a gardener,” said Webb. “The rafts would not stay still long enough for me to photograph them. So I carefully fished one out using a teaspoon and placed it in an inverted bottle top filled with water with a pebble in the middle to keep it stationary. After taking the pictures, the egg raft was returned to the water butt.’
Red: An ant carries a flower to the nest while a smaller ant protects the carrier and cargo in Boca Tapada, Costa Rica.
“When I first lay down in the leaves of the rainforest, it did not occur to me that I would spend so many hours there,” said Mátè. The ants were tirelessly gathering different plant parts and by using the flashlight, I managed to highlight the variety of forms and colours. I started shooting at 5 pm and finished at 1 am, when (after 2,000 images) as I set off to my lodging, I stumbled across a deadly coral snake. At that point, it dawned on me that shooting ants can be more dangerous than sharks.”
Plants And Landscape Exhibit
Undertow: Water violets submerged beneath moving water in Izsák, Hungary.
“In the first days of May,” said Daróczi, “I always return to a small canal near Izsák where the water violet blooms in huge numbers. Unfortunately, flowering was delayed this year and only the leaves were still underwater. I was about to go home when I saw a tree had fallen over the canal and under its reflection the plants were clearly visible.”
Reeflexion: A magnolia tree reflected in the water of Trompenburg Botanical Garden, Rotterdam.
“I saw this beautiful reflection in the water and it immediately inspired me to make an ‘impressionist painting,’” Bloemendaal explained.
Golden Agave: An agave glows in the desert sun at the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona, U.S.
Said Debore: “Agaves are one of my favorite desert plants so I spent quite a while with this specimen. The beautiful light bouncing off the red wall behind the plant drew me in.”
Spirit Of The Yucatan: Looking through the drifting stems of lily pads in a Mexican freshwater cenote to the sky above in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.
Between Pasque Flowers: A burnt-tip orchid (Neotinea ustulata) among pasque flowers, near Vienna, Austria.
Dreamtime: A Commensal shrimp floats above a Mosaic sea star at Bass Point Reserve, Shellharbour, Australia.
“Like an intricate tapestry of the marine ecosystem,” said Theuma, “this image captures the relationship between a commensal shrimp and a mosaic sea star, reminding us of the delicate balance that exists in the grand tapestry of our natural world.”
Heart Of The Sea: During a night dive, at 28 metres deep, a lava moray eel curls into the shape of a heart in Romblon, Philippines.
Blackwater diving is a type of scuba diving that takes place at night in the open ocean, thousands of meters 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 a blackwater dive,” Fu recalled, “I found a transparent creature shining under my searchlight. It was an elusive juvenile moray eel and it remained at that depth for less than 10 seconds before swimming down and disappearing into the darkness.
Unlike the adults that live in reef crevices, the juveniles drift in the open ocean, their transparent bodies providing camouflage against predators in the vast blue.”
Pisces Constellation: Freshwater fish gather in a pond beneath a moonlit night in Soltvadkert, Hungary.
Entourage: A reef manta ray (Mobula alfredi) glides by with an entourage of juvenile golden trevally fish in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia.
Fungi And Slime Moulds
Ice Crown: A tiny slime mould proudly wears a crown of ice.
“This one-millimeter-tall slime mould was found in leaf litter on a Buckinghamshire woodland floor in January,” said Webb. “Attracted by the way the frost had formed a crown shape on top of the fruiting body, I had to be very careful not to breathe on it. During a previous attempt with another slime mould, my breath had melted the ice when I inadvertently got too close.”
Fungi and Fairy Dust: A golden damselfish set against a bright pink, soft coral backdrop in Hatfield Forest, Hertfordshire.
Comatricha with Droplets: Beautiful Comatricha nigra slime moulds gleam with water droplets on a rotting fence post in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, U.K.
Jumping Stick: Part grasshopper, part stick insect, this jumping stick provides a comical portrait in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador.
“When we travelled to Ecuador, I knew there would be an opportunity to see jumping sticks in the Amazon region,” said Molnar. “The best way to describe these invertebrates is part walking stick, part grasshopper. When they jump, they are not particularly graceful, and they tend to tumble around completely off-balance.”
Orange Isopod: An orange woodlouse slowly unfurls.
Said Auer: “I stumbled upon this incredible isopod in the woods behind my house in the south of Austria. This image is a result of merging 91 individual shots with varying focus points.”
Neolucanus Maximus: The mighty jaws of a stag beetle photographed from a museum specimen in China.
Human Made And Micro
Asymmetrical Threads: In-camera multiple exposure of coloured threads.
“I enjoy pushing the limits of my camera’s capabilities to capture ordinary objects,” Kazda explained. “I wanted to photograph thread in a unique way and came up with the idea of wrapping colored strands around an open picture frame. I placed the frame on a motorised rotating platform and set my camera to multiple-exposure mode. Since I didn’t complete a 360° rotation, the design is asymmetrical. This is a meticulous process that requires patience.”
Oil and Water: Oil floating on water to create an extraordinary pattern in Hertford, UK.
Beach Grass: A microscopic cross-section of beach grass (Ammophila arenaria) in Südstadt, Austria.
“This image shows a cross-section of beach grass from a friend’s garden, stained with Auramin O and Safranin and viewed under fluorescence blue excitation,” said Vlcek. “For best results, I sliced the sample as thinly as possible. Staining and preparing it was very tricky. Taking the photograph was the easy part.”
Young Close-Up Photographer
Small Wonders: A Moorish gecko climbs a wall in Teruel, Spain, covered with mineral deposits that look like trees.
Said Pérez: “On the wall of some houses in Calamocha—the village where I live—it’s possible to find pyrolusites. These magnesium minerals create stunning formations, which look just like petrified trees but they are so small that they’re tricky to spot. I wanted to capture a gecko in the ‘petrified forest’ for a long time, but they have only recently appeared in my village (probably carried in fruit baskets from hotter areas). Due to climate change they can now survive here.”