The winners of the 3rd annual Close-up Photographer of the Year competition have just been announced. And I’m a little excited to show you some of our favorite shots. Sponsored by Affinity Photo, this year’s contest saw over 9000 images submitted, from 55 countries.

Let’s look at some pint-sized pics.

The categories

2nd place, Butterflies and Dragonflies
Painted Lady in the Garden
About: “I had just had my cancer diagnosis in the autumn of 2019. I was waiting for surgery and could not go far so spent a lot of time in our garden. It was a wonderful late summer and lots of butterflies came to nectar on my wife’s flowers, including Verbena bonariensis. I had just started shooting with the Olympus camera system and began to wonder if it might be possible to photograph butterflies in flight. Sports action sequences were my inspiration. If I got a set of shots at 60 frames per second, with the butterfly taking off in the plane of focus, set at the first shot, I thought they might make up an action sequence, a sort of time-lapse in a single frame to show motion but also movement through a fraction of a second. This was my first decent sequence, with four good Raw files from the moment the painted lady took off until it left the frame. The photos were layer masked in Photoshop to produce this composite. The result inspired me to really develop my butterfly in-flight shots but Andrew Fusek Peters

The Close Up Photographer of the Year competition has nine categories:

  • Insects.
  • Animals.
  • Butterflies and Dragonflies.
  • Underwater
  • Plants and Fungi.
  • Intimate Landscapes
  • Micro
  • Manmade
  • Young Close Up Photographer of the Year

The overall winner is chosen from the nine category winners and gets the £2,500 ($3440 USD) top prize. 

Winner, Animals
Dancing in the Dark
About: “This opilione (harvestman or daddy longlegs) moves along a dry branch in a small hollow created by a landslip on the hillside of Sierra Blanca, Andalusia. These creatures are blind and use their front legs to guide themselves in the dark. With little space to move, I managed to light the subject from behind and used a 20-second exposure to capture the movement of its long legs.” Juan J. González Ahumada

We really liked the competitions’ definition of a “close-up photo” as it left a lot of room for creativity. Eligible for entry was:

Any image that shows the subject closer and in greater detail than would be seen with the naked eye is counted as a close-up photograph and can be entered in the competition. 

‘Close-up’ is the spirit of the competition, but not its definition. We aim to show small flora and fauna in the wider environment and slightly wider details of the landscape around us as well as scaling into macro, extreme macro and then to the microscopic.

2nd place, Animals
About: “During spring these secret toadhead agamas battle over territory. It is difficult to capture these short and intense conflicts. The temperature in Kalmykia, Russia doesn’t help either, as it often rises above 30 °C.” Svetlana Ivanenko

The Close Up Photographer of the Year

Norwegian photographer Pål Hermanse picked up the overall title and won the “Insects” category for his shot Insect Diversity (top of page). Hermanse discovered that a lamp in his house had acted as an accidental insect trap and he spread all the creatures caught in it out on an old light table to photograph from above. 

It’s a marvelous shot and really showcases how you can find photo inspiration in the strangest people. 

Lots of creepy crawlies

If you thought the winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition featured a lot of creepy crawlies, prepare yourself. Six of the nine categories in the Close-Up Photographer of the Year featured at least some winning shots of things that could conceivably be called “icky”, “gross”, or “terrifying to encounter at night”. 

2nd place, Insects
Ants and Hornet
About: “Liometopum ants live in large colonies on huge trees and feed on many different types of food. In the picture, you can see how the group of ants work together in hunting the hornet. I used a single diffused flash to light the scene and slightly cropped the image to take the viewer into the heart of the action. This interesting behavior was discovered during a night walk in the extensive park of Lednice Castle, Czech Republic.” Petr Bambousek

Petr Bambousek got 2nd place in the Insects category for this photo of a colony of ants hunting a hornet. 

Finalist, Animals
Opiliones in Vegetation
About: Opiliones are also commonly known as daddy longlegs or harvestmen. Nuno Cabrita

Nuno Cabrita was one of the finalists in the Animals category for this shot of an opilione moving through some vegetation. (Things I learned while writing about this competition: Spiders aren’t insects, they’re arachnids—which means they’re an animal.)

Finalist, Butterflies and Dragonflies
Dream Together
About: Two caterpillars in “hairnet” cocoons. Minghui Yuan

Minghui Yuan almost undermined the Butterflies and Dragonflies category by sneaking this finalist in. 

Winner, Underwater
Circular Octopus
About: “In the past three years, the bacterium Mycobacterium sherrisii has caused the mass death of Pinna nobilis (Noble Pen Shell) throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the empty shells of the large bivalve have been colonized by other marine species. In this case, an octopus takes advantage of the large shell to create its den and protect itself from predators. I used a slow shutter speed and circular panning motion to give dynamism to the image and emphasize the subject.” Alessandro Grasso

And, of course, even a cute octopus can’t help but be a bit creepy in this photo by Alessandro Grasso which won the Underwater category. 

Interesting abstracts

As cool as zoomed-in photos of small animals and insects are, I’ve always been drawn to the abstract side of close-up photography and the winners in the Manmade and Intimate Landscapes categories don’t disappoint. 

Winner, Manmade
Waves Crashing
About: “At the start of the UK lockdown last year (2020) I embarked on a home-based project to create abstract seascapes using colorful glass bottles, a macro lens and natural daylight. This was all done from my dining room table, with the sunlight enhancing the colors and casting incredible reflections within the bottles. When I looked through the viewfinder I suddenly saw waves crashing on a beach, storm clouds out to sea or dramatic sunsets. No two images will ever be the same, the light changes, the position of the bottle moves, the reflections shift just like a real seascape constantly alters. This image was created from a close-up section of a turquoise blue gin bottle to create the stormy sky and sea. The light reflecting off the bottle appears as waves crashing on a beach and a small foil reflector was used to enhance the yellow sand.” Rachel McNulty

Rachel McNulty took top honors in the Manmade category for this incredibly realistic but totally faked seascape. She used a gin bottle resting on her table as the basis for the photo. 

Winner, Intimate Landscape
Juncture Y
About: “This was shot on Lake Baikal in Siberia in February 2019 as part of my most recent collection Beacons. I have had a fascination with ice for many years now and this led me to explore Lake Baikal. I am inspired by form and composition in nature – beautiful lines, textures or shapes that become a work of art when you look closely or compose in a particular way. I love the intersecting lines in this small feathery crack in the ice. I processed this in a way to help the detail of this exquisite crack to stand out from the depths below.” Daragh Muldowney

And Daragh Muldowney won the Intimate Landscape category for this photo of an ice crack in Siberia. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this was probably my favorite photo in the whole competition gallery. 

How to enter next year’s contest

2nd place, Manmade
About: “A soap bubble lasts mere seconds before it bursts and returns to its original form. This image seeks not only to portray the ephemeral life of an apparent common physical phenomenon but to also show the most diverse colors and mesmerizing patterns. The psychedelic effect contained in the movement of water and soap captured against the light continually feeds my imagination.” Bruno Militelli

There are no details out yet about the 4th edition of the Close-Up Photographer of the Year, however, there’s a companion challenge to this year’s competition running right now: the CUPOTY Challenge. According to the organizers, “the theme of this year’s challenge is ‘Two of a Kind,’ where we’re looking for two similar things in a frame—it could be a pair of objects, animals, plants, fungi, cells, etc.“

You can enter the competition between now and Tuesday 30th November for £10 (~$14 USD) for one photo or £15 (~$21 US) for three. The winner will get £300 (~$414 USD) and be featured in Amateur Photographer magazine.