Close-Up Photographer of the Year started life back in 2018 as founders Tracy Calder and Daniel Calder set out to put close-up, macro and micro photography at the centre stage.
Fast-forward a few years and now the competition has had 9,000 photos submitted from 54 different countries around the globe.
Those images cover 11 different categories including everything from insects to fungi, plants, landscapes and more.
The thousands of images have been whittled down to 100 winners and finalists and as you can imagine, these are some of the best close-up images you’re likely to see.
We’ve collated some of them for your enjoyment, but if you’d like to see the full collection, then head over here to take a look at all the winners.
This photo by Samantha Stephens from Canada was selected as the overall winner for the Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2022 competition and shows an unusual sight – two Spotted Salamanders that have fallen prey to a carnivorous plant.
Samantha explained more about what we’re seeing:
“Northern Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) are carnivorous, allowing them to survive in nutrient-poor bog environments. Here there is no rich soil, but rather a floating mat of Sphagnum moss. Instead of drawing nutrients up through their roots, this plant relies on trapping prey in its specialised bell-shaped leaves, called pitchers. Typically, these plants feast on invertebrates – such as moths and flies – but recently, researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station discovered a surprising new item on the plant’s menu: juvenile Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum).
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 used to capturing tiny invertebrate, a juvenile Spotted Salamander is a hefty feast!
On the day I made this image, I was following researchers on their daily surveys of the plants. Pitchers typically contain just one salamander prey at a time, although occasionally they catch multiple salamanders simultaneously. When I saw a pitcher that had two salamanders, both at the same stage of decay floating at the surface of the pitcher’s fluid, I knew it was a special and fleeting moment. The next day, both salamanders had sunk to the bottom of the pitcher.”
Beauty of Decay
This is one of the finalists for the butterflies & dragonflies category taken by German Physician and photographer Christopher Penker. It shows a wonderfully contrasting view of a colourful butterfly among the dead and dying foliage:
“I took this photo during a multi-day tour through the world famous Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica. In addition to the many living animals, there are details in nature that are beautiful but no longer part of the living world. An example here is this beautiful skeleton of a morpho butterfly, whose deep blue wings are still iridescent on the ground among the brown foliage.”
Ice Encrusted Comatricha
The winner of the Fungi category is this impressive photo taken in the depths of a British winter showing a slime mold growing on a discarded piece of wood.
Gardener and photographer Barry Webb told the story of how this came about:
“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. I was attracted to the way the ice had encased the slime mould, creating strange, windswept, leaf-like shapes. The tallest one was only 3mm high, including the ice. The final image is the result of 55 focus-bracketed images combined in Zerene Stacker.”
Scarlet Waxcap in Early Morning Dew
It is these sorts of images that really show the beauty of nature from a close-up perspective. Who knew that a mushroom surrounded by dew could be so beautiful? Jeremy Lintott apparently. His image was chosen as the second place in the fungi category:
“Arriving early on a beautiful misty morning to meet a fellow enthusiast for a day of fungi photography at Ebernoe Woods last October, I spotted a large number of waxcaps growing around the periphery of a nearby cricket pitch. The whole area was covered in spider webs and early morning dew creating an ethereal scene. Using a small beanbag to rest my camera at ground level I took a series of 12 focus-bracketed images at a wide aperture. This enabled me to achieve maximum detail in the waxcap whilst maintaining the soft back- and foreground.”
Fields Of Dreams
At first glance this photo is so intriguingly other-worldly it could easily have been mistaken for one of NASA’s photographs of Mars. The awesome colourful wavy lines reminding us of alien dunes. In reality though it’s a mushroom, as photographer J Fritz Rumpf explains:
“Arizona, USA, might not be a place you expect to find mushrooms, but during heavy monsoon seasons, there is an abundance of them, especially in the mountain areas.
On one of my first wild mushroom foraging outings in the Arizona White Mountains last fall, I picked up this mushroom, and since it was not one of the two varieties I was certain were edible, I put it back on the ground. Luckily it ended with the gills side up, and I noticed the incredibly beautiful colours, textures and patterns. I used the back of my photo bag as a base, and did several photo stacks.
As the photo was taken in the forest on an overcast day, I used a LumeCube to highlight the otherworldly colours and patterns of the gills. It also ended up being a good reminder to not miss the hidden details that are all around us.”
Wrinkled Peach Juiced Up
This one is a close-up photo of an endangered species of mushroom. Apparently a rare sight and certainly an interesting one thanks to the blobs of water hanging from its side.
Photographer Jamie Hall explains more:
“The Wrinkled Peach Mushroom (Rhodotus) is classified on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as an endangered mushroom species due to the reduction of elm and ash wood caused by fungal diseases and removal of dead woods. In the UK they are illegal to pick or destroy. A rare sight and a huge wishlist encounter for any fungi enthusiast. This was found in a London Park in 2021.
These mushrooms are deceptively small. The ones pictured in this image are only 1-2cm in height at most. The syrupy looking liquid dripping from the mushroom is called guttation, which is the mushroom purging excess water from its fruiting body as it grows. Because of the pigment in this fungi, the guttation is a vibrant orange colour.”
We’re always impressed by these macro photos of insects. Close-up imagery revealing views you’d never normally see including the tiniest details on minuscule creatures. This image by Rory Wills was selected as one of the finalists in the insects category and it’s easy to see why.
“After a long day of work, I was out on a little summer walk around the suburbs of Guelph, Ontario with my camera looking for interesting insects. I was ecstatic to come across this scene along an overgrown fence line at the edge of the neighbourhood. This is a small robber fly (Asilidae) with a small beetle it has claimed as prey.
Robber flies are incredible predators, armed with a sharp proboscis, immobilizing venom, large compound eyes to locate prey and wings to manoeuvre through the air. I was amazed at this small fly’s ability to pierce right through the hard protective elytra of the beetle.
While these flies are typically quite fast and skittish, the combination of the dwindling light and tasty meal allowed me to capture this scene. While the macro lens may make these subjects look massive, the fly was only about 10mm long. I feel like 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.”
The winner of the intimate landscape category is another intriguing view that doesn’t look like it belongs on our planet. Yet it’s just simply a reflection in some water. This image by Mike Curry is proof that close-up photography can really change your perspective of the world.
“This is a reflection of a building at Canary Wharf in London taken in November. The water was moving in a very fluid way and I was there to try out my new Sony DSC-RX100M6 – I was particularly keen to test the camera’s fast burst and slow motion video modes. 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!”
Artwork of Nature II
From Norway comes this photo by Klaus Axelsen which was another of the finalists in the Intimate Landscape category. Here the water has seemingly turned into a fine smoke and draws the eye in intriguing ways.
“A July capture from Marmorslottet in Nordland, Norway. The rock formations and the water flowing through it invited an intimate capture of the details and structures of these unique rock formations and potholes.”
Slime Mould Copse
These close-up photos often give a new perspective of our world. Here this Intimate Landscape finalist photo by Barry Webb gives the impression that these slime mould are much taller trees.
“These slime mould fruiting bodies are dehisced, which means their spores have already dispersed. They were found growing on an old, dead apple branch, on a log pile in my garden in South Buckinghamshire, UK in April.
I liked the way the droplets were attached to the capillitial threads on the slime mould. They reminded me of a copse of small, topiary trees. The tallest one was barely 1.5mm tall. The 83 focus bracketed images were stacked using Zerene Stacker.”
American photographer Peter Coskun snapped this photograph in Death Valley. Its intriguing colours created by the setting sun. It’s amazing what a difference the right angle, lighting and timing can make to a subject. This was another of the finalists in the Intimate Landscape category:
“While in Death Valley National Park in January I had been on the hunt for intricate dried mud patterns. I knew of a large playa that beckoned exploration, so I set out in search of patterns. After exploring the playa for hours, I found a section of criss-crossing mud that seemed to blossom out of the ground. As the sun set, the pastel cool tones of twilight washed over the playa in shades of blue and purple to create this beautiful scene at my feet. The scene itself was only a foot wide at most.”
This intriguing photograph shows an equally intriguing creature. This is an Arkys curtulus, also known as the small bird-dropping spider. This is a spider from Australia which essentially curls itself up on a leaf in order to look like a bird poop. All so it can lure prey into its trap.
This photograph by Jamie Hall was selected as the winner for the Invertebrate Portrait category. We never thought we’d seen an image of a spider’s bottom being an award winner, but here we are.
“This Triangular Spider species (Arkys curtulus) is an ambush predator, not a web-based hunter like most. 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.”
Portrait of a Polyphemus Moth
These macro-style images show features of creatures and insects like you’ve probably never seen before. This portrait photograph of a Polyphemus Moth taken by Benjamin Salb shows seemingly hair legs and fascinating detail.
“This image is a 12 shot handheld stack of a male Polyphemus moth. I photographed it in the fall of 2021 after it emerged from a cocoon I was in possession of over the summer. Several hours after emerging, it was moved into a large mesh tent where I was able to safely attempt some photographs. After some time passed, 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 was released the same evening in the hopes of finding a mate.”
Smile for the Camera!
What’s not seen is the effort that goes into these photos. Yes, they’re magnificent and they’re deserving of awards in some cases, but this image also required Rafael Steinlesberger to lay on the ground in order to get the right perspective.
“I got to shoot this expressive young female white-legged damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) on my first ever night walk in Vienna’s local national park Donauauen in early June 2022. The goal was to find dragon- and damselflies, which are significantly easier to shoot during the night as temperatures cool down making them mostly immobile. This was the only specimen of the Odonata family that I was able to shoot that night. I found it sitting on some leaves on the ground, barely moving and decided to pluck a multicoloured inflorescence of a plant (euphorbia) to get these nice tones in the background.
To achieve a more detailed image, I lied on the ground to take a handheld focus stack of 35 images using the focus bracketing feature of my Olympus EM-1 Mark III, which was later stacked in Helicon Focus and edited in Adobe Lightroom. It turned out to be one of my favourite photographs ever as the low angle gives her so much expression, the sense of a charismatic smile and a relaxed leaning pose. Props to her for keeping up that grin, although she, unfortunately, seems to have lost a hind limb.”
This one is an intriguing view of a curious little caterpillar just going about its daily life in India. It certainly has magnificent horns. We love that Invertebrate portraiture is a thing, certainly not something we’ve come across before. This photo is one of the finalists in that category too:
“During a macro walk in August 2021, I found a caterpillar of the Evening brown butterfly on a blade of grass in a local park in Bangalore, India. These caterpillars have interesting horn like structures on their heads known as head capsules. Most horned caterpillars aren’t the stinging type, and the horns are only a part of its evolutionary defence mechanism to ward of potential predators. I chose this head-on composition to highlight the interesting elements in the horns. There are also some tiny mites making their way to the caterpillar, with one perched on the horn. The mites are invisible to the naked eye and were only visible to me on taking the shot. The curvature of the blade of grass provided an opportunity to leave the greenish body out-of-focus and provide the halo around its head. A red pot in the park provided the background for the rest of the frame. The stack was shot handheld crouching down, while supporting the camera on the elbows for some stability.”
This photo is one of the finalists in the manmade category and a wonderful photo that seemingly shows a brilliantly colourful wormhole. Danny Wilson explained how this magic happened:
“This is a macro photo of a handmade contemporary marble (think paperweight without the flat spot on the bottom). I collect these little orbs and one day, about 10 years ago, I decided I was going to try to get inside the glass with a camera. That’s what started me on this self-taught photographic journey. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of contemporary glass since then, but this is my favourite.
The hardest part about shooting glass is controlling the light. It wasn’t until I started holding the light source with my hand that I realised a fixed light source is much harder to work with than a mobile one. My work took off from there and I was able to capture things even the glass worker wouldn’t have spotted!”
These man-made close-up images aren’t just of objects created by man but also sometimes created using manmade tools such as clever modern photography tools and techniques as photographer Don Komarechka details:
“This image of a dandelion seed refracting the image of a sunflower through water drops was created using the high-resolution mode of a Lumix S1R. This allowed me to crop in excessively on an image intentionally taken from farther away. By doing so, a greater depth of field in a single frame can be achieved, so long as you’re acutely aware that there is a limit imposed by diffraction for the effectiveness of this technique. With densely overlapping details, focus stacking is usually a nightmare with such subjects. This way, it can mostly be avoided. The downside is that it generates 187MP of images that are mostly cropped away!”
Off The Page
Sometimes it’s the mystery of the image that makes it appealing and interesting. Take a look at this photo before you read what it is and you’ll likely be intrigued by it. A photographic enigma. The reality is much simpler as photographer J. Alan Constant explains:
“I found this image on the side of an old oil drum in a junkyard in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is an example of an ordinary kind of scene that most people would not look at twice if they noticed it at all. I wasn’t sure if this would make a good image or not, but when I was processing it, I was able to create something that is full of mystery and beauty.”
Stink Bug Eggs and Embryos
Nature is wonderful, isn’t it? We don’t often get to see such a close-up view of creatures and this one is even more special as it’s part of the Micro category of images. This includes photos taken with microscopes and other high-powered lenses. Raghuram Annadana explained how this one came about:
“In the April of 2022, on a macro walk in my garden, I found a bunch of Pentatomidae stink bug eggs, each less than 1mm in diameter with interesting colourations. Curiosity got the better of me, and it prompted me to have a closer look at the eggs using a microscope. For photomicroscopy, I coupled a Nikon 10X infinitely focussed objective to the DSLR and added a Raynox 250 lens. This setup yields an objective magnification of 6.5X.
The main challenge I faced with the creation of the frame was to find the right lighting setup. My initial trials using a set of remote flashes for front lighting the eggs, did not reveal the details I was looking for. Eventually, I opted for a backlit and side-lit continuous LED lighting with a slower shutter speed to show the growing embryos of the bugs through their translucent shells. The light was diffused using a custom-made diffusion tunnel. The depth of field provided by the microscope objective is very shallow and the entire setup must be moved in a step size of 12um using a precision electronic macro rail.”
One of the finalists from the plants category includes this brilliant image by István Tamás Vida:
“Pulsatilla pratensis hungarica blooms near my home city of Debrecen, Hungary in spring. It is a highly protected plant located on an old Russian combat training ground, which is now a nature reserve.”
Beauty and the Beast
As you can imagine, the underwater section of the Close-Up Photographer of the Year awards is full of fantastic photos from under the sea. This is just one example and a marvellous one too.
Photographer Kate Jonker explains how the photo isn’t just about the beauty of the Bluespotted klipfish but the surroundings too:
“As I was shallowing up after a 25-metre dive at Steenbras Deep in the centre of False Bay, South Africa I came across a small patch of Mediterranean mussels. This invasive species, brought to the waters off Cape Town in the bilge of passing ships in the 1980s, is a beast, 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 (Pavoclinus caeruleopunctatus) 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. A challenge not only due to the limited dive time I had remaining, but because of the surge that was washing me to and fro whilst I tried to focus on his eye.”
Low Marks Again
The photographs from the underwater category sure do show some weird and wonderful creatures and magnificent views too.
Viktor Lyagushkin’s photograph shows us a look at some very quirky shrimps. This is another of the finalist images from the category and it’s easy to see why it was selected for this category.
“Caprella, also known as skeleton shrimps, are funny animals, and very small. Highly social and active – they live, eat and fight with each other non- stop.”
The Young category of the Close-Up Photographer of the Year awards shows that young people are capable of taking some awesome photos too. Nathan Benstead is just 17 but managed to snap this intriguing image while out on a walk:
“‘I was walking through my local woodland, inspecting rotten logs and sticks last winter, when I came across a log covered in slime mould fruiting bodies or sporangia. I set up my camera gear and focused on a small cluster amongst the moss.”
Rounding off this list from the Young photographer’s category is this brilliant image of a kingfisher by Luca Lorenz.
“Ever since I started photographing wildlife, kingfishers have been one of my favourite birds and I always look out for them. One day I finally found a lake where I could photograph them. I watched the kingfisher for many days, to know exactly where it would land and catch fish from. Once I knew its favourite 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. I had a wonderful time with this kingfisher!”