“Closer… Closer… Perfect!” These must be the words that entail every macro, micro, and close-up photographer’s snapshot. Or at least I would like to think so, because in reality, they must be so focused-in on their shot they don’t even have the luxury of breathing.
In any case, close-up photography is very interesting, not only in terms of taking the photo, but also from the viewer’s end. Close-up photography reveals layers, scales and worlds which are often unnoticed by the naked eye.
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It’s very important that those who specialize in such type of photography get the appreciation they deserve. Enter the Close-up Photographer of the Year contest (or CUPOTY in short), a competition ran by a photographer husband and wife duo, who for three consecutive years have awarded the best photos in the field.
#1 2nd Place Winner | Manmade
“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 colours and mesmerising patterns. The psychedelic effect contained in the movement of water and soap captured against the light continually feeds my imagination.”
Image credits: Bruno Militelli
Bored Panda was lucky enough to get an interview from one of the founders of the contest, Tracy Calder. They’ve told us about how they came up with the contest, how it has fared through the years, and much more. “I’ve been a fan of close-up photography for more than a decade now. For me, one of the greatest joys is that it slows you down and encourages you to be more mindful about your surroundings. A macro lens is like a portal to another world – even the most mundane subjects can be transformed into fascinating subject matter – I’ve seen incredible pictures of slime moulds, glass bottles and human hair, for example. If you approach a subject with a sense of curiosity, then the ordinary can become the extraordinary.”
#2 Young Close-Up Photographer Of The Year Winner
Rat in Tyre Hub
“I noticed this rat peering out of an abandoned car wheel in a farmyard near my home in Cornwall, England. It was framed so pleasingly by the concentric circles of the tyre that I came back the next morning with my camera in the hope of capturing the moment. I like how the rat’s beady eyes echo the holes in the tyre.”
Image credits: Ezra Boulton
#3 3rd Place Winner | Young
“Agricultural areas like this do not seem very lively. The hare, which I almost ran past, is very well camouflaged here. Due to his natural instinct, he will lie down as soon as danger arises. So I discovered him, quite unexpectedly, five metres away from me. Lying on the floor, I was able to catch the hare in its agricultural environment and show how animals can survive in manmade habitats.”
Image credits: Anton Trexler
“We both have a background in photography magazines (I’m a former editor of Outdoor Photography magazine and a regular contributor to Amateur Photographer) and during the course of our work we’ve seen thousands of close-up images. A few years ago, it occurred to us that while there were a number of competitions featuring close-up categories, there didn’t seem to be any celebrating close-up, macro and micro photography. We wanted to share the wonder of this field with as many people as possible and, via our background in journalism, put the work of close-up photographers in front of a global audience. We’ve had some incredible support from the photo industry and we’re so grateful for all the support and advice!”
#4 2nd Place Winner | Micro
Heaven and Earth
“This is a micrometeorite positioned on top of an equally minuscule faceted garnet. These elements are smaller than most grains of sand, measuring 1/3 to 1/2 of a millimetre in diameter. Photographing subjects at this small scale requires hundreds of images in focus stacking efforts at high magnification. The lighting is also a challenge – achieving reflected light off the micrometeorite while seeing transmitted light through the garnet required significant experimentation.”
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Image credits: Don Komarechka
#5 3rd Place Winner | Insects
“I observed and captured this scene during a night hike in the tropics of Borneo. A bracket fungus releases masses of spores, which causes the refraction of light while a cockroach feeds. I never observed this phenomenon before and I was compelled to capture it in all its beauty.”
Image credits: Bernhard Schubert
“The competition has been growing year on year, and the standard seems to be going up and up! This year we had more than 9,000 entries, from 56 countries, and photographers were using everything from mobile phones to high-end DSLRs. But it’s not just about the numbers – we want to create a safe space where likeminded people can share ideas, inspiration, resources and knowledge. A community of encouragement, if you like!
There are a few things that strike me about our shortlisted entrants, finalists and winners. For one, there is a clarity of vision and a confidence to their pictures. They are not afraid to eliminate anything that doesn’t add to the story they’re trying to tell, and they are superb at communicating what attracted them to the scene or subject in the first place. There is no extraneous information. What’s more, many of the pictures trigger an emotional reaction from the viewer – they are more than mere record shots.”
#6 2nd Place Winner | Plants & Fungi
Cup Fungi Lachnum Niveum
“I collected a small piece of rotting wood with several of these tiny cup fungi on and took them back to my studio. They are approx. 0.75mm tall and have tiny hairs that trap moisture, which adds to their beauty. Once collected I used an objective and tube lens assembly with focus rail to shoot multiple images for focus stacking. The depth of focus on the lens is tiny, so vibrations are a major issue with this sort of photography. This image is focus stacked from 127 images.”
Image credits: Andy Sands
#7 Overall Winner & Insects Winner
“In the autumn of 2020, I discovered that one of the lamps on my house in Norway had a defect and had acted as a light trap for insects. I emptied the lamp and spread the contents onto a large light-table I had left over from my slide days. I used a weak flashlight to light the details from above. I wanted to express the chaos and diversity of this discovery, but also to find some kind of composition. To me, it’s a visual reminder of the important and extreme diversity of animals around us that we take for granted.”
Image credits: Pål Hermansen
“The standard just keeps going up and up! We are really keen to show people how accessible close-up photography can be and so it’s lovely to see a number of pictures taken in people’s back gardens with minimal equipment as well as those created in exotic locations with more complex set-ups.
I love the image of the daddy long legs taken by Juan J. González Ahumada (winner of the Animals category). Most people will be familiar with the subject, and yet it’s been captured in such a clever and beautiful way that it feels like a celebration of this particular species and even this individual.”
#8 Underwater Winner
“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 colonised 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 emphasise the subject.”
Image credits: Alessandro Grasso
#9 Finalist | Animals
Triplets in Green
Image credits: Johan De Ridder
“The overall winner receives a cash prize of £2,500 (and a trophy) and each of the main category winners receives £300. The Young Close-up Photographer of the Year receives a SIGMA 105mm F2.8 DG DN MACRO Art lens (and a trophy).
To see the Top 100 pictures from CUPOTY 03 and take part in the CUPOTY Two of a Kind Challenge visit our website!”
#10 2nd Place Winner | Intimate Landscape
“This colourful coastal sandstone outcrop is located on the Northumbrian coast in the UK. Over time, erosion has resulted in the sedimentary layers of rocks being exposed to the elements. It is the indeterminate scale that I wanted to capture to create an intimate abstract landscape.
I waited for the tide to sweep through the narrow channel and used my compact camera to get the shot as the tripod had to be manoeuvred in a very tight and awkward space.”
Image credits: David Southern
#11 Plants & Fungi Winner
“Last December, while cutting the hedge in my garden, I spotted what I thought were slime moulds, growing on this dead holly leaf. On closer inspection, I noticed amazing spikes coming out of the cap of these small, rare, Holly Parachute fungi, Marasmius hudsonii. I took the holly leaf into my greenhouse, out of the wind, and then spent some time carefully arranging moss behind, to create a pleasant background. I deliberately chose a composition using the pointed edges of the holly leaf as a frame and to echo the spikes of the little fungi. This is a 42 shot focus stack, combined in Zerene Stacker.”
Image credits: Barry Webb
#12 Micro Winner
“This green algae Spirogyra has one of the most fascinating chloroplast shapes of all algae – a helical shape, or spiral. Spirogyras thrive in almost any freshwater environment and are a common species that is easy to find in shallow ponds, ditches and lakes.
For this photograph I stained some of the Spirogyra strands with a number of fluorescent dyes to highlight the spirally shaped chloroplasts. They were then mixed with natural strands and placed next to each other on a glass slide and photographed in fluorescent light.”
Image credits: Håkan Kvarnström
#13 Animals Winner
Dancing in the Dark
“This opilione (harvestman or daddy long legs) 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.”
Image credits: Juan J. González Ahumada
#14 3rd Place Winner | Animals
“I took my picture on the last day of winter in 2020, in an abandoned mine of Börzsöny Hills in Hungary. Although it’s permanently closed to visitors for the protection of its inhabitants, I was allowed to enter accompanied by a professional guide. The photo shows the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), whose body measures less than 5cm. Its population is decreasing throughout Europe and is a protected species.
Composing the picture in the silent darkness I only used a single flashlight with great care trying not to disturb the hibernating mammal. I attempted to frame the picture to highlight the delicate feet of the bat as it hung upside-down, clinging to the rock with its tiny fingers and claws, using special locking tendons. The backlight emphasises the veins under the thin skin and the light hair on the tiny feet.”
Image credits: Lili Sztrehárszki
#15 2nd Place Winner | Butterflies & Dragonflies
Painted Lady in the Garden
“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 this was the beginning point, a close up wonder revealing the painted lady in all its aerial glory.”
Image credits: Andrew Fusek Peters
#16 3rd Place Winner | Intimate Landscape
Image credits: Jakub Ondruch
#17 Finalist | Insects
Image credits: Ripan Biswas
#18 2nd Place Winner | Animals
“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.”
Image credits: Svetlana Ivanenko
#19 Intimate Landscape Winner
“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.”
Image credits: Daragh Muldowney
#20 3rd Place Winner | Butterflies & Dragonflies
Damsel in Dinner
“Last year (2020), near my home in Badlapur, India, my friends and I were walking through the pools of water formed by the monsoon and found this dead damselfly floating on the surface. I had never seen this arrangement of its four wings before with the beautiful droplets on them.
While shooting this on a 1:1 scale, I saw a movement near its head and spotted the nymph of a water strider, which added a tiny spot of intense colour.
I stayed in four feet of water for almost an hour watching the scene and capturing the image. I wonder sometimes, how nature comes up with such beautiful things.”
Image credits: Aniket Rangnath Thopate
#21 Manmade Winner
“”At the start of lockdown last year (2020) I embarked on a home-based project to create abstract seascapes using colourful glass bottles, a macro lens and natural daylight. This was all done from my dining room table, with the sunlight enhancing the colours 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.”
Image credits: Rachel McNulty
#22 Butterflies & Dragonflies Winner
“For some species of damselfly, egg laying is a difficult task. They lay eggs on submerged vegetation so their eggs don’t get exposed in the air. The female climbs down deep in the water while the male clasps the neck of the female with a special organ on the tip of its tail. This is a difficult time for the pair as they become vulnerable to predators.
As I put my camera just above the water to start taking shots, a water strider came close to the pair in search of food. After inspecting the mating pair, he decided they would not make a good meal. I managed to take 2 or 3 shots before the water strider departed. The damselflies flew away after successfully laying their eggs.”
Image credits: Ripan Biswas
#23 Finalist | Micro
Outer Layer of a Medica Facel Mask
Image credits: Alexander Klepnev
#24 2nd Place Winner | Young
Colours Through Spider’s Eye
“I shot this photo in my home garden during the Covid-19 lockdown that was imposed in Sri Lanka. Since there was nothing much to do or anywhere to go, I started to garden in my backyard and focused on my macro photography.
When I was planting one day, I saw a spider web in a winged bean plant. I ran into my house to grab my camera and tried to capture a photo. But it was not easy since the spider kept moving and it was hard to focus with the extension tube attached.
I like the colour combination of green, yellow and gold in this picture. The golden colour is from the sunlight coming through a tiny hole in the plant leaf. I angled it slightly to bounce the light off the spider’s web.”
Image credits: Sudith Rodrigo
#25 2nd Place Winner | Insects
Ants and Hornet
“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.”
Image credits: Petr Bambousek
#26 3rd Place Winner | Manmade
Combs in Colour Silhouette
“I strive to invent new ways to photograph my subjects. For example, an ordinary comb is an object most of us take for granted. I wanted to photograph it in a way that would highlight the great lines of this everyday object.
I placed three combs on a light-pad with the camera in multiple exposure mode and photographed them in silhouette. Next, I moved the camera to another position and photographed the combs with colour gels underneath. I repeated this eight times. Each exposure overlaps in different areas creating unique design patterns within the body of the silhouette. I used an in-camera multiple exposure of 10 frames.
I have been developing new techniques with in-camera multiple exposure for close-up/macro photography for the last two years.”
Image credits: Elizabeth Kazda
#27 3rd Place Winner | Underwater
Gobys with Eggs
“This picture was taken in Anilao, Phillippines in 2017. A pair of gobys are sitting on a whip coral protecting their eggs. For the bubble bokeh I used a manual Meyer Optik Trioplan Lens, which is famous for this effect.”
Image credits: Enrico Somogyi
#28 2nd Place Winner | Underwater
“The result of this image comes from over three years of commitment in trying to capture the moment of birth of a Mediterranean catfish. During this long period I tried every year to follow the development of the eggs up to the final birth. Every year I arrived too early or too late, despite searching in different areas and depths around Giglio Island, Italy. Finally, my perseverance paid off and I captured this absolutely unique moment.”
Image credits: Filippo Borghi
#29 3rd Place Winner | Plants & Fungi
Dill Seed Heads
“This is a wet cyanotype, which uses the sun to expose chemicals on paper. Dill seed heads grown in my garden were placed on top of the treated paper, followed by bubbles of soap suds, some red wine vinegar and salt. This was then covered with glass and placed outside to expose. Once I was happy with the exposure I washed the paper off and immediately photographed it while the paper was still wet and the colours were strong.
I love the way every single wet cyanotype comes out uniquely as everything reacts differently depending on the weather, the chemicals from the plants, how translucent they are and whatever else is added.”
Image credits: Paula Cooper
#30 3rd Place Winner | Micro
Odd Air Bubbles Formed Between Slide and Cover Slip
“These odd air bubbles were created in a drying and crystallising callus remover that has been smeared on a slide and covered with a cover slip. Callus remover is one of my favourite agents for taking micrographs. It can create unusual crystalline forms. This time I found on the slide these interesting air bubbles before the callus remover started to crystallise. The shapes and arrangement of the bubbles reminded me of underwater forms.
I decided to create a small panorama as one frame wouldn’t do it justice. Three separate frames partially overlapping are stitched together in PhotoShop Elements 10.”
Image credits: Marek Miś