Photo of Reef Sharks Headlines Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021

The Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 competition has announced its winners, and a beautiful wide-angle photo of reef sharks below two seagulls shot in crystal-clear water took top honors among a wide variety of beautiful images from around the world.

The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition is based in the United Kingdom and celebrates photography that is captured beneath the surface of the ocean, leaks, river, and even swimming pools. The annual competition attracts entries from all around the world and features has 13 categories, which the organizers say tests photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behavior, and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters. This year’s judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Martin Edge, and Alex Mustard.

The winning image, seen above, was captured by Renee Capozzola from the United States and depicts two reef sharks cruising beneath the crystal-clear waves and two seagulls at sunset in the waters of French Polynesia. Capozzola’s photo bested over 4500 other photos entered from 68 countries from around the world. Capozzola is the first woman photographer to be named the overall winner of the competition.

To shoot “Sharks’ Skylight” Capozzola travelled from her home in California, out across the Pacific Ocean, to the tiny island of Moorea in August 2020. “French Polynesia strongly protects its sharks, it is my favourite place to photograph them,” she explains. “I dedicated several evenings to photographing in the shallows at sunset, and I was finally rewarded with this scene: glass-calm water, a rich sunset, sharks and even birds.”

Capozzola’s photo took top honors as well as winning the best photo in the Wide Angle category. The second and third place photos can be seen below:

Wide Angle

Second Place: Martin Broen/UPY 2021
Third Place: Oleg Gaponyuk/UPY 2021

Below are the other categories and associated winners:


First Place: Galice Hoarau/UPY 2021
Second Place: Steven Kovacs/UPY 2021
Third Place: Chien-Ting Hou/UPY 2021


First Place: Tobias Friedrich/UPY 2021
Second Place: Grant Thomas/UPY 2021
Third Place: Renee Capozzola/UPY 2021


First Place: Karim Iliya/UPY 2021
Second Place: JingGong Zhang/UPY 2021
Third Place: Mike Korostelev/UPY 2021


First Place: Ryohei Ito/UPY 2021
Second Place: Keigo Kawamura/UPY 2021
Third Place: Michael Gallagher/UPY 2021

Black and White

First Place: Diana Fernie /UPY 2021
Second Place: Martin Broen/UPY 2021
Third Place: Renata Romeo/UPY 2021


First Place: Jack Berthomier/UPY 2021
Second Place: ManBd/UPY 2021
Third Place: Isaías Cruz/UPY 2021

Up and Coming

First Place: SJ Alice Bennett/UPY 2021
Second Place: Ryohei Ito/UPY 2021
Third Place: Danny Lee – Submerged Images Tasmania/UPY 2021

To see more of the photographs honored by this year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year competition or learn more about the contest, head over to the UPY website.

A full gallery of other categories, including the winners of the British-specific categories, can be seen here. To see past years’ winners, check out PetaPixel’s previous coverage of the competition here.

Image credits: All photos individually credited and provided courtesy of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition.