These Award-Winning Photos Capture Our World in Amazing Detail

From decaying insects found inside a lamp to a mesmerising shot of a crack in an ice sheet, the top picks from the Close-up Photographer Of the Year awards are oddly immersive. 

27 October 2021, 11:22am

In the world of art, they say you never truly understand a subject until you get up close and personal with it. So close that every detail, flaw, crevice and colour presents itself in its most authentic, unfiltered form, adding a perspective that only proximity can bring. Now, you can also win an award for it, with the Close-up Photographer Of the Year (CUPOTY) awards.

 CUPOTY celebrates the beauty of zooming in by highlighting the unconventional edge of close-ups, micro and macro photography of animals, insects, plants and fungi, landscapes and underwater scenes, among other categories.

“A macro lens is like a portal to another world – even the most mundane subjects can be transformed into fascinating subject matter,” Tracy Calder, a co-founder of the awards, told VICE. “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.”

This year, CUPOTY received over 9,000 entries from across 56 countries, with the winner taking home £2,500 along with a trophy and a dedicated page on the award’s official website. 


This year, photographer Pål Hermansen took home the prize as the overall winner for his stunning image of insects discovered in a defective lamp by the side of his house in Norway.   

Insect diversity. Photo by Pal Hermansen / CUPOTY

“I emptied the lamp and spread the contents onto a large light-table I had left over from my slide days,” Pål said in a press statement. “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.”

And if the creepy crawlies in the Insects category weren’t enough, photographer Juan J. González Ahumada’s image of a daddy-long-legs came out on top in the Animals category as well. “The backlight highlights the delicacy of the animal’s legs,” remarked Calder in a press release. “It’s a common subject, but captured in such a striking way that it feels positively celebratory.”

"These creatures are blind and use their front legs to guide themselves in the dark," said Ahumada. "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." Photo by Juan Ahumada / CUPOTY

Meanwhile, in the Plants & Fungi category, photographer Barry Webb smoothly captured a rare Holly Parachute fungus in his garden, which became the subject for his prize-winning picture.

"Last December, while cutting the hedge in my garden, I spotted what I thought were slime moulds, growing on this dead holly leaf," said Webb. "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." Photo by Barry Webb/ CUPOTY

Irish photographer Daragh Muldowney’s chilling shot of a crack in the ice in Siberia’s Lake Baikal made a splash in the Intimate Landscape category.   

"I love the intersecting lines in this small feathery crack in the ice," said Muldowney. "I processed this in a way to help the detail of this exquisite crack to stand out from the depths below." Photo by Daragh Muldowney / CUPOTY

In the Underwater category, photographer Alessandro Grasso managed to capture an octopus sheltering in a noble pen shell, an image that appears almost psychedelic as it pulls the viewer’s focus onto the details. 

"In the past three years, the bacterium Mycobacterium sherrisii has caused the mass death of Pinna nobilis (Noble Pen Shell) throughout the Mediterranean Sea," explained Grasso. "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." Photo by Alessandro Grasso / CUPOTY

As with all things that take on even more meaning when magnified and studied, the CUPOTY awards teach us the importance of clarity, brevity, and how we can be transported into a different world with endless possibilities if we just took a moment to get closer.

Polished Porcelain. Photo by Agorastos Papatsani / CUPOTY

"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," said Aniket Thopate. "I had never seen this arrangement of its four wings before with the beautiful droplets on them. 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." Photo by Aniket Thopate / CUPOTY

"The hare, which I almost ran past, is very well camouflaged here," Anton Trexler said, talking about the moment before his shot. "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." Photo by Anton Trexler / CUPOTY

"This colourful coastal sandstone outcrop is located on the Northumbrian coast in the UK," said David Southern. "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." Photo by David Southern / CUPOTY

"A soap bubble lasts mere seconds before it bursts and returns to its original form," said Bruno Militelli. "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." Photo by Bruno Militelli / CUPOTY

Gobys with Eggs. Photo by Enrico Somogyi / CUPOTY

"I noticed this rat peering out of an abandoned car wheel in a farmyard near my home in Cornwall, England," said Ezra Boulton. "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.’" Photo by Ezra Boulton / CUPOTY

"The result of this image comes from over three years of commitment in trying to capture the moment of birth of a Mediterranean catfish," said Filippo Borghi, explaining his painstaking process. "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." Photo by Filippo Borghi / CUPOTY

"This green algae Spirogyra has one of the most fascinating chloroplast shapes of all algae – a helical shape, or spiral," stated Hakan Kvarnstrom. "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." Photo by Hakan Kvarnstrom / CUPOTY

"I took my picture on the last day of winter in 2020, in an abandoned mine of Börzsöny Hills in Hungary," explained Lili Sztrehárszki. "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." Photo by Lili Sztrehárszki / CUPOTY

Explaining the image, photographer Petr Bambousek said, "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 single diffused flash to light the scene and slightly cropped the image to take the viewer into the heart of the action. This interesting behaviour was discovered during a night walk in the extensive park of Lednice Castle, Czech Republic." Photo by Petr Bambousek / CUPOTY

The Goblet Of Fire. Photo by Sarang Naik / CUPOTY

"During spring these Secret toadhead agamas battle over territory," Svetlana Ivavnenko explained the shot in detail. "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." Photo by Svetlana Ivavnenko / CUPOTY

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Photography, Close Up, micro, award, macro photography, award-winning photos

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