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Amazing insects montage takes top prize in Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021

CuPotY 2021 listing image
(Image credit: © Pål Hermansen | cupoty.com)

A striking montage of insects discovered in a defective lamp is the winner of Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 (CUPOTY 03). 

Norwegian photographer Pål Hermansen has bagged $3,400 (£2,500) and the CUPOTY trophy for his image entitled ‘Insect Diversity’. 

His work, and that of the other finalists, will be displayed to a global audience via the competition’s Top 100 online gallery. 

Close-up Photographer of the Year, in association with Affinity Photo, is now in its third year and was founded in 2018 by Tracy Calder. 

Celebrating close-up, macro and micro photography, the competition aims to encourage photographers to slow down and make long-lasting connections with the world around them.

Perhaps due to the increased interest in macro photography while people were locked down at home, some 9,000 images were entered – up from 6,500 last year – from 56 countries (up from 52). 

“The standard [of entries] was incredible,“ says Tracy.

“Yet again, entrants have shown that close-up photography can help us see the world anew and discover beauty in subjects that are often overlooked.”

• Read more: Best macro lenses

CUPOTY 03 homepage image

(Image credit: © cupoty.com)

CUPOTY 03 comprised nine categories: Animals, Insects, Plants & Fungi, Intimate Landscape, Underwater, Butterflies & Insects, Manmade, Micro (for images created using a microscope) and Young Close-up Photographer of the Year (for entrants aged 17 or under). 

Judges included Nadia Aly, Ross Hoddinott, Sue Bishop, David Maitland, Robert Thompson, Matt Doogue, Viktoria Haack, David Doubilet and Tracy Calder. 

Read on to view the CUPOTY 03 category winners; click here to view the Top 100 entries.

Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021: category winners 

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‘Dancing in the Dark’ by Juan Ahumada, winner of the Animals category in Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021 (Image credit: © Juan Ahumada | cupoty.com)

While Pål Hermansen took the top spot in the Insects category, Juan Ahumada’s shot of a daddy long legs swayed the judges in the Animals category. 

“The backlight highlights the delicacy of the animal’s legs,” said Tracy Calder. 

“It’s a common subject, but captured in such a striking way that it feels positively celebratory.” 

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‘Mating Underwater’ by Ripan Biswas, winner of the Butterflies category of Young Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 (Image credit: © Ripan Biswas | cupoty.com)

Butterflies & Insects was a new category for CUPOTY 03, and Ripan Biswas was the inaugural winner with his study of two dragonflies mating in the water. 

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‘Juncture Y’ by Daragh Muldowney won the Landscape category in Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 (Image credit: © Daragh Muldowney | cupoty.com)

Irish entrant Daragh Muldowney travelled to Lake Baikal in Siberia to create his image of a crack in the ice – securing top spot in the Intimate Landscape category.

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Rachel McNulty won the Manmade category of Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021, for ‘Waves Crashing’ (Image credit: © Rachel McNulty | cupoty.com)

In the Manmade category, Rachel McNulty triumphed with her image of a gin bottle transformed into a painterly landscape, complete with stormy sky and sea. 

“The competition motto is ‘see the world anew’ and Rachel’s image perfectly embodies this,” says Tracy Calder.

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‘Spiral Beauty’ by Hakan Kvarnstrom, winner of the Micro category of Young Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 (Image credit: © Hakan Kvarnstrom | cupoty.com)

The Micro category continued to amaze and delight. Subjects entered ranged from butterfly scales to computer circuitry, but Håkan Kvarnström saw them all off with his picture of algae conjuring the colors and design seen in Christmas wrapping paper.

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‘Holly Parachutes’ by Barry Webb, winner of the Plants & Fungi category in Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 (Image credit: © Barry Webb | cupoty.com)

Plants & Fungi was won by Barry Webb. He took the category with a fantastic image of some rare Holly Parachute fungi that he captured in his garden. 

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‘Circular Octopus’ by Alessandro Grasso, winner of the Underwater category of Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 (Image credit: Alessandro Grasso Circular Octopus)

The other new category in CUPOTY 03 was Underwater. Competition was fierce, but Alessandro Grasso’s image of an octopus sheltering in a noble pen shell came out on top.

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Insects category winner – and Overall Winner – of Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 went to Pal Hermansen, for ‘Insect Diversity’ (Image credit: © Pal Hermansen | cupoty.com)

Explaining how he captured his Insects category-winning image, CUPOTY 03 overall winner Pål Hermansen said: “I emptied the lamp and spread the contents onto a large light-table I had left over from my slide days.”  

“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.” 

Click here to view the Top 100 entries to CUPOTY 03. 

Winner of Young Close-up Photographer of the Year

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‘Rat in Tyre Hub’ by Ezra Boulton, winner of Young Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021 (Image credit: © Ezra Boulton | cupoty.com)

Young Close-up Photographer of the Year continues to go from strength to strength. 

Sixteen-year old Ezra Boulton took the overall title for his photo of a rat peering out of an abandoned car wheel near to where he lives, which he had spotted the day before. 

“It was framed so pleasingly by the concentric circles of the tire that I came back the next morning with my camera in the hope of capturing the moment,” he explains. 

“I like how the rat’s beady eyes echo the holes in the tire.”

Enter the CUPOTY Challenge to win $400 (£300)

Join the CUPOTY community to receive details about next year’s competition – just visit the CUPOTY homepage and sign up to the newsletter. 

In the meantime, the CUPOTY Challenge is currently open for entries until 30 November. This is a themed contest that runs alongside the annual competition of Close-up Photographer of the Year, and the winner gets $400 (£300).  

The theme of this year’s challenge is ‘Two of a Kind’, and the judges are looking for two similar things in a frame – it could be a pair of objects, animals, plants, fungi, cells and so on. 

Click here to enter the CUPOTY Challenge – entries close on 30 November. 

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Niall Hampton

Niall is the editor of Digital Camera Magazine, and has been shooting on interchangeable lens cameras for over 20 years, and on various point-and-shoot models for years before that. 


Working alongside professional photographers for many years as a jobbing journalist gave Niall the curiosity to also start working on the other side of the lens. These days his favored shooting subjects include wildlife, travel and street photography, and he also enjoys dabbling with studio still life. 


On the site you will see him writing photographer profiles, asking questions for Q&As and interviews, reporting on the latest and most noteworthy photography competitions, and sharing his knowledge on website building.