Surfer wiped out by "place of skulls" wave wins Ocean Photographer of the Year

Ocean Photographer of the Year 2022
(Image credit: Ben Thouard)

Celebrating our beautiful blue planet, the Ocean Photographer of the Year Award  serves as both a platform for stunning underwater photography as well as raising awareness of issues affecting our seas and oceans. With £500,000 (approximately $555,000 / AU$868,000) available in cash prizes, the chance to be featured in an exhibition in London, plus a trip to Western Australia for the winner – not to mention the honor of winning – there are certainly a lot of incentives to enter. 

Judging the competition are some of the world's leading ocean photographers, videographers and passionate conversations. Acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and author Paul Nicklen is joined by the likes of Cristina Mittermeier, Andy Mann and Sadie Quarrier of National Geographic, just to name a few. 

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Second place in the young photographer category (Image credit: Nicolas Hahn)

This year the competition was broken into broad nine categories in a mission to stay as inclusive as possible, and ensure the bravest and boldest photographers have space for their work. 

They include two Conservation categories based on hope and impact, plus one on an Adventure, Wildlife, Fine Art, and the Ocean Portfolio that recognizes a long-term commitment to ocean conservation. For budding photographers there is a Youth category, the Human Connection Award looks at how humans interact with the ocean, and finally the Female Fifty Fathoms category celebrates inspirational women in ocean photography.

Ben Thouard from French Polynesia was crowned this year's overall winner for capturing the moment a surfer got wiped out by one of the heaviest waves in the world, known as 'Teahupo', which translates to 'place of skulls'. "This is an unseen part of surfing," says Thouard. "I have so much respect for both the wave and the surfers, surfing such a heavy wave is a huge challenge."

A blanket octopus came second overall (Image credit: Katherine Lu)

In second place was Katherine Lu, with her mesmerizing shot of a blanket octopus showing off its dazzling colors and patterns. Getting the photo wasn’t easy, as Katherine Lu explains, but the persistence paid off in the end.

"I was very sick during this dive. I spent a lot of time trying to equalize near the surface. When my guide frantically signaled for me to come down I hesitated for a moment but went for it, pushing myself down. Luckily my ears equalized and there before my eyes was this beautiful blanket octopus. We swam alongside her and then like magic, she opened up her blanket to shower herself in all her glory."

A shoal of baitfish and a hungry cormorant make the shape of an human face (Image credit: Brook Peterson)

A well-timed photo of a cormorant hunting a shoal of baitfish creating the shape of a human face came in third. "This image was made under the oil rig platform, Ellen, Off Los Angeles, California," says US-based photographer Brook Peterson. "There was a large school of baitfish under the platform for several weeks and, as a result, numerous other animals there to feed off the baitfish – sea lions, bonita, and cormorants.  The image depicts a cormorant hunting through a large bait ball."

Ocean Photographer of the Year is run by Oceanographic, a magazine dedicated to ocean conservation with 20% of its profits donated to partner charities such as Sea Legacy. If you want to find out more about how you can help, subscribe to Oceanographic via their website or head to the Ocean Photographer of the Year page to see this year's winners' gallery.

Polar bears make a 'home' of an abandoned station on Kolyuchin Island, in the Russian high Artic. (Image credit: Dmitry Kokh)

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.