Ocean Views 2017

Our annual photo contest, Ocean Views, has evolved significantly this year. As we proudly continue our partnership with Nature’s Best Photography magazine, Ocean Views has been integrated into the Windland Smith Rice International Awards program as a category in this prestigious photography competition that reaches millions of nature enthusiasts worldwide.

As a category sponsor and judge, we welcome this opportunity to celebrate the diversity of life above, around and beneath the ocean’s surface. The Ocean Views winner and a selection of highly honored photos will be featured at an awards exhibition, opening in mid-October at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. 

One winning image is selected in each of 10 categories that represent the very best of nature photography. The portfolio presented over the following pages includes not only the winning Ocean Views image but also the universe of highly honored images that may be enlarged as exhibition-quality prints for display at the Smithsonian. Categories in the Windland Smith Rice International Awards are as follows:

  • Wildlife
  • Landscapes
  • Africa
  • Birds
  • Ocean Views
  • Polar Passion
  • Outdoor Adventure
  • Youth
  • Conservation Story
  • Video

With literally millions of people passing through the Smithsonian each year, DAN®, Alert Diver and Nature’s Best Photography are thrilled with the opportunity to present this eloquent vision of the magnificence of the sea and coastal environments worldwide. Only broad appreciation of the beauty and fragility of this world will inspire meaningful and lasting conservation. 

— Stephen Frink


Shari Sant Plummer — An environmental philanthropist, ocean activist and underwater photographer, Plummer is president and founder of Code Blue Charitable Foundation.

Stephen Freligh — The cofounder and publisher of Nature’s Best Photography magazine, Freligh has spent the past 36 years connecting people with nature through visual media. 

Stephen Frink — The publisher of Alert Diver magazine, Frink is among the world’s most frequently published underwater photographers, with a career spanning nearly four decades.


A seal is upside down and saying hello

California Sea Lions
Santa Barbara Island, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, California, USA
By Andrew Sallmon

Santa Barbara Island, the smallest of California’s Channel Islands, lies more than 40 miles from the nearest shoreline. A mile out from the island sits a huge arch-and-reef system and one of the most scenic kelp forests in all of California, spanning from 80 feet to the surface. On our safety stop at the end of the dive, five young male California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) proceeded to turn an otherwise boring five minutes into a circus act with high-speed passes and cavorting. This sea lion briefly stopped and held an inquisitive pose, with clear blue offshore water and tops of kelp in the distant background.

(Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens at 15mm, 1/250 sec @ f/11, Sea & Sea YS-250 strobes (2), Sea & Sea housing; www.seait.com)


A rainbow ribbon eel is on a black background

Ribbon Eel
Lembeh Strait, Indonesia
By Eduardo Acevedo

The ribbon eel’s normal habitat is the coastal reef and reef crest in clear water between 10 and 200 feet. They usually remain hidden in their small holes or caves and timidly poke out their heads. Individuals are either blue and yellow or black and yellow, and they often transition between these as they age and/or change sex. It’s unusual to find these eels swimming free, which is what most excited me about this photo.

(Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, 1/200 sec @ f/11, ISO 100, Inon Z-240 strobes (2), Seacam housing)

Two cuttlefish are using their tentacles to cuddle

Giglio Island, Italy
By Filippo Borghi

While offgassing in the shallows near the end of a dive, I discovered a slow-moving cuttlefish. It was not shy, so I managed to get close. When the distance was just right, the cuttlefish, with a burst of speed, swam to and grasped another cuttlefish.

I was surprised and exited to see such a rare behavior and began shooting in hopes of capturing this magical moment. Fortunately, the cuttlefish gave me the time to get a good shot.

(Nikon D800E, Tokina 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 lens at 11.5mm, 1/80 sec @ f/16, ISO 100, Ikelite DS160 strobes (2), Subal housing)

A beady-eyed shark swims just below the water line at sunset

Silky Shark
Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
By Michael Aw

Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) hang out at the edge of the continental shelf in Jardines de la Reina. I have been shooting this gregarious group of 30 individuals for the past five years, trying to capture them near the surface, especially at sunset, to get a promotional photo that can be used for shark conservation. More than 70 million sharks are caught for the shark-fin trade each year. I knew an over/under picture of this beautiful species at sunset could convey a strong message. After five years, the tide, wind, sun, sky and sharks finally aligned one evening in February 2017.

(Nikon D500, Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, 1/60 @ f/14, ISO 800, Ikelite DS160 strobes (2), Seacam housing; MichaelAW.com)

A maori octopus is devouring a spider crab. There are hundreds of crabs surrounding the octopus

Maori Octopus and Spider Crabs
Mercury Passage near Maria Island, Tasmania, Australia
By Justin Gilligan

This unusual encounter featured an aggregation of spider crabs (Leptomithrax gaimardii) and a predatory Maori octopus (Macroctopus maorum). The octopus was behaving like an excited child in a candy store, trying to work out which crab to catch and consume — its eyes were bigger than its stomach.

There was no clear evidence to suggest why the crabs were aggregating in the shallows at this location; it was a previously unknown location for this behavior. Spider crab aggregations are thought to be linked to molting in other areas of Australia such as Port Phillip Bay. It certainly appeared as though the crabs found safety in numbers when confronted by the predatory octopus.

With arm spans of up to 10 feet, Maori octopuses are the largest octopuses in the Southern Hemisphere. I estimate this individual had an arm span of around 6 feet. I was in the area photographing a kelp-transplant experiment with the University of Tasmania to better understand Australia’s temperate reefs when this aggregation of crabs the size of a football field wandered through the experiment totally unexpected. It reinforced how little we know about this ecosystem.

(Nikon D810, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, 1/100 sec @ f/14, ISO 400, Ikelite DS161 strobes (2), Nauticam housing; justingilligan.com)

Green turtle eats a giant jellyfish

Green Turtle and Jellyfish
Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia
By Scott Portelli

Green turtles will feast for hours on an unsuspecting giant jellyfish, starting with its soft tentacles and working their way up to its soft outer bell. These jellyfish are one of the green turtle’s primary food sources and an easy-to-catch meal. Green turtles aren’t commonly seen eating deep-ocean jellyfish species, but currents sometimes bring the large creatures closer to nearshore pinnacles and rocky outcrops.

(Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens, 1/200 sec @ f/9, ISO 250, Ikelite DS161 strobes (2), Seacam housing; scottportelli.com)

Two gray triggerfish eat a jellyfish

Gray Triggerfish
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
By Joaquin Gutierrez Fernandez

I encountered these two gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) on a drift line three miles offshore, feeding on a piece of jellyfish or other gelatinous animal. When I saw their faces through the viewfinder, I was excited to be capturing this photograph.

(Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens at 15mm with 1.4x Kenko teleconverter, 1/200 sec @ f/22, ISO 200, Seacam Seaflash 150 strobes (2), Seacam housing with mini fisheye port)

A smiling seal has a piece of kelp in its mouth

Cape Fur Seal
Simon’s Town, South Africa
By Greg Lecoeur

During a recent dive in South Africa, I was not expecting to have one of the best encounters of my life. We had considered canceling the dive because of the very poor visibility. Soon after I jumped in the water, this very playful cape fur seal with a bit of kelp in its mouth came to investigate my camera. It was not lured or baited — it came right up to my dome without any coaxing.

(Nikon D7200, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, 1/250 sec @ f/9, ISO 400, Ikelite DS160 strobes (2), Nauticam housing; greglecoeur.com)

Garibaldi, Red Gorgonian and Kelp
Santa Barbara Island, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, California, USA
By Andrew Sallmon

A globe-like photo that depicts red gorgonian and kelp

The kelp forests of Santa Barbara Island are some of California’s richest, but they can be dived only when the weather is perfect. The island is 38 miles offshore and quite small, which means there’s almost no shelter from the strong prevailing northwest winds.

Two favorite local subjects, which provide contrast to the island’s kelp and blue-green water, are the red gorgonian and California’s state marine fish, the bright-orange garibaldi. Patiently and quietly stalking the underwater forests in search of good foregrounds or backgrounds and then spending lots of time waiting and being still while life goes on underwater can yield great results.

(Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens at 8mm, 1/80 sec @ f/10, ISO 320, Sea & Sea YS-250 strobes (2), Sea & Sea housing; seait.com)

A great white shark smiles for the camera

Great White Shark
Guadaloupe Island, Mexico
By Marko Dimitrijevic

When a great white shark swims directly toward you, it feels like a jet airplane is aimed at your face. I might have flinched in response, but being in the cage enabled me to wait until the frame was filled with Carcharodon carcharias. Because of the clarity of the water I could shoot at 64mm, which is unusual underwater, where I would normally use more wide-angle lenses for a creature this large. The short telephoto also provides a different perspective, while the head-on angle shows the immense power of these predators.

(Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 24-70mm f/4L lens at 64mm, 1/125 sec @ f/4, ISO 400, Seacam Seaflash 150 strobes (2), Seacam housing; www.markophotographer.com)

Dusky batfish and mangroves

Dusky Batfish and Mangroves
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
By Beth Watson

Vital to the health and well-being of our marine ecosystems, mangroves prevent erosion, help stabilize shorelines and provide sanctuaries for juvenile fish. These three juvenile dusky batfish (Platax pinnatus) were swimming around the perimeter of the mangrove forest. I framed the shot, and soon all three batfish turned in unison, lining up perfectly parallel to the camera lens. I captured the image at this special moment.

(Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens at 15mm, 1/125 sec @ f/13, ISO 320, Ikelite DS125 strobes (2), Nauticam housing; bethwatsonimages.com)

Orange-Lined Triggerfish
Mayotte Island, France
By Gabriel Barathieu

This orange-lined triggerfish (Balistapus undulatus) was hiding in a hole and would not come out. I took advantage of the view I had and captured a photo showing the detail of its mouth and teeth.

(Canon EOS 5DS, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens, 1/100 sec @ f/16, ISO 250, SubSee +10 diopter, Subtronic Nova strobes (2), Subal housing; underwater-landscape.com)

A pink porcelain crabs stabs on a red surface

Pink Porcelain Crab
Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
By Massimo Giorgetta

I was diving with a guide in Lembeh Strait above a crumbling black sand bottom that sloped from 16 feet to 100 feet deep. At 60 feet we found a 6-inch red soft coral upon which was a pink porcelain crab (Lissoporcellana sp.). It moved up and down, posing agreeably while I photographed it.

(Nikon D800E, Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro lens with SubSee +10 diopter, 1/160 sec @ f/3.6, ISO 100, Subtronic Pro 160 strobes (2), Seacam housing; maxgiorgetta.it)

A black and white image of a whale shark

Whale Shark
Cenderawasih Bay, Papua, Indonesia
By Kristi Odom 

Around the full moon, whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) gather en masse under fishing platforms in Cenderawasih Bay. While snorkeling above this whale shark, I noticed the bright sun’s rays seemed to bend around my body. I swam fast to put my shadow on the giant shark and to position the light rays on its spotted back. I was thrilled to capture this beautiful display of nature’s pattern mixing.  

(Nikon D750, Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED lens, 1/320 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 1000, available light, Ikelite housing with modular 8-inch dome port; kristiodom.com)

A group of king penguins go for a stroll at sunset

King Penguins
Falkland Islands
By Wim van den Heever

I found this small group of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) heading out to sea at daybreak amid a spectacular sunrise. I got soaked from head to toe lying in the freezing seawater, but it was worth it to get this photo.

(Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, 1/200 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400, handheld with fill flash; wimvandenheever.com)

A bright red lava flow

Kalapana Coast, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii
By Nolan Nitschke

It was my lifelong dream to see lava pouring into the ocean in the Hawaiian Islands. I found the spectacle of nature’s power of creation and destruction both awe inspiring and photographically challenging. Besides molten lava, poisonous gases and crumbling cliffsides, I had to contend with waves and huge plumes of steam, which necessitated perfect timing.  

(Sony a7R, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens at 309mm with a Metabones IV adapter, 1/2 sec @ f/14; ISO 200, Gitzo GT3532LS tripod, RRS BH-55 ballhead; thesierralight.com)

A humpback whale snuggles its calf

Humpback Mother and Calf
Vava’u Archipelago, Kingdom of Tonga
By Wade Hughes

A humpback whale mother gently embraces her new calf in the tropical and relatively safe waters of Tonga’s Vava’u archipelago. She will nurse it with fat-rich milk until she judges it to be strong enough to accompany her on the perilous return trip to the whales’ Antarctic feeding grounds.

The greatest challenge for me when I enter the water with these animals is to remain detached enough to concentrate on creating an image. I hope my images might help give these animals a voice. 

(Canon EOS 5DS R, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 47mm, 1/250 sec @ f/8, ISO 640, available light, Nauticam housing; wadeandrobynhughes.com)

© Alert Diver — Q3 2017