153 underwater photographers descend on Anilao—and their photos are otherworldly

The tiny sea critters look stranger than fiction, but maybe they’ll be the ones to save us yet.

Every time underwater photographers go below the water’s surface, you never know what new thing the world will discover about what’s under our seas courtesy of their photos.

But life underwater—the tiny nudibranchs or sea slugs measuring one-eighth of an inch or the rare pygmy seahorse and glass octopus—often has different plans. It makes the photographer wait, sometimes for decades, for the perfect photo.

Anilao Underwater Shootout entry

David Doubilet, who is considered a god among underwater photographers, had to wait four decades to snap his dream picture: a clownfish that was aerating its eggs. He snapped that photo—which made the cover of National Geographic—in Anilao Batangas.

“People ask me, how long did it take you to make that picture? I say 40 years,” Doubilet told me a few years ago when he was in Anilao, Batangas to judge what’s come to be known as the “World Cup of Underwater Photo Competitions.”

Anilao Underwater Shootout Sealife

Anilao Underwater Shootout Seahorse

Famous the world over, Anilao once again became the playground for underwater photographers at the 8th Anilao Underwater Shootout (AUS) mounted by the Department of Tourism (DOT) on May 22 to 26.

The shootout is “a big boost to the promotion of dive tourism in the Philippines,” Secretary Christina Frasco said.

There were  a total of 153 participants from 14 countries—including Australia, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States.

Anilao Underwater Shootout
Photos courtesy of Anilao Underwater Shootout/DOT.

This year’s judges were award-winning underwater photographers Aaron Wong, Brook Peterson, Franco Banfi, Rafael Fernandez Caballero, and Scott Gutsy Tuason.

The competition garnered a total of 426 entries across 14 categories, and winners were awarded P1.7 million worth of underwater photography gear from event partners and sponsors.

A world we have yet to fully understand

Landscape photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams famously said, “A photograph is usually looked at—seldom looked into.”

He was right, but also wrong. Underwater photography, for instance, always gives us a glimpse of a world very few people see or record. They capture the tiniest creatures we have no idea about and we’re forced to look deeper into the living things that often look otherworldly and strangely beautiful.

These sea critters spark conversations on what human activity is doing to our oceans, and at the same time make us appreciate what we still have.

One of my favorite stories about UWP happened years ago, when photographers were overjoyed to find and photograph the pygmy seahorse again in Anilao after the species had vanished for years. The pygmy seahorse is the world’s smallest seahorse at only 1.4 centimeters and many thought they had all but perished.

How strange, I thought then, how a tiny thing could move so many adults to such joy. Maybe the smallest creatures under the sea could save us yet.

Anilao Underwater Shootout winner

8th Anilao Underwater Shootout winners

This year’s winners once again stun us with photos of critters that look like the bloaters from The Last of Us; fish that look comical or angry or petrified; nudibranchs whose colors are as astounding as their shapes.

Anilao revealed its treasures to the most worthy of people whose patience and skill make for stories of the sea worth telling—in pictures.

Anilao Underwater Shootout winner

Here are the winners of this year’s Underwater Shootout.    

In the Open Class, Macro/Supermacro category, winners are Kim Kyung Shin, 1st place; PJ Aristorenas, 2nd place; Yat Kuen Eric Fung, 3rd place.

In the Marine Behavior category, winners are Dennis Corpuz, 1st place; Patricia Santos, 2nd place; Yat Kuen Eric Fung, 3rd place.

In the Nudibranch category, winners are Dennis Corpuz, 1st place; Mark Chang, 2nd place; PJ Aristorenas, 3rd place.

In the Fish Portrait category, winners are Deniz Muzaffer Gökmen, 1st place; Patricia Santos, 2nd place; Mark Chang, 3rd place.

In the Compact Class, Macro category, winners are Regie Casia, 1st place; Luzelle Artillero, 2nd place; Teresa Sy Ortin, 3rd place.

In the Marine Behavior category, winners are Regie Casia, 1st place; Eric Javier, 2nd place; Neil Anthony Torres, 3rd place.

Anilao Underwater Shootout Marine life

Anilao Underwater Shootout Nudibranch

Anilao Underwater Shootout winners

In the Nudibranch category, winners are Jayson Cedrick Apostol, 1st place; Ronilo Corpuz, 2nd place, Jose Antonio Caluag, 3rd place.

In the Fish Portrait category, winners are Eric Javier, 1st place; Jayson Cedrick Apostol, 2nd place; Oscar Rey Maranan, 3rd place.

Special prizes were awarded to Dennis Corpuz in the Blackwater/Bonfire category and Mark Chang in the Wide-Angle category.

Eric Javier was awarded the DOT Photographer Year title for the Compact class while Kim Kyung Shin took the DOT Photographer of the Year for the Open class.

Meanwhile, Louie Casapao and Roberto Corpuz were named DOT Photographers of the Year Dive Guide for the Compact and Open classes respectively.

The Anilao Underwater Shootout is organized by the DOT since 2013 to promote diving as a priority tourism product in the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP).

Anilao Underwater Shootout by DOT
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