13 truly staggering images from Close-up Photographer of the Year 2021

An astonishing image of butterflies underwater, other-worldly images of funghi and a candid snap of a cheeky rodent are among the winners and runners-up for the 2021 Close-up Photographer of the Year awards.

This year marks the third edition of the nature photography competition, which seeks to celebrate some of the incredible pictures made possible by the skill and patience of the photographer, pushing today’s camera technology to its limits.

The overall winner was Norwegian photographer Pål Hermansen, who won with a picture of hundreds of insects he’d found trapped in a lamp at the side of his house.

‘‘I emptied the lamp and spread the contents onto a large light-table I had left over from my slide days,’ explains Pål.

‘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.’

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The competition’s founders, Tracy and Daniel Calder, received over 9,000 entries from more than 50 countries for this year’s competition, with the top prize winner receiving a cheque for £2,500.

We’ve picked out some more of our favourites from competition below. The top 100 entries can now be viewed on the competition website at www.cupoty.com, where you can also sign up to receive details about next year’s competition.

2nd Place Plants & Fungi — Andy Sands, Cup fungi

These fungi are almost invisible to the naked eye, as Andy explains, meaning that it required some technical wizardry: ‘They are approx. 0.75mm tall and have tiny hairs that trap moisture, which adds to their beauty.  Once collected I used an objective and tube lens assembly with focus rail to shoot multiple images for focus stacking. The depth of focus on the lens is tiny, so vibrations are a major issue with this sort of photography. This image is focus stacked from 127 images.’

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Andy Sands / cupoty.com

3rd Place, Young photographer — Anton Trexler’s camouflaged hare

‘The hare, which I almost ran past, is very well camouflaged here,’ says Anton. ‘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. Lying on the floor, I was able to catch the hare in its agricultural environment and show how animals can survive in manmade habitats.’

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Anton Trexler / cupoty.com

Winner: Plants & Fungi — Barry Webb, Holly Parachute

‘I spotted what I thought were slime moulds, growing on this dead holly leaf. On closer inspection, I noticed amazing spikes coming out of the cap of these small, rare, Holly Parachute fungi, Marasmius hudsonii,’ says Barry, who took the leaf home to photograph it in perfect conditions with a moss background.

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Barry Webb / cupoty.com

3rd Place: Insects —  Bernhard Schubert, Magic Spores

‘I observed and captured this scene during a night hike in the tropics of Borneo,’ Berhard explains. ‘A bracket fungus releases masses of spores, which causes the refraction of light while a cockroach feeds. I never observed this phenomenon before and I was compelled to capture it in all its beauty.’

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Bernhard Schubert / cupoty.com

2nd Place Intimate Landscape — David Southern, Chasm

David used a standard camera to get this image of a coastal sandstone outcrop on the Northumbrian coast: ‘I waited for the tide to sweep through the narrow channel and used my compact camera to get the shot as the tripod had to be manoeuvred in a very tight and awkward space.’

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © David Southern / cupoty.com

2nd Place: Micro —  Don Komarechka, Heaven and Earth

‘This is a micrometeorite positioned on top of an equally minuscule faceted garnet. These elements are smaller than most grains of sand, measuring 1/3 to 1/2 of a millimetre in diameter,’ says Don.

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Don Komarechka / cupoty.com

3rd Place Underwater —  Enrico Somogyi,  Gobys with Eggs

‘A pair of gobys are sitting on a whip coral protecting their eggs. For the bubble bokeh I used a manual Meyer Optik Trioplan Lens, which is famous for this effect,’ says Enrico.

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Enrico Somogyi / cupoty.com

Winner: Young Close-up Photographer of the Year — Ezra Boulton, Rat in tyre hub

‘I noticed this rat peering out of an abandoned car wheel in a farmyard near my home in Cornwall, England,’ says Ezra. ‘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.’

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Ezra Boulton / cupoty.com

2nd Place Underwater —  Filippo Borghi,  The Birth

‘The result of this image comes from over three years of commitment in trying to capture the moment of birth of a Mediterranean catfish,’ says Filippo.

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Filippo Borghi / cupoty.com

Winner: Animals —  Juan J. González Ahumada,  Dancing in the Dark

‘These creatures are blind and use their front legs to guide themselves in the dark. 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,’ Juan explains.

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Juan Ahumada / cupoty.com

3rd Place Animals — Lili Sztrehárszki,  Tiny Details

‘The photo shows the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), whose body measures less than 5cm,’ says Lili. ‘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.’

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Lili Sztrehárszki / cupoty.com

2nd Place: Insects —  Petr Bambousek, Ants and Hornet

‘You can see how the group of ants work together in hunting the hornet,’ says Petr of this picture, taken at Lednice Castle in the Czech Republic.

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Petr Bambousek / cupoty.com

Winner: Butterflies & Dragonflies — Ripan Biswas, Mating Underwater

This picture very nearly ended in disaster, explains Indian teacher Ripan: ‘As I put my camera just above the water to start taking shots, a water strider came close to the pair in search of food. After inspecting the mating pair, he decided they would not make a good meal. I managed to take 2 or 3 shots before the water strider departed. The damselflies flew away after successfully laying their eggs.’

Close-Up Photographer of the Year 2021. © Ripan Biswas / cupoty.com