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Animals 1St Samantha Stephens Natures Pitfall CUPOTY

Fresh view: Close-Up Photographer of the Year

Meet four image-makers recognised in the fourth CUPOTY competition

Nature’s pitfall’ by Samantha Stephens (Canada)


A pair of salamanders consumed by a carnivorous plant. A dew-coated damselfly. A bird swooping through a cloud of termites. And a red algae whose size belies its startling beauty.  

What do these fleeting images of the natural world all have in common? They are the work of four image-makers recognised in the annual Close-Up Photographer of the Year competition. The contest, now in its fourth edition, celebrates close-up, macro and micro photography.  

Here, the quartet of photographers tell how they created their award-winning images.


‘Nature’s pitfall’ by Samantha Stephens (Canada) 
Overall winner and winner, Animals, CUPOTY 4 (See main picture, above)  

“Northern pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) are carnivorous, allowing them to survive in nutrient-poor bog environments. Here there is no rich soil, but rather a floating mat of sphagnum moss. Instead of drawing nutrients up through its roots, this plant relies on trapping prey in its specialised bell-shaped leaves, called pitchers. Typically, these plants feast on invertebrates, such as moths and flies. Recently, however, researchers at the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station have discovered a surprising new item on the plant’s menu – juvenile spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum).  

“This population of Northern pitcher plants in Algonquin Provincial Park is the first to be found regularly consuming a vertebrate prey. For a plant that’s used to capturing tiny invertebrate, a juvenile spotted salamander is a hefty feast. 

“On the day I made this image I was following researchers on their daily surveys of the plants. Pitchers typically contain just one salamander prey at a time, although occasionally they catch multiple salamanders simultaneously. When I saw a pitcher that had two salamanders, both at the same stage of decay floating at the surface of the pitcher’s fluid, I knew it was a special and fleeting moment. The next day, both salamanders had sunk to the bottom of the pitcher.” 

Butterflies 1St Wim Vooijs Veiled CUPOTY

‘Veiled’ by Wim Vooijs (Netherlands) 
Winner, Butterflies and Dragonflies, CUPOTY 4  

I found this dew-covered male banded demoiselle on a reed stem among the streams near my hometown, Ede in the Netherlands. Banded demoiselles are easy to approach as they rest and dry in the early morning. I tried to find an angle that would produce bokeh bubbles in the warm light, creating the atmosphere that I desired in the picture.  

“I like to emphasise the beauty of these insects by showing their strength and vulnerability. I’m not after a record shot, more an emotional portrait – maybe this is due to my background as a portrait photographer. 

Insects 1St Anirban Dutta–Intruder CUPOTY

Intruder’ by Anirban Dutta (India) 
Winner, Insects, CUPOTY 4

Before the start of the monsoon every year, some species of termite swarm in the late afternoon and early evening. This behaviour is known as nuptial flight. One day I witnessed this event near a petrol pump in the town of Cooch Behar, India. There were thousands of termites, and one black drongo, drawn to the powerful streetlight. This bird spent almost 20 minutes swooping through the termites, snatching and eating them as it went.

“I shot multiple exposures to capture this event, which I had never seen before. Three frames were recorded and combined in-camera – the first with a high shutter speed and in Kelvin white balance, the second with a high shutter speed isolating the drongo, and the third with a slow shutter speed in Tungsten white balance. 

Micro 1St Marek Miś Batrachospermum Red Algae CUPOTY

‘Batrachospermum red algae’ by Marek Miś (Poland) 
Winner, Micro, CUPOTY 4 

I took a sample of Batrachospermum (a kind of red algae) from a small river in Wigry National Park, Poland. Although it has natural beauty, it doesn’t look great using bright-field illumination. However, by combining polarised light and darkfield techniques I managed to get a colourful and interesting picture.

“It was challenging to show more than one or two ‘twigs’ of algae, because even a 4x microscope objective shows too small a part. To capture it properly I made a panorama consisting of nine images stitched together during post-processing. To expand the depth of field, which is very shallow using a microscope, each of the nine images consist of several frames combined in one output image in Helicon Focus. The final image is the result of combining more than 100 separate shots.” 

Entries to Close-up Photographer of the Year 05 will be accepted from March to June 2023. 


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