A hornet under siege by an army of ants, an octopus colonising a shell, and an insect array created from the findings in an accidental bug trap are just some of the incredible images featured in this year's Close-Up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY) competition. The contest drew over 9,000 entries from 55 countries all of which offer a unique perspective on the world.

Insects and Overall Winner: Close-up Photographer of the Year
© Pål Hermansen | cupoty.com

The top prize went to Pål Hermansen for his striking image of insects discovered in a defective lamp at his home in Norway. "I emptied the lamp and spread the contents onto a large light-table I had left over from my slide days," Hermansen explained in a statement. "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."

In the Young Close-up Photographer of the Year category, 16-year old Ezra Boulton scooped the overall title for his image of a rat peering out of an abandoned car wheel. "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," he explains. "I like how the rat’s beady eyes echo the holes in the tyre."

Rat in Tyre Hub, Winner: Young Close-up Photographer of the Year
‘I noticed this rat peering out of an abandoned car wheel in a farmyard near my home in Cornwall, England.’
© Ezra Boulton | cupoty.com

A team of experts were tasked with the tough job of whittling down the entries, and the top 100 can be found on the CUPOTY website. "The standard was incredible," Tracy Calder, co-founder of CUPOTY, said in a statement. "Yet again, entrants have shown that close-up photography can help us see the world anew and discover beauty in subjects that are often overlooked."

Here's a look at some of the winning images:

Circular Octopus, Winner: Underwater
‘In the past three years, the bacterium Mycobacterium sherrisii has caused the mass death of Pinna nobilis (Noble Pen Shell) throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the empty shells of the large bivalve have been colonised by other marine species. In this case, an octopus takes advantage of the large shell to create its den and protect itself from predators. I used a slow shutter speed and circular panning motion to give dynamism to the image and emphasise the subject.’
© Alessandro Grasso | cupoty.com
Dancing in the Dark, Winner: Animals
‘This opilione (harvestman or daddy long legs) moves along a dry branch in a small hollow created by a landslip on the hillside of Sierra Blanca, Andalusia. 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 J. González Ahumada | cupoty.com
Holly Parachute, Winner: Plants & Fungi
‘Last December, while cutting the hedge in my garden, 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. I took the holly leaf into my greenhouse, out of the wind, and then spent some time carefully arranging moss behind, to create a pleasant background. I deliberately chose a composition using the pointed edges of the holly leaf as a frame and to echo the spikes of the little fungi. This is a 42 shot focus stack, combined in Zerene Stacker.’
© Barry Webb | cupoty.com
Mating Underwater, Winner: Butterflies & Dragonflies
‘For some species of damselfly, egg laying is a difficult task. They lay eggs on submerged vegetation so their eggs don’t get exposed in the air. The female climbs down deep in the water while the male clasps the neck of the female with a special organ on the tip of its tail. This is a difficult time for the pair as they become vulnerable to predators. 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.’
© Ripan Biswas | cupoty.com
Juncture Y, Winner: Intimate Landscape
‘This was shot on Lake Baikal in Siberia in February 2019 as part of my most recent collection Beacons. I have had a fascination with ice for many years now and this led me to explore Lake Baikal. I am inspired by form and composition in nature – beautiful lines, textures or shapes that become a work of art when you look closely or compose in a particular way. I love the intersecting lines in this small feathery crack in the ice. I processed this in a way to help the detail of this exquisite crack to stand out from the depths below.’
© Daragh Muldowney | cupoty.com
Ants and Hornet, 2nd Place: Insects
‘Liometopum ants live in large colonies on huge trees and feed on many different types of food. In the picture you can see how the group of ants work together in hunting the hornet. I used single diffused flash to light the scene and slightly cropped the image to take the viewer into the heart of the action. This interesting behaviour was discovered during a night walk in the extensive park of Lednice Castle, Czech Republic.’
© Petr Bambousek | cupoty.com
Fight, 2nd Place: Animals
‘During spring these secret toadhead agamas battle over territory. It is difficult to capture these short and intense conflicts. The temperature in Kalmykia, Russia doesn’t help either, as it often rises above 30°C.’
© Svetlana Ivavnenko | cupoty.com
Hiddden, 3rd Place: Young
‘Agricultural areas like this do not seem very lively. The hare, which I almost ran past, is very well camouflaged here. 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.’
© Anton Trexler | cupoty.com
Cup fungi Lachnum niveum, 2nd Place: Plants & Fungi
‘I collected a small piece of rotting wood with several of these tiny cup fungi on and took them back to my studio. 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.’
© Andy Sands | cupoty.com
Colours Through Spider’s Eye, 2nd Place: Young
‘I shot this photo in my home garden during the Covid-19 lockdown that was imposed in Sri Lanka. Since there was nothing much to do or anywhere to go, I started to garden in my backyard and focused on my macro photography. When I was planting one day, I saw a spider web in a winged bean plant. I ran into my house to grab my camera and tried to capture a photo. But it was not easy since the spider kept moving and it was hard to focus with the extension tube attached. I like the colour combination of green, yellow and gold in this picture. The golden colour is from the sunlight coming through a tiny hole in the plant leaf. I angled it slightly to bounce the light off the spider’s web.’
© Sudith Rodrigo | cupoty.com
Tiny Details, 3rd Place: Animals
‘I took my picture on the last day of winter in 2020, in an abandoned mine of Börzsöny Hills in Hungary. Although it’s permanently closed to visitors for the protection of its inhabitants, I was allowed to enter accompanied by a professional guide. The photo shows the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), whose body measures less than 5cm. Its population is decreasing throughout Europe and is a protected species.
Composing the picture in the silent darkness I only used a single flashlight with great care trying not to disturb the hibernating mammal. 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. The backlight emphasises the veins under the thin skin and the light hair on the tiny feet.’
© Lili Sztrehárszki | cupoty.com
Magic Spores, 3rd Place: Insects
‘I observed and captured this scene during a night hike in the tropics of Borneo. 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.’
© Bernhard Schubert | cupoty.com
Damsel in Dinner, 3rd Place: Butterflies & Dragonflies
‘Last year (2020), near my home in Badlapur, India, my friends and I were walking through the pools of water formed by the monsoon and found this dead damselfly floating on the surface. I had never seen this arrangement of its four wings before with the beautiful droplets on them.
While shooting this on a 1:1 scale, I saw a movement near its head and spotted the nymph of a water strider, which added a tiny spot of intense colour.
I stayed in four feet of water for almost an hour watching the scene and capturing the image. I wonder sometimes, how nature comes up with such beautiful things.’
© Aniket Rangnath Thopate | cupoty.com
Chasm, 2nd Place Intimate Landscape
‘This colourful coastal sandstone outcrop is located on the Northumbrian coast in the UK. Over time, erosion has resulted in the sedimentary layers of rocks being exposed to the elements. It is the indeterminate scale that I wanted to capture to create an intimate abstract landscape.
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.’
© David Southern | cupoty.com
Painted Lady in the Garden, 2nd Place: Butterflies & Dragonflies
‘I had just had my cancer diagnosis in the autumn of 2019. I was waiting for surgery and could not go far so spent a lot of time in our garden. It was a wonderful late summer and lots of butterflies came to nectar on my wife’s flowers, including Verbena bonariensis. I had just started shooting with the Olympus camera system and began to wonder if it might be possible to photograph butterflies in flight. Sports action sequences were my inspiration. If I got a set of shots at 60 frames per second, with the butterfly taking off in the plane of focus, set at the first shot, I thought they might make up an action sequence, a sort of time lapse in a single frame to show motion but also movement through a fraction of a second.
This was my first decent sequence, with four good Raw files from the moment the painted lady took off until it left the frame. The photos were layer masked in Photoshop to produce this composite. The result inspired me to really develop my butterfly in flight shots but this was the beginning point, a close up wonder revealing the painted lady in all its aerial glory.’
© Andrew Fusek Peters | cupoty.com
Gobys with Eggs, 3rd Place: Underwater
‘This picture was taken in Anilao, Phillippines in 2017. 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.’
© Enrico Somogyi | cupoty.com
Spiral Beauty, Winner: Micro
‘This green algae Spirogyra has one of the most fascinating chloroplast shapes of all algae – a helical shape, or spiral. Spirogyras thrive in almost any freshwater environment and are a common species that is easy to find in shallow ponds, ditches and lakes.
For this photograph I stained some of the Spirogyra strands with a number of fluorescent dyes to highlight the spirally shaped chloroplasts. They were then mixed with natural strands and placed next to each other on a glass slide and photographed in fluorescent light.’
© Håkan Kvarnström | cupoty.com
The Birth, 2nd Place: Underwater
‘The result of this image comes from over three years of commitment in trying to capture the moment of birth of a Mediterranean catfish. During this long period I tried every year to follow the development of the eggs up to the final birth. Every year I arrived too early or too late, despite searching in different areas and depths around Giglio Island, Italy. Finally my perseverance paid off and I captured this absolutely unique moment.’
© Filippo Borghi | cupoty.com
Decay, 3rd Place: Intimate Landscape
This image of decayed organic matter was shot during an afternoon walk in a nature reserve close to our flat in Chrudim, Czech Republic. I was pretty lucky on that day as the sky was perfectly overcast, which painted my scene blue. I revisited the place on different days and never experienced such a vibrant reflection again.
© Jakub Ondruch | cupoty.com