Sweeping aerial views of Earth’s natural wonders and spectacular shots of outer space are all well and good. But beauty captured on a much smaller scale can be just as breathtaking.
To prove the point, look no further than the Close-up Photographer of the Year competition. It was launched in 2018 by UK-based couple Tracy and Daniel Calder , who both have years of experience in the photography industry. The fourth annual iteration drew more than 9000 submissions across 54 countries, and a winner was chosen in each of 11 categories.
Most of those categories celebrate nature. Insects, plants, fungi, animals, and intimate landscapes each have their own; and there’s even a separate one for butterflies and dragonflies. But photographers who see the art in peeling paint or something in the urban landscape aren’t excluded: There’s also a “manmade” group.
Feast your eyes on this year’s first-place photos below, and check out all the finalists here .
1. Animals // Nature's Pitfall by Samantha Stephens
No, not aliens—two dead spotted salamanders floating in the fluid of a carnivorous northern pitcher plant at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.
2. Insects // Intruder by Anirban Dutta
A black drongo feasts on termites swarming around a light in Cooch Behar, India.
A solitary snake’s head fritillary in Toulouse, France.
4. Fungi // Ice Encrusted Comatricha by Barry Webb
Ice encircling slime mold in the UK during a bout of cold weather and freezing fog. This is less frightening when you find out the tallest specimen tops out at 3 millimeters.
5. Underwater // Little Predator by Viktor Lyagushkin
A stalked jellyfish (the white thing) awaits passing prey beneath the icy surface of Russia’s White Sea.
6. Butterflies & Dragonflies // Veiled by Wim Vooijs
A dew-speckled banded demoiselle in the Dutch town of Ede, in the Netherlands.
A triangular spider shows off its Mayan-like markings while it waits for its next meal in a conservation park in Brisbane, Australia.
8. Intimate Landscape // Frequency by Mike Curry
A building at London’s Canary Wharf casts a reflection over the water; it took photographer Mike Curry a good two hours to capture the prize-winning shot.
9. Manmade // Oil & Water 44 by Matt Vacca
A snapshot of the moment when two drops of oil begin to connect, while water droplets steadfastly remain aloof.
This panoramic image was created by combining multiple shots of red algae—collected from a river in Poland’s Wigry National Park—as seen through a microscope.
11. Young // Hemitrichia Calyculata by Nathan Benstead
The “young” category is reserved for submissions from photographers who are under the age of 18. This year’s winner shows the fruiting bodies of slime mold ( sporangia ) thriving atop a rotten log in the UK.