On Monday, National Geographic announced the winners of their 27th annual Traveler’s Photo Contest. Tehuacán, Mexico-based photographer Anuar Patjane Floriuk took the grand-prize for his photo titled “Whale Whisperer,” a stunning underwater shot capturing a humpback whale and her newborn calf.
Floriuk shot the winning photo while on a trip with friends to Roca Partida, a tiny island off the coast of Mexico known among deep sea divers as a prime location to spot hammerheads, manta rays, dolphins and humpbacks. In a stroke of good luck, their diving team encountered a whale with her calf that didn’t shy away from them. Equipped with only a Sony RX100–a small but powerful compact camera–and a Inon wide angle wet lens, Floriuk was able to capture the humpbacks from just feet away.
“I was positioned very near the head of the whale mother,” Floriuk writes in an email. “All of the sudden she and her calf started to swim towards the rest of the diving team. I knew there was going to be movement–the divers had to move away–so I prepared for the shot. All my attention and focus was concentrated on the body of the mother, and when she moved her fin to the side the composition seemed right and I clicked.”
The image is shot from below looking up at the glassy sea surface lit up by sunlight. The scattered divers hanging suspended in the water look like miniature figurines beside the enormous mother humpback. (Adult humpbacks can range in length from 39–52 ft. and weigh up to 79,000 lbs.) With a stark contrast between the darkness of the deep sea and the sunlight above, the photo takes on the qualities of an old tintype photo.
Floriuk says he barely tampered with the image during post-production–just a minor contrast adjustment and a switch to black & white. “I left all the defects of the photograph, nothing was added or removed, you can even see the aberration and distortion created by the lens and the intensity of the light coming from the surface,” he says. “I believe that even the defects add to the power and effectiveness of the photograph.”
As his first place prize, Anuar received an eight-day photo expedition for two to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal with a National Geographic photographer and a team of photo instructors.
Of the more than 17,000 entries that were submitted, National Geographic photo editors chose a second and third place winner along with Floriuk, and seven more recognized on merit. You can view all 10 winning shots, with captions written by their photographers, in the gallery above.