Images of Cayman underseas vistas including West Bay’s Kittiwake dive site have earned two photographers high acclaim in the 2016 Underwater Photographer of the Year awards.

The photography competition, now in its second year but with its roots in the 1965 Brighton Underwater Film Festival, reportedly attracted 2,500 images entered from over 40 different countries last year. This year’s overall winner was Italian photographer Davide Lopresti for an image of a seahorse titled “Gold.”

The black and white Kittiwake photographs, both in the “Wrecks” category, offer dramatic depictions of the sunken ship that resonated with the competition’s judges.
Photographer Christian Vizl earned a “Highly Commended” award for his photograph, “Caribbean, Grand Cayman. USS Kittiwake and diver.”

“This image was taken during a workshop given by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes at Cayman Islands,” Mr. Vizl said about his image on the Awards’ website. Mr. Doubilet is an acclaimed U.S.-based National Geographic photographer, and his wife Ms. Hayes is an aquatic biologist and photojournalist specializing in natural history and marine environments. The duo’s workshop offered by Syracuse University took place at Sunset House in 2015.

“I attended the workshop and we visited many sites during our dives, including two dives at the USS Kittiwake. The diver in the picture is David Doubilet who very kindly offered himself as a model to his students!”

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The Kittiwake also featured in “USS Kittiwake shipwreck” by Cayman resident Susannah H. Snowden-Smith who earned a “Commended” award for her shot. The arresting black and white photo of jacks swimming near the wreck, with a diver in the background, appeared on the U.K.’s Sun and Daily Mail websites on Feb. 22.

Having worked as a photojournalist for many years, Ms. Snowden-Smith became a specialist in underwater archeology photography, and finds Cayman, where she has lived since 2014, an ideal spot to keep up her underwater skills in between archeological assignments.

Susannah H. Snowden-Smith's photograph of jacks and a diver at the USS Kittiwake, off West Bay, won 'Commended' award at this year's Underwater Photographer of the Year Awards.
Susannah H. Snowden-Smith’s photograph of jacks and a diver at the USS Kittiwake, off West Bay, won ‘Commended’ award at this year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year Awards.

“My favorite thing to shoot is ancient shipwrecks,” she said, noting the work has taken her to far-flung locales like Sri Lanka, Egypt, and Turkey. “Most of the ones I’ve done have been pre-B.C., and the oldest one was 2,700 years old which was in the Mediterranean.”

The stars aligning found Ms. Snowden-Smith and her husband moving to Cayman, where she now works as a freelance photographer.

“Cayman is perfect as it offers so many exciting underwater photography opportunities,” she said.

“And since I’ve come here my interest in the artistic side of underwater photography has really grown, as well.”

Ms. Snowden-Smith applied that artistry to her photo of the sunken Kittiwake. Since the Kittiwake is so large, she had to swim quite a distance away to get the shot the way she wanted, and waited for a school of jacks and a diver, with fins positioned just right, to snap her winning image.

Christian Vizl’s 'Highly Commended' photograph of the Kittiwake.
Christian Vizl’s ‘Highly Commended’ photograph of the Kittiwake.

Ms. Snowden-Smith also received a “Commended” award in the “Behavior” category for her photo titled “Torrent” depicting a large school of silversides taken at Cheeseburger Reef in George Town. Ms. Smith wanted to capture their reflective wriggling bodies in an unique way, taking shot after shot but finding she couldn’t produce what she was after.

“I then changed tactics, and chose a slow-exposure to show the movement of the silversides, and used my strobes to both reflect off them, and highlight some of the red sea life on the wall above,” she said, noting that waiting for a jack to chase the fish into the frame was the key to her shot.

Commenting on the awards, and the subsequent media recognition, Ms. Snowden-Smith said she was jumping up and down in elation when she got the news.

“This is the culmination of a very long journey,” she said.

“I have been working very hard and very long at this, and to be recognized internationally is just amazing,” she continued. “I submitted what I thought was my favorite work to the competition, and could not have been more delighted that the judges agreed.”

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