These Winning Close-Up Photos Show Life That's Often Overlooked

These Winning Close-Up Photos Show Life That's Often Overlooked

Enjoy these perspective-altering images of our world.

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Two salamanders being digested by a Northern Pitcher Planet.
Two salamanders being digested by a Northern Pitcher Planet.
Photo: Samantha Stephens

A big part of my job is staring at the latest deep-field images from space telescopes, images that remind me that our planet is less than a speck in the universe, and I’m just a speck on that speck. But photos of life on Earth up close flip the script, reminding viewers like me how much drama is happening even at tiny scales.

The annual Close-up Photographer of the Year competition’s winners have just been announced, showcasing the best photography of the small world from the past year. Here are the top three winners in each of the 11 categories.

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“Little Predator”

“Little Predator”

A stalked jellyfish clings to seaweed in Russia's White Sea.
A stalked jellyfish clings to seaweed in Russia’s White Sea.
Photo: Viktor Lyagushkin

A stalked jellyfish in the White Sea off Russia.

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“Beauty and the Beast”

“Beauty and the Beast”

A Bluespotted klipfish amid invasive mussels off South Africa.
A Bluespotted klipfish amid invasive mussels off South Africa.
Photo: Kate Jonker

A klipfish sits amid mussels off the shore of South Africa.

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“The Martian”

“The Martian”

A larval mimic octopus 300 feet below the ocean's surface.
A larval mimic octopus 300 feet below the ocean’s surface.
Photo: Pietro Cremone

A small octopus looks truly alien in this intimate view of the creature 300 feet beneath the ocean’s surface.

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“Mayan Derriere”

“Mayan Derriere”

An Arkys curtulus spider in Australia.
An Arkys curtulus spider in Australia.
Photo: Jamie Hall

A species of Triangular Spider spotted in Brisbane, Australia won first place in the Invertebrate Portrait category.

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“Gordian worm knot”

“Gordian worm knot”

An Australian parasitic worm in a knot.
An Australian parasitic worm in a knot.
Photo: Ben Revell

The photographer and farmer Ben Revell spotted this worm emerging from the abdomen of a spider. It is a Gordian worm, so-called for the inextricable knots the worms appear to become.

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“Shining Snail”

“Shining Snail”

A common snail on a blade of grass.
A common snail on a blade of grass.
Photo: Alex Pansier

A snail inches along a vertical blade of grass. This shot won third place in the Invertebrate Portrait category.

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“Hemitrichia Calyculata”

“Hemitrichia Calyculata”

Mold sprouting on a rotten log.
Mold sprouting on a rotten log.
Photo: Nathan Benstead

Slime molds producing sporangia on a rotten log in the UK.

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“Demoiselle Wing”

“Demoiselle Wing”

The wing of a damselfly.
The wing of a damselfly.
Photo: Nathan Benstead

The wing of a banded demoiselle up close, covered in water droplets.

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“Doner Kebab and Pizza”

“Doner Kebab and Pizza”

Starlings finding some human leftovers in Germany.
Starlings finding some human leftovers in Germany.
Photo: Anton Trexler

Starlings outside a pizza place in Germany.

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“Next To My Tree”

“Next To My Tree”

A snake's head fritillary thawing out in the UK.
Photo: Sébastien Blomme
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“Thawing Beauty”

“Thawing Beauty”

A snake’s head fritillary thawing out in the UK.
A snake’s head fritillary thawing out in the UK.
Photo: Jay Birmingham

A flower thaws from an overnight frost in Britain.

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“Sun Worshippers”

“Sun Worshippers”

Three greater pasque flowers in Austria, when Saharan dust in the air coloring the Sun.
Three greater pasque flowers in Austria, when Saharan dust in the air coloring the Sun.
Photo: Henrik Spranz

The flowers at sunrise in Australia. A rare event of Saharan dust floating in the atmosphere gave the sunrise a reddish tint.

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“Batrachospermum Red Algae”

“Batrachospermum Red Algae”

Red algae under a microscope.
Red algae under a microscope.
Photo: Marek Miś

The winner of the Micro category was this shot of a red algae species.

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“Pollen Tubes Growing Through the Pistil of Arabidopsis Thaliana”

“Pollen Tubes Growing Through the Pistil of Arabidopsis Thaliana”

Pollen tubes in a Thale cress' pistil.
Pollen tubes in a Thale cress’ pistil.
Photo: Jan Martinek

A fluorescence microphotograph reveals the tubes of pollen growing in a cress’ pistil.

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“Schistidium Capsule”

“Schistidium Capsule”

A Schistidium capsule in Sweden.
A Schistidium capsule in Sweden.
Photo: Harald Cederlund

A species of moss that lives on rock exposures in Sweden. The capsule is just about 1 millimeter, making a truly microscopic inclusion in this list.

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“Oil & Water 44"

“Oil & Water 44"

Two drops of oil merging as seen through a macro lens.
Two drops of oil merging as seen through a macro lens.
Photo: Matt Vacca

Drops of oil merging. This shot was the winner of the Manmade category.

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“Fishing Nets”

“Fishing Nets”

Fishing nets in Dungeness, Kent.
Fishing nets in Dungeness, Kent.
Photo: Nigel Halliwell

A bundle of blue fishing nets on the Kent Coast of England.

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“Colour Study 35"

“Colour Study 35"

Paper and color acetates layered in a color study.
Paper and color acetates layered in a color study.
Photo: Paul Gravett

This shot took third place in the Manmade category. “The images are layered and blended in the computer to create abstractions that reference contemporary art, including pointillism, colour fields, transparencies, collage, and painterly techniques,” wrote photographer Paul Gravett in a press release.

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“Frequency”

“Frequency”

A building in London's Canary Wharf refelction in the water.
A building in London’s Canary Wharf refelction in the water.
Photo: Mike Curry

This shot was taken of a water body reflecting a distorted image of a building Canary Wharf, London.

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“Artwork of Nature II”

“Artwork of Nature II”

Water flowing on rock formations in Norway.
Water flowing on rock formations in Norway.
Photo: Klaus Axelsen

Taken in Marmorslottet, Norway, this shot is an arresting look at the flow of water through rock formations, themselves formed by the relentless movement of the water.

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“Sea in Fan”

“Sea in Fan”

The sea as seen through a sea fan.
The sea as seen through a sea fan.
Photo: Angelo Richardson

A sea fan holds small inclusions of seawater, which act as lenses for the landscape and sea in the blurry background.

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“Little Naughty Draw Circle”

“Little Naughty Draw Circle”

A beetle eating a toxic leaf, avoiding the toxins.
A beetle eating a toxic leaf, avoiding the toxins.
Photo: Minghui Yuan

The beetle Aplosonyx nigriceps consumes a plant by nibbling circles on the leaves to stop the transmission of secreted toxins into the section of the leaf the beetle wishes to eat.

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“Violet Ghost”

“Violet Ghost”

A ground beetle running on the ground.
A ground beetle running on the ground.
Photo: Bernard Van Elegem

A beetle scuttles across a road in the forest in Italy in this blurry shot. “My aim was to have an image showing enough movement to illustrate the speed of the beetle, while illustrating the elegance of the beetle with its superb violet and turquoise colours,” said photographer Bernard Van Elegem, in a release.

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“Intruder”

“Intruder”

Termites swarming in India.
Termites swarming in India.
Photo: Anirban Dutta

Not bats, not birds, but termites are shown flying around the night sky near Cooch Behar, India, in this artful shot.

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“Slime Mould Didymium Squamulosum on Holly Leaf”

“Slime Mould Didymium Squamulosum on Holly Leaf”

Three slime mounds on a holly leaf's spike.
Three slime mounds on a holly leaf’s spike.
Photo: Andy Sands

Three sprouting slime moulds look like miniature mushroom clouds on the thorn of a holly leaf.

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“Scarlet Waxcap in Early Morning Dew”

“Scarlet Waxcap in Early Morning Dew”

A scarlet waxcap on a dewy morning.
A scarlet waxcap on a dewy morning.
Photo: Jeremy Lintott

A waxcap grows amid the early morning dew of Ebernoe Woods in England. The misty morning and dew make everything but the waxcap look white and gray, allowing the fungi’s scarlet hue to pop all the more.

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“Ice Encrusted Comatricha”

“Ice Encrusted Comatricha”

Comatricha fungi encased in ice.
Comatricha fungi encased in ice.
Photo: Barry Webb

A slime mold growing from a rotten fence post is frozen in ice, giving it an otherworldly look.

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“Common Winter Damselfly”

“Common Winter Damselfly”

A damselfly on a grass spikelet.
A damselfly on a grass spikelet.
Photo: Kai Rösler

In this shot, a damselfly clings to a plant. The fly’s wings—tucked in along its body—make it look like an extension of the plant.

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“Atlas Moth”

“Atlas Moth”

An Atlas moth in Sirsi, India.
An Atlas moth in Sirsi, India.
Photo: Uday Hegde

The moth’s maximum wingspan is nearly 10 inches across, and its vivid colors are on full display in this close-up shot.

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“Veiled”

“Veiled”

A Banded Demoiselle up close.
A Banded Demoiselle up close.
Photo: Wim Vooijs

This photo is the winner for the Butterflies & Dragonflies category. It shows a male Banded Demoiselle covered in dew in the morning light.

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“A Tale in the Sand”

“A Tale in the Sand”

A Sahara sand viper in Israel's Negev desert.
A Sahara sand viper in Israel’s Negev desert.
Photo: Paul Lennart Schmid

A Sahara sand viper winds past a tasty dune gecko, laying low at the bottom of this image. The photo is an intimate look at the do-or-die nature of life for creatures in the Negev desert.

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“The Footprint Friend”

“The Footprint Friend”

Miniature toads in the paw print of a mastiff.
Miniature toads in the paw print of a mastiff.
Photo: Juan Jesus Gonzalez Ahumada

This image was captured after a pond had dried up, leaving hundreds of tiny toads without sanctuary. This photographer found a couple of spunky amphibians taking refuge in the depressions left in a large dog’s toeprints.

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“Nature’s Pitfall”

“Nature’s Pitfall”

The overall winner, showing spotted salamanders eaten by a pitcher planet.
The overall winner, showing spotted salamanders eaten by a pitcher planet.
Photo: Samantha Stephens

Rest in peace, little amphibians. This image—evoking Sondheim’s Little Shop of Horrors—depicts two juvenile Spotted Salamanders decaying inside a carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant.

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