15 Amazing Close-up Photos to Cleanse Your Timeline

15 Amazing Close-up Photos to Cleanse Your Timeline
A rat peering out from a wheel well. (Image: Ezra Boulton/CUPOTY)

The annual Close-up Photographer of the Year contest asks us to slow down and view the world through a more discerning lens. It’s sage advice, as these incredible zoomed-in images attest.

The annual contest, founded in 2018 and done in association with Affinity Photo, celebrates the best close-up, macro, and microphotography of the past year. This batch is from 2021.

“One of the great joys of close-up photography is when you approach a subject with an air of curiosity so that even the most mundane object or scene becomes captivating,” Tracy Calder, a co-founder of the competition, wrote to me in an email. “This year I’ve been astonished by images of spiders in their rainbow-coloured webs, bottles transformed into seascapes, and slime moulds erupting out of dead vegetation.”

The comp boasted nine categories, including a new Underwater category. A panel of expert judges evaluated thousands of images submitted from across the world. Here are our favourite zoomed-in images.

Insect diversity

Image: Pål Hermansen/CUPOTYImage: Pål Hermansen/CUPOTY

Pål Hermansen of Norway was awarded the overall winner of the competition for this glorious photo showing an assortment of insects. Late last year, Hermansen discovered that a lamp outside his house was defective and that it had been trapping flying insects.

“I emptied the lamp and spread the contents onto a large light-table I had left over from my slide days,” he explained in a statement. “I used a weak flashlight to light the details from above. I wanted to express the chaos and diversity of this discovery, but also to find some kind of composition,” said Hermansen, adding that “it’s a visual reminder of the important and extreme diversity of animals around us that we take for granted.”

The photo also earned Hermansen the top prize in the Insects category.

Colours through spider’s eye

Image: Sudith Rodrigo/CUPOTYImage: Sudith Rodrigo/CUPOTY

Second place in the Young category was awarded to Sudith Rodrigo, who captured this ethereal image of a spider in his backyard in Sri Lanka.


Image: Svetlana Ivavnenko/CUPOTYImage: Svetlana Ivavnenko/CUPOTY

A photo showing a pair of secret toadhead agamas in a territorial dispute was awarded second place in the Animals category. The photographer, Svetlana Ivavnenko, captured the battle in Kalmykia, Russia.


Image: Bruno Militelli/CUPOTYImage: Bruno Militelli/CUPOTY

Brazilian fine art photographer Bruno Militelli captured this stunning close-up photo of a soap bubble just seconds before it burst. The image earned Militelli second place in the Man-Made category.

Ants and hornet

Image: Petr Bambousek/CUPOTYImage: Petr Bambousek/CUPOTY

Petr Bambousek from the Czech Republic was awarded second place in the Insects category for this gnarly photo of ants gorging on a hornet.

Rat in tire hub

Image: Ezra Boulton/CUPOTYImage: Ezra Boulton/CUPOTY

16-year-old Ezra Boulton noticed this rat peering out from an abandoned car wheel in a farmyard near his home in Cornwall, England. The resulting photo was awarded first place in the Young category.

Waves crashing

Image: Rachel McNulty/CUPOTYImage: Rachel McNulty/CUPOTY

Rachel McNulty from the U.K. created this image from a close-up section of a turquoise gin bottle. Light reflecting from the bottle appears as waves crashing close to shore and as storm clouds appear above. A tiny foil reflector was used to create the beach-like feature at the bottom of the photo. This was the winning photo in the Man-Made category.

Dancing in the dark

Image: Juan J. González Ahumada/CUPOTYImage: Juan J. González Ahumada/CUPOTY

Juan J. González Ahumada from Spain received top prize in the Animals category for this image of a daddy long legs, or harvestman, walking along a dry branch. The photo was taken on a hillside of Sierra Blanca, Andalusia.

Mating underwater

Image: Ripan Biswas/CUPOTYImage: Ripan Biswas/CUPOTY

The winning image in the Butterflies & Dragonflies category was taken by Ripan Biswas from India.

“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,” Biswas explained in the press release. “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.”

While this was happening, a water strider arrived on the scene but eventually lost interest in the mating pair. Biswas said the damselflies flew away after successfully laying their eggs.

Juncture Y

Image: Daragh Muldowney/CUPOTYImage: Daragh Muldowney/CUPOTY

This fascinating photo, taken by Irish photographer Daragh Muldowney on Lake Baikal in Siberia, shows a crack in the ice. The photo one top prize in the Intimate Landscape category.

Circular octopus

Image: Alessandro Grasso/CUPOTYImage: Alessandro Grasso/CUPOTY

Alessandro Grasso from Italy was awarded first place in the Underwater category for this photo of an octopus finding refuge in an empty seashell.

Spiral Beauty

Image: Håkan Kvarnström/CUPOTYImage: Håkan Kvarnström/CUPOTY

Håkan Kvarnström from Sweden won the top prize in the Micro category for this colourful microscopic image of the green algae Spirogyra.

Underwater world

Image: Marek Mis/CUPOTYImage: Marek Mis/CUPOTY

Marek Mis from Poland won third place in the Micro category for this image of air bubbles appearing beneath a microscope slide.

Holly parachute

Image: Barry Webb/CUPOTYImage: Barry Webb/CUPOTY

This is the winning image in the Plants & Fungi category. The photo, taken by Barry Webb, shows holly parachute fungi growing on a dead leaf. The spikes coming out from the caps are a striking feature of this rare fungus.


Image: Anton Trexler/CUPOTYImage: Anton Trexler/CUPOTY

Third place in the Young category was awarded to Anton Trexler, a 16-year-old nature photographer from Sri Lanka, who captured the photo on a farm. Lying on the ground, Trexler was “able to catch the hare in its agricultural environment and show how animals can survive in man-made habitats,” he said in a press release.

This article has been updated since it was first published.