S'porean underwater photographer takes photo of a fish eating a fish, wins global competition


Zi Shan Kow | October 13, 2023, 05:45 PM

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Singaporean Lilian Koh has an unconventional routine when it comes to photography -- it involves getting into a wetsuit and strapping a tank of air onto her back.

An underwater photo of hers recently won a prestigious international award.

Fish eating fish

15 to 20 metres underwater, on the seabed of Anilao, Philippines, a lizardfish attempted to swallow a juvenile grouper whole.

Koh's diving guide spotted the grouper struggling for its life, and immediately led her to the site.

She quickly snapped a few shots of the action, one of which was selected as a finalist to the Siena International Photo Awards.

This photo won her first prize for the Underwater Life category:

Image courtesy of Lilian Koh.

While the two fish species are not at all uncommon, "exciting behaviour shots like these are hard to come by," Koh shared with Mothership.

The fate of the grouper?

The small fish broke free moments after the photo was taken. Then, exhausted from its narrow escape, before it could take a moment to recover, a nearby snapper seized the opportunity and ate it.

A passion that started underwater

Koh told Mothership that underwater photography is a "full-time passion" for her.

She started scuba diving in 2000, and only started to get serious in photography in 2016 as a way to document her dives.

Much like birders who get into bird photography, she started taking photos to identify the marine creatures she saw while underwater.

"It's like a Pokémon thing, you know, to collect all the animals," said Koh.

Koh also specialises in macrophotography because she enjoys looking at cute and little creatures, which she finds fascinating.

"Especially for the nudibranch, it comes in different colours and it is so vibrant. And there's more like, 4,000 over species just for nudibranchs and sea slugs alone. So you'll never run out of critters to see."

Her love for photography brings her to dive spots in Philippines and Indonesia, with set ups like this:

Image courtesy of Lilian Koh.

Image courtesy of Lilian Koh.

Appreciating fish

While one might be quick to assume that someone like her has always been a nature lover, Koh revealed that she actually used to be afraid of fish.

"I couldn't even put a dead fish inside the freezer back then," laughed Koh.

But once she was in the water, she realised that the fish were more afraid of her than they were afraid of them.

Over time, she found herself appreciating fish better. Even now, she is still learning to keenly observe these curious creatures.

After snapping that that award-winning shot, the guide asked if she had seen the fish in a fish, in a fish.

Only after going through her photos did she see it -- another unidentified fish was momentarily in the grouper's mouth, before also escaping from a close shave.

While it was a cool photo, Koh chose not to submit it to the competition as she preferred the angle of the first photo.

Image courtesy of Lilian Koh.

Proud to represent Singapore

Koh's photo was previously submitted for the Asia Pacific Underwater Photo Challenge in 2019, where it won second place.

Nonetheless, Koh saw the potential for it to be exposed to a larger, more international audience at the Siena International Photo Awards.

The award has a slew of categories from street photography, photojournalism, travel photography to sports photography.

Koh said she was "very happy" to be among renowned, professional photographers and be recognised in this competition.

"And also, do a little bit to show that there is some talent from the little red dot, right?" quipped Koh.

More nature photography

Top images courtesy of Lilian Koh.