At first glance, the picture seems to capture a giant, eerie face emerging from the sea. But the reality is quite different – it’s a stargazer fish nestled in the sandy Mediterranean seabed.

Pietro Formis, an Italian photographer, took this mesmerizing shot that garnered notable recognition in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Formis, who generally doesn’t submit his work for contests, was drawn to this image because he found it captivating. Little did he expect it to earn him a commendation. “I’m super happy and I’m counting the days for the ceremony. I think that I will see most of my, I will say colleagues, but they are my heroes and the top of photography so I can’t describe how happy I am,” Formis shared.

The announcement of the overall winners of the competition is scheduled for October 10 at an awards ceremony. The annual exhibition at the Natural History Museum, featuring 100 chosen photographs from thousands of entries, is set to open on the following Friday, October 13, and will eventually tour around the world.

This remarkable photograph depicts an Atlantic Stargazer fish, aptly named for its upward-facing eyes. These predators lurk under the sand, exposing only their eyes and mouths to catch prey. The image conjures comparisons to a voodoo mask or a human face, both of which Formis finds intriguing.

Employing concentrated light from a flash, a slow shutter speed, and purposeful movement, Formis captured the stargazer illuminated in the clear blue waters. “For me, it’s like a waterfall, and then from behind you see this scary face. I took a few different images, but this one I prefer,” Formis noted.

Underwater photography has become an “obsession” for Formis ever since his father, also a photographer, introduced him to diving, which transformed his life. “Going in the water and taking pictures of all the beauty, it’s something that I feel privileged to do,” he expressed.