Landscape photographer Warren Keelan's big moment arrived at Windang Beach late one afternoon in early winter.
Clouds diffused the setting sun so he could shoot straight at it as a glassy wave curled over him and his waterproof camera.
Later, when he examined the photo, he thought he could see the shape of a hawk in the wave - a kind of "ocean sculpture".
The Sea Hawk shot is the nature/sunsets category winner of the 2012 International Photography Awards, announced on Friday.
Mr Keelan, a web designer and fishing photojournalist from Lake Illawarra who invested in underwater camera gear last year, welcomed the recognition.
"I guess it means now that I can use the title 'international award-winning photographer', but for me it is more about being recognised for the hard work I put in in the ocean," he said.
Mr Keelan takes photos from the water each week, covering beaches from Stanwell Park to Gerroa. He sells his work on canvas and other prints.