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Underwater photography competitions

Judging the Dive Worldwide underwater photo competition
The brief | A couple of months ago, Teresa at Dive Worldwide asked if we would judge their annual photo competition. "Of course, what an honour," we replied "but what are you looking for?"

The brief to competitors was to submit an underwater image that was worthy of publication. The winning photographs were to be published in the 2011 Dive Worldwide brochure and on their web site. That brief was also ours – we were looking for underwater images that were indicative of the destination where they were taken but also had to be perfectly in focus, well lit and big enough to be usable in print.

Judging | The anonymous entries were supplied on disc in September and it was great fun seeing them all. There were shots from right around the world, from Indonesia to Tobago to the Red Sea. Subjects were highly varied, although macro subjects far outweighed wide-angles.

The quality was even more varied and sadly, some of what was sent was a bit disappointing. A lot of images didn't have good lighting (and insufficient ambient light) so were dismissed early on, while some were obviously out of focus. Removing those left a substantial selection of charming and colourful images. The next step was narrowing the rest down to three winners and that was not easy! In the end there were six lovely shots in the pile and three that became the absolute favourites.

The winners

First prize went to Sean Keen. His image of a tiny Longnose hawkfish was taken in Indonesia. The shot looks simple yet the composition is graphically appealing. The fan coral has been used to frame the fish, the two elements making a cross inside the frame, which adds visual impact. The image has been well lit with good contrast, realistic colour and it is pin-sharp on the fish eye. It takes a lot of patience to get a shot like this and Sean has shown great skill.

Second prize went to John Belchamber. He captured this image in Malaysia, always a great destination for snapping turtles. The green turtle is sitting in a very photogenic position. John has stopped down on his settings so the background has turned black, which in turn, highlights the carapace. The negative space above balances the image beautifully.

Third prize was awarded to Carole Bellars' lionfish. This is another image from the prolific waters around Indonesia. What is so captivating in this one is the perfect blue backdrop in a well-divided frame. Again, the negative space at the top focusses attention on both the lionfish and the richly coloured corals that he is hovering over.

Honorable mentions to the three other images that made it to the finals. Shown left are Len Deeley's gorgeous clownfish (Siquijor, The Philippines), a gripping Great White shark from Wayne Stocker (Guadalupe, Mexico) and Mark Watts whip coral gobies from Tonga.
Shooting to a brief

There's nothing quite like seeing your images in print and one of the best ways to get them there is through a competition like this one. Although there were a lot of great pictures sent in, there were many that fell short due to technical glitches or because they didn'treally fit the brief.

Here are some tips that may help!

Think about the purpose behind the competition – if the brief is for an image that will be printed in a magazine, then make sure you shoot and supply images at a suitable resolution.

Is there a hidden agenda? For example, a travel company will want pictures that help sell and reflect their product as well as simply being beautiful.

As you choose your images, look for ones that have at least one special feature – is it a unique or unusual creature; does it show a funny event or a rare moment.

Trust your instincts – if you really like the picture, others probably will too.

Is it technically correct? Never send an underwater image that' isn't: out of focus will never win a competition nor will one that hasn't been lit or at least had a white balance adjustment. Slightly dark or slightly light can be corrected but be careful if you have to do more manipulating than that.

Be considered if you decide to manipulate an image. What looks good to you – and on your computer – may not look good on a different screen. Very few computer monitors are colour balanced and, although some machines will have a colour balance function, few people go to the effort. Laptops in particular can be deceptive. If you do decide to fiddle with an image, ensure you don't go so far that grain, noise or haloing appear. And be careful of saturating the colour to the point of it being rather unrealistic.

It's a good idea to crop an image if something weird has crept into your frame – like your buddy. But don't go too far and unbalance the image.

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