hspace=5 Winning prizes is nothing new for renowned underwater photographer Franco Banfi, but his triumph was resounding at the Image 99 photographic festival last year, where he collected the Diver Trophy for the Grand Master of Underwater Photography as well as the Aqua-Lung Trophy for Best Portfolio.

hspace=5 Not only had his mixed macro and wide-angle portfolio won him a gold medal in this prestigious event, but he had scooped both gold and silver in the people/scenery slide section, and tagged on a bronze for his marine life slide entry.

Banfi was born in 1958 in Switzerland, where he still lives. Yes, I know that in Switzerland there is no sea, but there are many lakes and rivers! he says. It was in a lake that he learnt how to dive in 1981, and a year later he was in the Maldives, shooting his first roll of film.

Back home, armed now with both macro and wide-angle lenses, he started taking pictures in local freshwater sites, making particular use of the clear waters of the nearby river.

Although rivers arent as colourful as many tropical seas, in these waters I learnt to compose a picture by looking more deeply at the form, shadow, reflections and light, he says.

After a while, Banfi started entering photographic competitions, and within a few years had amassed more than 100 prizes in events in Europe as well as Japan, the USA and New Zealand. In 1992 he won first prize in underwater photography at the World Championship in Cuba, and started to work on magazines and books, including one on Papua New Guinea, which he completed in 1996.

He has taken underwater photographs all over the world. I like almost every kind of picture, but my favourite shots are wide-angle - water behaviour alone or with a model, he says.

In developing my pictures I try to recreate the emotion I experienced when I did the shot, or create the emotion along the way. To do this I look very carefully at everything: shape, colour, composition and, of course, the most important thing - light.