Regular Diver contributor Mark Webster started taking underwater photographs when he was a commercial diver in the North Sea. He has since enjoyed a string of successes in international photosub and other competitions, including a Bronze Medal in the 1996 CMAS World Championships and Highly Commended placings in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Mark hosts regular photographic workshops in the Red Sea - and most recently at the London International Dive Show. His new book The Art & Technique of Underwater Photography (Fountain Press,£19.95), which includes advice on entering competitions, is available through Underwater World Publications (0181 943 4288).

Closing date for entries to Image 99 is in September, but if you are planning to enter this major photographic competition, don't sit back and think: Oh, thats all right then! September will creep up all too soon.
The classic advice for anyone sitting an exam is to read the questions carefully, then read them again. Similarly your first step, before you start trawling through your best shots, is to study the rules and conditions of entry to make sure you provide exactly what is required.
Image 99, the 9th International Festival of Underwater Photography and Film, includes a competition for still images, both prints and slides.
Categories divide entries into a broad range of subjects and photographic techniques, plus there is a portfolio category - the best test of the all-round ability of an underwater photographer.
The judging will take account of experience, and there will be special awards for the best beginner (someone who has not won a major award before) and the best shot taken in British waters. The categories cover People and Scenery; Marine Life; Macro; Manipulated Images; and Open Portfolio (six images demonstrating various techniques or following a theme).
These headings provide plenty of scope for everyone, and there is time to shoot photographs this summer for each category - particularly the British Waters prize.
The golden rule is: keep it simple. Remember that the judges will be viewing thousands of entries, so the winning photographs must have instant appeal.
The shots you consider your best might be memorable for a variety of reasons, but quality is not necessarily one of them. Examine them critically, make sure they are not lacking either technically or in composition.
Most winning shots have an immediately recognisable subject, bold and striking colours, simple, classic composition and, perhaps most importantly, they are technically good. The exposure and focusing must be spot on!
Be hard on yourself when choosing an entry, and if your present crop of shots does not measure up, dedicate your diving over the next three months to producing a collection of pictures to match the Image 99 categories. Here are a few tips.

Once you have produced your initial selection for each category, it can help if someone who has no knowledge of underwater photography or diving makes the final choice for you, based simply on the impact of each shot. It is all too easy to lose direction, and this approach can often help you see the wood for the trees!
If you concentrate your initial efforts on the individual categories, your six-shot portfolio selection should emerge naturally.
If your portfolio lacks variety in techniques or subjects, consider producing a theme portfolio - perhaps fish shots, patterns or wrecks. Being different from the other entrants is often the answer.
There will be Image 99 portfolio awards for beginners and non-beginners, and for British photographers only.
The Diver competition might be the big one this year, but your preparations could give you a taste for competing.
A wide range of competitions cater for entries taken underwater. One of the best known is the British Gas/BBC Wildlife magazine Wildlife Photographer of the Year, which attracts more than 18,000 entries worldwide. If this sounds daunting, bear in mind that the specific underwater category draws hundreds rather than thousands of entries.
There are also a number of dedicated underwater photography competitions, which can take the form of submissions to a panel of judges, and there are also real-time photosub events.
Dont forget to consider competitions outside the scuba-diving world. An underwater photograph can stand out as being very unusual among terrestrial entries and so could do well.
All competitions have their nuances, and with a little experience and forethought these can be read and used to make selecting your photos a little easier.
Photosubs are a particular challenge and benefit from specific planning and much practice, as you will be competing within strict time constraints in well-defined categories.
If there is one thing I have learnt from successes and many failures in competitions, it is that you should aim not to be too clever with your entry. The winning photographs are nearly always the simplest in terms of composition, style and subject matter. They are the most striking and colourful, and instantly jump off the judges lightbox during their first review of the entries.
So dont become too concerned with searching for that unusual subject or the most difficult technique. Think more about the colours, contrast and composition of some of the most obvious and most photographed subjects and you might well produce that winner!

hspace=5 IN THE FRAME
People and/or Scenery
(wide-angle): This class can cover anything from panoramic shots of reef life to divers with marine life or perhaps wreck exploration. Consider shots which show the diversity and colour of a tropical reef or the moody feel of a temperate reef or wreck, perhaps include a diver exploring the scene. If the diver is more than background support, ensure that he or she is tidy and has a focus. Peering into the camera or Hello Mum! shots are to be avoided. If your diver is using a torch or camera, or just looking at something, make sure that the object being studied is the main point of interest in the picture. Strong diagonal compositions often help in wide-angle photography, but most importantly the image must look balanced.

hspace=5 hspace=5 LOCAL COLOUR
Marine Life
This class is wide open, and could include still-life reef shots, individual or shoals of fish, seals, dolphins, mantas, whale sharks etc. Unusual activity or behavioural shots often do well, but dont be drawn into choosing a shot only because it features a rare creature or was difficult to capture on film. The story behind the photograph will rarely be a consideration for the judges.
Colour and strong composition are most important, as, perhaps, are subjects with a pussycat factor. Many creatures have endearing or comical features and are instantly attractive. However, if you are choosing a portrait shot be careful not to drift too close to the macro category. You dont want your shot to be excluded on the first viewing.

hspace=5 hspace=5 EYEBALL-TO-EYEBALL
Macro photography is arguably one of the easier techniques to master, but this in itself does not guarantee good photographs. Obvious subjects are brightly coloured nudibranchs, shrimps, coral polyps, anemones or small symbiotic fish and crustaceans.
It is important that the subject is easily recognised, which means ensuring the composition does not have a cluttered or distracting background. This can be achieved by looking for subjects that allow a low camera angle or a composition against open water - perhaps a nudibranch on a rope sponge or branching coral.
The alternative is to illustrate colours and patterns or create abstract images by targeting a small portion of a subject, and let the shot be judged on these merits alone. Look at details of soft corals, clam mantles, anemones, the patterns on fish fins or around the eyes - the list is endless.

hspace=2 hspace=5 SPECIAL EFFECTS
Manipulated Images
This sort of photography is not for everyone but can be a real test of an underwater photographers skill and imagination. The most popular technique is the double exposure, which takes time to master, but you can also consider using numerous other special techniques.
Either in-camera or in-darkroom double or multiple exposures and digital images will all be considered. Just about anything goes in this category, but bear in mind that the best pictures will be those that are simply constructed and have immediate impact. The judges will not spend time pondering the technicalities of how you produced a particular effect!

Before image 99
In planning your underwater photography in the run-up to Image 99, the wide range of categories and awards on offer should be kept firmly in mind.

Among the stills categories are:

  • The PRINTS category, covering both colour and black-and-white images up to 31x41cm (12x6in) in size. Within this category, there will be separate awards for shots featuring: (a) marine life (b) people and/or scenery (c) macro subjects.
  • The SLIDES category, covering slides submitted in mounts measuring either 5x5cm, 7x7cm, or 9x9cm. Slides submitted should be originals or good-quality dupes. As with the prints, there will be separate awards for shots featuring: (a) marine life (b) people and/or scenery (c) macro subjects.
  • The BEST PORTFOLIO category, covering sets of six images - either prints, slides, or a mixture of both. There are no restrictions in terms of subject matter, and individual portfolios can be broad-based (perhaps showing as wide a range of the photographers skills as possible), themed, sequential, or whatever.
  • The MANIPULATED IMAGES category, covering prints or slides produced using techniques such as double or multiple exposures (either in-camera or in-darkroom) and digital images. Images entered in this category are not eligible to be entered in the above Prints and Slides categories.
  • Special categories for prints and slides shot in the waters around the BRITISH ISLES,
    and for GRAND MASTER photographers (those who have already won an award of any kind in a national or international underwater photography competition).