BY THE TIME you’re reading this we will have judged the inaugural Underwater Photographer of the Year competition! Yes, myself, Martin Edge and Peter Rowlands will be guarding the secret of who will be named Underwater Photographer of the Year and British Underwater Photographer of Year 2015. You’ll have to wait until the next issue or come to LIDS to find out!
When it comes to competitions, you have to be in it to win it, and I’m a little sad to be sitting on the other side of the judges’ table and not in contention for UPY. I still see the value in contests and in evaluating my latest work against each new generation of protagonists.
I rarely get the chance to enter underwater competitions these days, as more often than not I am asked to judge and, despite the obvious advantages of doing both, it isn’t allowed!
So instead, I measure my progress and promote my work in the bigger pond of wildlife photography.
Last year I interrupted the smooth running of Be The Champ! to share the stories behind my unprecedented and, I presumed, unrepeatable string of success in the three biggest wildlife photography competitions.
Well, I’m very proud to report, I managed to do it again! But fear not, this month’s column isn’t simply an exercise in self-promotion, but a good opportunity to pass on some tips on getting the most from competitions, and to dissect my entries.

IN RECENT YEARS I have entered only three contests, the ones I consider the most prestigious for wildlife photographers: the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA), the BBC Wildlife Photographer Of The Year (WPOTY) and the European Wildlife Photographer Of The Year (EWPOTY).
All attract 10,000s of entries from amateurs, enthusiasts and leading pros.
To get the showing-off out of the way, no photographer, as far as I know, has won in all three with different images in the same year. And I have now managed that both in 2013 and 2014. Yes, I am investing in a larger mask strap!
Since the competitions run concurrently each year, the rules allow photographers to enter the same photo in more than one, if they wish. While this approach makes sense in giving an image more chances to win, and also to maximise the number of prizes a top shot can reap, I think it’s a mistake.
If you win lots of awards with the same photo, then people conclude that it is an excellent photo.
If you win lots of awards with different photos, the conclusion is that you are an excellent photographer.
This year I have seven different images in the winners’ exhibitions across the three contests. I have picked out three to examine in more detail.

SIMPLE, STRONG compositions work well in competitions and I think that was a major factor in the success of my blue shark photo in the BWPA.
One of the judges, Nikon-Pro wildlife photographer Ross Hoddinott, commented: “This image hit the judges right between the eyes when it first popped up onto the screen.
“Its graphic simplicity really makes the image stand out.”
It is something we discuss regularly in Be The Champ! – simple images are strong images, especially when our subject is the bustling underwater world. There is little doubt that when a competition judge or magazine editor is looking at hundreds of very good photos, something simple will stand out.
The black-and-white conversion helped me here, as this rendered the dark blue water black, making the light blue shark jump off the page, emphasising its pleasing sinusoidal curves.
I also won the Coast & Marine category and was highly commended in Animal Portraits with my blue shark images. And their success definitely owed a great deal to their novelty. This is where strategy comes in. Competition judges are generally looking for things that they haven’t seen before: locations, subjects and techniques.
Blues were a new subject this time last year when the competition was open for entries. Although a lot of photographers had been out to shoot them in 2013, I was fortunate to be the one for whom it all came together.

THE WPOTY is the world’s most prestigious competition of its type, and the last awards were dished out by the Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough! I was very pleased to have two images in the winners’ exhibition.
Although thrilled with its success, it is less clear to me why my nudibranch was so successful. It is certainly eye-catching, colourful and well executed, but it is a fairly standard portrait.
Several land photographers have commented to me that the sharpness and colours are hard to believe, and there is a general incredulity that such a creature can exist. I guess it is important to remember that these contests are judged mainly by non-divers.
It is innovative in terms of magnification, being one of the highest- magnification shots ever taken, as it utilised a prototype version of Nauticam’s Super Macro Converter. But I’m not sure that the judges would have been aware of that.
The European Wildlife Photographer of the Year is Germany’s answer to the WPOTY, although the winning images tend to be different in style. It usually rewards more innovative and artistic images. I had two images highly commended in the Underwater Category.
I think these images were successful for similar reasons, although neither is graphically simple – there is a lot going on. They both capture interesting behaviours (coral spawning and hunting), but do so with interesting techniques that suited the subject matter (backlighting and long exposure, respectively), while offering a fresh interpretation on the scenes.
So to distil these lessons, the steps to success are simple, graphically strong, eye-catching images that offer something new, whether that is subject, behaviour or technique.

BY THE TIME you’re reading this we will have judged the inaugural Underwater Photographer of the Year competition! Yes, myself, Martin Edge and Peter Rowlands will be guarding the secret of who will be named Underwater Photographer of the Year and British Underwater Photographer of Year 2015. You’ll have to wait until the next issue or come to LIDS to find out!
When it comes to competitions, you have to be in it to win it, and I’m a little sad to be sitting on the other side of the judges’ table and not in contention for UPY. I still see the value in contests and in evaluating my latest work against each new generation of protagonists.
I rarely get the chance to enter underwater competitions these days, as more often than not I am asked to judge and, despite the obvious advantages of doing both, it isn’t allowed!
So instead, I measure my progress and promote my work in the bigger pond of wildlife photography.
Last year I interrupted the smooth running of Be The Champ! to share the stories behind my unprecedented and, I presumed, unrepeatable string of success in the three biggest wildlife photography competitions.
Well, I’m very proud to report, I managed to do it again! But fear not, this month’s column isn’t simply an exercise in self-promotion, but a good opportunity to pass on some tips on getting the most from competitions, and to dissect my entries.

IN RECENT YEARS I have entered only three contests, the ones I consider the most prestigious for wildlife photographers: the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA), the BBC Wildlife Photographer Of The Year (WPOTY) and the European Wildlife Photographer Of The Year (EWPOTY).
All attract 10,000s of entries from amateurs, enthusiasts and leading pros.
To get the showing-off out of the way, no photographer, as far as I know, has won in all three with different images in the same year. And I have now managed that both in 2013 and 2014. Yes, I am investing in a larger mask strap!
Since the competitions run concurrently each year, the rules allow photographers to enter the same photo in more than one, if they wish. While this approach makes sense in giving an image more chances to win, and also to maximise the number of prizes a top shot can reap, I think it’s a mistake.
If you win lots of awards with the same photo, then people conclude that it is an excellent photo.
If you win lots of awards with different photos, the conclusion is that you are an excellent photographer.
This year I have seven different images in the winners’ exhibitions across the three contests. I have picked out three to examine in more detail.

SIMPLE, STRONG compositions work well in competitions and I think that was a major factor in the success of my blue shark photo in the BWPA.
One of the judges, Nikon-Pro wildlife photographer Ross Hoddinott, commented: “This image hit the judges right between the eyes when it first popped up onto the screen.
“Its graphic simplicity really makes the image stand out.”
It is something we discuss regularly in Be The Champ! – simple images are strong images, especially when our subject is the bustling underwater world. There is little doubt that when a competition judge or magazine editor is looking at hundreds of very good photos, something simple will stand out.
The black-and-white conversion helped me here, as this rendered the dark blue water black, making the light blue shark jump off the page, emphasising its pleasing sinusoidal curves.
I also won the Coast & Marine category and was highly commended in Animal Portraits with my blue shark images. And their success definitely owed a great deal to their novelty. This is where strategy comes in. Competition judges are generally looking for things that they haven’t seen before: locations, subjects and techniques.
Blues were a new subject this time last year when the competition was open for entries. Although a lot of photographers had been out to shoot them in 2013, I was fortunate to be the one for whom it all came together.

THE WPOTY is the world’s most prestigious competition of its type, and the last awards were dished out by the Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough! I was very pleased to have two images in the winners’ exhibition.
Although thrilled with its success, it is less clear to me why my nudibranch was so successful. It is certainly eye-catching, colourful and well executed, but it is a fairly standard portrait.
Several land photographers have commented to me that the sharpness and colours are hard to believe, and there is a general incredulity that such a creature can exist. I guess it is important to remember that these contests are judged mainly by non-divers.
It is innovative in terms of magnification, being one of the highest- magnification shots ever taken, as it utilised a prototype version of Nauticam’s Super Macro Converter. But I’m not sure that the judges would have been aware of that.
The European Wildlife Photographer of the Year is Germany’s answer to the WPOTY, although the winning images tend to be different in style. It usually rewards more innovative and artistic images. I had two images highly commended in the Underwater Category.
I think these images were successful for similar reasons, although neither is graphically simple – there is a lot going on. They both capture interesting behaviours (coral spawning and hunting), but do so with interesting techniques that suited the subject matter (backlighting and long exposure, respectively), while offering a fresh interpretation on the scenes.
So to distil these lessons, the steps to success are simple, graphically strong, eye-catching images that offer something new, whether that is subject, behaviour or technique.

STARTER TIP
Eye-catching is an ideal quality for an image, whether we are trying to attract the attention of a competition judge, magazine editor or even just our friends skimming down their Facebook feed!
Graphically strong images are often simple ones, and these tend to dominate the winners’ circle in contests.

MID-WATER TIP
Freshness is always attractive to competition judges – show them something that they haven’t seen before. This can be a novel technique, a new location or a species or behaviour that has not been captured well in the past.
I spent one day photographing British blue sharks in 2013 and picked up three major awards in the one competition in which I have entered them.

ADVANCED TIP
Analysing successful images is certainly a good way to both improve our photography and our success rate in competitions. But we should not seek simply to photocopy our way to success.
Finding the balance between inspiration and simple imitation is crucial in differentiating genuine innovation from “seen it before”.