THE ANNUAL BSOUP / DIVER Print Competition, organised by the British Society of Underwater Photographers in association with the magazine, was held at the DIVE 2016 show at the NEC, Birmingham last October. Eighty of the best prints in four categories were mounted for display and judging by the visiting public. Nearly 1000 visitors completed voting slips, and more than 3000 valid votes were counted.
The Best of Show and winner of the Grand Prize was selected by an independent panel of judges: authors and underwater photo-journalists Paul Colley and Trevor Rees and DIVER publisher Nigel Eaton. The judges also highly commended six prints.
“We thought that there were a good number of very worthy entries this year and that it is remarkably difficult with such a diverse array of subjects and techniques to choose a clear winner,” said the judges in their statement. “This is one reason why we award a significant number of highly commended images. 
“Art always involves personal taste to some degree, and therefore subjectivity inevitably comes into the final choices. All of us, experienced judges included, have overt and sometimes subconscious preferences, no matter how much we try to be objective.
“But we did strive hard for objectivity through independent initial choices and then rigorous discussion about technical and artistic merit; the process rightly took time commensurate with the effort invested by all of the photographers. And the great strength of multiple judges is that one sometimes spots something that the others have not. 
“We thus eventually settled on a winner that we had all favoured somewhere in our initial choices, and which through discussion we all strongly agreed had considerable artistic and technical merit.
“The six highly commended images were all in the running at some stage of our discussions, so to the owners of those photographs we congratulate you on the high standard of your work. 
“To the winner, please take a bow and enjoy the limelight that comes with making it to the top of this immensely popular competition.”

THE JUDGES’ CHOICE
Overall Winner: Nick More – Towering Jacks
This winning image impressed all three judges. “Even though other images had greater initial ‘wow factor’, we judged it to be a superb composition from a well-chosen viewpoint that created strong depth perspective by the receding size of the jacks and the roiling ocean surface.
“It is in one image both dynamic, with a feeling of the ocean’s high energy, and yet also very serene and natural.
“Looking at it, you’re drawn in by its three dimensions and leading lines; you want to be with those fish in that ocean under that surging water. A beautiful capture.”


HIGHLY COMMENDED

Terry Steeley – Blue Shark Head On
“There’s so much to like about this image and so much to debate. We loved the sharp, strong eye, the beautiful light, the fin cutting the surface, a strong reflection and the dynamics of the image (the diagonal pectoral and sweeping tail).
“We wondered whether the lens and proximity of the shark to it had distorted the image too much (the “tadpole effect” – big head, small body), strongly accentuated by the forced perspective that almost disconnects the small-looking tail.
“This didn’t worry one judge, who considered the other aspects sufficiently strong to balance it. But it did create pause for thought with the other two. These are small points. The image is one that all of us would have been pleased to capture.”

Kirsty Andrews – Yarrell’s Blenny
“A high-impact and striking portrait with which the viewer is forced to engage. We all loved this image, but also thought that a combination of either quality of lighting and/or post-processing had left parts of the image a smidgen low in contrast, particularly lower left.
“However, the expression and eye contact was superb, and this is an image that could do very well indeed with just a few minor tweaks.”
“This blenny was part of a colony of Yarrell’s blennies in a crack at the furthest end of a cave near Eyemouth in Scotland,” said Kirsty. “In the pitch-black conditions it was relatively easy to set up my snoot for a characterful portrait.”

Carole Poletti – Pike
“All the judges were drawn to this excellent natural-light rendition. By achieving more stand-off than many similar images, we see the pike in its surrounding context, and this gives a stronger sense of location and habitat.
“There are many visual cues to create depth perspective, from the foreground weed to background rocks and water surface.
“You easily perceive three dimensions and the timing of the shot creates dynamics that are often absent in images of these frequently static ambush predators.
“Our only minor criticism was the dark weed shadow top right that could easily have been removed by a minor crop to avoid a small distraction just where you don’t need it – at the edges and well away from the main subject.
“But overall, an impressive image.”

Dennis Vandermeersch – Saltwater Crocodile
“A high-impact in-your-face image – the teeth pull your eye straight to the subject and have a subtle leading line that brings you to the crocodile’s eye just under the water surface.
“The eye was perhaps a little too close to the top edge of the frame and the foreground had a large, bright mangrove root that tended to pull your eye away from the main subject.
“It could have been toned down very slightly to reduce a potential distraction from an otherwise well-executed and presented image.

Martyn Guess – Hammerhead at Night
“All the judges agreed that this was a striking image and technically very strong for both the moment and clarity of capture plus the quality of post-processing. However, it split opinions when it came to more subjective issues.
“One judge favoured it strongly for its graphic simplicity, which powerfully portrayed a charismatic animal in a behavioural posture, while the others thought it more one-dimensional than other images of large animals in the competition.
“We had an interesting debate about the degree of image post-processing, which all acknowledged was very polished. The question left hanging
was whether such exquisite processing can reduce the realism of a photograph by taking it too far into the realm of fine art.”

Mark Thomas – Corkwing Wrasse
“The colour, superb timing and accurate framing create a very high-impact image.
“The internal framing created by some unusual mounds of sand or gravel at the left and right edges of frame leave the viewer no option but to stare right into the wrasse’s eyes; the engagement is exceptionally strong, and the foreground has a strong symmetry from head-on viewpoint and flared pectoral fins that suits the central framing.
“We debated for some time whether the image-processing had created such a strong texture and colour that the image was drifting towards looking unnatural.
“But it was a real attention-grabber and we liked it.”


THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE

British & Irish Category
For underwater photographers who had never won a national or international competition.

Winner: Carole Poletti – Pike
(see Highly Commended)
The shot was taken at Stoney Cove. “My buddy and I went specifically to photograph pike and it turned out to be a really long, fun dive with lots of very friendly pike. This one seemed quite happy to have me around and pose.
“I’m not usually thrilled by quarry dives but this one was very special,” said Carole.

Runner-up:
Mark Launchbury – Cuttlefish
“This image was taken during my one and only UK coastal weekend diving trip of 2016 to Babbacombe Bay, Devon,” said Mark. “I had a great dive, finding various critters hiding among the rocks for 40 minutes or so. Heading back to shore my dive-buddy Spencer Burrows called me back. He pointed to an area where these two cuttlefish were nestled in the weeds, side by side.
“The background was cluttered and I wanted a different effect, so I had to get as low as I could and adjust my angle and position to get this shot.
“Afterwards Spencer and I were laughing, as I’d needed to nudge him away several times – a special thank-you to him for great spotting and sharing.”

OVERSEAS CATEGORY
For underwater photographers who had never won a national or international competition.

Winner: David Alpert – Protezione
On the US Atlantic coast during WW2, Allied ships silhouetted by city lights at night were easily spotted by U-boat crews. Despite many attacks, US officials didn’t order black-outs to avoid causing panic.
This left many wrecks off North Carolina’s coast, including the Atlas, an oil-tanker sunk near Cape Fear in April 1942. It lies at 30-40m and provides shelter for sand tiger sharks.
The photo shows a shoal of baitfish surrounding a sand tiger for protection from larger fish on the wreck.
“For those diving nitrox, photographing the sand tigers on this wreck presents a challenge or two, as many of the sharks sit at depths right on the edge of one’s O2 maximum depth limits,” said David.
“I used a combination of close-in lighting on my left with well-extended strobe on my right to light both the colourful sea life on the wreck as well as the sand tiger and baitfish.”

Runner-up: Rebecca Drayton – Oceanic Whitetip Shark
This shot was taken on a southern Red Sea photo-workshop. “We were very lucky and spoilt with both the number and variety of sharks we saw on the trip,” said Rebecca.
“This trip was also the first time I’d had the opportunity to spend significant time shooting sharks, so I was pretty happy to get some good encounters and to return to the UK with a few nice shots, including this one.”

ADVANCED BRITISH & IRISH CATEGORY
For underwater photographers who had previously won a national or international competition.

Winner: Spencer Burrows – Seal
“Some dives with seals in the Farne Islands offer greater interaction than others, and on this particular dive the seals were especially playful,” said Spencer. “This individual was really interacting with me and kept coming in close, was really relaxed and seeking attention!
“For a brief moment it opened its arms and I managed to capture several shots while in motion. As soon as I saw the image on the back of the camera it made me smile, and I knew I’d managed to capture the character of these highly charismatic animals.”

Runner-up: Nick More – Seal

ADVANCED OVERSEAS CATEGORY
For underwater photographers who had previously won a national or international competition.

Winner: Dennis Vandermeersch – Saltwater Crocodile
(see Highly Commended)
Dennis went snorkelling with only swimwear and a camera in Cuban mangroves to get underwater shots of a crocodile.
“The tricky part was getting close to the animal without frightening it or making it jump (or worse),” he said. “When I got nose-to-camera with the crocodile, it was rather curious about why a snack would come so close. It thought my camera didn’t look tasty, so it left me alone.
“In the following days, we got closer. A few scratches on my lens-hood show what close friends we got to be. The trick is to move slowly, don’t be threatening, don’t feel threatened but still be very careful. If you’re not sure of the animal’s mood, don’t go.
“The light changes as you get into deeper vegetation an the camera should be as compact as possible. The tides are very important as well because the visibility depends on them.
“My oversized camera was not ideal, but I got the shot.”

Runner-up:
Nick More – Towering Jacks
(see Judges’ Choice)
The image was taken at Roca Partida in Socorro in April 2015. “I positioned myself in the surge, with an eye on the waves rolling in, knowing it would make a fantastic background for a shot,” said Nick.
“I set my exposure and waited for something to swim into the frame. Luckily this school of whitemouth jack obliged."