Competitions have always been a big part of underwater photography. They provide a chance to measure how we are doing, win some serious prizes and make our name known in the community and to publishers. There are so many competitions out there it is easy to find one that suits your level and gives you the rewards you seek.
Weekly or monthly online or photo-club competitions rarely have big prizes, but they are ideal for assessing how your photography is progressing. Results usually appear within a few days, and if they offer public voting, they often provide rankings that help you quantify your level even when you don’t win.
The big underwater photography competitions tend to have the best prizes, each with several big trips to win. They are also one of the best ways to get known within the underwater photo community. However, for recognition by the diving and general interest media, the best competitions are those regularly entered by the leading pros. Competitions that are open only to amateurs are great for prizes, but they may not do as much for your reputation.
These big competitions often do not have significantly large prizes, and many have a strong wildlife photography bias. But win or place well in these, and the flood of emails from magazines and publishers begins. My first book deal owed much to multiple successes in the World Festival of Underwater Images, held in France. And after being a category winner and runner-up in the BBC Wildlife magazine’s photo contest, my inbox was crammed with messages from everyone from obscure photo libraries to National Geographic. To see which competitions really matter, visit the websites of photographers you admire and see which of their awards they mention in their bios.
Whatever the level, the golden rules for entering remain the same. Read the rules, and read them again. Choose your best pictures, but choose strategically. Pick photos that will stand out in a crowd: shots that have immediate impact and have something special about them. Show them to your friends, and note which ones get an instant “wow.” Look at previous winners, but know there is no point in copying last year’s champ. The judges will recall, and you’ll gain nothing. Respect marine life; don’t harass or restrain a subject to win. Typically, they’ll recognize that, too, and it will work against you.
Finally, take your photography seriously, but don’t take competitions too seriously. Competitions are always subjective; last week’s no-hoper is often this week’s winner. So if you don’t place, don’t give up, and when you do win, don’t get carried away!
© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2011