7 Best Underwater Photography Competitions to Enter

underwater photography competitions

Entering the world of underwater photography competitions can seem daunting. Many photographers spend a long time wondering if they’re ready to start entering competitions.

For more experienced underwater photographers and those who are relatively new to it, entering competitions is a great way to see how your photography is progressing.

underwater photography competitions
Golden Kelp, Hilder Canter-Lund Award – Winner.

Any wins or awards along the way will only boost your confidence, and there are many underwater photography competitions around the world to enter.

Some of these competitions are only for underwater or ocean images, while others are more traditional wildlife competitions with water-themed categories. Some general photography competitions even have underwater categories now!

With some competitions considered more prestigious than others, the entry fees vary greatly, along with the type of underwater images allowed and the level of editing permitted.

underwater photography competition
Spider Crab Flare, BWPA Shortlist.

It took me around three to four years to enter a photography competition. I felt it was the right time and got 6th place in my first competition – which felt great!

Since then, I’ve had images awarded and shortlisted in competitions such as Underwater Photographer of the Year, British Photography Awards, SIENA, and British Wildlife Photograph Awards. Maybe someday I’ll make it into Wildlife Photographer of the Year!

Knowing what competitions exist can be difficult, so here’s a compilation of the best underwater photography competitions to enter and where to start!

1. Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY)

When you mention underwater photography competitions, there’s always one that springs to mind, and I think most underwater photographers would agree…

underwater photography competition

The top of my list must be UPY. A prestigious competition with a rich history, this year marks its 10th anniversary and sees a return to an in-person Awards Evening for the winning photographers.

UPY attracts some of the world’s best underwater photographers, and the winners every year are astonishing. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the winner’s circle of this competition, it’s certainly something to be proud of.

The contest has a unique feedback system, which is a major draw for entering, even if you don’t win. The feedback system provides every entrant with a report on their image’s progress, so you know whether an image made it to the first round or the semi-finals, which is so useful.

I use this feedback to learn more about the competition’s judging style and which images work well in this contest and which don’t. Another bonus for UPY is its British categories and compact categories.

underwater photography awards competition

If you’re still a beginner using a compact camera, then you don’t have to compete against more experienced photographers with DSLR or Mirrorless cameras, plus these categories still have great prizes!

UPY is the best all-rounder; it has categories suited to every level of underwater photographer.

Competition open: Sept – Jan.

Results announced: February.

Fees: From £15 – £45, Plus two free to enter categories. Early entrants have a reduced entry fee.

Prizes: A selection of liveaboards and dive resort stays, equipment, vouchers, and cash prizes.

2. Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY)

There can’t be many underwater or wildlife photographers who don’t dream of winning at Wildlife Photographer of the Year one day.

wildlife photographer of the year

WPY provides a prestigious platform to showcase your work to a global audience. The media coverage of the winners travels the globe, and any photographers who find themselves a winner at this competition gain global recognition and exposure.

Winning or even being shortlisted can lead to career opportunities, with winning images featured in publications and collaborations with conservation organizations.

WPY has two underwater categories; Underwater and Oceans; The Bigger Picture, but underwater images often feature across various categories in the competition.

The editing rules are strict in WPY, and like many other wildlife competitions, backscatter removal is not allowed. This competition is for more experienced photographers, but if you feel you might have a winner, it’s always worth a try.

And an important point; a win here would earn you an invite to the exclusive awards ceremony at the Natural History Museum, London. Who wouldn’t want that!

Competition open: Oct – Dec.

Results announced: October

Fees: £30 for early entry or £35; entrants from certain countries receive free entry.

Prizes: Overall winner £10,000, Category winners £2,500 – £1,250.

3. Nature TTL Photographer of the Year (NPOTY)

Nature TTL Photographer of the Year attracts a wide variety of photographers, from entry-level photographers to seasoned professionals.

nature ttl poty

This competition has something for everyone, and with one dedicated underwater category, it is certainly worth underwater photographers entering this competition.

By winning at NPOTY, you have the opportunity to showcase your talent, gain recognition within the photography community, and win prizes.

The overall winner and category winners all take home cash prizes, and even the young winner will receive a £250 voucher for camera equipment.

nature ttl photographer of the year award competition

Underwater images in this competition aren’t limited to just the underwater category, but unless they are true portraits or displaying an incredible behaviour, they will likely have the best chance of success in the designated underwater category.

Competition open: Feb – March

Results announced: September

Fees: £6 for 1 entry up to £50 for 50 entries, no limit on entries in Adult competition.

Prizes: Overall winner £1,250, Category winners £250.

4. The Ocean Geographic Pictures of the Year Awards (OGPICOTY)

OGPICOTY is one of the largest underwater photography competitions, with this year’s prizes totaling around $90,000.

ocean geographic underwater photography award competition

With a focus on conservation stories, this competition has 17 underwater categories, and two of these have a focus on video.

The categories range from the more traditional wide angle and macro categories to Conservation Picture of the Year and Human & Ocean Award.

This competition does attract seasoned pros, but many of the categories are judged by the likes of Dr. Alex Mustard, David Doubilet, and Brian Skerry, so even if you don’t win, some incredible photographers, publishers, and composers will be seeing your images during the judging process.

ocean geography photography competition

Competition open: Nov – Feb

Results announced: June

Fees: £30 flat rate for 20 entries, early bird entrants gain 10 extra entries.

Prizes: Overall winner £1,250, Category winners £250.

5. Ocean Photographer of the Year (OPY)

Another great ocean photography competition, this one isn’t exclusively underwater photography, but the majority of entrants are underwater photographers.

OPY is hosted by Oceanographic Magazine and presents winners with a unique opportunity to gain exposure and the attention of magazine readers.

ocean photographer of the year awards

You could even be featured in the magazine; they often publish a summary of the winning images and stories from some of those winning photographers in Oceanographic Magazine.

The prizes on offer at this competition have a total value of over £500,000 and the chance to be commissioned as a photographer with Ocean Census.

Competition open: May – June

Results announced: September

Fees: £10 per category, unlimited entries except in the portfolio award.

Prizes: Cash, expeditions, mentoring sessions, and a feature in the OPY book.

6. SIENA International Photo Awards (SIPA)

SIPA attracts one of the largest participation in any photo competition across the globe; in 2023, they received nearly 48,000 images from amateurs and pro photographers.

siena photography awards competition

The competition has 11 categories, and one underwater-specific category, “Underwater Life”.

Entries that inspire people about the beauty of rivers, lakes, and oceans are encouraged; the last edition of the competition awarded 18 images in the underwater category – which is quite a lot compared to many other competitions.

Underwater images usually do well in other categories at SIENA; last year, an underwater image of a camel won the “Journeys & Adventures” category, along with an underwater image of salamanders winning “The Beauty of Nature” category.

Competition open: Nov – Jan

Results announced: September

Fees: One image free, 3 images €20 plus each additional image €10, unlimited entries.

Prizes: Photography equipment, trophies, an exclusive award ceremony.

7. Underwater Photography Guide’s Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition (Ocean Art)

With 14 dedicated underwater categories, Ocean Art provides an excellent opportunity for underwater photographers to gain an award. There’s something for everyone, whether you enjoy macro, wide-angle, or a more creative style of underwater photography.

ocean art competition

Ocean Art has dedicated categories for Cold Water images, Nudibranchs, and three compact categories! The contest features prizes exceeding $120,000 in value from some of the world’s top diving resorts and photo equipment manufacturers.

And with all those categories, both beginners and more experienced photographers have a great chance of taking home a prize!

Competition open: Sept – Nov

Results announced: January

Fees: $10 per photo, bulk deals on 10 or 20 entries.

Prizes: Photography equipment, expeditions, cash prizes, vouchers.

Other competitions to consider

Other competitions worth mentioning, specifically for any photographers based in the UK, are the British Wildlife Photography Awards and British Photography Awards, both of which have water categories.

British photography awards competition
Ghost Coby, BPA, Shortlisted.

They aren’t specific underwater categories, but underwater images certainly do well!

Because these competitions only accept images that are taken in the UK, you are reducing the number of entrants, and therefore the amount of competition.

With an audience and judges who are mainly British or working in Britain, it’s a great place to share local conservation stories or images that show off our wonderful British wildlife.

underwater photography competitions

Another great place to start with competitions is by joining the British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSOUP). This society has a membership fee of £35 and runs a free monthly competition.

This is a great place to gain confidence as an underwater photographer and learn from other members; it’s a great community, and the members are happy to share their knowledge with up-and-coming photographers.

underwater photography competitions
Compass Jelly, BSOUP, 5th Place.

When thinking about entering an underwater photography competition, I would always take time to thoroughly read the rules and make sure you are both happy with their terms and conditions but also understand the image entry requirements.

Some competitions are very strict on editing rules; they will state exactly what you can and can’t do in their rules. You want to make sure those entries are perfect and that you have the best chance of winning.

underwater photography award competition
Snakelock anemone – Chromatic Photo Awards 2021 – Honourable Mention (Wildlife & Animals).

In conclusion

There are many wildlife and underwater photography competitions around the world. If you don’t feel ready for the larger competitions, you may find smaller local contests which are an excellent place to start.

With time, your photography will improve, and you will reach a point where you feel ready to enter the world of photography competitions.

It’s a thrilling journey, and when that win comes, it’s a great feeling!

The important thing to remember is competitions don’t define you as a photographer; it’s often a game of luck. Remember, you have to be in it to win it; you never know when it’s going to be your lucky day.

Competition wins can provide a huge boost to your career; this is so important if you’re hoping to become a professional photographer. They are absolutely worth entering!

Visit Shannon's website

Shannon Moran is an award winning underwater photographer based in Cornwall, UK. She has always had a love of the natural world and began scuba diving and photography in 2017, and has been following this passion ever since. Shannon hopes her photography can be used to highlight the importance of healthy seas and protect marine life in the UK.

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