How to Win an Underwater Photography Competition

win underwater photography competition

If you’re passionate about underwater photography and dream of seeing your work recognised on a larger stage, entering an underwater photography competition is a fantastic way to achieve that.

In this article, we’ll explore how to shoot for underwater photo competitions, important factors to consider when selecting winning photos, and what makes a great photo for these contests.

underwater photography competition

Underwater photography competitions provide a platform for photographers to showcase their skills and creativity. Winning these competitions can bring recognition, exposure, and even career opportunities.

However, it takes more than just a good camera and diving skills to succeed. In this article, we will discuss the strategies and techniques that can help you win in underwater photo competitions.

Finding the right underwater photography competition to enter

When starting out, it’s a good idea to begin with smaller competitions or those with free entry. This allows you to gain experience, receive feedback, and understand the judging criteria without investing too much time and money.

underwater dolphin photography

As you gain confidence and improve your skills, you can gradually move on to larger and more prestigious competitions.

Read more: 7 Best Underwater Photography Competitions to Enter

Why it’s worth entering competitions

Entering underwater photo competitions offers several benefits.

Firstly, it provides an opportunity to showcase your work to a wider audience, including industry professionals and potential clients.

underwater photography competitions

Winning or placing in a competition can boost your credibility and open doors for future collaborations and exhibitions.

Additionally, competitions often have valuable prizes, such as photography gear or travel opportunities, which can further enhance your underwater photography journey.

What to expect from entering

It’s important to manage your expectations when entering competitions. Not every entry will win or even be selected as a finalist. The judging process is subjective, and different judges may have different preferences.

how to win underwater photography competition

It’s crucial to not get disheartened by rejections and instead use them as learning experiences. Analyze the winning entries and try to understand what made them stand out. Use this knowledge to improve your future submissions.

How to choose winning images to enter

To choose winning underwater images, you need to think outside the box and aim for uniqueness. Here are some top tips when looking for your next underwater photography competition entry:

1. Do your research

Once you’ve found some underwater photography competitions that you would like to enter, it’s time to do some sleuthing. Research previous competition entries to see what has already been done.

how to win an underwater photography competition

Check out both the overall winners and the category winners to see what kind of work has been taking home prizes over the last few years.

You can use this information to begin finding ways to bring a fresh perspective. Look for subjects or compositions that haven’t been extensively photographed before.

It is unlikely that an image of the exact same subject and style will win multiple years in a row – judges will be looking for something new and exciting, so bear this in mind as you plan your own entries.

2. Master your gear

Mastering your gear and becoming proficient with your underwater photography equipment is an essential step to success in underwater photography competitions. Familiarity with your camera, housing, and lighting will enable you to capture those fleeting moments effectively.

how to win an underwater photography competition

Buoyancy control is another crucial skill to master. Good buoyancy allows you to get closer to your subjects without harming them or damaging the reef. Practice and refine your buoyancy control techniques to capture clear and crisp images.

Read more: An Introduction to Using Strobes in Underwater Photography

3. Be experimental

Underwater photography is a saturated genre. In recent years, it has become a more accessible pastime, and the submission levels for competitions will only be rising. But don’t let this put you off! Instead, let it encourage and inspire you to think outside of the box.

abstract underwater photography

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and styles to create images that are visually striking and memorable. Try to come up with new and unusual ideas that haven’t been explored before.

Think creatively and push the boundaries of traditional underwater photography. There are lots of creative underwater photography techniques out there that may help to give your photos an edge.

Read more: A Guide to Abstract Underwater Photography

4. Aim for a specific category

To increase your chances of winning, consider aiming for a specific category within the competition. This allows you to focus your efforts and tailor your submissions to the specific requirements of that category.

This will require planning in advance, so as soon as you know you’d like to enter a competition, make a note of the relevant categories and read the competition descriptions on what each category is looking for.

underwater photography competition

This can give you a good starting place to begin to work from – however, you may find ultimately that the images you have shot fit into more than one category of the competition!

You may have to pick only one category for each entry, so choose carefully, and ensure your image fits the required brief (even if it is an outstanding image, it may not place if it does not match up with its chosen category).

5. Choose your location and timing for optimal images

Timing and location are also important factors to consider. Research the best seasons and locations for unique subjects.

underwater photography competition

Plan your dives accordingly for optimal visibility and marine life activity.

It can be worth speaking to marine scientists or people who know an area better than you do to find out if there’s anything special; capturing something unique can greatly increase your chances of standing out in the competition.

Read more: Top 10 Places for Underwater Photography in the World

6. Develop your own style

Developing a unique style is another way to make your entries stand out. Whether it’s macro, wide-angle, or a particular color palette, having a distinct style will make your work more easily recognizable and memorable.

win underwater photography competition

You will also dedicate more time to improving in a particular genre or skill set and may find that your skill level increases more rapidly when you focus on something specific! In time, judges may even come to recognize your work.

Read more: An Underwater Photographer’s Guide to Colour Photography

7. Subject sharpness is paramount

Attention to detail and sharpness in your subject are absolutely crucial for a winning underwater photography image, especially for macro shots.

underwater photography competition win

Focus on the tiniest details and use appropriate lighting to reveal the intricate beauty of these small examples of marine life. Ensure that your subject is tack sharp, particularly the eyes.

In the initial stages of sorting through thousands of images, judges will most often look for perfect sharpness, exposure, lighting, and composition in the entries.

8. Use post-processing sparingly

Post-processing should be done with precision and a careful eye. It can be tempting to go over the top to try to make your images stand out, but avoid over-editing and strive for natural and well-balanced photos to have a better chance of winning an underwater photography competition.

how to win an underwater photography competition

It is worth reading carefully through the rules for each competition that you plan to enter. Some may have different limits on the amount of editing you are allowed to do, or the tools you are allowed to use to enhance your images.

Be mindful of the maximum crop amount, especially for macro and super-macro categories, to avoid disqualification.

9. Get feedback from other underwater photographers

It can be worth your time to seek feedback from fellow underwater photographers before submitting your photos. They can provide valuable insights and help you refine your entries.

how to win an underwater photography competition

If you are a budding underwater photographer, you may look to some of the more experienced underwater photographers in the industry, some of whom may offer ‘photo critique’ sessions.

However, ultimately, the decision is yours; always let your instincts have the final say on which image could be a winner!

10. Only enter your best work

Ultimately, you should choose only your very best shots and submit a small number of high-quality underwater images into the competitions that you plan to enter. Quality should always take precedence over quantity, and you should only submit images that you are proud of.

underwater photography competition tips

Many competitions charge a fee to enter, so this may help you make a more carefully curated selection. When it comes down to making a final selection, it may help to organize your files in a way that will allow you to compare your best images in one place.

11. Have patience

Finally, practice patience and stay inspired. Winning in underwater photo competitions takes time and dedication. It is also ultimately subjective – what wins one year may not be successful the next year.

You may also enter the same image multiple years in a row and find yourself rewarded on a later entry.

underwater photography competition

The best thing you can do is to surround yourself with underwater photography resources, follow underwater photographers, attend workshops, and immerse yourself in the underwater world to keep your creativity flowing!

You may not win on your first time entering, but anything is possible.

In conclusion

Entering underwater photo competitions can be a rewarding experience for underwater photographers. By following the strategies and techniques discussed in this article, you can increase your chances of winning and gaining recognition for your work.

Remember to master your gear, develop a unique style, pay attention to detail, and choose the right competitions.

With dedication, practice, and a touch of creativity, you can dive into success and become a household name in underwater photography. Good luck!

Visit Kate's website

Kate Jonker, based in Gordon's Bay, South Africa, is an accomplished underwater photographer and writer, co-founder of Indigo Scuba, and a judge for underwater photography competitions. Using a Canon R5 in a Marelux MX-R5 housing, she captures the ocean's vibrant life, from nudibranchs to larger sea creatures. A qualified dive boat skipper and guide, Kate is committed to ocean preservation. Offering 1-on-1 underwater photography coaching via Zoom and workshops to empower other underwater photographers, she blends artistry, education, and advocacy to celebrate and protect marine wonders.

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