Ocean Art Photo Competition 2013 judges comments

Ocean Art judges comment on the competition
By Scott Gietler

Ocean Art Photo Competition 2013

Judges comments



Scott Gietler

Owner, Underwater Photography Guide & Ocean Art competition organizer

This year's competition was a lot of work, and a lot of fun. You would think judging a competition would be easy - the judges view the photos, agree on which images are best, and you are done? That is not at all what happened. First of all, the major categories each had dozens of images that were worth of winning or placing in the category. Second of all, the judges had vastly different opinions on which images were best. The conference call was long, and again I learned that a winning image is very much dependent on who is judging the competition.

All of us felt that the coldwater category was particularly strong. There were many excellent images that did not even get an honorable mention, which could have won other, smaller competition. The same is true in other categories such as wide-angle.

Coldwater Category

The judges had a very difficult time with the coldwater category, there were so many excellent images. Some of them were not sure if the jellyfish / dolphin photo was real (it is real, I checked the RAW file). Reactions to the "best of show" photo were at first mixed, but the people who liked it really liked it, and those strong feeling in the end let it to win the best of show category.

Macro Category

Some of the judges were not sure if the winning octopus photo was thrown into the water column (our judges are generally good at recognizing potential harassment). Having done the Kona black water dive before, I assured them that it was not!

Marine life behavior

There were several excellent sailfish photos entered into this category, and choosing one was not easy. Marty pushed for this particular photo to win, and everyone agreed. Tony Wu was particularly drawn to both of Tom Radio's images - the brittle star and the crab having his arms (see Tony's detailed comments below).


The winning photo of a turtle was one of the few photos in the competition that the judges (mostly) agreed on should win the category. Besides the turtle, this category probably had the least amount of consensus, which is not surprising since a good "portrait" can be very subjective. I wish I could have added 3 or 4 more honorable mentions, there were several photos that were quite good and probably will place in another competition. 




Marty Snyderman

Senior Editor of California Diver Magazine, Emmy winning cinematographer, member of DEMA hall of fame

"Every year the images in this contest continue to raise the bar. That bar is now set at a very high level. I am sure that says something about the status of this competition and the quality of the contest. But from a judge’s perspective, deciding on winning images is a serious challenge. Simply put, there was one stunning image after another. So speaking to all of the entrants, I’ll simply say kudos and thank you for sharing your work."


Martin Edge

Author of "The Underwater Photographer", best selling book on learning underwater photography

"Congratulations.  Without doubt, the most demanding underwater photo competition that I have ever been involved in. So many excellent, diverse and wide-ranging images to choose from.

My own personal favourite  was in fact the 'Best in Show image'  It knocked my socks off as soon has I set eyes upon it!

The eclectic tastes of the judging panel  necessitated a great deal of compromise and particularly in the latter stages a fair degree of negotiation also.

Some Favourites of mine were

  • 1st place and also 4th place in the Macro Category.
  • 3rd Place in the Cold Water Cat
  • 1st & 5th place in the Portrait Cat
  • 1st  place in the Novice DSLR Cat
  • 3rd place in the Marine life behaviour
  • 1st Place in the Compact Macro Cat
  • 3rd Place in Compact Behaviour
  • 2nd Place in the super macro Cat


Todd Winner

Todd runs several underwater photo workshops every year for Bluewater Photo, and has won over 60 international photo competitions.

The quality and creativity from this years Ocean Art entries were truly exceptional.  It was inspiring to see so many great images at one time.  I was particularly impressed with the cold water category, especially when you consider the harsh conditions many of the images were taken in.  I also really liked seeing the use of slave strobes, back lighting and other techniques that are a bit less ordinary.

I do have a few tips that I would like to share concerning future contests.

1. Don't enter similar images.  It really diminishes from the impact of a great image when you have two or more images that look almost identical to it.  Pick the best one and enter it.

2. The same is true when you enter images that look very similar to images that have already won in other contests.  I think most judges are looking to see new and creative ideas.  It's ok to get inspiration from someone else's photo but try not to shoot carbon copy clone.

3. Scan 100% or your image for distractions.  Unfortunately many great images get taken out of the competition early on for minor things that may be correctable by a tighter crop or a spot removal if its allowed in the category.  You want your image to stay in the competition as long as possible so don't give anyone a reason to eliminate it early.

4. If you didn't win don't get discouraged.  Unfortunately we only have a limited number of places to award.  All of the judges have very different opinions on what we each like.  We all had images that we really liked but didn't make it to the final cut.


Tony Wu

Author of Silent Symphony, and winner of the prestigious Veolia environment wildlife 


Congratulations to all the photographers of the selected images! The quality of submissions was superb, and extensive discussion among the judging team means your images truly stood out.

One thing to bear in mind: Judging is a very personal process, which means we didn't always agree on choices. But having differing points of view is inherent to any form of art, so even if your image wasn't one of the chosen ones, don't take it personally. Look at the winners, think about what you might do differently/ better, and enter again!

There were so many fantastic photos, but here are a handful of my favorites that I feel deserve special mention:


Crabs and rocks are not the most charismatic subjects, so it's not easy to create an eye-catching, aesthetically pleasing image. Composition in this photograph is excellent, with the slight motion blur of the forward claw bringing the image to life. The crab in the distance echoes the front crab, and illustrates the crabs' behavior, i.e., foraging for food.


I've seen many shots of these Lubricogobius exiguus gobies. They are popular subjects in Japan. I love the mood lighting, "peeking out" position of the fish, and the overall composition of this photo, particularly considering that it was taken with a compact camera. It's an original interpretation of a oft-photographed subject.


The juxtaposition of a tiny filefish next to a humongous flipflop suggested to me the scale of the human-generated trash vs. nature problem. Overconsumption, selfishness, greed and disdain for the world around us have all contributed to exponential growth of waste disposal in the oceans, much of that trash being non-biodegradeable. Photographically, I love that the light just catches the fish, not entirely illuminating it. For me, that underscored the somewhat ambiguous nature of the relationships between flipflop and filefish. On the one hand, the flipflop represents tremendous volumes of garbage overwhelming the oceans; on the other head, in this specific instance, it also represents shelter for the filefish, something which might actually help the fish survive. Few things, in other words, are entirely black-and-white, light-or-dark.

I immediately thought of War of the Worlds, an alien invader launching probes or spores, leaning in to image left for sinister effect. I know, I probably read too much SciFi when I was younger, but I love the shot.


One of my favorites because...well...wow. Wish I had been there.


Finally, to Todd's excellent suggestions, I would add two observations:

1. Don't put your copyright on submissions. If I see your name on the shot, it's disqualified. Period.

2. Avoid fads. Just because some place, subject or photographic tool is popular doesn't mean it's good. Quite often, just the opposite.




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