How to Choose Photos for a Competition

Quick tips to ensure that you are picking your best and most creative photos when entering underwater photo competitions
By Martin Toole

It's the end of the year, which means one thing in photography, finding your best shots and photos to enter in to a competition. In a few weeks, the underwater photography competition at In-Water Photographer of the Year will be closing its doors for entry. So now is the best time to have a look through this years photographs you have taken and to see whether any could be entered in to this in-water comp.

In this post, we'll have a look at how you can choose your best and most unique photos as well as looking at how you can improve the photos or the dive spots you frequent to get more out of your photograhy.


Something Unique

When taking underwater photos, you want to be looking for something unique, something that either hasn't been photographed before, or something that you've seen before, but with a fresh twist on it. A photo I love which was entered in the competition last year, is of a freediver swimming perpendicular to the shot and against the lines of this beautiul pool in France.


The few things I like about this photo and that make it stand out to me are as follows:

-It's a normal 25m swimming pool, nothing new going on here, but this time, it's empty, but for one freediver at the opposite end of the pool. It's very rare you ever get to see an empty pool when you're swimming or training, especially one which has a freediver in it. They add to the symmetry, they're literally swimming against the flow of the lines. But this is how it works, the pool markers and lanes take your eyes to the freediver who is sat in the middle of the shot. When you get there, your visual journey is complete, as the top half of the photo, because of it's symmetry, is also the same as the bottom with its stunning reflection.

What I love about this photograph is that the photographer, Alex Voyer has managed to get so much more out of a scene that is seen daily by hundreds of thousands of people. It's just a swimming pool, but it's been asked a few questions and out of it is a lovely artistic photograph.


Rare Interaction

Are there any rare spectacles in the surrounding waters? Even if you don't live near tropical waters, you can still find something rare and interesting. With this one it is important to ask around, local fisherman, spearo's, the local scuba diving club or a freediving club. Someone will know of some underwater spectacles, things you can get involved with and see for yourself. Here in Wales, we have a few things we can see from the shore and even more when we head out on a boat. Once a year there is the spider crab migration in to the shallows and in Pembrokeshire you can see hundreds, if not thousands in a few certain spots. If you time it right, and find the right shoreline, you could see something really special. 

There are also organised trips around the world to see particular fish, sealife, whales etc and here in the UK is no different, there are basking shark trips, blue shark and other shark species offshore trips, whale watching boats and one of our favourite is the seals at Farne Islands.

This was an organised trip, but it's still something quite rare to be able to play and hang about with these grey seals. We dive all year round, freediving and scuba and we have had many wild interactions with harbour and grey seals but have never some this close as we did at the Farne Islands. Above you can see a sea lion, they are playful animals and this photo depicts a rare interaction perfectly. A freediver swimming with the sea lion as they look at each other, both in shot and well framed showing the close proximity to each other.


Artistic Vision & Framing

Do you have any photos or ideas you are yet to take which involve a familiar seen, but would like to enhance? Or do you wish to mix up things that you are involved with in your daily life within your photography? There are many ways you can create a more visually appealing and artistic photograph. 

Last years winner and my personal favourite from the competition is of the Colombian U21 Underwater Hockey Team. There coach stands forefront in the shot whilst the players have all jumped in to the scene from outside of the pool. They've created another form of action, expressed this underwater sport in a unique way. The photographer, Camilo, could have taken a well framed action shot from the game, but he decided to tell a story instead, with a single photo. It's very powerful, you get drawn to the lone person at front but immediately taken away by what is going on around him. To me, it's very much like playing underwater hockey, you have to be focused (just like the front figure is) whilst there is splashing, bubbles, kicking, knocks, apnea, co2 increase and lack of oxygen all going on under the surface.


In-Water Photography

All the photos mentioned have minimal, if any post processing, most of the work was done before the photo was taken and then framed well. This sort of philosophy, mixed with water and a minimal of diving gear is what In-Water Photographer of the Year photography competition is trying to promote. If you take photos on one breath? Whilst our snorkeling, surfing, swimming with friends? In-Water Photographer of the Year is the perfect photo competition for you.

Click here to learn more about and enter the In-Water Photographer of the Year contest.


Martin Toole:  I'm an avid freediver, scuba qualified and love spending most of my spare time in open water, lakes, rivers or the ocean.  There are new angles, new perspectives, sports being seen in a new light, all from the perspective of the ocean lover with fins on. I found a lot of the photos I wanted to take I could do without any scuba gear on, so now I take all my photos whilst freediving and snorkeling and there are plenty of other people doing this too. I created In-Water Photographer of the Year 2 years ago to celebrate all that is photography in-water, with a minimal of gear on.


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