Ocean Art 2023 Photo Competition Judges Comments

Insights from this year's underwater photo contest
By Ocean Art Judges

Ocean Art 2023 is the 12th annual underwater photo competition hosted by the Underwater Photography Guide. Ocean Art is world's most prestigious and best endowned underwater photo contest, with over $120,000 in prizes awarded this year! 

If you haven't yet, be sure to check out the 2023 Ocean Art Contest Winners. 

Ocean Art 2023 would not be possible without our esteemed judging panel - each of whom is a leader in their field with decades of experience and some of the most prestigious awards in the diving, photo, and video industries.

Here is what our judges had to say about this year's competition.

Marty Snyderman


The author of Dive Training magazine's Behind the Lens column, Marty Snyderman has made his living as an underwater photographer, photography instructor, author, and speaker for close to 40 years. He has won many prestigious awards (including an Emmy) and has been featured in many top publications worldwide.


For starters, I would like to thank everyone that entered an image in the 2023 Ocean Art Photography Contest. Having served as a judge, I would also like to offer my congratulations to the Best of Show winner, all of the category winners, those that placed, and those that received an honorable mention. Well done! You deserve to be proud of the recognition you receive. 

Once the final judging has been completed, the judges are asked to share our thoughts about the submitted images. My comments follow:

As has been the case in the past, there were a lot of entries and a lot of very nice images. As judges, we take our task seriously and we spend a lot of time individually selecting images in each round and later discussing our reasons for our selections as we progress through the judging process. It surprises some to hear that there is almost always consensus among the judges regarding the awarded images, but that was the case. We have some differing opinions, but they are usually not severely disparate. However, our differences illustrate the point that there is subjectivity in photography.

In recent years, and even more so this year, one of the factors that caused some very well composed and otherwise technically solid captures to be eliminated was that the post-processing appeared to be too heavy-handed. Colors in those images were “punched up” with vibrance or saturation to the point that subjects or scenes suffered in our view. The same sort of heavy-handedness was evident with the use of sharpening, contrast, and clarity tools. At one time or another, I think all of us have been heavy-handed in post as we work our way along the digital imaging path. Going forward my advice is to look at images with a critical eye at a large enough size and resolution when making judgements in post. 

I look forward to the 2024 Ocean Art contest.

In the meantime, get into the water, be safe, have fun, and enjoy the process, not just your processed images,

Marty Snyderman



Mark Strickland


Mark Strickland has done over 10,000 dives and had careers as lifeguard, boat captain, scuba instructor and cruise director.  He’s been passionate about underwater photography all his adult life and leads several photo expeditions each year for Bluewater.  Mark’s work has appeared in many publications around the world, and has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution and United Nations Visitor Center as well as several renowned galleries.


Thank you to everyone who entered this year’s competition.  Our beloved underwater realm is facing unprecedented threats these days, and needs all the advocates it can get.  By participating in contests like this, you are helping to introduce the beauty and fragility of the underwater environment to a new audience, which is an important step towards advocacy.  Competitions like Ocean Art also serve as great inspiration to your fellow divers and image makers, including us judges!

As in previous years, it was an honor to work with such discerning, highly accomplished judges as Tony and Marty, each of whom contributed a wealth of insights, knowledge, and artistic sensibilities to the process.  As always, I was excited to be involved, and hope to have lived up to the expectations surrounding this prestigious competition.  

I was impressed by the number of engaging images in most categories, including those taken with compact cameras.  While there are advantages to high-end mirrorless and DSLR systems, having separate categories for simpler, less expensive cameras serves to level the playing field and leads to more participation.  It is great to see even those with modest camera systems sharing their work!  This approach also tends to de-emphasize the importance of certain technical specifications, encouraging all underwater shooters to concentrate more on the artistic side of underwater photography.  

Because of the huge volume of images, I found it challenging to limit my selections to the relative few that would advance to the next round of judging.  Photos with obvious technical problems were easy to eliminate, but we soon reached a point where every remaining image had undeniable merit.  Even in Round 1, I found myself despairing over having to eliminate images that were only slightly less impressive than those advancing to the next round.  Soon, it was no longer a question of whether an image was aesthetically pleasing and technically correct; progress now depended on even harder but necessary decisions, eliminating yet more images that were merely attractive, in favor of those truly outstanding ones that would become finalists.  

Although we judges have decades of u/w photo experience and have much in common in our appreciation for quality underwater imaging, the art of photography is still very subjective, so naturally we found ourselves disagreeing on certain images.  Such debates add to the time and effort required to complete the judging, but are an essential part of the process, allowing each judge to consider different points of view and aesthetic sensibilities.  Thanks to these interactions, I think we all gained perspective that made for a truly collaborative process, resulting in a selection of winners that we are all proud to have chosen.  

For anyone considering future competitions, a few suggestions come to mind.  Read the rules thoroughly.  This year, many otherwise promising images had to be disqualified because they were watermarked, which is not allowed.  Give careful thought to the most appropriate category for each image.  Just because a photo was taken with a macro lens doesn’t mean it must go in the macro category, especially if it depicts great behavior or a strong environmental message. Resist the urge to over-process; even more than previous years, we saw many otherwise great photos ruined by such heavy-handedness, especially with vibrance, dehaze and sharpening.  The advent of AI technology has made for another leap forward in terms of editing capabilities, but it can easily be overdone - just because a bit of a certain effect is good doesn't necessarily mean that more is better.  On the other extreme, there were also potentially winning images that could not be chosen because what would have been simple edits had been omitted.  So be sure to take advantage of allowable editing such as minor cropping and tonal adjustments.  If possible, calibrate your display before adjusting images, so that they look the same on the judges’ screens as they do on yours.  And, while it’s fine to appreciate the work of others and emulate certain techniques and approaches, strive to create something new and different, rather than just copying someone else’s successful efforts. 

To those whose images were honored this year, congratulations!  Not only will you be taking home some awesome prizes, but perhaps more significantly, you can take great pride in having your work chosen out of an extremely competitive field that includes some of the world’s most accomplished underwater shooters.  

If your images were not selected, don’t be discouraged.  Considering how many great images are entered and the highly subjective nature of judging, it’s normal that many great, potentially prize-winning images are bypassed.  It happens with every major contest, and is just the nature of such events.  So, if you have images that you’re proud of and feel are well suited for other contests, I encourage you to enter them.  And whether you’re out to win or simply enjoy sharing images with friends and family, remember that satisfaction comes not only from capturing great images, but also the broader experience of being an underwater photographer.  So embrace the entire process, from researching future dive locales to familiarizing yourself with potential subjects and behaviors, to fine-tuning your equipment and techniques.  Seek out a new destination or revisit an old favorite, take time to chat with local people, and enjoy the whole experience.  When you encounter difficulties, whether it involves dive conditions or equipment, remember that this, too, is part of the experience, and will help you grow as a photographer.  

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and rewarding 2024, hopefully including lots of time underwater! 



Tony Wu


Author of a coffee table book entitled Silent Symphony, which received the grand prize for best book of the year at Antibes in 2001. He has also won both the Underwater and Mammal Behaviour categories of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition


It was nice to see a wide range of subjects, from the familiar to things that I’ve never seen photographed underwater before.

The challenge for photography—for all creative pursuits in fact—is to push boundaries. 

This can be in positive ways, such as photographing a swimming primate (portrait and overall winner), or depicting hydroids on sand as if they were flowers in a field (compact macro winner). Seeing groundbreaking photos in any category is always a highlight for me.

One area that bears scrutiny though is the use of software. With each year, editing software gets better and better. New functions help to refine images. This is a good thing.

The over-use/ abuse of software is, however, not. 

Over-use of saturation and/ or vibrance for example, can turn an otherwise compelling macro photo into something with colors that are not true to life, not believable. Excessive sharpening—especially via AI tools—can wreck file quality.

When editing—whether for a contest or just for fun—take a step back during the process. Ask yourself, “Does this reasonably reflect reality?” This is less of an issue with the artistic categories, but it is critical for the traditional ones.

Happy new year, and congratulations to all the winners!

May you be blessed with another year of fun, laughs and great photos.


Back to the Ocean Art 2023 Winners page





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