Best Photo 2008

To start with, it might help to understand what I received – around seventy numbered photographs in full resolution with an indication of the category for each.

The Kingston and Elmbridge website stated that members will be voting for the best photos within in each category, but that I would be responsible for selecting the single best overall. Let’s hope that the ultimate winner also managed to win its individual category!

Picking “The Best” is a very hard job, and one that I’m going to approach by rejecting all those that aren’t “The Best”, and hoping that there is one left at the end.

I’ve entered many of my own photographs in Diving Club and Camera Club competitions, and I’ve found out that everyone has a different opinion. All of them are right, and all of them are wrong. No two people are going to agree on all the criteria, so I thank you all in advance for allowing me the discretion to judge them in the chaotic way that will reveal itself here

So, let’s get started…

###Round 1 – Is it “about diving”?

For a Diving Club, I think that the winner of a photographic competition should shout out “Diving” very clearly, and for that reason alone (I’ve got to start somewhere!) I rejected the majority of the Social photographs.

While there still remained some diving-related photos within this category, they didn’t jump out at me, and so they were also rejected.

However, just because a photo is rejected at this stage, it doesn’t make it a “bad” photograph, and I’m spookily haunted by this black and white image, which I consider to be an excellent portrait study of the central character:

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###Round 2 – The “above water” shots

Having rejected the “Social” category so out-of-hand, we might as well work next on the non-underwater shots. I’m afraid that, to me, we’re still in the “doesn’t shout out ‘diving’” territory, and sadly, these also get rejected. I say “sadly” because I think that this image of a boat is an outstanding shot in its own right. It doesn’t say “diving” to me.

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###Round 3 – “Swimming away”

I’m afraid that I’m of the old school, and fish swimming away from me don’t make the grade. Several shots were therefore rejected on this basis. There ware also some shots of divers swimming away which were rejected for the same reason.

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###Round 4 – “Getting technical”

Moving on to technical criteria, many pictures were rejected because they don’t appear to be properly in focus. This may be simply out-of-focus, or it may be due to motion-blur.

For example, this photo, once examined closely, is not in focus, the primary subject is just missed by the strobe, and there is a high level of backscatter.

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###Round 5 – “Colour”

When getting close, colour casts are no longer acceptable, and several photographs appear to me to be missing some very much needed strobe light.

On the subject of strobes, having and using one, isn’t a substitute for a properly exposed photograph. In an ideal world, the strobe underwater should restore the lost colours underwater without it being too obvious that it is there. This photo sadly fails this test and is rejected – too deep, too dark.

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###Round 6 – “getting tougher”

OK, now I’m starting to struggle to find reasons to reject photographs. That means that they are, as a group, increasingly competent, and I may have to start considering individual reasons.

For example:

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Something just doesn’t seem right to me here. The stripes on the clown-fish, to me, should be white, which says that the colour balance isn’t right. The red in the anemone tentacles tantalise me, as I’ve never been able to capture this red fluorescence either on film or digital. So congratulations on the success of capturing the red tentacles, but otherwise, it doesn’t look right – Sorry!

###Round 8 – “We’re down to ten”

We are now down to the remaining, and consequently top 10.

Here’s the countdown…

###No. 10

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The diver in the top of the photograph is striking such an unusual pose, with fins at 180 degrees, that it acts as a major distraction. The file I was provided with was heavily compressed, and it was hard to assess the technical quality of the shot.

###No. 9

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Excellent detail, and good sharpness. Another shot where a quick adjustment would have made the brightness and contrast much better. The poses of the divers are unusual, and both distracting from the primary subject (what is the photographer kneeling on, how is he staying there?), but take them away, and it is an unremarkable shot.

###No. 8

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There simply isn’t enough definition in this shot, which I suspect is taken in fairly poor visibility. While it does have some “atmosphere” there isn’t enough detail in the wreck to make it sufficiently interesting for me.

###No. 7

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This shot of a turtle is well executed, but work needs to be done adjusting the levels to obtain the best balance of brightness and contrast. However, even when corrected, it remains a technically competent shot, but otherwise not very engaging.

###No. 6

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I very much like the composition of this photograph, and you can see some strong diagonals and use of “rule-of-thirds”. Again, like many others, the lighting balance hadn’t been adjusted. A good result from what looks like quite a dark wreck – hardly the best environment for taking good photographs.

###No. 5

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This needs some de-speckle and some sharpening to become an excellent photo. The composition is spot-on, and the lighting is very good.

###No. 4

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This is a heavily compressed photograph, with the consequent loss of detail that JPEG compression brings. Trying to look through this however, and looking at the sharpness of the tip of the pectoral fin standing up, I’m not convinced that the mouth, or even possibly the eyes, are properly in focus. The lighting is good, but the composition let’s itself down slightly by cutting off a small part of the fish along the right border of the photograph, especially when there is plenty of room on the right to move the composition slightly.

###No. 3

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This photograph has been enormously compressed compared to the others, and very little detail remains. However, looking at the whole overall photograph, the lighting and composition are both very good, and this is a very clear example of the fish in question (what is it by the way?). The shot is a little too head-on for me, and I think that a better result would have been obtained by moving round to the left slightly.

###No. 2

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I very much like the composition of this photograph, and you can see some strong diagonals and use of “rule-of-thirds”. Obviously dark, the photograph is very noisy, and there isn’t much detail resolvable. The blue light from the torch is an uncommon colour underwater. Part of the composition of these types of shots is the sight line of the diver, and to establish this, one needs to be able to see their eyes. Black-shirted masks make this very difficult. There as couple of things about the photo which I find moderately implausible – the interaction of techie divers with marine life, and a large lobster sitting out on a rock sunning itself!

Which leaves us with our winner…

###No. 1

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This photograph has got lots to commend it. There is composition according to the rule-of-thirds on a number of levels, including having the diver and the mast in opposing thirds intersections. Diagonals work strongly with the anchor chain, ships gunnels, and curving starboard side. The photograph could do with opening up a little more to reveal the batfish more obviously. The diver and the fish give much-needed information about scale. The graduated background, from very light blue at the top, to dark blue at the bottom also gives a sense of the dramatic. This photograph works much better in the portrait orientation chosen, rather than in landscape. On the down-side, there is a little bit of vignetting in the top right corner only, but this does not detract badly from the photograph, and could easily be edited out if needs be.

###Congratulations Ian Emery

Well done to Ian Emery, who has the honour of taking the “Best Photo” in this year’s Kingston & Elmbridge photographic competition. He will receive a mounted print of his winning photograph which has been generously donated by Cameras Underwater.