January 2016 Photo Contest Winner and Review

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WINNER CHOSEN AND REVIEW BY SCUBAVERSE.COM’S UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR STUART PHILPOTT

WINNER: Paul Hamilton

PHOTOLINK: https://www.scubaverse.com/contestants/southern-red-sea-reef/

Great news, our first photo contest of the year couldn’t have got off to a better start. We have received a record number of photo entries! 50 images! I’m hoping that this isn’t just a blip and all future monthly competitions will be just as popular so we can expand the categories to include winners for macro, wide angle, compact pictures etc. which could well mean the addition of more prizes.

I would like to offer a big thank you to all our present sponsors for their donations. It’s ultimately the prizes that tempt you the photographer to enter our competitions. Each month the winner receives a copy of Vivid-pix’s photo editing software, a £100 voucher towards a Duxy photo liveaboard workshop and the winning picture will take pride of place on the Scubaverse website. Not forgetting an automatic entry into the Photo of the Year 2016 where £1,000 worth of diving kit, donated by dive equipment manufacturer Mares, will be given away.

Of course more photo entries means I have to spend more time judging! But please be assured that I do look at each picture on an individual basis and judge them accordingly no matter how long it takes so my apologies for the slight delay this month. Please keep posting your entries.

And so to January’s entries….

John Hancock’s picture simply called ‘clownfish’ depicts a pair of colourful Red Sea Nemo’s hovering above their anemone host. Both fish are face on to the camera and in a nice pose, one on top of the other. John has taken a CFWA shot. I can see that there’s a slight tinge of backscatter on the right, I’m guessing by the darkness of the blue you have chosen an F-stop of F7.1 or less and you have got your flash guns set to high power. It’s an all-round nice composition; I think a diver somewhere in the background would make the picture more interesting.

Cuttlefish are one of my favourite underwater subjects. On more than one occasion I have spent the whole dive following a cuttlefish. I love watching them change colour and texture. Peter Nevai’s shot titled ‘Cuttlefish Pair’ shows two cuttles mating on a reef in Malaysia. I like the colours, slight shame about the ‘dead’ shadow area caused by the flash guns, this detracts from the picture. I think that a closer view would have been better.

Lizard fish make great macro subjects. The photographer can usually fire of a few shots before they spook the fish. Phil Metcalf’s entry ‘In the Pink’ shows is a side on macro lizard with an unusual pink background, hence the title, which makes the composition look far more interesting. The eye is in focus and the mouth slightly open showing two rows of sharp looking teeth. I would have liked to see the whole fish in the composition but I appreciate this isn’t always easy to do. I have been known to take 50 or 60 shots of a Lizard fish during a single dive trying to get the ultimate pose.

Phil Metcalf’s shot titled ‘pretty eye’ shows a close up view of a crowned toby’s eye. It’s perfectly in focus and is extremely colourful. Crowned tobies – also known as crowned puffers – are not particularly big fish so this is not an easy shot to take. This has to be in the top three macro shots of the month.

Phil’s second entry called ‘Golden Eyes’ shows a close up of a small grouper. I think it’s a clever composition showing a view from above the fish. Again the shot is perfectly in focus, with great colours and lighting. Night dives give photographers the prefect opportunity to get very close. I’m surprised that Phil hasn’t entered a lionfish close up? I am always being hassled by lionfish on night dives in the Red Sea.

Nyree Kerr has entered an impressive selfie called ‘Turtle selfie’. The shot shows Nyree plus a little hawksbill turtle sharing the moment. The exposure is a bit suspect but there is nothing wrong with the picture content. The vignetting somehow works. This is quite an eye-catching image despite the quality.

The first B/W shot of the year goes to Michele Hoffman Trotter’s ‘Holy Humpback’. Not sure where it’s taken, Bahama Banks maybe? Are there 3 whales in the picture? I like the sun’s rays filtering through the water.  Shame you’ve missed off the whale’s tail Michele. I guess the whale was just too big to get fully in the frame. Very atmospheric in B/W.

The word is definitely backscatter in Keith Jewell’s picture called ‘Angel Shark’. It’s difficult to get the right degree of flash so close to the sand. Where was your shot taken Keith, the Canaries somewhere? It’s great to be able to get so close to a shark. You’ve got a head on shot and the entire shark is in the frame. Maybe a little bit too much flash… otherwise good effort.

Fiona Leyman’s picture called ‘whale shark from below’ shows a shot of a whaleshark taken at the popular Red Sea dive destination of Sharm El Sheikh. That must have been quite an experience Fiona! In my 4 years living at Taba Heights I only saw and swam with one. The very same shark had just buzzed 4 divers finishing an open water course. What a fantastic sight to see as a beginner! You’ve managed to get an unusual underbelly view showing 4 remora fish hitching a ride. Did the whaleshark stick around or was this just a one off snap shot as it passed overhead?

Fiona Leyman’s second shot is titled ‘turtle swimming for surface’. I am guessing this is a follow on from your next entry? The bubbles actually make the picture more interesting. There’s far too many even for me to clean up in photo editing software!

Fiona’s third entry titled ‘stunning Turtle close up’ shows a hawksbill taking flight. It looks as though the turtle is moving directly towards the photographer. Shark and Yolanda is a Red Sea favourite and usually delivers a huge variety of photo subjects. It’s not easy to get a ‘perfect’ image when a turtle is on the move. I always try and get the reef behind me so I am shooting into the blue. This way the turtle doesn’t get lost in the reef background.

Fiona’s shot called ‘Busy Coral bursting with beautiful fish, Red Sea’ shows a W/A shot of a healthy hard coral reef and its inhabitants. There are plenty of corals and fish in the foreground and then my eyes look deeper into the picture and I can see right up to the surface probably as far as 40 or 50 metres away. This picture shows a great depth of field.

Evan Thezan’s shot called ‘Cedral Wall’ shows 2/3 body shot of a hawksbill turtle. I’m not sure what the title refers too? The heads up turtle is in focus and the sloping background adds some interest to the composition.

Evan’s next entry called ‘comfort’ shows what looks to be a Mayan ruin. This has to be a scaled down version of a De Caires Taylor type statue/monument. It’s quite intriguing. Evan hasn’t provided any extra information so I don’t know where it was taken?  There’s not a lot of fish life about but I think the barren seabed works well in this composition.

Evan’s next picture called ‘Break away’ probably describes the turtle making a break for the surface thus escaping from a large group of divers. I like the ‘sit up and beg’ posture of the hawksbill. Getting underside shots of a turtle is quite difficult so Evan scores some extra points here.

On page two we start off with another shot from Evan Thezan, this one is called ‘full house’ (how many entries are you allowed Evan?  (Usually only three – a glitch in an update meant it was possible for entrants to upload as many photos as they liked in January! This should now be fixed for February’s contest. – Ed)) and shows a nurse shark sharing a crevice with a giant green moray. It’s a shame you couldn’t get a closer shot Evan. Unfortunately there is too much reef in your picture and not enough subject. The only time I have ever seen a moray this close to a nurse shark was during a shark feed at Stuart Coves in the Bahamas and at another feed in Belize.

And yes another shot from Evan, this time called ‘following new friend’. Are you holding a speargun Evan? It looks like it but I can’t be certain. It’s an interesting composition looking down the shaft of a speargun at a shark but I’m not sure it’s ‘pc’ to show this.

Let me guess, another picture by Evan Thezan? This one called ‘structure’ shows the rusting hull of a shipwreck. As it stands Evan’s shot needs a point of interest, either a diver or a fish or a colourful soft coral in the foreground. It looks like a fair size wreck with lots of picture potential.

Guess who? Evan’s next entry is called ‘curious much….’ The green moray slopes in from one side of the frame. I think it’s slightly out of focus but the colours are nice.

Evan’s final entry called ‘Hmmm’ shows a brittle star on the inside of a barrel sponge. Again the colours work well.

No hang on, there’s one more! Evan Thezan’s absolute final picture called ‘Toadfish’ was taken in Cozumel in January and shows a face on view of a toadfish sat in a crevice. I have never seen this species of toadfish before and I really like it. The bold stripes and brightly coloured mouth make this little fish stand out. It’s a shame the picture is out of focus.

Mike Powell’s shot ‘just another day’ shows a hawksbill turtle sitting on the reef at Marsa Alam in Egypt. As far as I know this is the first Go Pro entry we have ever had and it’s not bad at all. Is this the raw image without any editing Mike? If it is I think with a tweak here and there, saturate the blacks and add some contrast, maybe sharpen it a little, you can greatly improve what is already a good shot. The addition of two remora fish makes the composition even more appealing.

Dave Weeks shot simple called ‘Anemone fish’ (Nemo’s have to be the number one macro photography subject of all time) shows a front facing Nemo hiding in the anemone tentacles. The pink outer skin of the anemone adds an explosion of colour. This has to be one of the best macro entries this month.

Dave Weeks obviously has a thing going with Anemone fish. His second entry titled ‘clownfish’ shows a different species of Nemo and anemone.  Although the Nemo pose is good I don’t think the anemone is as vibrant. The splash of pink in the previous shot clinches it for me.

A UK shot at last! Josh Ward has entered a fine looking jellyfish. The shot is called ‘Jellyfish upshot’ and was taken near Eyemouth. This looks like a lion’s mane jelly showing some great tentacle detail.

Josh’s second shot of a green turtle titled ‘mid water turtle’ has most of the turtle in the frame moving towards the camera from left to right. The turtle looks to be in focus but could do with a burst of light just to highlight the details. I think there’s slightly too much negative space in the picture.

Another jellyfish from Josh Ward, this one is titled ‘underwater space odyssey’ and was taken at the same place as the last shot, Eyemouth in Scotland.  The picture of another lion’s mane really does resemble a spaceship flying among the stars. This has to be one of my top five of the month.

Heather Sutton’s one and only entry called ‘White Ballet – Second Act’ was taken at the great white wall, Somosomo Straight, Taveuni, Fiji. This has to be one of my top five wide angle pictures of the month. The strobe lighting of the white coral is a bit uneven (this can easily be sorted out in photo editing software using dodge) but the combination of soft corals, blue sea and silhouetted divers on a sheer vertical wall looks absolutely awesome. Great shot Heather.

There seems to be a fair number of turtle pictures in this month’s competition. Alice Edwards interpretation called ‘Sea turtle at Elphinstone reef Egypt’ shows the front half of a hawksbill turtle flying across the reef. Not bad for a fifteen year old diver/photographer.

Page three starts off with another of Alice’s creations. This image is called ‘Oceanic white tip at Daedalus reef, Red Sea’. The shark really does stand out on the striking blue background. I wish that I was taking photographs like this at age 15. I only started diving in my early twenties!

Alice’s last contribution is called ‘clown fish at Deadalus reef, anemone wall, Red Sea, Egypt’. So Alice, are you going to enter some of your more recent photos? If this is the quality at age 15 surely you’ve got even better? Although I don’t know how old you are now! I guess that I should never ask a woman her age! This is another great effort using a compact camera.

Paul Spindler’s entry called ‘Angel shark’ shows a shot of none other than an angel shark lying on top of the sandy seabed. This is pretty good for only 4m of water. I guess you were just using ambient light? I think this is one of the best angel shark shots I’ve seen. The lighting is well balanced, it’s in focus and I can see the whole shark in the frame.

Another turtle shot. They really are popular this month! Paul Spindler’s shot called ‘close up’ shows a head and front flipper view of a hawksbill munching on the corals. You can see some ‘action’ i.e. a plume of silt. I think the turtle is deciding whether to keep on eating or do a runner!

Paul’s Red Sea giant moray titled ‘Moray’ gives us a side on view of what appears to be a fair sized moray. The moray is in focus and exposed correctly but the reef above is slightly bleached out. It’s not easy to get the exposure right when there are light and dark patches in a composition.

I think Paul Hamilton’s shot of an anemone fish and surrounding reef called ‘Southern Red Sea Reef’ is a superb shot, especially for a compact camera. This is definitely my compact shot of the month and a potential January winner. I’m not sure if you’ve already processed the picture or whether you don’t believe in processing and this is just the raw image Paul, but I think with some small adjustments this could be made even better. Maybe some burning in the bottom right of the frame and a tweak of contrast. Well done Paul.

Suse Cogman’s shot titled ‘Scorpionfish’ is a head shot of a rather photogenic looking scorpionfish taken in Malta of all places. I agree with you Suse the colours are really nice. The eye is in focus and there is plenty of ‘leafy’ detail around the head.

Suse’s second entry called ‘smile for the camera‘ shows a front on view of a very teethy looking moray. I’ve heard so many good reports about the Poor Knights in New Zealand but haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit. Did you dive on the Rainbow Warrior? Sorry, I’m drifting from the main subject which is supposed to be about your picture! How many strobes were you using Suze? Just one on the left I suspect as there is some shadow on the right. Some photographers think some shadow makes the shot look more natural. What do you think? Nice shot.

Paul Ansell’s ‘Pipefish – Sharm El Sheikh’ is in my top 5 macro shots. I like the composition and the colours and it looks sharp.

Paul Ansell’s second entry ‘Diver and Wessex Helicopter’ shown here in B/W is very clear but then I guess it’s in a freshwater quarry, but it is the UK all the same. UK divers love wrecks and to be honest I am also a big wreck diving fan. I like the way the helicopter is displayed on the right hand side of the image with a diver giving it some perspective on the left. To be honest Paul I couldn’t tell it was a helicopter! It looks more like a submarine!

Paul Ansell’s third macro entry ‘Moral Eel’ is not bad at all. Good composition, in focus and well balanced with an open mouth moray looking directly into the camera lens.

Paul Colley’s ‘Orange Arrow’ is a close up macro image of an arrow crab. I like the way that the crab’s legs fire out at different angles to the edges of the picture. A black background would probably be an improvement, what do you think Paul? I’ll be honest I’ve never had much success with arrow crabs so in this case who am I to criticise!

Shark pictures always have that wow potential and Alex Wright’s shot ‘Leader of the pack’ just does that. The tiger shark looks quite menacing in this front on view. I like the way you have blurred the background but it’s not been done particularly well or was that supposed to be the effect?

And yet another turtle! This picture by Ady van der Ploeg called ‘Ocean Voyager’ shows a heads up shot of a hawksbill wandering by a safety stop. I think the bubbles actually add to the composition.

All-rounder Paul Hamilton shows off his macro skills with this shot called ‘macro life’. I think it’s a shrimp or a crab on a whip coral of some kind. I’m not quite sure to be honest. It’s in focus and the coral frond looks good across the diagonals from left to right. Maybe the subject is a little too camouflaged on the coral and doesn’t stand out enough?

There have been some super quality images in this month’s competition. This shot from Paul Hamilton called ‘Reef Shark and Triggers’ is no exception. This is a really nice reef shark composition taken somewhere in the northern Atolls, Maldives. The shark is moving towards the photographer and fills most of the frame but it’s the background that clinches it for me. The shoal of triggers makes the shot. This has to be in my wide angle top five.

Paul Hamilton has also submitted a very nice turtle shot called ‘Ninja Turtle’, which is very similar to Stuart Green’s entry. Were you both on the same dive trip? Not bad for a Canon s100 compact. Unlike Stuart’s image this turtle is in colour. There is plenty of detail and it’s sharp. Apart from the small white patch on the right hand side, which has probably come from strobe lighting, it’s pretty much perfect. The whole of the turtle is in the composition and it’s holding a good pose. This has to be one of this month’s contenders for the overall title.

Stuart Green’s turtle shot called ‘Turtle Noir’ is aptly named. Was this shot taken on a night dive Stuart or is it just down to camera settings and post processing work that has given you such an even black background? I would say the latter. It works well in B/W, plenty of detail and perfectly in focus. An all-round professional looking image.

I never got to see any dolphins at Roots Camp in Egypt. I guess it’s down to the luck of the draw. Stuart Green’s image called ‘Close Encounters’ gives us an intimate view of a bottlenose. How long did the Dolphin stay around Stuart? Was there just one? I would say the shot is a little dark and lacks some colour but maybe that’s due to the quality of my laptop screen.

Stuart Green’s picture titled ‘The Devil in me’ rounds off this month’s entries and it’s a fitting end to a record breaking month. I like the angle that Stuart has taken the shot of the Scorpion fish sitting on top of a hard coral. Where is the shoal of silversides? Normally I find these predators camouflaged among a swirling shoal. There are a few exhaled bubbles in the blue background that detracts slightly from the picture. Using the patch facility in photo editing software might get rid of this but trying to evenly merge different hues of blue is not easy to get right. Stuart has got the lighting nice and even. That’s a strange patch of colour under the scorpion’s eye. It just seems to be in one place? Great shot.

Wow, there have been so many good entries in this month’s contest that it’s very difficult to choose a winner. My list of top contenders include Dave Weeks ‘anemone fish’, Josh Ward’s ‘Space Odyssey’, Heather Sutton’s ‘White Ballet’, Paul Hamilton’s ‘Southern Red Sea Reef’, Paul Ansell’s ‘Pipefish – Sharm El Shiekh’ and Paul Hamilton’s ‘Ninja Turtle’. I think for the overall effect and the fact that he has used a compact camera, Paul Hamilton’s ‘Southern Red Sea Reef’ has won January’s competition. Well done Paul, this has been the toughest competition so far. Thank you so much for submitting all your entries. It really has been an awesome start to the year!

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Scubaverse.com’s February 2016 Underwater Photo Contest is now open. Enter here.

Stuart Philpott

Stuart Philpott

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

One Reply to “January 2016 Photo Contest Winner and Review”

  1. Phil Medcalf says:

    Thanks for the feedback. Any chance you could edit this page to spell my name correctly it is Medcalf not Metcalf.

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