The Danish national championship

An underwater photo competition is quite possibly the most boring spectator sport in the world!

20 divers gets in the water at around the same time from the shore somewhere in Denmark. Their inflatable surface marker buoys shuffle ever so slowly around on an area about the size of a couple of football fields. What may seem like forever for the spectator (but an instant for the competitors) they emerge and the competition is basically over.

Every year the national championship is held in a different part of Denmark. Participants have exactly 4 hours at a site that is disclosed the same morning to produce the pictures they want to enter into the competition.

Underwater a total of 150 shots may be taken in JPG format and the judges makes sure your memory card is formatted before the dive. The first image on the memory card must be a selfie taken just before the dive to ensure that no has any photos not taken specifically at the competition.

During those 4 hours the photographer must take photos withing three categories: Macro, Wide angle and Theme. The theme changes every year but could f.ex. be ‘Black’n’White or ‘Action’. Any lunch breaks or lens changes must be handled within the 4 hour period and one have to be very careful not to waste too much lying perfectly still on the bottom for several hours with the 100mm, 1.4 extender and +10 diopter for that perfect ultra sharp shrimp shot to make sure there is enough time to get out of the water, mount the fisheye and go hunt for a winning wide angle shot!

When the time is up and the divers are out of the water the pictures are directly transferred from the memory card to the judges pc. No editing or post processing can be done, so you better hope your framing, exposure, focus, white balance, color settings, strobe placement and composition was spot on.

Happy participants after the competition. Photo by Søren Petersen.

After the competition each participant may select 3 photos for each category out of the total 150 to enter. Looking through your pictures on the computer photos may be rotated but otherwise left completely as shot. This is usually where you notice all the backscatter that was invisible on the camera screen or that annoying little strobe cable that snuck into the frame on your wide angle shot. The frustration is often very tangible in this stage as you have no way to correct any errors.

After delivering up to 9 filenames to the judges the waiting starts. Three jury (normally an underwater photographer, a ‘normal’ photographer and a ‘normal’ diver) takes on the task of looking through a couple of hundred anonymised photos and rank them. This process usually takes the better part of the evening so the participants have time to calm their nerves with a glass of wine or two and socialize.

Finally the photos are presented. Starting from the bottom up every competitor gets the chance to see how many of their photos were discarded and left out of the top ten! Photos not in the top ten aren’t awarded points.

The best photo are awarded 75 points, number two 45 points, number three to ten 30, 20, 15, 10, 7, 5, 3, 1 points respectively. .

The winner is the one that accrues the most points across each of the three categories (Wide Angle, Macro and Theme).