Thank you and congratulations to all who submitted photos to the Pristine Seas assignment. It was very difficult to select 30 photographs from over 9,000 submissions. The quality of the submissions improved over time, and folks responded to my feedback spectacularly. I chose these photos because they all expressed the nature of a pristine ocean in different ways. But, as I said earlier, liking a photo is a subjective issue. There are photos published in National Geographic magazine that editors liked, but which were not the first choice of the photographers who took them. It’s like viewing a painting. You might delight in front of a work by Picasso, but your partner might think it’s awful. So ask yourself why you take photographs and what you want to share through them, and take criticism as a way to improve, not as a personal affront. I liked many photos beyond these 30!
Now, let me share with you how I made my selection. I looked for photographs that made me feel something about a pristine ocean. There were a few hundred photographs that fit that category; colorful sunsets and beautiful portraits of marine animals did not. Among that first cut, I looked for photographs that made me say wow—whether it was the striking composition, the moment captured by the photo, or the dramatic lighting. I did not start with a predetermined search pattern. I let the photos speak for themselves. After I had a short list, I then used two main criteria: technique or a unique moment. There are some photos that capture a unique moment; for those, a little technical blur is OK
Underwater photography is about mastering light. Some of the selected photos use only ambient light, and they have a magical atmosphere. But seawater is not nice to color as you dive deeper, so the use of underwater strobes is required. I loved the way folks balanced the foreground illumination with strobes with the ambient light. To me, there is no rule of thumb on how predominant the strobe light should be. It all depends on what the environment is like and the atmosphere you want to create.
Images of abundant predators show a sign of a healthy environment. Still better (and more difficult), images of predators in action are a dynamic representation of what pristine means. Some of your predator action photos were spectacular, and they made me jealous of not having been there to witness, for example, Bills image of orca trying to eat sea lions on a beach, or Joe's photo of a sailfish chasing a sardine bait ball.
As a parting word, I’d like to advise everyone again to learn from other people’s photography. When I was a young marine biology student in Spain in the late 1980s, I marveled looking at David Doubilet’s photographs, trying to understand how he used light underwater. And then I tried to repeat those shots (without much success). It’s OK to do that, but just as a training tool to learn shooting techniques. But do not show these photographs as yours. Try to find your own voice. Technique is important, but what will captivate others is either a spectacular marine scene or a spectacularly unique point of view. Some of you achieved that during this assignment. Congratulations and keep shooting!