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Six of the best

by Colin Doeg

One of the greatest tests of any photographer's skill is to produce a good portfolio of work. The Society recognised this long ago by introducing special competitions for the best six slides from a beginner, the best selection of six taken in British waters, the best set taken anywhere in the world and the best portfolio of work on a specific theme.

All of the slides in each portfolio are shown simultaneously by a bank of projectors and the audience votes for their favourite three, having seen all of the entries at least twice. Apart from being a technical triumph, if all the projectors perform efficiently, this type of competition demands specific skills from the photographers. It is not enough to produce one really eye-catching shot, or even six stunning pictures. They all have to 'work' together.

Each portfolio is usually shown on a giant screen for about twelve seconds. In this brief moment the selection of slides has to grab the audience's attention. They have to be generally pleasing, the colours in harmony and the shapes balanced. Pernember, if six slides are shown over a period of twelve seconds the audience has less than two seconds in which to examine each one after their first impression of the entry.

CHARLES HOOD, from Wimbledon, South London, won the Best of British competition in 1997. He has clear ideas of how to assemble a winning selection. He says: 'First and foremost, the portfolio must be eyecatching. It must also contain a mixture of photographs, from close-up to wide-angle. Each one must be punchy, simple and make a statement in its own right. Macro shots do not work in this competition, they are usually too confusing for the audience to judge in the short time available'.

You must also pay attention to the colours of the subjects. This is difficult in British waters because they are not as colourful as tropical seas, but greens, yellows and reds mix well.'

MALCOLM HEY, who won the DIVER trophy for the Best Beginners Portfolio in 1996, worked out that there were '84 different combinations of layout in which six slides could be projected'. This allows for the fact that they are shown in two rows of three, and that each slide can be shown as a horizontal or a vertical.

He added: 'to my eye, only 12 of those configurations work! When you are choosing your vertical and horizontal slides, their shapes, colours and interest levels must balance. A blue-water shot of a great white shark in the top right hand corner will not balance with a macro shot of something pink and furry in the opposite corner - it needs something much bolder and simpler. The portfolio must be an entity in itself. The various images should hang together and give a total impression of balance.

LINDA DUNK, who has won the Society's coveted Open Portfolio competition three times (1994, 1995 and 1996), finds that she needs a long time to put together a winning entry. 'I find it comparatively easy to select four or five slides, but I usually have great difficulty in choosing the sixth'.

What does she look for when she is sitting in the audience judging other people's portfolios? 'I want to see the use of different lenses and a range of different subjects. Also, an understanding of the use of natural light - like sunbursts and silhouettes - as well as flash. Each picture should represent something different and have different colours and textures. When put together, the selection should give a broad picture of the underwater world. Symmetry is also important'.

All three put an initial selection of slides on a light box at home and keep on looking at them over the course of several weeks, adding new pictures and taking away others until they come up with their own Six of the Best. And the way they do it bowls out the opposition.

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