Epson Red Sea 2009 - Daily Live Reports from Eilat

Day 6 - Winning Ceremony

Although it is November, it seems like city of Eilat was fully aware of the amount of divers and photographers that specially arrived for the Epson Red Sea event and made sure that the last day of the competition is sunny, warm and welcoming. Divers spent most of their day on the beach or near the pool, relaxing after a very intensive and busy week and preparing themselves to the winning ceremony, hoping that they will get the chance to get up on stage tonight and to show off with their newly accomplished tan. In between, competition participants took advantage of the opportunity and went for a dive all together at the famous “Satil” wreck, for an underwater Epson Red Sea theme image.

The winning ceremony was about to start, when a rock band got up on stage and presented a very lively performance, featuring some of the most popular rock songs ever. I know that usually, classic music is played by a quiet, calm and representative jazz band prior such ceremonies, but apparently this year, the Epson Red Sea production decided that the peak of the evening shouldn’t start only when getting to speak about cash. Instead, they have arranged it all to ensure that the whole evening is a one big peak! So as if the rock band wasn’t enough in order to get people started, Alberto Murro Pelliconni, one of Epson Red Sea’s most popular and beloved judges and a character by all means, was called up on stage as well and performed a rock song in such a vivacious way that none of the guests could dare stay indifferent…


And then began the ceremony, which was full of surprises and innovative ideas. In general, I would like to state that there is no doubt that the level of images submitted to the competition this year was higher than ever. If one would have listened only to the soundtrack of the audience during the winning ceremony, the amount of “wows” would have certainly supported my statement. If there was ever a reason to get a copy of the Epson Red Sea competition album, it is definitely worthwhile to put your hands on one this year (and no, unfortunately, I do not get any shares…).

One of the first categories announced was the “Children of Epson Red Sea”, a new category that was created this year for the first time. The category was open for children at the age of 9-14, who submitted images taken only with snorkeling equipment and with disposable or compact digital cameras. The judges of this category, by the way, were children themselves, guided through the judging process by Razi Livnat and Boaz Samorai. The results, displayed on the big screen, were absolutely stunning! In fact, they were so amazingly impressive, that when the 9 years old winner, Ido Farkel from Israel, came up on stage to collect his prize, I calculated the number of years I still have in this business before this guy becomes a pro and berries me somewhere there behind…

Then we got to the the Amateurs’ category, which turned out as a huge surprise as well. Roni Soffer, head of the judges, asked to direct a few words before announcing the prizes. He revealed that images submitted to the Amateur’s category this year were actually more professional than amateur and that he’s pretty sure that if some of them would have been submitted to the pro’s category, they might have won a prize as well. He then introduced a short presentation of images submitted to this category, which well convinced everyone that the Amateur’s category looks nothing like it did when it was first created, just three years ago. Now, if this surprises you, it means you have (accidently of course) skipped my 4th day’s report, in which I dedicate a whole paragraph to this issue of professionals becoming amateurs (shouldn’t it be the whole way around??). Eventually, the three winners were announced and got up on stage with a satisfied facial expression that I could only interpret as “Look out Pro’s! Here I come!”

Then came the Images of the World category, which consisted of a few sub-categories, accompanied by some very attractive prizes. I know I’m starting to sound a little repetitive, but images in this category were so breathtaking, that you must take a break from reading the report and Click Here to witness the source of my enthusiasm. Watching those images displayed on the big screen, one could easily figure out why the judges were having such a hard time to make decisions this year.

The Eilat Shoot-Out category results were very interesting and diverse. First, one of the categories, called “Eilat Behind the Scenes”, in which photographers were supposed to submit a series of 10 top land images featuring the happening in Eilat and during the competition, was canceled by the judges. The reason, as explained by the head of the judges, Roni Soffer, was that images submitted to this category were simply not good enough in order to be awarded with a prize. This is probably due to the fact that participants in this category did not invest the time and attention required in order to take images that are artistically worth a $2,000. The good news is that the prize was not canceled, but instead, added to the prize of this category next year, which means that on the Epson Red Sea 2010, a prize of $4,000 will be granted to the winner of this category! This sure makes it worthwhile to arrive to Eilat especially to participate in this category next year, even if you are not an underwater photographer and this is the only category you will be participating in. Just make sure that your photographs are planned ahead and carefully carried out and not taken spontaneously on your way from the beach to the shower!

When we got to the “Fish of the Year” category, I was overwhelmed by the variety and diversity of images submitted to this category by 9 photographers that were basically shooting images of the same fish, the Red Grouper (hereinafter “Fish of the Year”). So many special techniques were made use of by the nominees when preparing the portfolio of the Red Grouper that suddenly it looked to me like a naturally born model. Eventually, Pedro Carrillo from Spain won the first prize and the Red Grouper, well, won a priceless amount of exposure, which might justify the countless number of flashes it had to tolerate that week…


Arturo Telle from Spain was the lucky and extremely talented photographer who won the biggest prize of the Epson Red Sea 2009 Competition, a $10,000 check and a three weeks diving vacation for two in Papua New Guinea, including airfare, for the Best 5 Images category. A few days earlier, when all competition participants have gathered together in order to receive a brief from the judges, Roni Sofer, head of the judges, explained that photographers participating in the competition should find a way to create images that do not just properly document the underwater scenery and living creatures, but should also feature a state of art. Images should be CREATED and not simply CAPTURED, as he directed. I think that Arturo’s extraordinary success doesn’t only have to do with the fact that his images were sharp, vivid and featuring appealing subjects. I think that he astonishingly managed to adapt a creative approach in his work, which distinguishes his images from any others. In times like today, when it seems like everything has already been captured underwater and unless you stick your lens inside the kidneys of an alligator, you have no chance to stick out, I think Arturo found a way to prove us otherwise. Obviously this was a great contribution to his bank account, but perhaps to the underwater photography discipline as well…

As for me, I got to win the “Humoristic Image” category, which made me extremely happy and proud of course, but I can hardly say that this is my strongest memory or experience this week. As cheesy as it may sound, the people I’ve met, the adventures we have gone through together and the general festive atmosphere were worth it all to begin with.

Oh, and the free beer at the Happy Hours of course!

Day 5 - November 13th 

As expected, there was chaos in the computer room this morning. Participants had to choose their best images and to submit them to the competition and since such fateful decisions are never easy to be made, most of them did not succeed to finish up with this task the night before and had to cope with it under a tight timeframe this morning. The tension was so high and photographers were so concerned, that if someone threw out a joke, trying to lighten up the atmosphere, he would receive such imitating looks that left him no option but to politely sit down and thank god that there are no tomatoes in the room. Wondering around the screens, I must admit that the competition is extremely tough this year. Amazing images that could easily be considered as definite winners in previous years,  might not even get the chance to be nominated for a prize this year, only because there are SO MANY breath taking photographs. I don’t know if it’s because cameras technology is improving, photographers are gaining more experience underwater or participants are trying harder to forgo images submitted the year before, but from year to year, becoming a winner at the Epson Red Sea competition turns out to be a more and more challenging mission. I admit thanking god today that I don’t photograph fish, as I’m not sure I would have managed to deal with all this competition!!

After making their final calls, photographers finally started their two days vacation, till the winning ceremony tomorrow night. Whether you are happy with your choices or not, the fact that it’s no longer in your hands provides you with a true sense of freedom. Finally, instead of black wetsuits, everybody came out with their colorful bathing suits and met on the beach or near the pool, wherever there is a sun bed to lie down on. After all, if someone’s going to be called up on stage tomorrow, he’d rather look tanned, not only because it looks good, but mainly because the huge check features a bright color, and we do want some contrast in that image of the winner holding it…

In the afternoon, the happy hour was upgraded to a Cyprus evening. A countless amount of Zivania and Uzo bottles were consumed and happy Cyprus music was played. Although at the beginning it seemed like a conference of serious, professional businessmen, once enough alcohol was consumed, a crazy party began and lasted for hours. Everybody was dancing, and those who happened to rest for a moment at the side, were immediately provided with another glass of Zivania in order to ensure that this rest does not last too long. Disposable cameras were handed out at the dance floor and at some point, even masks and snorkels. So by the time the evening has reached its peak, you get a whole bunch of crazy divers, wearing masks and snorkels, taking pictures with disposable cameras and dancing to the sounds of the Bouzouki. Call me naïve, but I dare to suggest the option that nobody was thinking about competition and prizes at that time. 

Tomorrow evening, the winning ceremony takes place at the Isrotel Yam-Suf hotel in Eilat and someone is going home with a $25,000 prize. Stick around to find out who those lucky fellows are and how pretty and smiley a photographer looks when attached to a huge carton check...

Day 4 - November 12th 

I hate to be right, but during the third and last day of the Eilat shoot-out, the only peaceful and restful creatures I’ve seen around the diving center were the mosquitoes at the pool. All photographers were extremely tensed and most of them have spent more than 8 hours underwater all together till the shoot-out has officially ended at midnight. The psychological effect of reaching the LAST DAY of the competition is so strong, that even those that had managed to take 13 wonderful pictures to choose their best 5 from, were suddenly feeling insecure and could swear that they just heard their competitor saying that he has taken 20 winning images by now and that he’s definitely up to more!

As the underwater photography discipline evolves, fine photographers, equipped with sophisticated systems, which would have definitely be considered as pro’s a few years ago, suddenly find themselves competing for the amateurs category. I miss those easy times in which not only the amateurs’ category consisted of compact digital camera owners, but even a few compact digital owners managed to take some professional category prizes. This year, the competition is so tough, that competitors in the amateurs’ category are equipped with no less than a Canon 5D or a Nikon D300 camera and housing, along with the best of the lenses and the finest strobes in the market. In short, a system that I certainly believe I dream of at least 3 times a night.

For an example, I met Francis Demkiw from France, who is carrying a D300 camera with an Aquatica housing and two Ikelite strobes. Although equipped with such a nice looking system and 4 years of experience in underwater photography, Francis had no doubt that he will be competing for the amateurs’ category only, since it is his first time in Eilat and he has never won an underwater photography competition so far. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I was a compact digital system owner, meeting this guy underwater and finding out that he’s competing in the same category I am, I would feel guilty anytime I allow myself to have a 15 minutes break between dives. Hoping for the best and expecting the worse, I would like to remind you that in the 2007 competition, Boaz Samorai, equipped with an extremely old and basic Nikon compact camera, won TWO professional categories, also forgoing photographers using a D2X. So compact digitals, hang in there!

At noon time, judges of the competition gathered in order to judge the images submitted to the “Images of the World” category and were all found in the lobby of the hotel, where printed images of this category were exhibited, wearing a shirt that reads “GURY”. Due to the international mix of Italian, Russian and Finish representation in the Jury panel, I am sure that it could look as an innocent mistake. Well, that’s not exactly untrue. Last year it WAS an innocent mistake, which was only found out once the shirts were ready, but it was so funny and cute that the production fell in love with the concept and decided to print the “GURY” titles on shirts using an even larger font this year.
But yes, the winners of the Images of the World category were already decided upon. Since we will only find out who they are in the winning ceremony on Saturday evening, I choose to consider everyone as a suspect for now…

At late night, photographers already began to upload their images and choose those that are going to be submitted to the competition. Anyone you ask would clearly state that this is probably the most difficult part during the whole week. Following the advice of Roni Sofer, head of the jury panel, photographers made sure to consult with their colleagues prior to making their final choices. Anyone in the computer room, with or without a relation to photography, was kindly requested by at least 10 indecisive participants to share his opinion on all of their potential winning images. By the end of this long evening, I reviewed and shared my opinion regarding so many underwater images, that once I fell asleep, I dreamt of an Anemone fish (too common) fencing against a Red Grouper standing on a red coral (not enough contrast), when a sword fish appears exactly at the middle (doesn’t keep with the 9 thirds rule) and a Puffer Fish swims away (no eye contact).

Tomorrow is the final day for photographers to submit their images, and the destiny of $80,000 prizes will be finally ruled.

Day 3 - November 11th  

The shoot-out continues to its second day and as time passes by, photographers are more and more anxious to complete the basis of their portfolio. It’s no secret that every participant in the Epson Red Sea competition craves to reach the third and last day of the shoot-out when he has already shot a series of images that are good enough to be submitted to the competition, thereby leaving him the last day for final touch ups only. In a way, you could say that photographers participating in this event act under the conception that the shoot-out lasts for two days, whilst the third day is considered to be a “bonus” for last minute improvements. No doubt that this would be a wonderful achievement for all participants, but looking back on previous years of this event, I somehow can’t recall many calm and peaceful faces at the last day of the Eilat shoot-out…

 Although usually, Epson Red Sea participants are experienced divers and underwater photographers, equipped with impressive equipment and an even more impressive resume (which can usually be found on the “About Me” section in their boastful website…), this year, a special category was created for the younger talents. This category, called “Children of Epson Red Sea”, was created in memory of Razi Cohen, a talented photographer who also served as one of the judges in the 2008 competition. The category was open for snorkelers at the age of 7 to 14, who took their images using a disposable camera or a compact digital camera housing, without being assisted with any scuba diving gear. After participating in an intensive underwater photography seminar with Boaz Samorai, manager of the “Manta” diving center, 30 young participants spent the weekend snorkeling in the clear water of the Red Sea, taking perhaps their first ever underwater images.

Today, a group of 4 children, who were chosen as judges in the “Children of Epson Red Sea” category, gathered along with Boaz Samorai and Razi Livnat, the legal adviser of this event, in order to evaluate the images submitted to this category and to decide upon the winners. Razi was very proud of the fact that the final winning images chosen by these young judges were more or less the same images that he and Boaz had considered for the best the day before. When I tried to imply that their advise and professional assistance throughout the judging process might have (slightly) influenced the jurisprudence of these children, I got such an imitating look that left me no option but to confidently state that such an option is absolutely impossible…

At the evening, an official opening ceremony of the competition took place at the Eilat underwater observatory. All competition participants, as well as honored guests, sponsors, partners and journalists, were invited to celebrate the opening of the Epson Red Sea 2009 competition. Fine wine, beer and delicious food dishes were served  

and then a short ceremony began, in which competition producer, David Pilosof, as well as main sponsors, opened the event by saying a few words about the competition, as well as wishing the participants good luck.After seeing today quite a few amazing images taken by some of the leading photographers, BOY ARE THEY GONNA NEED IT!

Day 2 - November 10th

Although the event officially started yesterday, which was a registration day, today was the first day in which photographers were allowed to take images that can be submitted to the competition. Over 100 participants geared up, put their wetsuits on, (carefully) wished each other good luck and entered the water for as long as their tanks or decompression limits allowed. Naturally, since each day begins at midnight, and since photographers have only 3 days to capture their award-winning images, many of them started to gear up at 11:30 pm the night before, and carried out their first Epson Red Sea dive at midnight.Even though I am already familiar with this phenomenon of divers rushing into the water at midnight with their huge cameras, I was still amazed this year. 

At 4:30 am, when walking into the dive center in order to upload my daily report, I still found (extremely motivated) divers gearing up for another dive. And there I was, thinking that sleep is essential for one’s existence, while others have already figured it all out- sleep is luxury!

Although the atmosphere is extraordinary and everybody is having a good time, competitiveness is obviously an inseparable part of this event, at least till the moment images are finally submitted by all photographers. It turns out that even sharing your failure or success to capture winning images so far is sometimes only a matter of politics. Those who promote their successful images, hope to scare off their competitors, while those

who downgrade their results, hope to grant their competitors with a feeling that they do not have to work too hard in order to win the prize.

This way or another, the beauty about the Epson Red Sea event is that every day at 5 pm, when the Happy Hour beings and beer starts to flow, the truth is always revealed…

If you take a look underwater, you see over 100 photographers swimming around, examining every living creature and deciding how much of a “model potential” it embodies. However, there are 10 photographers out there that are probably ignoring anything that doesn’t look, sound and smell like a Red Grouper. These are the photographers taking part in the “Fish of the Year” category. They were chosen through an earlier national competition to represent their country at the “Fish of the Year” category, in which all participants are requested to submit a portfolio of the Red Grouper. The photographer that manages to submit the most creative and impressive portfolio of the Red Grouper, will be announced on Saturday as the winner of this category. Makes you feel like going down and handing out a lipstick to any Red Grouper you encounter, or maybe better- a pair of sunglasses to help them out with the flashes.

Today I also got the chance to accompany one of the photographers participating at the Video Clip category, Eytan Nadel. Eytan chose to combine between the beauty of the Red Sea and an exciting love story in his video clip, making use of the underwater scenery as an enhancer of feelings.

Although all scenes were carefully planned ahead, there is nothing certain about the underwater world, and during the process, Eytan, who is an experienced diver and a former diving instructor, learned a few more things about fish. For example, the fact that they are so amazingly attracted to rings, that they almost always end up swallowing them. The first ring taken underwater simply disappeared after a few shots, which was considered to be a mystery, till the second time. The next ring he had bought and brought underwater was practically filmed being taken in by a fish.  At this point, Eytan decided that he will have to settle with whatever scenes he managed to take with the ring up until then, since as weird as it might sound, fish might not be able to digest this scene!

Tomorrow is the second day of the Eilat Shoot-Out. Although the mission is clear and the tension is rising, I like it when somebody suddenly stops everything, wears a big smile and proudly states: “I’m here for the sake of the experience of it!”. Yes, even if it’s not 100% true…


Day 1 - November 9th

The Epson Red Sea 2009 competition has officially started today. Underwater photographers from all over the world already arrived and registered to the competition and additional participants are expected to arrive tomorrow as well.  Immediately after registering, some of the participants rushed to assembly their underwater photo systems and entered the water, even though images submitted to the competition could only be taken starting from midnight. Those who are diving in the Red Sea or Eilat for the first time, began their exploration of the area, while those who are already familiar with the dive sites around, simply conducted a thorough underwater tour in order to check if there are any “new arrivals”. After all, finding out, a day before the competition, that there’s a rare type of frogfish or a cute looking ghost pipe fish playing around the reef, is a valuable piece of information. In fact, it might be as valuable as $25,000, in case it eventually grants it discovered with the first prize!

Obviously one of the first concerns of competition participants, especially those arriving from far away, is the integrity of their equipment. Therefore, most photographers, even if they didn’t plan to go diving, established their systems today and tested them in shallow water. In most cases, this testing was successful and ended up with a sense of relief, but for one of the competitors, who has already flooded his camera housing, it seems as if the competition ended even before it began. I admit that the thought of getting him a disposable camera instead DID cross my mind, but something made me give up eventually. Perhaps a strong urge to stay alive.

I met Tobias Friedrich from Germany today, who has won the second prize of the amateurs’ category on the “Aphrodite” competition in Cyprus this last June. Tobias, who I thought submitted exceptionally beautiful images in the last competition, decided to go for the amateurs’ category again, despite the fact he has recently upgraded his system to what is considered to be a professional one by all means (Canon D5 with a UK Germany housing). When I asked regarding this surprising decision, he explained that he is not yet confident enough in order to participate in professional categories, and furthermore, since there are more than 35 photographers participating in the amateurs’ category this year, he would be more than satisfied to even be chosen as a nominee. Whether it’s a matter of lowering expectations, a modest and mature attitude or a realistic approach, hoping for the best and expecting the worse is surely a very useful approach to adapt this week!

In the evening, all participants were invited to an official opening ceremony, in which competition rules, regulations and judgment guidelines were introduced in details. The Epson Red Sea production team, who felt that environmental conservation concerns should be dealt with even more seriously than before, invited the local chief ranger of the Nature Reservation authority, who decisively introduced a list of regulations that all divers and photographers are required to follow underwater during the competition, such as sitting only on sandy bottoms and refraining from any contact with corals or living creatures. However, it was also made clear that there is no intention to (and I’m quoting here) “put sticks in photographers’ wheels”, which is a (probably intuitive) free translation of a nice phrase in Hebrew, meaning that nobody is looking to disqualify photographers or interrupt them due to insignificant matters.

Tomorrow the competition officially begins, and since I promised (long ago and for no visible reason) one of the videographers participating in the competition to model for him in his video clip, I will probably find myself spending quite a respectful time underwater as well, wearing nothing that looks, or even worse- feels, like a wetsuit. As someone who has previously made her models cope with temperatures much lower than these, I should probably feel obligated to meet this challenge, but somehow I suddenly feel like I’m developing a severe cold and experiencing some weakness… And then again, with such prizes hanging on the balance, suddenly everything seems reasonable and all efforts become worthwhile.

…Or maybe I should have gotten him a disposable camera after all?


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