Top nature photographer shares tips for 2022 MPA photography competition

The second ever Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Day is set to go global with its 2022 commemoration on Monday, 1 August. And to celebrate this important event, organisers have announced some creative competitions that will be taking place in the lead up to the MPA Day.

“There has been a definite shift these past few years as communities around the world become more aware of the importance of ocean conservation for the survival of our planet, with environmental days such as World Ocean Day and MPA Day playing a role in raising awareness,” said Dr Judy Mann, Executive of Strategic Projects at The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation. “We want to have an even greater impact with our second annual celebration, which is why we’ve launched some great competitions to create awareness about the need to protect our ‘game reserves of the sea’.”

The renowned South African conservationist, and award-winning photographer and videographer, Steve Benjamin, is one example of how the depths of the ocean can be brought to life through the lens. Through his passion for the ocean, and marine life, he has connected with leading international filmmakers and photographers.

Having learned his art on the KZN South Coast MPA, Aliwal Shoal, Benjamin went on to assist on shoots with international photographer, Thomas Peschak, for National Geographic Magazine in the Seychelles, Mexico, Peru and the Galapagos. He also joined the team that would bring the Sardine Run to life for a BBC film series, Natures Great Events and the BBCs Blue Planet II series.

“Photography is the face of any conservation initiative – without good imagery depicting what it is that people are trying to save, nobody will know about it,” commented Benjamin on the importance of nature photography. “The public reacts better to good visual imagery, it’s the best way to get the masses engaged with the topic. It’s the first hook into understanding a problem, and then you go deeper with text, interviews and video.”

He said that, when it comes to highlighting the value of MPAs, the public needed images of places they can’t necessarily access themselves: “The majority of people won’t get the chance to dive or experience these areas first-hand, making good photography critical. The photographer is able to reveal the soul and face of an MPA to a larger audience.”

Steve Benjamin’s tips for aspiring nature photographers:

1. Get some basic equipment – even cellphones can be used to create incredible visuals.

2. Make connections with experienced individuals, and learn from them. A good mentor is very valuable.

3.  Look critically at the films and videos you like – question why you like it and analyse the how the story unfolds. It’s the story that engages the viewer.

4. Get competent at social media and put out as much content as possible. Practice makes perfect!

5.  Never give up – it’s a long game and you have to keep trying!

MPA Photo Competition

Professional and amateur photographers can put these tips to practice and enter the 2022 MPA Photo Competition to highlight the 41 South African Marine Protected Areas. The aim of the competition is to showcase the beauty and allure of MPAs as places for people to discover, relax, earn a living and respect.

The photographs entered may depict anything above or below the water within a South African MPA. This could include ocean creatures and plants, captivating scenery, sports or recreational events, as well as tourism and research conducted within these safe spaces. There are a number of great prizes, ranging from merchandise to nature-based experiences, worth thousands of rands.

How to enter?

  • Indicate whether you’re a professional or novice photographer.
  • Photo size is limited to 3MB and 1920 x 1080 pixels.
  • Entries are limited to 5 photos per photographer.
  • All images must be named with the photo entry number, your name, and the MPA name (eg: 1johndoeDeHoopMPA).
  • If you would like to be tagged on Instagram, include your Instagram handle.
  • Send entries or get more information at mpadaysa@gmail.com.

MPA Day Youth Competition

This creative competition aims to create more awareness of South Africa’s 41 MPAs among the country’s youth. It’s open to anyone aged 11 to 18 years and is divided into Art, Creative Writing and the Photo/Video categories. There’s a junior division (ages 11 to 14) and a senior division (ages 15 to 18).

How to enter?

  • You may submit one piece per category – Art, Creative Writing or Photo/Video – so a maximum of 3 entries per person.
  • Include the category, your age and your name.
  • All entries must include contact information for a guardian, parent or teacher.
  • Send entries or get more information at mpadaysa@gmail.com or via the website  https://www.marineprotectedareas.org.za/mpa-day

How else can you celebrate MPA Day?

Alongside the art and photography competitions, organisers have arranged a number of other celebrations taking place in and around MPA Day 2022. These include:

  • A webinar on MPA Day with five of South Africa’s leading scientists who will provide exciting insights into their work in MPAs followed by a question-and-answer session, starting at 7pm on 1 August.
  • There will be a Twitter chat on MPA Day @MPAsSA1 using the hashtags #MPADay #LetsTalkMPAs #MPA #MarineProtectedArea.
  • Passionate scientists and conservationists will hold celebrations on shores of South Africa’s MPAs in the weekend leading up to MPA Day, 30 to 31 July. If you are lucky to live close to an MPA why not visit it and take a short video to share mpadaysa@gmail.com.
  • There will be a BioBlitz on the weekend 30 to 31 July with iNaturalist.

To find out more or join the discussions, check out the social media pages: Instagram @marineprotectedareassa, Twitter @MPAsSA1 or Facebook Marine Protected Areas SA (@MPASouthAfrica).

For more information about MPAs, visit https://www.marineprotectedareas.org.za/. Hashtags #MPADay #LetsTalkMPAs #MPA #MarineProtectedArea

The partners involved in MPA Day are SAAMBR, Two Oceans Aquarium, Flow Communications, Olivia Jones Communications, WildOceans (a programme of WildTrust), WWF South Africa and WWF-SASSI.