judges tips

 

Georgina Steytler

website
Instagram

What makes a winning nature or bird photograph for you?

Being asked to pick a winning photo is like being asked to choose between Belgian chocolates. My example is a photo by fellow judge Andy Rouse titled Crests of Fire, which is one of my all-time favourite images and one which I frequently show to my workshop participants as an example of taking your image to the next level.

These days birding forums are peppered with lots of great images of Great Crested Grebes, especially courting grebes. But what is the difference between a good image and a fantastic image?  Good images tend to be those which are technically perfect and reveal the bird in a literal way.  Fantastic images don't show us a bird, they tell us a story and do it in a way that evokes emotion in the viewer. How do they do it? Often the difference between a good and a fantastic image comes down to two things: Original composition and use of light to create a sense of drama.

 Crests of Fire (below) is a fantastic image because it does those things.  When you first see it you go: WOW!

What key advice can you offer to entrants?

How do you get a WOW photo? When out in the field, constantly ask yourself this: how can I use original composition and/or light to take this bird image to a new level? Let your imagination take over from there.

Photo: Andy Rouse

Photo: Andy Rouse

 

 

Sabine Meyer

Audubon Website
Audubon
Instagram

What makes a winning nature or bird photograph for you?

Bonnie Block took this amazing photo (below) of a Bald Eagle and Great Blue Herons. It won the Grand Prize in the 2016 Audubon Photography Awards. To me, it perfectly illustrates a decisive moment and turns a high-octane clash into a visual ballet. Power and grace come together in an intimate face-off: we lock eyes with the Bald Eagle and are drawn into the altercation. Her photograph is as vivid as it is arresting. For a split second, chaos becomes still. It also illustrates two major tenets of ethical bird photography: patience to wait to get the shot just right and knowledge of both species’ behaviour.

What key advice can you offer to entrants?

Learn about the behaviour of the bird species you set out to photograph. Patience is key, and respect for birds and their habitats must come before that perfect shot.

Photo: Bonnie Block

Photo: Bonnie Block

 

 

Andy Rouse

Website
Instagram

What makes a winning nature or bird photograph for you?

For me, it has to be is much more than just a bird on a stick picture. I want to feel like I am right there, I want the image to stop me turning a page. I want it to be a wow! But more than anything I want it to show the wonder of birds for all to see, to show why we must care about bird conservation as much as anything else in our lives.

I think first and foremost it’s the light that governs any bird images, it’s got to be either in early / late light or very dramatic light. Personally, I love atmospheric light, backlit, where the subject is small and it’s the light and habitat that defines the image. I don’t like full frame portraits as anyone can take them, it’s easy to have a big lens, blast away and get an in-focus shot. I want to see more than that, I want to see composition, forethought and an understanding of the subject. When all of these things combine I will know the images that are winners for me.

What key advice can you offer to entrants?

I would say be different, as different is good. Avoid bird on a stick or full frame portraits. Think habitat, think light and think abstract too. Feathers are beautiful works of art, use them to get others to love birds as you do. Give your images space to breathe, space to be enjoyed and to show the beauty of the scene. When you process it’s fine to be creative with the light, to darken / brighten, enhance mood and atmosphere just don’t add or remove anything. Birds only have two wings you know!!!

Photo: Andy Rouse

Photo: Andy Rouse

Photo: Andy Rouse

Photo: Andy Rouse


 

Moose Peterson

WEbsite
Instagram

What makes a winning nature or bird photograph for you?

The ingredients I look for in my own bird photography for the images I want to share with the world is rather on the complex side though can be stated succinctly. I'm looking for the uncommon in the common. This in part includes those wise words of Jay Maisel, "Light, colour and gesture." This also requires a background that sets the stage for the star of the photograph and helps complete their story. Like I said, while it can be stated simply, there are lots of balls in the air to make the photograph come together to grab the viewer's heartstrings.

What key advice can you offer to entrants?

Those of you who enter the contest, understand from my point of view, you are already a winner! First, that's because you followed your passion to go out and make the photograph. Second and more important though, you are sharing with the world your passion through your photography. And lastly, the passion coming through the photograph you are sharing can change the world. So thank you for entering! My advice to you is to use the KISS theorem ... Keep It Simple Stupid. Smack the viewer between the eyes with your subject (which doesn't mean fill the frame with them) and tell their story in your words being a true, visual storyteller!

Photo: Moose Peterson

Photo: Moose Peterson

 

 

Chris Bray

Website
Instagram

What makes a winning nature or bird photograph for you?

Birds are excellent photography subjects: not only can they be found almost everywhere in a plethora of shapes, sizes, colours and personalities, but there is something inherently intriguing and delightful about their predominantly aerial lifestyle which we stubbornly-earthbound humans can only dream of. It’s not just the ability for most to take to the skies so gracefully that enthrals us, but also their fragility, their speed, power, navigational abilities, the myriad environments and threats they face, their song, colour, courage, behaviour and so much more. It’s these captivating qualities that combine to form the archetypal avian image in our minds.  Capturing the essence of any of these qualities into a single, striking frame is the perpetual challenge for bird photographers.

It’s easier said than done however. Surely one of the few things more abundant than birds are terrible photos of birds. They are challenging subjects – it’s often hard to get close enough, hard to expose correctly, hard to get an non-obstructing foreground or clean background, hard to keep in focus, to get a fast enough shutter speed, good lighting, good orientation and so on - and even if you manage to tick all those boxes, you can still end up with a technically perfect yet nevertheless quite boring photo.

For me, a winning bird photo not only ticks all those technical boxes, but importantly also captures one of those evocative qualities that embody the avian spirit, freezing that fleeting moment so that it can be appreciated and enjoyed in all its splendour and glory.

What key advice can you offer to entrants?

Just remember that in large competitions like this with thousands of images, two or three seconds is all you get for your photo to survive the first round of judging – and most don’t even last that long. It’s brutal, but that’s how it is. So pick your photos with that in mind: it has got to stand out. It’s more important for your photo to be different or interesting rather than perfect, else it won’t even progress to the second round where the technical details are assessed and any shortcomings are weighed against the overall impact of the image. For example, two birds fighting over a twig is far more interesting than two birds perched on a twig!

Photo: Chris Bray

Photo: Chris Bray

Photo: Chris Bray

Photo: Chris Bray


 

Dean Ingwersen

Website

What makes a winning nature or bird photograph for you?

I don't think there is a recipe to follow to get you a winning image, but to me an image has to do one of several things – draw you into the world of the subject (i.e. getting a view from the perspective of the bird), capture some action which is otherwise missed or too fleeting to really appreciate (such as the first image below), or showcase the species in question really well (such as the second example below). At workshops and talks I give I think participants get sick of me talking about images where the subject has either eye contact with the photographer, or another animal in the image. To me it’s one of the most fundamental parts of making a good image great.

In terms of ‘action photos’, the photo on the left below, taken by a colleague of mine Glenn Ehmke,  was the overall winner for ANZANG 2010.  I love the interaction, composure, and Glenn’s ability to freeze a moment in time.  The look on the seal's face rounds this off perfectly.

In terms of portraits or birds in habitat, I’ve always been in awe of this photo from Jan Wegener (right below).  Beautiful light, amazing control of the scene (i.e. capturing a smooth background), and the pose of such a stunning bird on a termite mound.  In one photo he’s captured the essence of this species.

What key advice can you offer to entrants?

Be critical, but not too critical.  While you might pick things in an image you wish were better, most other people will miss them.

Photo: Glenn Ehmke

Photo: Glenn Ehmke

Photo:  @janwegener

NOTE: Entrants are not allowed to contact judges to discuss their entries while the competition is active