Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Idaho Camera Birding Photo Competition - Results!

On behalf of Idaho Camera and the Idaho Birding Blog, we want to congratulate the winner and honorable mentions of our first birding photo competition! We are grateful for all the entries, enthusiasm, and support from the participants.  Special thanks to our volunteer judges who are fantastic photographers and birders that I enjoy following.  I have learned a lot from the judges' comments about what separates great photos from good photos and I hope you learn something too.  Just so the contestants know, I asked the judges to give suggestions about what might take these photos to the next level, so please accept their critique knowing their best intentions.

Let's get back out there across scenic Idaho and take more great pictures of birds and we'll see you for the second round of this photo competition in November!

1st Place

Bohemian Waxwing, by Kathleen Cameron
taken March 5, 2010 in Bellevue, Idaho 
with a Nikon D200 camera, AF-VR Nikkor 80-400mm lens

Judges Comments: 

This image immediately caught and held my attention, and really stands out as a superior image on a multitude of levels.  From a compositional point of view, the way eye travels through the image using the branch and the shape of the bird, there really isn't any way for the eye to easily leave the image.  It has a very simple, warm color pallet that is very pleasing.  The image is slightly backlit, which really emphasizes the shape of the bird, but not silhouetting it.  I like the way the creator of this image separated the background with very shallow depth of field, yet the bird appears to be in perfect focus, that was very well done.  The action of the bird tells a story, and the creator of this image caught it right at the perfect moment where this bird is about to pluck the fruit off of this twig.  Stepping back, there is almost an Art Nuevo element to this image.  It's the kind of image that was popular during this art movement and the people of that time would have really appreciated this image as I do.  I really don't have anything I could add to improve the image.  It's really good!

Excellent image quality from good exposure and focus. Good size in the frame. Interesting active pose. Eye has catchlight for a good live appearance and viewer eye contact.

Bohemian Waxwings are beautiful birds, so the subject matter helps, but the photographer doesn't rely on the beauty of the bird alone for the success of the image. The bird is doing something (eating), which is interesting. The gesture of the bird makes for a good composition - the frame is filled with the bird and I find myself moving throughout the frame. There doesn't seem to be wasted space. The light is is also really nice, it's soft, but direct. Also the bird is sharp (a simple, but very important element in a successful image).

2nd Place

Northern Pygmy Owl, by Terry Gray
taken Sept 25, 2009 near Moscow, Idaho
with a Sony Cyber-shot DSC H9

Judges Comments:

I like the pose--the interesting head tilt. Any time one can capture something other than a typical "field guide pose" it makes for a more interesting subject. The photo is sharply focused and has very low noise. The contrast and brightness are good. The cropping is a bit tight.

What a great shot of a pygmy owl. What makes this photograph work for me is how close the photographer is to the bird, how sharp the details of the bird are (including the slightly bloody bill), and the shallow depth of field (which helps separate the bird from the potentially busy background). If there is anything that bothers me about the image, it's how much attention the big sharp branch in the foreground demands from me when I look at the photograph. I'm not sure of the solution (being back a bit further, a vertical composition, or using a slightly shorter lens perhaps). It's a small thing though. I really like the photograph.

Idaho Camera is a great resource for birders and bird photographers.  Their friendly staff can help you select the right camera equipment to take stunning photos.  Classes are even offered to help you get the most out of your equipment.  Idaho Camera also offers a nice variety of binoculars and spotting scopes.  You can buy their products online or personally at their four locations in the Treasure Valley.

Honorable Mention (photos receiving top five votes and judges comments): 

(click on all photos to enlarge and enjoy more)

Great Blue Heron, by Bob Whitlatch

Judges Comments:  Great Blue Herons are impressive birds. I don't know if I've ever looked this carefully at a Great Blue Heron before though. The photographer has done something important. He's made me pay more attention to a very familiar subject. He did this by getting close to the bird, photographing it in good light that really defines the texture of the bird, and photographing the bird in fresh breeding plumage. The bird is in focus (very important). Also, the bird is slightly left of center in the frame, but the bird is looking to the right side of the frame, this is a nice use of space.

Western Screech Owl, by Mike Morrison

Judges Comments: I like how the pattern and color of the owl matches the tree. The focus is a little soft on the back of the head, so a bit more depth of field might be nice, but does not detract. I wonder if there was even  
a better cropping choice? This is such a nice photo, I'd like to see it cropped a couple of different ways to compare.

Burrowing Owl, by Kathleen Bowman

Judges Comments: This is the kind of image I would see in National Geographic.  The first thing that strikes me is the eyes of the owl that captures the viewer and holds them.  It is an intense stare and you get a connection to the owl because of this.  I like the way the creator of this image simplified the background through shallow depth of field, the background is completely indistinct and just becomes a lovely green backdrop to this image.  I like the rim light that really make the bird stand out from the background, and the fact there is enough shadow detail for those eyes to grab you.  I think the only thing I find myself wanting is a little more intensity in the eyes...not too much.  That might be accomplished through a low-power fill in flash or perhaps some mild post-process.  All in all, a great image.

American Goldfinch, by Leo Miller

Judges Comments: Really like the simple colors of this image, how the color of the bird is contrasted against the soft green background, and the little explosions of purple flowers it is perched upon.  Once again, I'm finding good eye contact with bird...I'm finding a connection with the bird through that.  The image is taken with shallow depth of field and I really like how it separated the bird and flowers from the background and the lighting is perfect for this image.  I'm debating on how the center composition works in this.  Center composition (subject placed in the middle of the frame) really needs a lot of additional impact (leading lines, graphic elements) to successfully work...otherwise you want to stick to "rule of thirds" composition.  (There is a big, academic dissertation as to why...I'll spare everyone of that for the moment)  In this case, I'm finding myself wanting the bird to shifted slightly to the right so that it's looking into the rest of the frame probably would have given this image just a little bit more impact.

Excellent exposure on difficult yellow (many photographers over exposure yellow and lose detail). Perch is natural and adds interesting color to composition. Composition could be improved by having a bit more space on top and a little cropping on the right to move the bird out of center.

Swainson's Hawk, by Jennifer Hall

Judges Comments: Commanding eye contact. Interesting plumage. Nice habitat setting. Good sharpness.

Spotted Towhee, by Bob Davis

Judges Comments: This photo has excellent artistic framing with the placement of the bird and hawthorn, worthy of imitation.  I'd like to see if this photo looked even better a touch brighter and with a hint more sharpening.

Bullock's Oriole, by Kathleen Cameron

Judges Comments:  This photo speaks a lot to color and texture.  I like how the creator of this image used harsh light to show the texture of the bird, the orange and the fence they were on.  Lighting also made for strong colors which is key to this image.  I like the eye contact that the bird is making with the viewer...I get a sense of the personality of this bird and the story behind the scene.  The background is wonderfully simple and lets the bird really be predominant in the scene.  I find the highlight on the fence in the lower right to be a little distracting, if you put your thumb over the highlight, the image becomes even stronger.  You could tone it down a little through some post-process work and that would strengthen the image quite a bit.

Gosling, by Ryck Tanner

Judges Comments:  Whether they are animals or humans...babies are always fun and interesting.  This image of a gosling is no exception...  The colors are great, the subject stands out from the background.  The texture on the bird just makes you want to reach in and touch it, the eye contact, the lighting all work together nicely.  The lower part of the frame seems cropped in a strange place.  I think I would either like to see more of the feet, or a closer crop on the head.  I would have liked to see the image shifted a little to the right in the frame.  All in all, a good image!

I've seen plenty of terrible duck and geese photographs (my students turn them in all of the time). This is a great photograph of a gosling. I think what makes it work for me is the color, the shallow depth of field, and the slight back-lighting, which gives the bird a bit of rim lighting, which is especially noticeable with this fresh down. If I had any suggestion it would probably be a vertical composition. It is a bit awkward to cut the bird off at the belly. I'd love to see the legs and feet. However, I really like this photograph. It's difficult to make an interesting photograph of an overly photographed subject (in this case a baby goose).

Short-eared Owl, by Jennifer Hall

Judges Comments: Excellent image quality. Great eye contact. Nice habitat. Natural color.

Oregon Junco, by Debbie Courson Smith

Judges Comments: The textures and subdued colors in this photo were quite attractive. The focus and lighting were excellent. The cropping is too tight--perhaps cropping out some undesirable element. Ideally the bird needs more room within the frame, above the head and in the direction the bird is facing.

Party!, by Kay Asher

Judges Comments: I love the action in this photograph. It does look like a party. I also like the fact that the photograph is of very ordinary birds, house sparrows and a house finch. The success of the photograph relies more on the action and overall feeling of the photograph than it does on the beauty or the intrigue of the individual birds. It's a really happy fun image. If I would improve on anything it would be a slightly more careful composition. There is sort of a lot going on and some of the birds bunch together. Also that weird out of focus greenish-yellow edge on the right could probably be cropped out. This photograph makes me smile though.

Western Meadowlark, by Linda Milam

Judges Comments: Initially this photo was not in my top list of five. Technically, it has good color and brightness and focus. The style might be called BOAS (bird on a stick). This gives a rather uninteresting background (solid sky). However, the more I looked at it, the better I liked the potential. So, yes, I am including this based on how good this photo could be with a couple of minor changes. First, there is a dust spot in the sky at two o'clock from the back of the bird and one body length away that should be cloned out. Second, birds often look better offset within the frame, not centered, with more space above the bird's head and in the direction it is facing. This shot should be more tightly cropped (maybe up to 60% of present size), losing half the fence post and placing the bird more to the lower right within the frame (bird's bill close to center).  (example below created by website host)

Please show Idaho Camera your thanks for sponsoring this competition by visiting their website and being a patron!

A few sentimental favorites from the Idaho Birding Blog host and his wife:

Canada Geese, by Linda Milam

American Goldfinch, by Debbie Courson Smith

Red-tailed Hawk with Snake, by Louinda Huston

Black-crowned Night Heron, by Louinda Huston

American Avocets, by Arenett Grant

California Quail, by Kevin Walker

Canada Goose, by Gene Halberstadt

Red-tailed Hawk, by Leo Miller

1 comment:

  1. I thought there was some great photos in the contest. The waxwing shot was also my favorite and very deserving. A favorite of mine that wasn't mentioned was Leo Miller's hawk photo. It is an incredibly sharp and striking photo and perfect composition.

    Thanks for the opportunity to participate in a fun competition.