Thursday, December 2, 2010

Idaho Camera Birding Photo Competition - Nov 2010 Winners!

On behalf of Idaho Camera and the Birding is Fun blog, we want to congratulate the winners and honorable mentions of our second birding photo competition! The competition was stiff this round with five different photos receiving 1st place votes.  We are grateful for all the entries, enthusiasm, and support from the participants. Special thanks to our prize donors for their generosity and to our volunteer judges who are fantastic photographers and birders. 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.

1st Place
Winner of the Idaho Camera gallery-wrap print and a behind-the-scenes tour of the World Center for Birds of Prey: The Peregrine Fund.
"Arc of Nine" by Bob Siedel
Burrowing Owlets
north of Monteview, Idaho
25 June 2010
Photo taken with Nikon D300, 300mm with 80-400mm, f/16, 1/60s, ISO400 Raw converted to sRGB
Judges comments:

What makes this image great is that you rarely see birds posing for a group portrait. I think somebody could spend their life looking for this photo and never find it...but the image maker did! I like the lines of the grouping, everyone's attention is focused on the photographer, and I really find myself coming back to the image as it is unique and interesting. I do find the rock on the left distracting and it is a much stronger image without it, and possibly toning down the rocks at the bottom of the photo would also strengthen the image. All in all, I keep coming back to this image and very much enjoy the human element of a group portrait that this photograph has.

A pleasing image - who doesn't like to look at a large group of baby owls. Its good that all the owls have their eyes open and all birds are looking at the camera. I like the owls being at different levels and the bodies overlapping. I think the image quality could be better - the birds don't look as sharp as they should and there's not enough depth of field to cover all the owls. I'd like a little more space at the bottom, and the dirt and gravel around the burrow and at the bottom could be darkened with a bit of careful burning.

The varied expressions of the different birds are really fun. I also enjoy the soft light and the subtle color. Also, the balance between having most of the birds in focus, but allowing the background to fall out of focus was a good choice.

This image is well weighted in terms of thirds, and this is not an easy thing for a photographer to accomplish in a situation like this one. The photographer has managed, I imagine through patience, and respect for the owls, to capture the exact moment when the birds we curious and unafraid. Photographically and ethically this is strong image and to top it off it is charming and delightful to the heart of the viewer.

Editor note: I understand why this photo took first place. When I saw it, I couldn't stop looking at it...and I couldn't stop smiling. Congratulations Bob!

2nd Place

Winner of a $50 gift certificate to Bird House & Habitat and a family pass to the World Center for Birds of Prey.
"Down Low" by Jennifer Hall
Great Horned Owl, juv.
Roberts, Idaho
28 June 2010
Judges Comments:

The eye contact makes this a strong image. The colors overall are natural and pleasing. The setting looks natural and is nicely blurred to keep it from distracting from the owl. Light is soft and natural. The image could be strengthened by a some adjustment to the composition, perhaps trimming a bit from the left and going closer to a square format.

The power of simplicity...what is interesting and stands out here is that the owl seems to be just as curious about us as we are about him.

Nice focus on expressive face. Would like to see more room above head and to the right, the direction toward which the owl is facing. A vertical crop of this same image could accomplish the same, removing the left third of the photo.

3rd Place

Winner of gift package from the Watchable Wildlife Program of the Idaho Fish & Game and a family pass to the World Center for Birds of Prey.
"Bloaticus" by Rob Miller
Turkey Vulture
Albion Mountains, Idaho
29 June 2010
Photo taken with an HP Photosmart 945
Judges Comments:

We've all encountered similar scenes, but few of us have taken photos of it (I have). Turkey Vultures are interesting birds that a lot of people don't pay enough attention to. This is a strong composition with the vulture nicely placed at the strong 1/3rd point in the frame. The legs of the carcass point directly at the vulture. The viewer's eye goes directly to the red head - the only splash of color in the expanse of green. The light is soft and keeps the blacks in the frame from blocking up. To make the image stronger the composition could be tightened up slightly - this would make the vulture a little bigger in the frame and might help at web size. The image could be warmed up slightly in post processing.

This is may be the grossest, but most honest photograph in the bunch. I love the flies, the white-wash, the bloated cow, and of course the vulture. The soft light and depth of field is also nice.

As morbid as it sounds, I laughed out loud when I first saw this image. This reminds me of a cartoon from Gary Larson's "The Far Side". I find my self desperately wanting a "Far Side-ish" caption or title that would complete the image, something off-beat and hilariously funny to take the obvious storyline here and give it an unexpected twist. The vulture, is pausing for some reason before digging-in for the feast...there are hundreds of great ideas as to what that pause would mean. You could have a lot of fun with that one... All that aside, (despite my unsolicited detour into the Far Side) there is a very strong storyline here. It's composed well in a journalistic fashion, the subject stands out clearly. The condition of the carcass is well rendered from the bloating to the flies all over it...I can almost smell it (and very thankful that I can't) and of course the bird that is most certainly rejoicing in it's good fortune.

Editor Note: Rob expressed some respectful concern when submitting this photo, that readers might find it distasteful. I was happy to include the photo knowing that most birders appreciate the glory and oftimes gore of the wonderful circle of life.

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

(click on all photos to enlarge and enjoy more)

"Bath Time" by Robert Becker
Boise River Greenbelt
21 Nov 2009
Judges Comments

Very artistic and good use of action in this strongly backlit photo. The water drops look like they could merge into stars.

I love action, storyline and subject placement here. All the frozen droplets of water everywhere, you can almost hear the bird the flapping around in the water. What does bother me (and it's hard to deal with...I know) is the specular highlights that pull my eyes away from the ducks. It's really difficult to get beyond looking at the highlight behind the duck on the right. A slight change of camera angle so that spectacular highlight was more of a halo behind the right hand duck than a spot behind it might have strengthened this image.

The composition of the image is pleasing and pulls the eye to the action of the bathing active duck. The shimmering light reflected on the drops of water makes this image stand out as a work of art. The viewer can almost feel the “joy” of the waterfowl and the energy of the moment.

Killdeer by Larry Barnes
Stanley, Idaho
13 June 2010
Judges Comments

Good capture of the distraction display while still showing the head in profile. The image would benefit with a bit more depth of field to get the head sharper. The whites on the neck are burnt out from overexposure. The setting is busy and the bright rocks are distracting.

Excellent side light, exposure, and color. The focus and sunlight is on the rump, which matches the focus of the distraction display.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird by Michael Morrison
Silver City, Idaho
26 June 2010
Judges Comments

I've watched many hummingbirds drink from moving water like this and I know it can be a hard shot to get. The image would be stronger with a bit more light on the belly and face of the bird.

This photograph works well on a couple of different levels. The photograph stands on it own as a beautiful study in color, light, and pattern. The fact that the photographer caught the hummingbird in mid-flight getting a drink, and that the hummingbird is sharp and framed well, is also remarkable.

This nearly frozen moment in time image is lovely and has a lot of wow factor. The viewer I think is struck at once with the skill of the photographer and in wondering how it came about that he was there right at that moment. So not only is the viewer amazed to see the bird drinking while hovering over the stream but the back story keeps one looking and wondering.

Calliope Hummingbird by Keith Carlson
Peck, Idaho
9 June 2007
Judges Comments

This well composed image focuses the eye immediately to the beautiful gorget of the bird. The lack of distracting background is a big plus. Overall the peaceful feeling of a moment of pause in this busy birds life is conveyed the moment the viewers eyes fall upon it. The depth of field that allows for the bill to be in focus from the tip to the base is also appreciated by the viewer.

It's nice to see the pattern of the Calliope Hummingbird's throat. It's also nice to see one in a natural location, rather than at a feeder. I'd like to see the bird a bit lighter, but overall the image is quite nice.

Great Gray Owl by Bill Schiess
Big Hole Mtns, east of Rexburg, ID
30 Oct 2010
Judges Comments

The intensity of this magnificent predator is clearly relayed by Mr. Schiess triggering the shutter at this precise moment. The blood on the bill adds well in a non-gruesome way to bolstering the power of the image. I find also that the repetition of the pattern of the out of focus pine needles in the top of the image, mirrored to a degree in the feather pattern on the wing, for me conveys a feeling of the owls connection to its habitat.

Great patterning in sharp focus. I would like to see an option less closely-cropped to the head.

Great Gray Owlet by Robert Williams
Kilgore, Idaho
June 2010
Judges Comments
This is a very powerful image in my opinion. The image maker used very strong graphic elements to create interest in this photo, there are diagonal lines that run criss-cross through the image yet reinforce the subject, and the owl posture is wonderfully set against those lines of the branches around it. I enjoy the color simplicity of this image and how the silver color in the bird is also carried out through the greenery around it, yet the owl stands out from it's background. Then there is the splash of yellow in the eyes and beak that pulls the viewer into the owl's face. Very well done photo, and I give is very high marks for it's design and how it makes me really appreciate this bird. The tree branch in upper left is the only thing that bothers me, it does try to compete with the owl, I probably would have burned in the highlights that area slightly so that it would for sure be a secondary background element. All things considered, this is hands down my favorite image.

"Dude, what is wrong with you?!"  by Christopher Balmer
Great Horned Owl juveniles
near Roberts, Idaho
8 July 2010
Judges Comments

Owls are a popular subject for photographers and Great Horned Owls are probably the most photographed of the owls. It is nice to a different take on a familiar subject. I really like the interaction between the two owls. They act like typical siblings.

"I See You" by Jo Rita Knopf
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Camas National Wildlife Refuge, Hamer, Idaho
23 Mar 2008
Judges Comments

Good vertical cropping choice, great facial expression. The plastic tube is only slightly distracting.

Participation Prizes

Patrick Ball is the winner of a free one-year subscription to WildBird Magazine.

Bill Schiess is the winner of the camera backpack courtesy of Perfect Light Camera & Supply.

Please join me in thanking our prize sponsors.  Please visit their websites, store locations, or facilities.  Please consider purchasing their products or donating money or time to their programs as it may apply!

2169 E. 17th St., Idaho Falls, ID 83401
(208) 523-6789 Fax: (208) 523-3484
Store Hours: Monday 11:00-6:00, Tuesday-Friday 10:00-6:00, Saturday 10:00-5:00
12598 W. Fairview Street Suite 101
Boise, ID 83713
Telephone: 208.375.8051
Fax: 208.287.3710


  1. I enjoyed all of the submissions but "Bloaticus" was definitely my favorite, I'm glad it placed in the top 3!

  2. Congratulations on everyone! Great photos!

  3. Incredible photos! Thanks for sharing them. All are worthy.

  4. Thanks for sharing all these amazing pictures with us. They are tremendous!

  5. thsi is the kind of pics you can only dream of.

  6. Wow, those are some ridiculous photos!

    Drew at The Nemesis Bird

  7. Great post Robert! Absolutely incredible photos and I really enjoyed reading the criticisms, I think they will help me be a better photographer too.

    I am, of course, ecstatic to see the Burrowing Owlets in first place. Hopefully everyone reading this already knows about our petition to save Burrowing Owls and has signed it.

    I also love the Great Gray Owlet in the snow and the Great Horned Owl Juveniles scrapping is magnificent.