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  • Black Swan

    Black Swan.   Photographer: Harry Charalambous

  • Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Pied Heron, Royal Spoonbill

    Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Pied Heron, Royal Spoonbill.   Photographer: Georgina Steytler

  • Pacific Black Duck

    Pacific Black Duck.   Photographer: Con Boekel

  • Black-winged Stilt

    Black-winged Stilt.   Photographer: Paul Jensen

  • Great Egret

    Great Egret.   Photographer: William Betts

It was an extremely difficult task judging the entries for the Small in the Landscape photo competition! There are many truly excellent entries, with so many talented, dedicated bird photographers within the group, and I would like to congratulate all who have taken part. One interesting observation is that so many of the strongest entries have featured waterbirds, which is possibly because successful bird photography lends itself to more (relatively) static subjects as may be found in waterways etc. Amongst my final selection of the half-dozen best entries, I'm sure I will have made some selections that will invite animated discussion from the members, as competitions such as these are such a subjective, personal experience. I have avoided marking or ranking the images numerically, but rather have drawn on my experience in critiquing the best of the many images, considering factors such as composition, the use of negative space, awareness of quality of light, technical competency, and original approaches to the competition's brief.

It is unfortunate, but understandable, that many of the best images from a technical perspective didn’t actually address the competition’s brief, and so I could not reasonably consider them for the final winning entries. Several photographers submitted multiple bird portraits of a high standard, but that didn’t really illustrate the relationship between the bird and its environment. A super-shallow depth of field is a very effective portrait technique; however, in this competition's case it was frequently counter-productive.

Composition was another aspect that separated the winners from the runners-up, and several of the better entries would have benefitted from some judicious cropping to improve their visual impact.Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Kristina Bernard) To my mind, a simple crop is the single most effective act of digital (or analogue!) editing a photographer can do to give an image greater impact.  I'd like to kindly use a couple of examples here. First, the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper by Kristina Bernard has an absolutely incredible quality of light to it, on both bird and water, and the way the colours and textures are rendered reminds me of a Raymond Ching bird painting. Unfortunately, I find the out-of-focus sandpiper in the background a major distraction, which could easily have been cropped out and consequently provided a greater focus on the primary bird in the foreground.

Another image that illustrates my point is the Little Crow by Anthea Fleming.Little Crow (Anthea Fleming)  Initially, this image has a snap-shot appearance about it, but if the stick in the top-left quarter had been cropped out I think this would have been a really strong contender as it has so much going for it.  You can really feel the heat radiating off the desert stones, and the all-black bird has a wonderful sense of place amongst such a hostile environment!

A number of strong portrait-style images featured the birds smack in the middle of the frame, when a little judicious cropping could have improved the overall composition and dynamics of the image.  Birds central in frame is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the way most digital (and analogue) cameras have their most accurate AF point in the middle of the focus-grid, although higher-spec DSLRs these days are pretty good for off-centre AF even if the subject is moving.

Being such a difficult competition to judge, before I get to my final 6 selections, I would just like to make some honourable mentions that were outstanding images in their own right.

Honourable Mentions

Blue-billed Duck by William Betts.  A truly amazing image.  I’m not sure how much post-editing was involved (perhaps none?) but the selectively-diagnostic lighting of the duck’s bill is glorious.  If this competition was solely on aesthetic portraiture, this would have been very hard to beat!

Australian Pelican, Silver Gull by Helen Peter.  Beautiful light, and composition; it’s a truly iconic Australian image.  Having the angler there gives it a thoughtful, strongly photojournalistic aspect.  Very impressive.

Blue-winged Parrot (ID12545) by Geoff Gates.  A strikingly beautiful image, I particularly love the soft, out of focus bands of colour in the background contrasting with the gorgeous, pin-sharp parrots in foreground, that gives the image a wonderful sense of movement and depth.  It was very hard to leave this out of my final top 6.

  Blue-billed Duck (William Betts)Australian Pelican, Silver Gull (Helen Peter)Blue-winged Parrot (Geoff Gates)

But without further ado, here they are …

My Top Six

Freckled Duck by Lindsay Cooke.  A heartbreaking, photo journalistic image, of such a gorgeous bird.  Everything is in high contrast.  The light, the beauty of the bird, and the degradation of its world by mankind.  For this bird, this is the world we have created.  Photo journalism is a valuable tool for effecting awareness and change, and in this particular competition it was this image that spoke loudest to me.  The eye contact between viewer and the duck is very powerful.  In a word, magnificent.  Could the image have been improved?  Possibly a little selective lightening of the face, but I kind of like the way the eye is barely there, fading to the darkness.

Freckled Duck (Lindsay Cooke)
Endangered in Victoria and vulnerable in SA and NSW
A Freckled duck surrounded by refuse in a polluted section of wetland in rural Victoria

Eastern Reef Egret by Michael Thomsett.  A simple, but very dynamic image!  You are right there in the water with the egret, and there is an undeniable power about the hidden depths of the water.  The delicate egret is indeed dwarfed by power of the landscape.  This viewpoint is original, and arresting.  The diagonal horizon adds a sense of energy to the composition, more so than if the image was perfectly horizontal.

Eastern Reef Egret (Michael Thomsett)
As the tide recedes, water pours off Montgomery Reef providing
a perfect spot for bird to forage on sea life trapped on the reef.

Black Currawong by David Seymour.  I love the bleakness of this virtually monochromatic image, with the currawong's bright yellow iris providing a perfect visual target as your eye roams the image – a very effective design component.  The seamless transition between the man-made and natural landscape is enhanced by the soft tones, an environment the currawong has adapted perfectly to.

Black Currawong (David Seymour)
"Monarch of the Glen"
These hardy birds seem quite happy in mid-winter in the mountains, in conditions which make humans shiver. This individual tried its luck at scoring a handout, while seemingly surveying its snowy domain for other opportunities.

Red-capped Plover by Carole O'Neill.  Carole has cropped this image perfectly, the narrow landscape format enhancing the movement of the plover across the surface of the water, a leg about to delicately break the surface tension.  The trail behind it, the crystal reflection, and the plover’s path from cool tones into the warmer light are all strong elements of this image.  Great images evoke emotional responses, and I find this one optimistic.  Like the Eastern Reef Egret image, this is a simple but highly effective composition, demonstrating the photographer has advanced visual literacy.  On a technical side-note, it pleases me that this image was taken with an inexpensive "superzoom compact" camera, rather than a big, heavy DSLR, proving the adage that the best camera is the one in your hand!

Red-capped Plover (Carole O'Neill)
The only movement on the salt pan is the delicate tip toeing of a female Red-capped Plover across the shining surface. The sun slips lower to the horizon bathing everything in the last warm glow of the day.

White-necked Heron by Belinda Rafton.  This image fits the competition brief perfectly, and for me it just rings true in terms of how we so often see birds in the field.  Small, inconspicuous, and yet with a mighty presence.  I love the harsh light, the jagged, overlapping ridges, and the way the heron is illuminated against the darker rock, captured in a typically alert pose.  Technically, some of the highlight detail has been lost in the rocks nearest the camera due to the extreme range of contrast, but for me it’s not a deal breaker.  There is an authenticity to this image we can all appreciate.

White-necked Heron (Belinda Rafton)
"My favourite fishing hole"
No-one seemed to notice this heron waiting patiently for an unwary fish to swim by.

Galah by Bryon Samuels.  Many people may disagree with this final choice, but I think it's a classic case of seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, so well done to Bryon.  The composition is original, and the viewpoint from base of tower, combined with the skillful use of selective focus, draws the eye to the birds in question.  Galahs are undeniably playful and inquisitive, and their exploration of a potential man-made nesting chamber that mimics that of a large eucalypt hollow, is a clever observation that fits the competition brief.  Compositionally, the massive tower representing mankind's overpowering influence on the environment, and the proportionately small galahs seeking to find a way to survive in such a "brave new world", is another strong photo journalistic image.

Galah (Bryon Samuels)
"We came here last year to nest, look what they have done to our hole this year. Maybe I can pull this mesh off."
They have been trying for three weeks now. Last tower they got into they chewed through the communication cables, a costly repair.

 

Many congratulations to all who entered the competition, it’s been a privilege to judge!

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