blp shabash 430x45

  • Restless Flycatcher

    Restless Flycatcher.   Photographer: Harry Charalambous

  • Rufous Treecreeper

    Rufous Treecreeper.   Photographer: David Newell

  • Eurasian Coot

    Eurasian Coot.   Photographer: Richard Smart

  • Common Bronzewing

    Common Bronzewing.   Photographer: Gunther Frensch

  • Grey Fantail

    Grey Fantail.   Photographer: Emmy Silvius

It was an utter pleasure to see such fine work being produced by many photographers in Birdlife Photography.  I found the standard very high but it did make the job of selecting the winner a difficult one though.  I started with a very long ‘shortlist’ containing nearly a quarter of the images entered and carefully scored them, eventually settling on 8 images.  Well done to all who entered as you have contributed to an excellent gallery of photos.

I did wonder when I wrote this review whether some of my comments could be considered a little picky.  However, that was not my intention.  All of the photos I’ve reviewed here are very fine and the comments are solely to provide some guidance on how some of them could be made even better.  It is inevitable with such strong competition that any issue with an image would be at some cost to its ranking.

Because of the difficulty choosing an overall winner, I have awarded a tie for first place for two quite different but very worthy images.

Winner (tied): Little Pied Cormorant – Doug Castle (Image ID 28247)

Even though the species is a fairly common and much photographed, this image was a stand-out for me.  The photographer’s timing was excellent and has captured the cormorant in a unique and fascinating pose.  The form and shape of the bird are quite artistic and further emphasised by the clean and soft background that contrasts well with the cormorant.  Technically it is hard to find any fault.  The colour looks clean and balanced and detail is visible from the blacks through to the highlights.  The image is pin-sharp and has good depth of field.  A wonderful catchlight in the eye rounds this off nicely.  The composition is very effective with the bird placed diagonally from the lower right of the image with effective use of negative space on the left, all adding to the artistry of this shot.

Little Pied Cormorant

Winner (tied): Musk Ducks - William Betts (Image ID 28184)

This was quite a different image to the co-winner but also created immediate impact when I saw it.  The female Musk Duck and her young duckling present an endearing image that would pull on most people’s heartstrings.  While this helped created impact from the image, it was a worthy winner for many more reasons.  The layout of the visual elements is very effective with the duck and duckling in near identical poses and reinforced by the reflections.  The tones and colours of the two ducks were rich and satisfying but not overdone and these contrasted nicely with the paler and cooler colour of the water.  Composition was also very effective with the birds and their reflections nicely balanced by some space above and to the left.  Sometimes other objects in the image can distract but I liked the little extra that the floating water plants added to this shot.  Excellent clarity and detail is visible on the two birds, including wonderful catchlights in each bird’s eye.

Musk Ducks

Highly commended: Brown Falcon – Bill Harding (Image ID 27992)

The thing that caught my attention was the intense concentration of the falcon as it battled and finally prevailed over the snake.  Sometimes a great photo can come in an instant but often it involves patience and concentration.  I congratulate the photographer on taking the time to watch as this interaction played out and also for the choice of this particular shot which tells the story very effectively.  I also liked the wide ‘panoramic’ crop used.  It would be tempting to simply select the bird and snake and cut much of the rest but showing more of the environment here has worked well although I would have preferred the small plant on the left to be a little less dominant.  Having the lower part of the bird and much of the snake obscured by the foreground grass has provided effective framing and added some depth as well as a hint of mystery (where exactly is the snake’s dangerous end?).  Technical aspects were very good with great feather detail and natural-looking colour.  I wondered if the image (or just the highlights) could be darkened a little as there isn’t much detail to see on some white parts of the bird.  However, the darker, shadowed areas look very good with adequate detail visible.

Brown Falcon

Commended: Australian Wood Duck - William Betts (Image ID 28185)

What a delightful photo this is.  There’s nothing more cute than a young duckling going about its business oblivious to the rest of the world, or in this instance oblivious to the photographer.  Like all good photos, this one shows great timing to catch such an endearing pose.  The meadow in which it is photographed also adds a bright and friendly mood to the shot.  The photographer has achieved a good compromise on depth of field with all of the head and foot in focus and a fair part of the body, all showing excellent fine detail.  Handling the exposure and lighting adjustments can be difficult for birds like this with both light and dark plumage but it has been done very well here.  Compositionally, the only minor issue I noticed was the flower in front of the duckling’s leg which is somewhat unfortunate but near impossible to avoid in this situation.

Australian Wood Duck

Commended: Brown Goshawk – William Betts (Image ID 28183)

This is a very fine flight photo that would be hard to improve upon.  When photographing birds from side on, one important aspect of flight photography is the bird’s direction of travel relative to the photographer.  One of the most effective in that regard is when the bird is flying at an angle towards the photographer, just as seen in this shot.  For this photo, the direct stare from the bird raises it a level and creates great engagement.  Technically, the image is very well executed with the entire bird in sharp focus and free from motion blur.  The rich, brown colours of the bird have been brought out nicely and the blue sky looks natural in colour.  The dorsal view of the bird is a positive and has helped reduce the problem of shadows from the strong sunlight.  Even the shadowed underside of the bird shows good detail although I think that could benefit from a small amount of lightening.

Brown Goshawk

Commended: Golden-headed Cisticola – Chris Dubar (Image ID 28543)

The photographer has noted the difficulty getting an ‘unobstructed’ shot of this species.  Not only has that been achieved here but also a perfect, clean background allowing attention to focus solely on the bird and its perch.  As a further bonus, the bird has been caught in full song.  Sensible choice of aperture has resulted in good depth of field and providing nice detail across the bird and perch right down to the toes grasping the reed.  The tail is out of focus but not significant in this shot and not a problem in my view.  I felt the bird in this shot could be brightened just a little and perhaps some contrast added as I think this could give the photo added punch without making it look unnatural.

Golden-headed Cisticola

Commended: Red-backed Kingfisher – Michael Schmid (Image ID 28386)

This photo is a good reminder that a bird need not fill the frame to create a great photo.  I was struck by the balance and beautiful flow in this shot.  Like the Japanese art of flower-arranging (Ikebana), the bird and perch are artistically and simply arranged to create great impact.  I commend the photographer for having the ‘eye’ to see this and create this composition.  Among other things, the perch running diagonally from one corner to the other helps to create the symmetry and balance.  A beautiful, soft background with complementary colours to that of the bird (blues and red-browns) further strengthen this image.  I can see that this photo must have been well-focussed and sharp when originally taken as there is some nice feather detail coming through but I feel a little more detail could be extracted from it in processing.

Red-backed Kingfisher

Commended: Wedge-tailed Eagle – Bill Harding (Image ID 28406)

Flight photography is one of the most difficult areas of bird photography and this photo is another example of how it should be done.  Many things made this photo stand out: the less common dorsal view of the eagle, the slight head turn towards the photographer which is very engaging, wing in the down-stroke position showing off its plumage beautifully, tack sharp and well executed technically.  Colour on the bird and sky look natural and there was generally good tonal range on the bird.  The composition was simple and effective, with the bird roughly centred a third of the way from the left with good space on the right.  In cases like this with moving subjects, it’s usually good practice to provide more room on the side the bird is moving towards – think of it as a space into which it can fly.  The light was strong and directional here but handled well as there is very little shadow to deal with.  The highlight on the back of the bird is lacking detail, probably because of the strong sunlight above, but this is still a very satisfying flight shot of a magnificent bird.

Grey Teal


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