Congratulations to everyone who completed the 2021 Art of Birding photography challenges! It was evident from the December challenges how, over the year, participants had leveled up. The 2022 challenges have now kicked off, and this year participants are also doing monthly projects alongside weekly challenges. You can do both or either – whatever works for you. This is a great time to join the group if you haven’t already - it’s free, and each month you get a chance to be featured here on the Excio blog. Get onboard at

In the meantime, let’s look back at the end of 2021 - here are our top picks from the December challenges.

Frame within a frae is a compositional technique we should all have in our repertoire, and I include it nearly every year as I struggle with “seeing” opportunities when out shooting and need all the practice and inspiration I can get.

Carole Garside (New Zealand) perfectly captures a glorious tūī framed by kōwhai blossoms – one of the tūī’s primary food sources in spring and an iconic image of New Zealand.

Kathy Browne Flynn (Australia) uses the opening of a nest to frame this sweet wee sunbird. In both cases, the object creating the frame is not just a compositional technique; it adds to the story.

Jillian Selkirk (New Zealand) says she feels the fear with intentional camera movement (ICM) photos “I find this subject very hard as, with my camera, if I slow the shutter speed down too much, in the daylight, I get ‘white out’!” We all struggle with our settings at times and it can be easy to give up, but Jillian persevered and captured this glorious artistic photo that could have been created in pastels.

Vandy Pollard (New Zealand) says “After breaking my ankle in three places and experiencing ligament damage in January 2021, it’s been a real challenge to progress to holding my camera, photographing birds in my garden propped up on a chair, then slowly outdoors with the aid of crutches and in the last few months progressing to where I’m happy, on the rocky South Coast of Wellington. I’m still experimenting with balance which isn’t 100% and have a fear of falling each time I shoot but compared to where I was a few months ago, I’ve made significant progress.”

It’s fabulous to see Vandy rewarded for her persistence in her recovery with beautiful photo opportunities of a red-billed gull chick. She says “This was my first time spotting a Red-billed gull chick on the South Coast of Wellington. It was vying for the attention of one of its parents returning from foraging. Red-billed gulls are native to Aotearoa New Zealand. Despite being our commonest gull on the coast, they have a conservation status of declining.”

James Foy (New Zealand) showed us this fearsome lion, but it wasn’t the lion that James was fearful of. “When I started my journey as a photographer I was particularly scared to try new ways of editing my personal and commercial projects. I’m sure some of you, like myself, have had similar experiences with over judgmental people who get pleasure from picking and pulling apart others' work under the premise of a critique for their own self-confidence. It took me months to gain confidence to try techniques to convey the message I would like to get across to the viewer. Since leaving a photography course early due to personal reasons, I have set myself smaller goals in order to reach my overall goal of having a thriving photography business.” Later this year, James is having his first exhibition at the New Zealand Parliament Gallery in Wellington: Evanescence, Portraits of Impermanence, which will be a wildlife exhibition depicting 20 iconic species from across the globe and New Zealand that are critically endangered and threatened. This photo was taken up in Rotorua and will be one of the main pieces of the exhibition.

Experiences like James’ is why we don’t have a culture of critique in the Art of Birding challenges. Instead, we encourage and support everyone. We’re each on our own journey of exploration and discovery. Learning to be confident in our own creative choices is far more important than what someone else thinks. Consider us the antithesis of the traditional camera club.

Heading into the silly season, I love to include a challenge for serenity, zen, and relaxation.

Jan Abernethy (New Zealand) says “This image is calming and relaxing, just what we all need right now.”

Jillian Selkirk (New Zealand) captured this oasis of green on a bright summertime day at the Botanic Gardens. Don’t you just want to stop and rest a while?

The conclusion of the 2021 challenges was to create a themed photo essay, and I’m so delighted at how many people took up the challenge.

Carole Garside (New Zealand) created an exquisite portfolio of water in its many forms. An example photo is here of the Tarawera Falls in the Bay of Plenty, but do click through and see the entire essay

Judy Jackson (Canada) says “I discovered that this past summer I had taken several photos of boats while visiting the east and west coasts of Canada. I thought that the boats themselves were the drawing card but realise now it was the water. Nevertheless, I have put together a 5 picture collage of some of the more interesting images that I captured. Making the collage in Photoshop involved a steep learning curve and one of my New Year challenges will be to learn more of Photoshop.” I love how Judy's layout looks like a boat’s porthole!

[Paula Vigus (New Zealand)](') adores photographing fungi and has created this YouTube slideshow of a year’s worth of fungi from Jan to Dec. Well worth a look – there is such incredible diversity in our forests! Included here are two examples.

Now in its fifth year, the Art of Birding challenges created by photo-artist Judi Lapsley Miller will push your wildlife and nature photography even further. This year we’re focusing on developing a personal style and exploring ways to bring your digital images into the real world where they can do some good. From puffins and polar bears to tūī and tuatara, be inspired and supported by photographers from all around the world. Join us now at

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