By Judi Lapsley Miller, challenge creator, with input from the AoB Facebook moderators.

The themes for March in the 2022 Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge were intention and composition. Have you tried shooting with intention before? How much do you think about composition before hitting the shutter? This month, all the sparks and the challenge required us to engage our brains before taking the shot.

Week 10: Symmetry

For the symmetry challenge, Moderator Dave Hattori (USA)selected Jan Robinson’s (Australia) damselfly photo. Dave says “Symmetry can often be captured with reflections or a single object that is itself symmetrical, and there were many wonderful examples submitted this month. However, Jan captured an image of two separate subjects, Blue Ringed Damselflies, in a symmetrical pose, taking the challenge a step further. The beautiful lighting and incredible detail that she captured, as well as the nicely blurred background combined with the symmetrical pose, create an outstanding image that is a fine example for this week’s spark.”

Week 11: Leading lines

Moderator Paula Vigus (New Zealand) selected Barbara Newton’s (New Zealand) photo of the Tasman Glacier as her favourite for the leading lines spark. Paula comments “Leading lines may not always be about the obvious but there were some absolutely wonderful images submitted for this spark. This time around, I really liked the way Barbara interpreted this topic with the lines of the crevices leading into this rocky centerpiece. I think the muted colours contrasting against the harshness of the rock and the crevices also add to this image. You guys certainly make it difficult to choose just one image!”

Barbara says “Crevasses provide leading lines to an upthrust rocky outcrop near the top of the Tasman Glacier situated just below New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mt Cook/Aoraki. The brown striations are deposits of ash from bush fires picked up over recent years by prevailing winds and blown over the Tasman Sea from Australia some 2000 km away! The glacier itself is more than 2 million years old and the longest in NZ at 26 km, is approx 4km wide and 600m thick. By all accounts it is magnificent to ski down–the glacier that is, not the crevasse!”

Week 12: Fill the frame

It’s been a delight to have some of the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital team participating in the challenges. They, understandably, are keen to advocate for their patients and know how much a great photo can make a difference. It was an easy choice for moderator Marion Skelton (New Zealand) to include veterinarian Lisa Argilla’s (New Zealand) gorgeous kākāpō chick photo in the fill-the-frame challenge! Marion commented that “the beautiful NZ kākāpō filled the frame of Lisa’s photo.  It was awesome to be able to see the feathers in such detail and also hear about the wonderful work done by the team hand-rearing these precious birds.” Kākāpō are incredibly rare and endangered and only breed every 3-5 years when the rimu tree has a fruit mast. Their survival requires a huge effort across a number of organizations. This photo was taken in the 2019 season, and Lisa and the team now have their hands full with this season’s big green budgie chicks. If you love dorky parrot babies, feisty penguins, and kererū cooties, you’ll love their Facebook page!

Week 13: Negative Space

In this challenge, people needed to frame their subject to have distraction-free space in part of the image. If you’re interested in using your images for advocacy purposes, negative space allows room for messages and branding. Admin moderator Linton Miller (New Zealand) chose Marion Skelton’s (New Zealand) lovely tūī. He commented, “A bright, captivating image of the tui arranged with a lovely flat background, providing the perfect opportunity to “put words in the bird's mouth.”

Many purist photography guides encourage you always to compose in-camera and never crop your image. I’d argue that this advice is out-of-date (and can lead to people getting too close to wildlife). The reality is that having that extra room to crop to fit different formats and the space to add branding and messages makes using your photos a lot easier. With many cameras now sporting huge megapixel outputs, there is heaps of room to crop and still retain high resolution. And if you’re sharing your photos for advocacy purposes, the marketing and comms people will love you as they’ll be able to more easily crop the image for all the various aspect ratios used on social media, banners, billboards, newsletters, and merchandise, to name a few.

March challenge: Intention

We all do it. We all want the money shot, but when we get a moment for photography, we grab our camera and point and shoot and end up with snapshots. And that’s just fine sometimes. But what happens if you plan a shoot instead? Does it increase your chances of getting that magic shot? For many AoB participants, this was their first time shooting with intention. I chose Chenoa and Barbara’s challenge photos not just because of the lovely photos, but because of their detailed explanations of how they approached the challenge with intention –food for thought for us all!

Chenoa Flack (Canada) decided on horned larks for her March challenge. She writes, “Early in the month, I discovered the existence of Horned Larks through a local birding page. I absolutely HAD to capture those stupidly cute tiny horn feathers, but first I had to find them.

The next day I hit the ranch roads and came across a group with binoculars near a cow pond. Bingo. It was extremely cold and muddy, so I got a few documentary shots and went home. The brain wheels were turning all evening.

“Up until this point, a lot of my photography has been wandering until I find something and use what is on hand to try to compose. Not this time. The following day I was dressed warmly, had a mat to separate my tummy from the cow pies, and waited until the weather was overcast in the afternoon. I’m very happy with these. They aren’t the sharpest shots, but I caught some foraging and pairing behaviour, and had a great time observing these ridiculously cute floofs.

“This challenge was a turning point for me - I’ve since upgraded lenses, picked up some camo and a blind, and have spent hours learning about being sneaky in the woods. Can’t wait to put it into practice and take my work to the next level!”

Barbara Newton (New Zealand) knocked it out of the park this month with both a spark selected and her challenge. She described in detail how she took this photo essay with intention. She writes, as “a newbie to this nature genre I was keen to acquire some bird images for my meagre nature files. So for this challenge, I chose to visit our local wildlife nature reserve, the Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

“I decided to go with something not too small, or fast, that was easily accessible and something I could get close to. The sanctuary has a number of subjects that would fit the bill, including the rare and unique Tuatara, lizards and skinks. However the flightless, sedentary, New Zealand South Island Takahē seemed a perfect choice.

“Planning: The Ecosanctuary is located under Mt Cargill with the predominant Nor’Easterly weather attracting a lot of cloud, mist, wind and lower temperatures the so I had to keep an eye on the weather forecast and choose a favourable time to attend. I wanted to go in calmish conditions with a bit of light cloud cover, not bright sunshine, and preferably dry.

A bit of a hiccup occurred when the sanctuary cut its opening hours to the public, leaving me with just a3-day window in any week – which included the weekend. Ideally, I didn’t want hordes of other visitors around at the time, although the area where these birds roam is extensive.

It was overcast on the day with patches of sun, so I was well prepared with my backpack of gear, spare cards, battery, water bottle etc, layers of merino clothing and a jacket to lie on the ground with. I went midmorning, when I hoped the shadows would not be so long.

“The experience: What I really enjoyed was the interaction of the subjects that were based around a patch of bush, providing privacy and cover (they nest on the ground), surrounded by an expansive open grassy area (providing excellent viewing opportunities), and as with all great locations had their very own pool!

The Takahē walk, and run, but cannot fly, so were reasonably easy to keep track of, and the subjects were a close family unit, consisting of a breeding pair (Bennett and Waimarie) and their two chicks. I had missed the cute feeding chick photos, as they were now6 months old, largely fending for themselves but keeping close to their parents.

I loved witnessing the interaction between the very attentive parents and their offspring and the constant chatter amongst themselves, especially when foraging when they tore up the grass searching for grubs, roots, shoots and insects. They liked the water and seemed to drink a lot.

“Equipment & settings: I chose to use my 70-200mlens to give some versatility and added a 2x tele convertor to enhance the subjects at close range. I had little bit of difficulty in the low light getting the correct balance of shutter speed/aperture for sharp focus in activity shots, such as drinking, foraging, feeding, preening and interaction, resulting in some blurring. So I learnt that I need to be more aware of the subtle changes in light for next time and adjust accordingly.

I left when heavy mist and cloud cover descended after a few hours. Perhaps next time I visit I will go later in the day when the afternoon light is on the pond area.

“Post editing: The images were captured in RAW, cropped where necessary, and edited in Bridge. The enhancements brought out the beautiful iridescent blue and green colours of the birds plumage, and the parent’s bright marbled scarlet beaks and crayfish-like legs, which was pleasing. I didn’t knowingly pay a lot of attention to the composition element other than to ensure the images showed an activity or interaction.

Overall I was happy to capture some of the daily activities and create some new nature files from the ensuing images, as had been my intention. Attempting to capture inflight and more mobile smaller subjects are still a long way off and will require a lot more practice, but I know I will be a little bit wiser on my next “intentional ”shoot.”

Images left to right, to prow: taking a sip; getting Mums’ attention; chick at the water’s edge; ripping it up. Middle: this is how you do it children; close up. Bottom: all fluffed up- chick preening; I can do it Mum; Dad doing his yoga stretches on the front lawn.

About the Art of Birding Challenge

I do hope these photos inspire you too. If you’d like to join the challenge, it’s not too late. Jump on in with the current month where we’re exploring colour with weekly sparks and a monthly challenge:

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