For more years than I can count, I've felt compelled to tell the stories of our precious wildlife, through photography, art, and writing. In late 2017, after completing the 52-week 2017 Dogwood photography challenge, I was in the market for a new challenge, but one focused more specifically on wildlife. I also wanted to encourage my Zealandia "Storyteller" volunteer team to push themselves further too. But I couldn't find anything suitable. Rather than giving up, I realized that I could just make up my own challenges and that perhaps others might be interested in joining me. So just before New Years, I came up with the Art of Birding 2018 Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge and put it out there for the world to join.
It's been a blast! I've been joined by around a hundred other photographers and artists of all ages and abilities and backgrounds and from all around the world. Some have done only a couple of challenges. A few have done them all. One person even did them all twice! But most do the ones that inspire and interest them. It's all good :)
What's been especially exciting to see is the personal development of many of the participants. And even more exciting is being able to amplify the exposure of their stories and photos that are coming out of the challenge. Pam Henderson, editor of the Artists Down Under photo-artistry magazine was quick to pick up on our group and each month publishes the upcoming challenges and a pick of the best photos from the previous month, giving participants (and the species they're advocating for) world-wide exposure. Next year, Forest & Bird magazine are interested in following what the New Zealand participants are doing.
Heartening too is seeing participants gain in confidence and taking advantage of opportunities to cover events for wildlife and conservation organizations. Some of us had our photos used by national media in New Zealand. Others have provided photos for these organizations to use for postcards, calendars, and other promotions and fund-raisers. Most post their photos to social media, but now add extra context to what they're photographing and why its important.
Every little bit makes a difference. We all have a part to play in ensuring the survival of our life-sustaining ecosystems and that includes showing others what we're losing. Making an emotional connection through stunning imagery can still be an effective way to get penetration in this over-saturated online world.
In 2019 we continue the Art of Birding journey with a series of fun challenges where the wildlife advocacy aspects are encouraged further. I'm hoping participants will not be satisfied with just posting a pretty picture but to actively do something with them. By doing each challenge and taking photographs with intention, I know they will end 2019 with a huge sense of accomplishment and a newfound skill-set.
If you'd like to join us in 2019, check out the Art of Birding 2019 Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge webpage here on this site. You'll find all the challenges, a handy calendar, links to the Facebook group and Instagram, and of course if you have any questions, you can ask in the comments below or contact me directly.
And I would especially like to thank Marion Skelton, Catherine Thompson, Kaylene Helliwell, Linton Miller and Andrew Hawke for stepping up as Facebook group moderators in 2019! These folk are kind and encouraging and I'm thankful for everything they do.
#artofbirding #artofbirding2019 #photographychallenge #52weekphotochallenge #newyearsresolution
And not only do we have a calendar, but through October and November, selected and additional photographs and longer stories from the calendar will be on exhibition in the Zealandia Stairwell Gallery. Come and find out why we love Zealandia so much!
With stories by Louise Slocombe, Vanya Bootham, Chris Gee, and Lynn Freeman, and photographs by Janice McKenna, Hayley May, Andrew Hawke, Linton Miller, Chris Gee, Lynn Freeman, Brendon Doran, and myself, there is something of interest for everyone.
And now the 2019 calendar is sorted, I'm already thinking about 2020 - what would you like to see featured?
The volunteer Storytellers' support Zealandia's fundraising efforts with the calendar and postcards, amongst many other activities. Individual artists and photographers also have high-quality prints and photographs available in the store. Proceeds from sales go directly to support Zealandia's not-for-profit conservation and restoration efforts.
I'm going to take you behind the scenes of what has been one of my most popular posts on social media recently and let you in on how it came about... I know it has been puzzling some folks...
It was a typical Sunday morning, mid-winter at Zealandia, on our regular photowalk and we had just reached the pontoon to spend some time with the kāruhiruhi families as they went through their morning rituals. The low sun was just starting to break around the corner, back-lighting the birds and sparkling the dew still hanging on the leaves. Then the rays hit the chilly lake and ethereal mist began rising. For once I was delighted to have lost the battle as to who had the 24-70mm and who had the 100-400mm lens!
The magical misty light hung around for only a few minutes; just enough time to take a bunch of photos with the wrong settings and then to figure out something that might work better and to hopefully get a nice shot. And the photos were indeed "nice," but not much more and I put them aside. On returning to them some months later, I realized that there was no one shot that had everything, but with some judicious compositing I could create a scene with a story.
I know some people have assumed that this image is a single photograph and have puzzled over how I got the shot, so I'd like to set the record straight, so to speak. And in one sense it is "just a photograph," far less messed about with than some of my images. But I believe that adding artistic licence and liberating oneself from pure photography, it's possible to more accurately capture a moment experienced and to share that emotion.
So what did I do? Four very similar photos went into this image - each was selected for what the birds were doing over the course of just 5 minutes. One was swimming making a spiral of ripples, two youngsters were looking excitedly into the water, another was "hanging out the washing to dry", and others were looking with anticipation into the new day. No one photo showed all that happening and there was no time to wait until they simultaneously did something - the mist was fading too fast. Choosing one photo as the main image, I did a first pass through camera raw to make basic adjustments to the exposure and lighting. I then carefully masked, adjusted with camera raw, and composited in the alternative birds to create a more interesting version of the scene. Then came a little bit of secret sauce; using Topaz Impression to add in a silky, painterly feel at a lowered opacity over the image, and then layering painted textures using soft-light blend modes to subtly change the lighting. When viewed at full size, the more painterly feel is much more apparent. A couple of passes through adjusting highlights and shadows and spot-healing distractions completed the image.
Do you like this image more or less now that you know how it came to be? Do you feel cheated and that it somehow isn't real? Does it take away the magic knowing what was added and how it was made? Or do you feel like you've seen through my eyes and into my soul? Have we shared a moment?
Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
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