I did it! Challenge completed on 30 Dec 2017. Thanks to everyone who offered encouragement over the year, and especially to Janice who loaned me equipment at strategic points! Was it worth doing the weekly challenge? At various times, I wondered, but now that I've completed it I say absolutely! Was it hard? You betcha! It really brought home how different fields of photography require totally different skill sets. And that I still suck at bringing "story" to my images - mainly because it takes thought and effort and I don't always have the head-space to do that. But I also found that I love shooting still life and not just wildlife, and that taking people photos is not quite so scary anymore.
For 2018, I wanted to find a challenge with a more wildlife focus, in part so that more of my friends would perhaps join me (more fun with more than one!), but I couldn't find anything quite what I was after. So I decided to go all-in and put together my own challenge - for myself and for anyone else in the world who wishes to join me. The overall challenge is to use your wildlife and nature photos not just for pretty pictures, but for advocacy: by telling a (visual) story, creating compelling images, and improving on technical skills, then posting your images online for others to enjoy, be inspired by, and to learn from. You can start the challenge at any time, and do it at your own pace. You only have yourself to satisfy. Find out more at on the challenge webpage and join our private Facebook group if you decide to take the challenge on.
So without further ado, here are the photos for the last quarter of the 2017 Dogwood Challenge. If you're interested and inspired, they're doing a 2018 version.
Week 40: Colorful B&W (Story)
Tell a story of a colourful scene using black and white - I struggled with this one, especially as no flowers were allowed, but figured that colourful scenes are created with these!
Week 41: Levitation (Technical)
Ermmygawd this is awful! I did intend doing this with a more willing model, but wasn't sure I could do it by the end of the year, and the desire to finish the challenge was stronger. This picture also helps fulfill one of my 2017 New Year resolutions, which was to "get over myself" when it comes to having my photo taken! Needless to say I didn't submit this image to the goddess of self-portrait fine art photography, Brooke Shaden, in my recent portfolio review with her.
Week 42: Music (Artistic)
Linton's lovely acoustic Martin guitar. If you look closely, you'll see the bottom E string is ringing.
Week 43: Movement (Story)
After such a struggle with the panning challenge a few weeks back, it was good to have another opportunity to try, and this time more successfully. We had the wonderful opportunity to go on a dawn cruise at Zealandia, where we got to watch the early morning, frantic, nest-building in the kāruhiruhi (pied shag) colony. This chap was particularly ambitious (perhaps over-compensating) with his super-sized stick! He was keen to get back to the missus, because if she's impressed with his stick, then he got to mate with her. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have a prime nesting spot low to the water, so he had to try and fly up to the nest high in the tree. It takes a lot of effort for a shag to get out of the water and into the air, and it's even harder with a giant stick.
Week 44: Magic ND Filter (Technical)
I was imagining doing some gorgeous Craig Potton-style vista of cascading waterfalls for this challenge, but never managed to be in the right place at the right time with the right weather, so decided to focus on the technical side of the challenge so that I'd know how to approach using an ND filter in the future. This photo was taken in the local Otari-Wilton's bush, unfortunately on a day with dappled light that caused hot-spots across the image and a breeze that ruffled the leaves on the longer exposures. And it's not much of a waterfall either. But with time running out (this was taken 29 Dec), it is what it is.
Week 45: Cold (Artistic)
"Still life with plum ice cream, plums, and petals". My intention was to use pixel-shift on the Sony a7Riii to get incredible resolution, but the ice-cream was melting too fast! The technology only works if there is no movement in the image at all. However, the individual photos were still more than good enough for the challenge. And the ice cream was delicious - Kāpiti Black Doris Plum and Crème Fraîche, if you're curious. This was my most favourite challenge in this quarter.
Week 46: Landscape Foreground (Story)
The challenge says "Many stories are based around portraits, but landscapes can have stories also. Tell the story of a landscape by using the foreground as the subject and the background as the scene". And yes, I didn't really achieve this at all, story-wise, but I did quite like the landscape even though, yet again, I had to shoot with dappled light. Would you believe after months of gloomy days, we had a two week run of hot, sunny weather! I'd hoped to get the mushrooms on the log showing up more prominently - with all the dry weather, the only fungi around were in the stream itself. I intend having another go at this photo another day...
Week 47: Shaped Bokeh (Technical)
I saved this challenge until after we had the Christmas tree up, as I knew I could use the lights to good effect in this challenge. I originally tried with a bird-shaped bokeh, but never quite got it working right in a scene. This Christmassy set-up was much easier.
Week 48: Bodyscape (Artistic)
Linton kindly loaned me his hand for this shot. The focusing is a bit soft, but I like it anyway.
Week 49: Blue Hour (story)
Again more big plans to go to some scenic spot during "blue hour" (i.e., dusk) were thwarted through lack of planning and inspiration, so I just headed into the garden instead. I do plant a lot of white-flowering plants as I love how they glow in the evening. I can't remember the name of this rose - it's a prolifically-blooming patio rose, though with little scent.
Week 50: Full Edit (Technical)
This was an interesting challenge - to take the "straight-out-of-camera" photo from Week 2 (i.e., with no post-processing) and jazz it up with a full edit. Back in January, I had deliberately chosen to shoot a somewhat challenging photo by shooting into the sun, giving deep shadows and a strong overblown highlight. Annoyingly, I only had a JPG to work with and not the original RAW file, so couldn't pull back the highlights as much as I'd have liked. (Full edit on the left, SOOC on the right). Taken at sunset in Island Bay.
Week 51: Fear (Artistic)
I had been wondering what to do for this challenge when one morning I came across this lovely girl in the kitchen sink. I raced for the macro lens and she obligingly posed. I'm not particularly afraid of spiders, but going by the reactions on the Dogwood Facebook page, plenty are!
Week 52: Your Story
You don't have to know much about me to know that my story is their story. The NZ kākā parrot. My muse and motivation. And this photo also is a photo of me - I am reflected in her eye. For over ten years, we have been involved with their conservation and restoration in the Wellington region. They have changed my life - and for the better!
I hope you've enjoyed following along on these challenges. And that maybe in 2018 you might be inspired to do one yourself. It's been challenging to post photos that aren't my best work, but some weeks it was either a choice of "phoning it in" to just get it done, or abandoning the challenge, and I just wasn't prepared to do that. Looking back, I think doing this challenge has improved my photography - if nothing else, it certainly made me try some things out that I may never have gotten around to. I'm now looking forward to seeing where my 2018 challenge will take me. What challenges or resolutions are you making?
Judi Lapsley Miller
The natural world and wildlife conservation provides endless joy and despair, beauty and devastation. I strive to advocate for our endangered species and ecosystems and am currently exploring wildlife advocacy through creative interpretation.