• Australian Wood Duck

    Australian Wood Duck.   Photographer: David Seymour

  • Shining Bronze-Cuckoo

    Shining Bronze-Cuckoo.   Photographer: Chris Dubar

  • Sooty Oystercatcher

    Sooty Oystercatcher.   Photographer: Dick Jenkin

  • Great Egret

    Great Egret.   Photographer: Harry Charalambous

  • Dusky Moorhen

    Dusky Moorhen.   Photographer: Emmy Silvius

As defined in the pre-amble for this competition, "the object is to achieve a well-exposed capture of the subject without blowing out the white areas of the bird’s plumage, whilst ensuring that there is detail in the black plumage and /or bare parts, and without excessive noise in the blacks".

This is not an easy achievement given the dynamic range of even the latest camera sensors will not attain the perfect exposure for the blackest blacks and the whitest whites in the one exposure. For this reason alone, this competition is possibly one of the most difficult assignments a photographer can undertake. Those photographers using full-frame sensors may have a slight advantage in this competition if you have chosen to shoot in low light. Most of you will be aware that to maximise detail in the blacks whilst minimising ‘black’ noise in low light, you should err on the side of slightly over-exposing the ‘whites’. Most sensors will capture sufficient highlight detail, which can be recovered in post-processing software – assuming, that you capture images in RAW format. At this level of competition I assume that all entries will have been captured in RAW format and post-processed to maximise the image’s potential.

Images where the bird is the largest element in the frame afford a more obvious assessment of detail in both the whites and blacks. For this reason, I have paid additional attention to photos where the birds are smaller in the frame.

Following a review of each entry for its technical excellence in maintaining sufficient detail in both the bird’s black and white plumage, a short-list of finalists was compiled. From this list, I further assessed images for the degree of detail in the ‘blackest blacks’ and the ‘whitest whites’, as well as ensuring that the ‘blacks’ had not turned into ‘greys’ and the ‘whites’ were still crisp. In addition to the usual criteria that a judge applies to critiquing images, I was also looking for a novel approach or some element that made your image stand-out, compelling me to return for a second viewing.

This competition was a difficult one to judge as there are so many quality images, 106 entries from 40 photographers in all, with a variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats depicted. Similarly, there is variety in the images, with some images portrait-like and others capturing various forms of motion. My congratulations to all those who entered such quality images for this competition.

Winner: Imperial Shag - Catherine Noone (Image ID 25147)

A first impression might lead to the criticism that I have simply selected this image on its impressive composition. This is not the case; this image excels in the primary specifications for this competition. The detail and contrast in the black and white feathers is almost faultless, the only areas where the detail disappears is a small area behind the eye and at the base of the back of the neck. Local post-processing would possibly reveal more detail in these areas but this is a minor deficit overall. The position of the bird is excellent with leading lines reaching out from the left-hand corner of the frame; these lines comprise several strands of straw held in the bird’s beak as well as the line of the bird’s body itself. The background has a delightful soft bokeh and a harmonised colour palette. This is similarly reflected in the bird’s intense blue eye-ring and the orange-yellow nasal knob. Further, the image has a behavioural context for the bird in its habitat, which adds a further dimension to this image. There is little not to like in this image and it is the clear winner.

Imperial Shag - Catherine Noone

Commended: White-Necked Heron - Adam Kraska (Image ID 25089)

A delightfully sharp capture of a bird in flight. I am impressed with the quality of this image given that the 300mm Nikkor has been coupled with a 2x extender for a hand-held shot. There is a good dynamic range in this image and the detail in the white and black feather leaves little to be desired. The bird’s eye is sharp and with a clear highlight. The slightly open bill gives character to the bird. If the bird had been captured against a cloudy sky at dawn and dusk and these elements adequately exposed, this image might have been a contender for the top position. This might seem a harsh comment, but most bird judges agree that a blue sky does not detract from an image but rarely does it add points.

White-Necked Heron - Adam Kraska

Commended: Magpie-lark - Doug Castle (Image ID 24722)

This image depicts a wide dynamic range; the bird is superbly sharp and the detail in the blacks is excellent. The whites clearly have much detail in the shadow areas and whilst some of the whitest whites could show more detail, I think that localised post-processing could reveal the missing detail. Overall this is a nice portrait of a young bird, beautifully composed and with adequate space in the frame post-cropping. As in the previous image there are leading-lines arising from the left-hand corner, the primary one being the branch upon which the bird is perched and the second is the orientation of the bird itself. The overall exposure of the bird and the background are well controlled and there is sufficient contrast between the bird and its background. There is a prominent eye-contact between the bird and the viewer which I find engaging.

Magpie-lark - Doug Castle

Commended: Australian Magpie - Gunther Frensch (Image ID 25038)

An image captured in harsh light which is to be applauded. The detail in the blacks and whites is well defined, albeit that the dynamic range in this image may be slightly less than in the other commended images. There are small areas on the head, back, and tail where the detail is less obvious but overall the image is well exposed and sharp. There is more than adequate detail in the black feathers of the face, wings and body. Similarly, the white feathers of the nape and tail coverts depict adequate detail. The background is also well exposed and although the horizontal out-of-focus branch is a little distracting, this is a minor element for consideration in this competition. The bird is well positioned in the frame.

Australian Magpie - Gunther Frensch

 

Commended: Pied Butcherbird - Erica Seigel (Image ID 24969)

This species has sleek black and white plumage, which results in fine plumage detail, which is best depicted by capturing the subject in soft even light, which appears to be the case for this image. The deep blacks of the plumage are retained and through the subtle sheen of the black plumage one can still see the delicate detail of the feathers. The white abdominal feathers, which are a uniform white in nature, similarly show a significant degree of this fine detail. I would like to have seen a more side-on orientation of the bird, with the wing providing better assessment of the overall ‘black’ exposure, but nevertheless, this image is worthy of selection. The overall composition and head orientation is well positioned in a square format, a pleasant departure from the ‘rule of thirds’. The background is once again well-exposed and the habitat detail provides an alternative to a ‘soft’ bokeh. The only distracting element is the dark broken end of the branch pointing at the bird’s bill.

Pied Butcherbird - Erica Seigel

 

The article in the June 2017 Newsletter contains some additional comments on several other images from this competition.

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