Let me firstly extend my congratulations to all the entrants in this Best of 2018 competition.  The quality of the images are of such a high standard that after my viewing of all the entrants I actually texted Graham Cam and said “There are so many amazing images.  This is going to be a hard competition to judge.”  Let me tell you, if you’re ever asked to judge a BLP “Best of …” photographic competition, run away as fast as you can!  Seriously though, WOW it has been a real treat to view such an awesome array of images that show how hard the photographers have worked to achieve their entries.  It takes immense drive and determination, vision and preparation in order to capture these extraordinarily beautiful images.  Pictures with stories don’t just appear; they are a result of so much planning, patience and dedication.

I feel that over the past couple of years of judging the Advanced competitions, I am definitely seeing more people producing much greater quantities of really good images and that this competitive pressure is pushing the overall quality upwards, therefore there are more exceptional images making the judging harder and difficult settle on a group of winners.  That’s partly because of the extra time I spend enjoying these glorious images.  From my perspective a large quantity of stunning images to judge is great for us, as overall we’re all getting better at what we love to do.   All the following merit awards exhibited beautiful focus sharpness, isolated subjects and lovely bokeh, interesting compositions, and clever, thoughtful lighting and creative backgrounds, which is why judging the order of the winners was not straightforward.  I’ve never had a group of finalists that almost couldn’t be split.  It really was a matter of half points that made the difference and in some cases came down to how the images story was developed.

Winner:  Ruddy Turnstone, by Mario Mazo  (Image ID 34209)

It took me quite some time to finally separate a group of images all tumbling around in my head as potential winners.  However eventually this image emerged as the winner due not only to the technical expertise reflected in the image but also to the fact that the narrative I imagined the photographer saw through the lens must have made him smile once he’d snapped the shot.  The technical aspect I am most impressed with is the fact that the birds are both in focus as well as the breaking waves and rock.  It is so easy for the mass confusion of the breaking wave droplets to hijack the focus as they pass the intended subject (birds) and as you can see there is water much closer to the photographer in between him and the birds.  The selective focus point used seems to have been well away from the broiling water.  Added to this the birds are in flight so the photographer had to use some upward motion to capture the birds by judging their trajectory and still keep them in focus as well.  Add all this wonderful technique to the story being told and it makes for an exceptional image.

Ruddy Turnstone

Highly Commended:  Great Crested Grebe, by Jason Moore  (Image ID 34092)

This image exudes a beautiful sense of harmony and symmetrical balance.   With no distraction the two subjects command all our attention.  Similarly there is a feeling of complete focus between the birds with locked red eyes preparing for their courting ritual.  The crest standing upright is endearing to the image and sits well against the pastel background.  Beautiful.

Great Crested Grebe

Commended:  Barn Owl, by Jeffrey Robinson  (Image ID 34316)

A very striking image contrasting the subject against a stark white background.  The image is extremely well lit showing the subtleties of the subjects striking colourings.  A very Leila Jeffery-esque style of image, and a pose that we don’t often see of this nocturnal hunter.  Whether it be a planned or accidental image it is a delightful pose to see with such clarity.  The texture, feather lines and white spots on mottled grey/brown uppers and black tears on white underparts are clearly discernable as is the hint of beak at the business end of its heart shaped facial disc.  I found the detailed silhouette of the talons an eerie reminder that whilst this is a beautiful bird it’s not so much if you’re at the wrong end of them.

Barn Owl

Commended:  Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo/Superb Fairy Wren, by Mark Lethlean  (Image ID 34312)

A wonderful opportunistic image of a Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo chick being raised by one of the two most parasitised host species: Superb and Splendid Fairy Wrens.  To capture in such detail the host species working hard to feed the insatiable appetite of this large chick is indeed a rare and exciting capture.  It is a valuable documentary image made all the more special by its back to front sharpness and smooth complimentary background.

Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo/Superb Fairy Wren

Commended:  Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, by Doug Castle  (Image ID 33578)

Sharp as a tack with beautiful colour and a composition that certainly lends itself to some cheeky captioning.  With the subjects positioned in a complimentary toned distraction-free background it is a very striking image.  Will look awesome when framed.. 

Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo

Commended:  Black Swan, by Tim Van Leeuwen  (Image ID 33613)

Cute, cute, cute.  What a lovely sensitive image composition.  The emotion in this image is a heart melter.  In addition to the sweetness of this image, there are two other main attractions in this image.  First, the olive-fawn-brown complimentary colour tonality is very smooth and not jarring to the eye; and second, the clarity of the delicate feather definition on the cygnet’s head and back.  The ruffle of the adult swan’s rear feathers and the manner in which the cygnet is nestled snuggly into them is really delightful.

Black Swan