blp shabash 430x45

  • Mistletoebird (Image ID 35582)

    Mistletoebird.   Photographer: Harry Charalambous

  • Greater Crested Tern (Image ID 28119)

    Greater Crested Tern.   Photographer: Emmy Silvius

  • Regent Honeyeater (Image ID 25598)

    Regent Honeyeater.   Photographer: Bill Harding

  • White-naped Honeyeater complex (Image ID 26185)

    White-naped Honeyeater complex.   Photographer: Emmy Silvius

  • Eurasian Coot (Image ID 34959)

    Eurasian Coot.   Photographer: Linda Unwin

Congratulations to all the entrants for the Bird on a Wire competition.  I was pleased and surprised to be asked to provide the Mystery Reviewer comments on the Entry level photographs.  The rules for the theme ‘Bird on a Wire’ required that the bird or birds be perched on a wire, although larger birds such as a raptor may be perched on a post or similar.

At first glance this may seem a relatively straightforward theme; while there are challenges in approaching any bird in the relatively open environments in which fences are often found, the subject is often fairly static, well lit, and set against distant backgrounds.  This can allow sharp portraits with nice indistinct or blurry backgrounds, as indeed many of the submissions to all three levels of this competition demonstrate.

However, there are a number of compositional challenges with the theme.  One issue is what to do with the wire, which is often quite ugly.  Does the photographer seek to minimise the amount of wire visible, by tightly cropping the bird, or should the wire be made a dominant compositional element through lines, patterns and colour?  Another issue is how to balance the lighting.  If there is full sun, the bird can appear flat and highlights and shadows are very difficult to manage.  If the bird is set against the sky, white balance and achieving realistic sky colour are very important.  And yet another issue is perspective; wires are often above head height, meaning the picture is taken from beneath the bird.  This is seldom flattering and tends to result in the wire strongly cutting across the middle of the bird.

In assessing the Entry level photographs I have looked initially at the basics; is the subject (particularly the head and eye) sharp, with good detail, well exposed, and with accurate colour?  Does the composition work – has the photographer paid attention to the position of the elements in the picture?  Beyond these basics, I have then looked at whether the picture has some extra element of interest, drama etc which makes it special. 

Two images stand out for me for different reasons, and I found it difficult to choose between them. 

Winner:  Brown Falcon, by Jennifer Carr  (Image ID 34835)

This image gets most of the basics right.  The falcon has a nice alert pose and attention is immediately drawn to the big dark eye.  The head is facing to the right and the body to the left, which is a classic and generally pleasing stance for a raptor in this situation.  It also allows the bird to be placed centrally in the frame.  The overall exposure is good – the bird is well lit and highlights and shadows are well balanced, suggesting that it was perhaps a slightly overcast day.  The blueish grey around the eyes and cere provides a nice spot of contrasting colour. 

The wire is present but not particularly dominant in the image.  The yellow background (canola flowers?) also divides the image approximately into two and provides a pleasant background to the otherwise fairly uniformly coloured bird.

Brown Falcon

I think the image would work better if the bird had more ‘room’ at the top and bottom of the image.  As it stands the head is too near to the top of the frame, and the tail extends slightly below the bottom of the frame.  However this is a relatively minor criticism of what is otherwise a good portrait.

Highly Commended:  Forest Kingfisher, by Jenny Donald  (Image ID 35406)

This was one of two similar portraits of a Forest Kingfisher entered into this category.  Both are good images but I preferred this one for two main reasons; the element of interest brought about by the caterpillar in the bird’s beak; and because the wire is less distracting.

This image takes full advantage of the lovely colour and elegant lines of the kingfisher.  The bird is erect and poised, head tilted up, looking quite pleased with itself (if you’ll excuse the anthropomorphic expression).  It is sharp and well exposed – perhaps slightly overexposed in the white on the neck but this does not detract.  There is a hint of the iris and pupil in the eye, which is pleasing and adds character.  Overall the image is uncluttered and the background fairly neutral.  The pose of the bird naturally lends itself to being positioned to the left of centre in the frame, although my preference would be to crop slightly more tightly on the right.  Overall, a very pleasing image and I had difficulty deciding between this and the winner.

Forest Kingfisher

Commended:  Forest Kingfisher, by Diana Womersley  (Image ID 34632)

Another very nice image of this beautiful kingfisher.  Technically the image is good, with good exposure, sharpness and rich colour, and a nice pose by the bird.  The background is evenly coloured, with no distracting shapes and intrusions.  The composition also has much to commend it, as the bird is well positioned in the frame, and the shape made by the head, body and wire creates a pleasing C shape using the 'rule of thirds'.  The vertical wires also create interesting rectangular shapes.  Unfortunately, in my view, the messy vegetation on the left of the image upsets its overall rhythm and detracts from the composition, and it could be a little more tightly cropped.

Forest Kingfisher


Several images here fall into the category of ‘almost but not quite’ in that they would be very nice (and perhaps winning) images if a relatively few changes were made.  I have picked four in these comments.

Barn Owl, by Jennifer Carr  (Image ID 34834)

A beautiful, serene bird making direct eye contact with the photographer.  This is a nice, sharp shot of a Barn Owl with tons of detail in the plumage.  It is a potential winner except for two things.  First, most of the lovely feather detail is lost because the bulk of the bird is too dark, but at the same time there is a very over-exposed patch on the neck.  I think some additional post processing to raise the shadows and manage the ‘blown’ whites would make this image much stronger while still retaining the most pleasing aspect – the half lit face.  Second, the positioning of the bird is distracting because it is positioned to the right of centre, and facing right.  Shifting the bird to the left, so the eyes and beak are at the centre line, would make a big difference, as would allowing a little more space above and below the bird.

Barn Owl

Laughing Kookaburra, by Mary Wheeler  (Image ID 35191)

I enjoyed the character of this image with the ‘laughing’ birds on the pole and a nice sharp image of the bird just taking off.  There is a lot going on and it is different from the traditional ‘bird on a wire’ static portrait.  In terms of improvements, I would crop a bit more strongly to the right and below the birds as I don’t think the messy stuff to the right of the pole helps the image.  Overall the image is a little dark, and the sky a little dull, and a bit of additional exposure would help lift the lighting in the image.

Laughing Kookaburra

Little Corella, by Steven Roe  (Image ID 35352)

Probably my favourite of the Little Corella images submitted in the Entry level competition.  The birds stand out nicely in the frame with early light, and are in an appealing pose together.  The image works quite well compositionally, with the inverted V of the birds balanced by the very strong lines of the overhead cables.  I appreciate that the photographer has thought about how the various elements are positioned in the frame.  Some might think the cables too dominant, though, and the colour of the sky seems a bit too intense to my eye.

Little Corella

 Brown Falcon, by Jennifer Carr  (Image ID 35322 - image no longer available)

A nice sharp image of the falcon in the low morning sun.  Overall the composition is good and the background quite neutral.  Another nice detail is the wet feathers on the bird’s belly; perhaps it has been hunting in the dew.  Overall, though, this nice feature is buried because the bird is simply too dark, in my view.  I appreciate what the photographer is trying to do – using the low light to highlight the flank of the bird and the pole and create a more dramatic element to the picture.  However, as with the Barn Owl, I think some judicious post processing could be used to lighten the bird by perhaps 0.5 to 1 EV, without excessively blowing out the pleasing highlight on the left of the bird and losing the character of the image.



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