Art of Birding Challenges: Best of September

Some of our most popular challenges happened in September in the 2020 Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge.

We started with a Water Life theme, where participants were challenged to tell a story about a critter that lives on or in the water.

By Beth Chapman

Beth Chapman (New Zealand) perfectly caught the drama of a white-faced heron preparing dinner, the water droplets frozen in time as it strikes its prey underwater.

By Paula Vigus

Paula Vigus (New Zealand) told us about the rare and endangered whio. “I took a very beautiful walk today through the Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tane Loop track to visit the Te Whaiti nui a toi Canyon and to look for Whio. It ended up being very successful. There are only around 640 breeding pairs left in the North Island and this river has the largest population of them. We found a pair right at the start of the canyon and watched as they performed mating rituals (he is quite nasty, continually harassing, pecking and dunking her!!) They swam from the far side of the river over to us and we observed the way they forage using an especially designed 'rubber boot' on their beaks for scraping the rocks. The way they handled the fast flowing water was astounding!”

All throughout the year, we’ve had many creative options so that the standard challenges engage the many artists who are participating alongside photographers but on this particular week, everyone got creative!

By Jan Robinson

Jan Robinson (Australia) created this sweet photo-artistic piece featuring splendid blue wrens. Having taken the photo, she then had to carefully extract the birds and composite them into the rest of the image, which itself is a composite of many textures and elements all layered and blended together. For those not familiar with digital photo-artistry, it’s a bit like doing a collage but with less glue!

By Melyssa F.T.

Melyssa F.T. (New Zealand) also took a photo-artistic approach to this dramatic tauhou scene – the expressions on their faces are priceless! She says “I love creative challenges! I used overlays, multi layered light/colour adjustments and effects, and digital brushstrokes” rendered over the photo.”

By Catherine Thompson

By Catherine Thompson

Artist Catherine Thompson (New Zealand) said she created her acrylic painting of a goldfinch from a photo she took, and amended it as she worked “This juvenile was waiting on a farm fence for the return of a parent to feed it. The wind was blowing but it hung on with great determination.”

Judi encourages artists to join the Art of Birding challenges, especially if they use their own reference photos for their art. The better the photo, the more options there are to do something creative with it. A good photo also involves studying wildlife behaviour and environment, which also adds to the depth and meaning of the resulting art.

Our next challenge for September saw participants going on a scavenger hunt! The challenge was to find three items and arrange them creatively in a still-life composition. To up the ante, the advanced challenge was to learn how to do focus stacking.

By Chris Ellery

Chris Ellery reports “It took me a while to focus on this one… which was annoying because I've been a hunter/gatherer/scavenger all my life! The morning I took this photo, I had to check a pest trapping line I'm involved in. The line goes through the site of an old forestry village where my family lived before I was born. All the houses have long gone. My first find was the bottle which if you look carefully you can see a plant growing inside. Then the seed pod caught my eye. Lastly, as I was about to jump back into my truck a sparkle in the grass made me stop… an old faux diamond and gold bracelet was at my feet… When we slow down to look and see, we find treasure...

By Sally Boussoualim

Sally Boussoualim (Australia) took on the challenge of focus stacking both at the beach and when she got home. It was much easier inside than out, with more control of the elements she said. She achieved a beautiful beach-themed still-life in gorgeous aqua and peach tones.

We wrapped up the month of September with Bokeh & Blur, which is always the most popular challenge! If you want to find out more how to achieve these effects, check out Judi’s recent blog where she describes a variety of techniques, starting with free and easy.

By Jan Abernethy

Jan Abernethy (New Zealand) focused on the blur part of the challenge with this fabulous photo of a kārearea (falcon) at Wingspan. The blurred background makes the raindrops and bird really pop.

By Sally Boussoualim

By Sally Boussoualim

Sally Boussoualim (Australia) says “I tried the technical aspect of this week’s challenge too. I made my own templates and had fun choosing a couple of different shapes such as duck, bell, flower and a moon but the ones that worked best were the heart and star.

I only have a camera with a fixed lens and the smallest f stop I could get to was f.4 so I was pretty happy with these results after a bit of trial and error.”

It is fabulous to see so many participants getting into the advanced and technical parts of each challenge!

Are you doing the challenge? Even if you started and then stopped, we’d love to hear from you in this quick survey so we can make next year’s challenge even better!

Want to find out more about the challenge? Head over to and just jump on in with the current week – It's never too late! Be sure to sign up for the weekly newsletter, sent out every Sunday night so you never miss a challenge.

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