If you are into photographing our feathered friends, there’s only one competition you want to win and that’s the Bird Photographer Of The Year awards, which is now in its fifth year and showcases the best images from the technically-challenging genre.
Each year, the winning images are celebrated in a book and money from the competition goes to help bird conservation charities around the world. 2020 saw 15,000 entries submitted to the judging panel and the winning entry – an impressionistic image of a European Shag taken at Vardø in Norway – was shot by Majed AlZa’abi from Kuwait using a Nikon D850. Entitled; ‘End of the Day’, the image netted Majed the top prize of £5,000 and the title of ‘Bird Photographer of the Year 2020’. Majed’s image was also the winning image in the Best Portrait category of the competition and for that he also won a pair of Swarovski Optik binoculars.
The competition also sees the encouragement of emerging talent and the Young Bird Photographer Of The Year award went to UK-based Adam Lake from the United Kingdom, who captured an amazing image entitled ‘Seeing Double’ by using a smartphone to create a reflection of a Mute Swan, which netted Adam a pair of Swarovski Optik binoculars and £300.
Taking Gold in the Urban Bird category was this interesting frame from Czech photographer Magdaléna Straková. Entitled ‘Photobombing a game’, the frame shows a House Crow passing over a basketball game and was shot in Sri Lanka using a Canon 5D MkIII paired with a 70-200mm lens. Magdaléna commented; ‘I was staying in an apartment in a high-rise building in Colombo and noticed this street basketball court under my balcony. I waited for a group of locals to come there in the evening and after I finally saw someone playing, I got out on the balcony. I took several series of shots. But I felt something was still missing… When I noticed the crow flying by, I quickly shot a couple more frames. I immediately knew that this was the element I had been waiting for to ‘complete’ my picture!’
Snapping up Gold in the Birds In Flight category was this stunning frame by Israel-based photographer Gadi Shmila. This frame, entitled; Hoopoe Flight At Low Speed’ was captured using a Nikon D5 paired with a 300mm f/2.8G lens and Gadi commented; ‘I had this image in my head long before it was created. Once I found the exact location for the image, I began several attempts until I found the balance between blur and freeze. To get the right ‘smudge’ you need very weak lighting, combined with a low shutter speed (1/8 second). By contrast, ‘freezing’ action requires a very high shutter speed or alternatively the use of flash. In this photo, I froze the action with the help of four flashes that were triggered at the end of the exposure. In my many different attempts, I felt the blur was not sufficiently bold, so to emphasise it I placed a black background behind the subject.’
The hotly contested Birds in the Environment category was won by Italian photographer Francesco Filippo Pellegrini for this jaw-dropping image of swifts over the Iguazú Falls in Misiones, Argentina, which was captured using an Olympus E-3 with Olympus Zuiko 50–200mm f/2.8–3.5 SWD lens. Francesco commented; ‘A few years ago I had a chance to visit the world-famous Iguazú Falls with my wife. Even though I had been told it was an amazing place, I nevertheless felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the valley: I was not prepared at all for the spectacle. Waterfalls are amazing places for photography, with a variety of wildlife sometimes framed by rainbows caused by the mist of the cascades. In Iguazú’s unique environment, the ‘swifts of the falls’ find the perfect shelter for breeding. While I was staring at a feature called the Devil’s Throat, I saw flocks of these birds flying all around. Due to the mist caused by the falls, I struggled taking this shot as I had to keep the front of the lens free of water drops.’
Taking Gold in the Attention To Detail category was this ‘look again’ frame by Moshe Cohen. The image, entitled; ‘Perfect Camouflage’ shows a Eurasian Scops-owl Otus scops and was shot in Israel using a Canon 5D Mark III with a EF 500mm f/4 lens. Moshe commented; This owl lives very close to my home – I know this because I hear its sonar-ping call in the night. However, finding and seeing the bird is a different matter as the species is notoriously difficult to spot, being adept at blending in with its surroundings. The plumage is a superb match for tree bark and it puts this camouflage to good use by roosting in appropriate settings. On this occasion I found the bird during the daytime, but it is still hard to see where owl ends and bark begins.’
The Black and White category always produces amazing images and this year was no different with German photographer Robert Sommer taking Gold for an image entitled; ‘Single Room Available’, which shows Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris nesting in the Netherlands and was captured with a Canon 5D Mark IV. Robert commented; ‘One day, I spent the period around sunrise photographing a windmill in the northern Netherlands. From nowhere, I noticed twittering calls, which became louder and louder, and it turned out that Common Starlings were producing the sound. By the end of the shoot, the upper part of the windmill was full of starlings, so I went to my car to get a longer lens and tried to capture the abstract scene. Because of the strongly geometric form, I decided that the image worked better in black and white than it did with its original colour.’
Claiming gold in the Creative Imagery category was this shot by UK photographer James Hudson. Entitled; ‘Mandarin Abstract’ the image was shot using a Nikon D300 paired with a 55-300mm lens. James commented; ‘The Mandarin drake has arguably the most flamboyant plumage of any bird living in the UK. In Sheffield there are several places where Mandarins can be found living alongside people. In some cases, these wild ducks see humans more as a supplier of free food than a threat. As a result, I was able to get close enough to this individual to experiment with long-exposure photography and intentional camera-movement techniques. I wanted to create abstract images that captured the vibrancy of the duck’s feathers as well as the excitement I feel when I see these extraordinary birds.’
The Best Portfolio winner was announced as Georgina Steytler who is from Australia. This particular image shows a Pacific Gull and was shot on a Canon 1DX. Georgina commented; ‘The sun had set in a coastal town of Western Australia when I saw this Pacific Gull bathing in the waves. I used a slow shutter speed as it was quite dark, and experimented. This is a shot of the bird after it emerged from the water and flapped its wings to remove the excess.’
Silver place in the Birds In the Environment category went to Pal Hermansen from Norway for an image entitled; ‘Hawk Owl In A Mountain Forest’ which was captured using a DJI Mavic Pro drone. Pai commented; This Northern Hawk-owl spent several hours in the top of the tree, looking over the winter landscape for food. As I realised the bird was very bold and fearless, I carefully launched my drone and approached it very slowly. The owl did not react, and allowed the drone to hover reasonably close. After finishing the photography, I backed off with the drone, leaving the bird perched for a further hour before it moved to another tree top.’