The Art of Birding photo challenge has now passed the 17 week stage - See the best photos from April and learn what you need to do to get your work featured if you're a participant of the free challenges.

You might have wondered, why do some folk appear in the Art of Birding “best of the month” blog again and again? It’s not just about photographic talent, though there’s plenty on offer. It’s because they’ve gone the extra mile with the thought or effort they’ve put into the challenge. This month I’m favouring participants who have also written about their photo, giving background context that deepens our understanding. It’s been especially satisfying to see people getting more confident with writing. Sometimes only a few words are needed; sometimes, an essay is warranted. How do you know how much to write? According to my professor, you “say what you need to say and then stop.”

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Although this is a wildlife and nature-focused challenge, manmade objects dominate our landscapes. Participants were asked to either show us a manmade object that works in harmony with nature or a manmade object that works against nature. Then using their own words, tell us about it.

Participants were also challenged to switch to shooting in RAW mode, but I’m not sure how many people I convinced on that front!

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Melanie Day (New Zealand) got out her Lensbaby to create “Swing-time dreaming.” She says, “On the waterfront near home is a handmade swing hanging from a large pōhutukawa branch. It’s loved by all the community and visitors. It’s created a place to share a giggle with friends, a kiss with a lover, or to sit quietly and contemplate the view. Looking out across the sea or watching the sea birds forage for crustaceans, the outlook is always different and leaves you wondering at the greatness of nature. Melanie shot this image in RAW on a Canon EOS 80D with a Lensbaby Composer lens and handmade ‘star’ aperture ring. She post-processed it using Darktable, which is an open-source, non-destructive RAW photo editor.

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The Great Joy Swap was another push to get participants to do more with their images. It’s too easy to leave them on the hard drive to never be seen again! The aim was to create something tangible for a loved one using a photo. The extra credit challenge was to join the “Great Joy Swap” and exchange a gift with another AoB participant. It was fantastic to see the creativity this challenge brought out. We saw prints, t-shirts, note cards, calendars, and even journals. I especially love the swap between Loralee and Pam.


Pam de Frere (New Zealand) says. “I’m a book binder and make journals with my photos on the cover and on some pages within the book. This one is from the “Hydrangea” series.”

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Loralee Hyde (New Zealand) created “Greetings from the Toroa.” She said “I am so fortunate to have had a captivating trip out from the coast of Kaikōura with Albatross Encounter! No wind, the early morning sun glinting on the ocean, with only a slight swell. Such a spellbinding experience, seeing five species of albatross (toroa) and mollymawks plus numerous petrels, shearwaters, and terns. These Southern Royal albatross (with wingspans of over three metres) stole the show as they swooped in to land on the sea near the boat, greeting each other with delight! Were they telling each other stories of their long flights soaring across vast oceans, without ever making landfall? Or had they just flown up to Kaikōura for the day from the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin where albatross raise their chicks? The whole experience of seeing these wondrous birds was surreal. To tie in with the challenge theme of producing a gift to swap, I used a Deep Arts app surrealism effect on my mobile to transform a photo of these albatross into a ‘unique’ artwork. Then had the image printed, popped it into a frame, and posted it off to the Hawke’s Bay as my gift."

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Sally Eyre (New Zealand) found a lovely little lonesome cloud. “I spotted this mini Kelvin-Helmholtz instability over Wellington yesterday.” These cloud formations are fascinating, and on mass, can show a sculpted, scalloped waveform across the sky.

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Alison Zinsli blew us away with her jaw-dropping photo of a rainbow photo on the Maasai Mara, Kenya. “We were fortunate enough to live in Kenya for two years, so made the most of our time there and often went to the wildlife parks. On one trip to the Maasai Mara the clouds started to gather from midmorning, getting darker and darker. By the end of the afternoon we were racing to get back to our accommodation before the rain started. This photograph was taken as the storm started in the distance and the rainbow was clearly seen. It was amazing to see the sky split in two.”

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After going at it hard for four months, for week 17, I declared it was “time for a breather and a cup of tea” (quoting Primeminister David Lange). There was no specific challenge, instead people had a chance to catch-up on anything they’d previously missed, preferably combining multiple challenges into one photo. Combining challenges isn’t cheating - it is where the magic starts happening!

Both Noelle and Marion experimented with compositing, along with combining various challenges. Both chose NZ’s favourite bird – the tūī – as their muse.

Noelle Bennet (New Zealand) says, “I spotted this tūī on one of my trips to Orokonui Ecosanctuary. It had commandeered a tree branch that it obviously wanted all for itself but there were challenges coming from a number of other tūī that clearly felt that prized branch should be theirs. However, they were being rather successfully kept at bay whilst also being given a look that plainly said, 'Don't even think about it...'! I thought I’d do a combination of the blur and bokeh (background), aquamarine (overall general colour) and drama (he doesn’t look too happy) challenges.”

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Marion Skelton (New Zealand) says, “I took the photo from the Week 2 Silhouette challenge and removed the coloured background in Photoshop and darkened the tūī, then placed it over the photo for Week 16 Atmospheric, changing the size of the tūī to suit the background for the best effect.  I was so thrilled with the way it came out and wouldn't have thought of doing it without the challenge.”

Thank you to everyone who participated in the challenges in April! It gets harder every month to select our favourites. If you’d like to join the fun, just jump on in with the latest week’s challenge. Head over to to sign up or to to find out more!

Judi Lapsley Miller

Art of Birding photo challenge creator