Winner of Backyard Photography Challenge

All I can say is WOWZERS!  You have all outdone yourselves this time.  This is no doubt the most difficult photo challenge to choose from in our many year history of doing these.

From extraordinary wildlife sightings, superb use of photo techniques like composition, depth of field, and framing, to some of the most creative submissions for this challenge, I am in awe of the quality that has come through.

However, there can be only one.  Or can there?  As you’ll see here, we have indeed selected our top winner, as well as a record FIVE honorable mentions.  I wish I could list 10 winners and 20 honorable mentions, though!

For starters, let’s go to the #1 winner of this Backyard Photography Photo Challenge.

It’s my pleasure and honor to congratulate Marlin Gher for Bee in Flight

a honey bee hovers by flowers

f/13, 1/1250 sec, iso1250

This is a phenomenal shot and a phenomenal entry in so many ways.  First of all, the settings are perfect for the sharpness needed.

As you can see, Marlin shot with a very big f/number, which translates to a wide depth of field.  This was needed for the extreme sharpness of the multiple flowers, but also extraordinary sharpness of the honey bee itself.

However, that’s not all that was needed.  We’re dealing with a moving object here, so shooting at a fast shutter speed is critical.  At 1/1250th of a second, this enabled the motion of the bee to be “frozen” so that it’s not blurred at all.

Finally, the ISO of 1250 is a moderately high setting for outdoor photography in what appears to be good light.  But this high ISO was critical to allow big numbers for both aperture and shutter speed.  Excellent choice!

Now, let’s talk about the artistic elements.  Having a wide depth of field is one thing, but having a wide depth of field as well as a spectacular background blur, aka bokeh, is easier said than done!  Without having been there, I can’t say for sure, but I’d imagine, Marlin, that you positioned yourself so that you were relatively close to the flowers and bee, but the background was relatively distant.  Getting such nice, soft blur at f/13 requires some real planning and positioning.  Well done!

The reason we like that background blur is not just that it’s fundamentally appealing, but it also helps to limit any distraction from other things…grasses, other flowers, you name it.  This “blur” also helps emphasize the sharpness of the subjects themselves…an added benefit!

Let’s talk about composition next.  If you can imagine the rule-of-thirds grid on top of this photo, you can tell that the main subject (the bee) is nicely situated at the bottom right intersecting point.

Finally, let’s check out that nice lighting!  While we know this is of course in daylight, there are minimal shadows and no harsh shadows, which can happen with outdoor photography of things with lots of surface area like flowers.  In addition, there is a wonderful, soft gradient of light from left to right of the main flower stalk.  It’s subtle, but it’s these considerations that make this a truly phenomenal shot.

Once again, superb work, Marlin!!

And now, on to the People’s Choice Winner! We chose 30 of our favorite submissions and posted them on Nat Hab’s Facebook page and let our fans vote on their favorite. The photo with the most votes was  this extraordinary wildlife shot entitled I See You by Mike O’Connor.  This little Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a fantastic sighting, and what a special photo.

Saw-whet owl

f/8.0, 1/800, iso20,000

Check out those settings…spot on!  Wonderful choice of depth of field, and somehow making a great photo with ISO 20,000…simply amazing!  And you know me, I love these type of “hidden” shots that really showcase the behavior and habitat of critters of the world…excellent framing and showcasing.

Congratulations, Mike!

I want to also give some major congrats to additional entries, as our Honorable Mentions.  So much good work out there!

f/2.8, 1/160, iso100

I love this shot by Stuart Nordheimer of this small ground squirrel.  The framing of its little face is just superb!  What a cool way to take an “ordinary” backyard critter and make something really special out of it (nothing against ground squirrels, sorry for calling you ordinary…).  A shallow depth of field helps minimize distraction in the grasses, and that low ISO gives extraordinary sharpness and clarity.  Nice work!!

As I talk about depth of field, I am particularly drawn to this photo by Elinor Gates.  The foreground and background blur does SO much for this shot, and it’s so clever.  Kudos for getting a unique angle here and showcasing “live in the undergrowth” as Sir David Attenborough calls it.

Next, we’ve got an awesome flower photo, entitled Gazania fire light, by Kathleen Hill.  If you know me, I love BIG photos, where the subject goes edge to edge in the frame.  It makes for a powerful impression, and this is VERY powerful.  Also notice that composition was a top consideration for Kathleen, which turns this photo into real deal art.  Start with the rule of thirds, and you won’t be disappointed.  This is simply breathtaking!!

a colorful flower appears in a water droplet

f/8, 1/640, iso400

Finally, I want to give congratulations to Linda Barnes with Reflected Beauty.  Not only is this a wonderful example of how you can get really creative, but also showcases some key lessons when it comes to depth of field.  This shallow depth of field allows for the water droplet to be in tack-sharp focus, with a soft background blur.  But what I find particularly great about this shot is that she chose her background to be the perfect complementary color.  When in nature, especially close-up and macro photography, we often have the ability to pivot our angle to make big changes to the background.  This serves to incorporate a particular color or texture in the background to complement the subject.  In this case, Linda absolutely nailed it with that luxurious, soft yellow behind the yellow and white daffodil.  Wonderfully creative…wonderful shot.

Well, as you can see, there are some amazing minds and eyes out there.  But there were so many more high quality photos, and I congratulate everyone.  I’m so excited for the next photo challenge, as I know we’re got some real talent out there.

Be well, friends, and keep on shooting,

Court Whelan Signature