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  • Writer's pictureRubber Monkey

Bird Photography Competition Winners

After recently announcing the winners of our Bird Photography Competition, we wanted to share their photographs, alongside our judges comments and a short interview with the winners.



Oskar Ehrhardt - Food Flaunted

'Two Kōtare / sacred Kingfishers on a perch, one throwing a crab in the air.'

"This photo is just fantastic. From its superb timing and composition to the dreamy pink and green colour palette. This image perfectly embodies the phrase ‘right place, right time’. My focus was immediately drawn to the hungry gaze of the left kingfisher, before being guided by the arc of the branch to the perfectly timed crab toss."

- Rubber Monkey Judges Comments

Introduce yourself

I'm Oskar, a computer science student at Vic. In my free time, I like doing bird photography and exercising.

How did you get into bird photography? / What do you like about bird photography?

About 4 years ago, I picked up my grandma's little digital camera while at a cafe and took some photos of the sparrows who were cleaning up the crumbs at the next table. It's normal to me now, but I was amazed at the quality and zoom. The stillness of a photo reveals characteristics and personalities that would otherwise go unseen. My grandma wasn't using the camera herself so I was given it for Christmas. For 3 years I used that little camera when going to places like Zealandia until I finally got a DSLR.

Where were you when you captured the shot? Is there a story behind capturing the image?

I took the photo on my second day of learning to use my new tripod. The day before, I had gone to Pauatahanui Inlet without a subject in mind (as is usually the case for me). There were 3 kingfishers constantly swapping places from a tree above me, the perches in front of me, and some trees further along. I really enjoyed the new-to-me style of photography with my tripod. I was sitting in the same place in the grass with my camera aimed at the same perch for two hours. The sun going behind the hill meant I decided to come back the next day and do it again, which is when I got this photo.

What was the most challenging aspect of capturing this image?

Staying focused. Two or three hours sitting in the grass can be sore, but the real pain was waiting for the kingfishers to go to the perch.

What gear did you use?

Why did you choose this image to enter?

It has more character than my other photos. It shows an interaction between what are usually shy birds, involving jealousy and showing off.

What are your tips & tricks for photographing birds for beginners?

The main rules of thumb that I can think of are to get eye level and capture their eye in focus. Those are the easiest ways to transform bird photos from average everyday perspectives through to a real connection and sense of relatability. However, the absolute best bird photos out there often go beyond the rules to make something completely unique.

Are you currently working on any projects?

I'd love to start putting my photos in local cafes and other businesses. I'm also trying to do more at-sea photography but the recent weather has meant they were canceled. However, I'm hoping to be out there soon. I'm also working on a bird-conservation-related computer program but it's more just for my learning than something likely to be widely functional.

Do you have any other hobbies/interests?

Football, running, programming, artificial intelligence, and wildlife (okay, mainly birds).

Check out more of Oskar's work here



Juan Miguel Beltran - The Queen and Prince in the Grass Palace

'En route to Wharariki beach, I found the mother and child walking in the grass field which matches the mother's color making it look like it is their palace.'

"This photo stood out to me because I'm a sucker for good story telling in images. I love the idea of the mother bird guiding its chick through 'the path of life'. The composition was spot on and the warm color pallet complimented the tone of the image perfectly. Also the timing on the birds looking in different directions added to the story with the chick curiously looking around while the mother was looking ahead to guide them down the path" - Rubber Monkey Judges Comments

Introduce yourself

Hi, I am Juan Miguel or you can call me JM for short. I am a Software Developer by profession for about 11 years. I moved here in Wellington, New Zealand from Manila, Philippines almost 3 years ago because of what I heard and saw about New Zealand’s wonderful nature and wildlife.

How did you get into photography?

I enjoy taking quick photos of my travel and hiking around the globe using my smartphone. I really like looking back at the photos and reliving the experience specially the ultrawide landscape and panoramic photos. They just feel immersive and different. So early last year (around May 2021), I decided that I really want to take good landscape photos, I checked for a second-hand camera and lens (Fujifilm X-T30, XF 10-24MM F4). I always have it with me every day practicing with it during lunch and after work. Since then, I tried different kind of photography with different lens.

What is your favourite type of photography?

Landscape and nature. I like the captivating feel an ultrawide photo gives and the attention to details the telephoto has. I like to do solo hiking then taking photos of anything that’s interesting is the process I truly immerse myself in.

What percentage of shots you take end up as keepers?

Around 5~10% on a good day. On a short hike, I can easily take 700+ photos and probably just select around 30-60 photos that I will work on.

Are you currently working on any projects?

I am working on local hikes around the area that I can take photos on every possible weekend. I am also delving into Astro photography with landscapes (weather and stars permitting).

Is there a story behind capturing this image?

I saw the dad at the start of the trail then on the trail I saw the mother and child walking

freely. Took some photos from not so far and they just went to the side then vanished

quickly into the bush.

What was the most challenging aspect of capturing this image?

It was quite challenging to take a photo of animals with a regular range lens (16-55MM

APSC) but I need to work with what I currently have. I want to capture the trail, the mother

and child in the center surrounded by the grass. So I need to move fast but quietly before

they run somewhere.

What gear did you use - Why did you choose this image to enter?

It was supposed to be a quick walk to the beach. I got my full gears (tripod, second camera

and two other lens) but everything in my pack for the famous Wharariki beach. Good thing I

got my Fujifilm X-T4 and XF 16-55 F2.8 easily accessible.

Do you have any other hobbies/interests?

Aside from photography, I like hiking, travelling and wall climbing/bouldering. After work, you can find me in the local wall climbing gym. I also try to expand my area of interest in photography outside landscape and nature, I am exploring street, portrait and product.

What is your favourite NZ bird and why?

The Kakapo truly interests me. I find them gentle and bright creatures considering they are quite large but they still appear friendly.

What are your tips & tricks for photographing birds for beginners?

Have fun taking photos. Don’t stress too much on perfecting the shot every time. You just need to do the shot. Not all photos that you like will be liked by everyone, and vice versa, not all photos that everyone liked will be to your liking. Play and experiment more.

Check out more of Juan's work here



Madeleine Brennan - Kea In Flight

'Shae the Kea nailing his take-off on the Kepler track.'

"This photo is really stunning. It's timed perfectly just as the Kea is in a ballerina-like pose, it's wings are super crisp and beautifully in focus, the whole image is framed really well. The colour pallet in this photo is also gorgeous, the blue sky sits really beautifully behind the warmer tones of the wood and grass, not to mention the Kea' wings, the mix of oranges, greens and blue is balanced really really well."

- Rubber Monkey Judges Comments

Introduce yourself

Kia ora, I'm Maddy! I'm an independent documentary filmmaker and nature guide here in New Zealand.

How did you get into bird photography? / What do you like about bird photography?

I got into bird photography as part of my university degree. I studied Zoology and then went on to do a Masters in Science Communication & Natural History Filmmaking at Otago University, which helped teach me some of the basics of photography. I got my first camera around that time and was doing nature guiding at the Royal Albatross Centre, so I had some great opportunities to practice my skills in some pretty stunning locations with some pretty cool birds!

Where were you when you captured the shot? Is there a story behind capturing the image?

I took this image when I was walking the Kepler track in Fiordland. This particular Kea (Shae) had already tried to eat my camera and steal my food bag up at Mt Luxmore, and had followed us down to the next shelter. A juvenile Kea was trying to eat my shoelaces and Shae came down to show them who was boss, and I caught this photo of him just as he was taking off to harass another group of juveniles!

What was the most challenging aspect of capturing this image?

Honestly, this photo wasn't very challenging at all. Kea make great models! Especially in areas like the Kepler Track that have a lot of people passing through, the Kea are very bold. They also love shiny things, so they are curious about cameras and come in nice and close to pose for your photos.

What gear did you use?

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I find it quite funny since I'm a filmmaker and own a pretty decent camera and set of lenses as part of my job, but I was feeling very lazy when I did this hike and didn't take any of my camera gear with me, so this photo was taken on my iPhone! Sometimes I prefer just using my phone - you can capture a moment quickly and without much thought, and still get a pretty decent result.

Why did you choose this image to enter?

It's one of my favourite photos I've ever taken! Everyone loves Kea, and I think this shot captures both their cheeky nature and also how strikingly beautiful they are.

Are you currently working on any projects?

Yes, I'm currently working on a documentary at the moment, but still in the early battling stages of trying to get some funding for it. We're trying to tell a story about our native red-billed seagulls, so an animal that's not quite as charismatic or universally loved like the Kea! So that's proving to be a bit of a challenge, trying to convince people that our seagulls also need a bit of attention at the moment. Unfortunately they are a species that are being hit very hard by climate change, and if we keep on ignoring them we will likely lose them from our coastlines within the next 100 years. Then who's going to try and steal our fish and chips?!

What is your proudest accomplishment / favourite project?

My favourite project would have to be my documentary 'Growing Up Kiwi.' It followed a young Haast tokoeka kiwi chick called Almer through his first year of life in the DOC conservation programme Operation Nest Egg. It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but I'm very proud of the finished result.

What is your favourite NZ bird and why?

The Ruru! I love them so much, and I get so excited whenever I see them in the wild! I used to work down on Rakiura and do guided bird-spotting tours on Ulva Island, and there was a Ruru family that used to sleep in some of the young Rimu trees. They were only there every now and then, but whenever I spotted them I never had my camera on me, so I didn't get any good photos of them. So the day I get a good Ruru photo will be a very exciting day!

What are your tips & tricks for photographing birds for beginners?

Don't be overwhelmed by all the camera gear out there, and don't feel like you need to drop a huge amount of money on the best gear straight away. I found that those feelings held me back for a while, when in reality you should just use what you have access to and get out there and give it a go! I started off with a very basic, entry level camera and a budget lens, but really enjoyed being out in nature and learning as I went. Also, patience is huge, and sometimes just being in the right place at the right time really pays off!

Check out more of Madeleine's work here


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