Last week, the winners of the 11th annual Audubon Photography Awards competition were announced. The winning images are astonishingly impressive but the Top 100 images shortlisted also deserve their own recognition and celebration.
While browsing through the Top 100 images a few days ago, I noticed two PhotoShelter members on the list. Douglas DeFelice and Scott Suriano are sharing more about their stunning shortlisted images below.
Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length. Cover image by Scott Suriano.
Mourning Doves by Douglas DeFelice
The story behind the photo —
I was in my house looking out the window when I saw these Mourning Doves sitting on the rocks by my pool. Quickly I grabbed a camera and rushed back to photograph the two as they appeared to kiss and hug each other. I’d been watching this pair for months as they nested in my backyard. Seeing them interact made me appreciate how delicate and caring these animals can be. It really made me feel that love is everywhere.
This image was chosen for a few reasons. I really enjoyed how they were interacting with each other and how it made me feel watching them. It also felt like the image had a lot of photographic elements to it, with the contrasting colors and shapes.
On the relationship between sports and wildlife photography —
I’m a freelance photographer and am also contracted with wire services in the Tampa Bay Area covering sports. I also have an immense love for wildlife and have volunteered my time as the Director of Photography with a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization for the past four years.
I find that both sports and wildlife, although completely different subjects, are also similar to each other. Both have action and both have candid moments (as seen above). Birds in flight have been a great way to hone my skills with other action and tracking subjects. Since the pandemic hit, my sports work came to a complete standstill. So to keep myself sharp, I’ve been able to go out and capture wildlife images. To me it’s also incredible therapy for my mind, to just watch and admire nature. It takes great patience, and you learn the habits of so many different species. I also get to practice and be much more creative when photographing nature, which I bring into my sports photography.
Frosted Tree Topper by Scott Suriano
The story behind the photo —
This past winter, I took a trip to Northern Minnesota in search of one of my favorite owl species, the Great Gray Owl. While I thought I ‘d prepared myself to face some of the coldest temperatures in the U.S., I couldn’t have imagined what -17°F would actually feel like. With hot coffee in my thermos and hope in my heart, the truck seemed to groan in agony as I turned the ignition to start my early morning search.
As the temperature rose to a “balmy” -14°F, I began losing hope as I hadn’t seen any signs of life in this ice crystallized landscape for several hours. Just as I was about to give up, I saw something ahead in the distance perched high atop a hoar-frost covered tree. At first, I couldn’t tell what it was due to the blueish turbulent haze that seemed to blanket the air, but as I crept closer, I could tell it was the unmistakable profile of the purpose of my travels! I pulled over, giving it plenty of space, and I set out to brave the rest of the way on foot. After only moments of photographing this beauty, I had completely lost the feeling in my fingers. In fact, the only way I knew I was taking the photos was the unmistakeable clamoring of the camera’s shutter as I rattled off my shots.
Upon my return home, and after the feeling had returned to my hands, I was able to review my images. I was delighted that not only had I captured a nice portrait of this amazing owl, but also the bone-chilling feel from the day. It truly amazes me how these animals are so adept at thriving in these extreme frigid temperatures while I could barely endure just a few short minutes.
On his technical challenges —
Hand motor skills in these extremely cold temperatures made it incredibly difficult to manipulate the camera settings for proper focus and exposure.
Solid Gold Song by Scott Suriano
The story of the photo —
Last summer, I had the pleasure of visiting the Mckee Beshers Wildlife Management Area, located in Montgomery County, Maryland. I was eager to see the sunflower fields in full bloom before they passed their prime to try and catch any of the field’s feathered inhabitants. I arrived at sunrise and was delighted to find several different species of songbirds starting to become active, flying around and feasting on the field’s bountiful seeds.
Among the songbirds were some starkly contrasted, brightly colored Indigo Buntings, who were feverishly competing with some American Goldfinches for real estate among the large yellow sunflower heads.
As the July sun began to warm the fields, I saw this particular Bunting taking up residence on this weary sunflower head. The confident way this bird carried himself showed that he had claimed this sunflower as his own, and triumphantly boasted his melodic song across the fields.
My goal was to try and capture this beautiful scene and maintain the warmth and expansiveness of the environment without the bird getting lost. I quickly positioned myself to include some colorful foreground elements and lowered my perspective to capture the bird against the dark background so it would clearly stand out. He then again treated me to his beautiful song, as it gleefully rang out across the entire field for all those privileged enough to hear.
Looking back on the experience now, it seemed to be a hopeful song of a brand new day, which we could all use during these difficult and challenging times we are currently facing.
On his post-processing/retouching —
There is basic ACR and photoshop adjustments to darken the background shadows and slight saturation of the colors on the bird and flowers to make them stand out. I also slightly cropped the original to emphasize the vivid yellow foreground flower blur.
Morning Glow by Scott Suriano
The story behind the photo —
While on a Spring Break trip down to Florida, away from the hustle and bustle of my chaotic life on the Northern East Coast, I visited J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. I was driving around the famous “Wildlife Loop” at sunrise and noticed this Roseate Spoonbill hunting the brackish shallows on the far edge of a large stand of mangroves. As the Florida sun slowly gave rise to the new day, I began seeing the magical effects this light was having on the mangroves, their reflections in the water, and the faint rim light around the bird. Quickly jumping out of my car, I positioned myself as low as possible and framed the shot in an effort to do this fantastic scene justice. As most photographers know, these unique situations are short-lived and very tricky to balance the backlit exposure to capture the moment properly.
I was fortunate to have this Spoonbill cooperate and give me a nice profile view, at which time I fired off a handful of frames capturing this shot. I was thrilled to find later, after reviewing my images from the day, that I was able to get the subtle, interesting elements created by the light and had managed to capture some of the magic from that early morning scene.
If there is anything that I’ve learned over the years of photographing wildlife, it’s that you need to look for these unique moments, as sometimes something unpredictably magical can happen, like the resulting glowing orange orbs of light dancing in the mangroves.
Feeling inspired to enter another contest? Download our free guide, The 2020 Photographer’s Guide to Photo Contests.
Note: PhotoShelter chairman and co-founder Allen Murabayashi was a judge for the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards.