We mixed things up for this photo contest to create some challenges that were both interesting and fun. This was a contest that anyone was welcomed to participate in, no experience required. Our cadre of elite judges also consisted of both professional and experienced photographers as well as the common rabble. Their combined scoring was used to determine the winner in each category, and since judging was done remotely we're glad to say that disagreements over composition and lighting never came to physical blows, which for all we know is quite common in the world of professional photography.
We had 8 different categories for people to participate in. They are:
- 1 Hope - A photo that represents hope and a description about what hope means to the photographer
- 2 Shadows - Any photo that uses shadow
- 3 Ladybirds - Any photo that had the main subject being a female bird
- 4 Fallen - Any photo that has something that had fallen
- 5 Alt Text - The photo itself was not the most important factor in this category, but how the photographer described it
- 6 The One That Got Away - A photo of a missed opportunity
- 7 Texture - Any photo that uses texture as its main subject
- 8 Favorite Spot - A photo of someone's favorite spot and an explanation as to why it is their favorite spot
Only the 1st place winner of each category gets a prize, but I have included 2nd place winners so that they may gain some measure of dopamine knowing that they got that far.
First Place: David Bedard
"Hope is tangible in a new life. Hope desires deeply, but gently. Hope is beautiful."
Overall Score: 83.25
My Comments: How dare you David. How dare you. You should have known that the picture of an innocent and vulnerable fawn would win over the hearts of our judges against all other entries. But great framing with those trees on either side, and just look at those whiskers. And your description of hope? Wonderful and with brevity worthy of envy. Hope is a slight, fragile thing, but it has the potential to grow into something greater if properly protected and nurtured, and you've illustrated that both visually and verbally.
Hope Category Award: 1 Painted Bunting aluminum John James Audubon bird print (23 5/8" x 28 2/3") (lots of people hope Painting Buntings come to their yard, and while we can't decide where they end up we can at least put a few on your wall)
Second Place: Benton Gardner
"The Eastern Phoebe is hopeful that sanctuaries like Beidler Audobon Swamp will promote bird stewardship everywhere. As a child, I recall riding in the car with my parents through my home state of West Virginia. We had to stop and clean insects from the windshield frequently. I rarely do that now, with the exception of Love Bug season. I saw a Webex the other day stating that yard plant pesticides are mainly responsible for the decline of insects. Insects the birds need to survive. We should all try to do our part to plant native plants and not use pesticides."
Overall Score: 75.75
My Comments: This photo was also very popular among the judges. Eastern Phoebes are drab birds known mostly for their behavior of flicking their tails, and personally I know them for sleeping on my eaves in the winter and pooping on my porch, but one should not readily dismiss the less colorful birds. I learned to appreciate Phoebes when I watched one sit on a fence and make a dozen quick flights up and down, and each time it claimed a deer fly with impressive precision. Scientific studies agree with Benton's observation that insect populations are declining, with some estimating up to 40% of all insect species being impacted, and that impacts everything that relies on them, including us. Plus I can think of a number of insects I'd rather have more of than deer flies.
First Place: Juliette Shealy
Overall Score: 83.5
My Comments: Jules, can I call you Jules? There's a 50% chance that I can, and that's some pretty good odds, so we're going to go with it. Jules, this photo has it all. The sunlight highlighting the varied textures of the wood and moss, the shadows of the hollow space within, and below that? Reflections of the sky framed by the darkened walls of the stump, pierced by rays from the sun outside that illuminate the swamp floor below. Light and dark clash for dominance through multiple elements across this natural world you've shared with us, you've turned a hollow tree stump into a canyon of fantastical proportions.
Apologies if you do not like being referred to as Jules.
Shadows Category Award: 4 tickets to a Night Exploration Program at Beidler Forest (if you like day shadows wait until you see the moon shadows)
Second Place: Linda LaFave
Overall Score: 82.25
My Comments: A close runner up, check out this tapestry of contrast that Linda has captured. The water at Beidler Forest is always flowing, which is a huge deciding factor when it comes to our lack of mosquitoes, but I also love the blackwater for the reflections. Across the surface of the swamp a different Pollock painting is created every second and then is never seen again.
I just want to preface to say that this category only received 4 entries. I think that reinforces the reason why we chose this category to begin with, the fact that flashier birds usually get more interest than their camouflaged counterparts. Natural selection trends towards (but not always) male birds being more colorful than females, and that same effect influences which bird gets photographed more. So, with that in mind, if we do another photo contest like this I will once again use this as one of the categories since it clearly proved to be the most challenging.
First Place: Heidi Pasch de Viteri
Overall Score: 87.81
My Comments: Not surprising that the mascot of Beidler Forest, the Prothonotary Warbler, makes an appearance in one of our photo contests. In particular this Prothonotary is a juvenile female, one who is still a little scruffy around the edges and hasn't yet made the journey down to Colombia, South America. The behavior of male and female Prothonotary Warblers is in my opinion more dramatic than their difference in colors, as the males are absolutely willing to ignore you as they go about their mission, loudly proclaiming their territory and dumping beakloads of invertebrates into their nestling's mouths. Meanwhile the female Prothonotary is quiet and elusive, wary and always on the lookout, and will not as readily approach the nest if you are nearby. Nice work, Heidi!
Lady Birds Category Award: 4 tickets to a guided Bird Tour at Beidler Forest (we do not overlook the lady birds on our guided tours, except when they're hard to see)
Second Place: David Bedard
Overall Score: 84.38
My Comments: David's strategy of camping out the bird feeders along our Grassland-Woodland trail was a sound one, as year round you can find many species of birds that display sexual dimorphism. Female Purple Finches easily get overlooked for their brightly colored counterparts. Quite honestly I think it should be called the Magenta Finch instead of purple, or perhaps the Cherry Finch, but no one asked me. Purple Finches are outcompeted by House Finches, and House Finches were only found on the west coast until *of course* they were introduced to the east coast in the 1940's due to the illegal bird trade. We're happy to keep the Purple Finches fed in the winter! Be sure to visit our feeders along that trail in the spring, as we'll get Painting Buntings, Indigo Buntings, and Blue Grosbeaks.
First Place: Linda LaFave
Overall Score: 91.86
My Comments: This photo received lots of praise from our judges, and other photographers noticed this exact log as well since multiple participants submitted photos of it. And while I won't claim to know the history of all fallen cypress trees along the boardwalk (and I'm assuming only a few of our judges knew of this log's importance), this one in particular is well known for being the only cypress tree that fell during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. It crushed the boardwalk, and you can see part of the original boardwalk still lying there on the right side of the photo. Despite being fallen, it has withstood the test of time whereas all other trees that fell from that storm are now mounds of dirt. This log still has a purpose in our swamp, as cottonmouths love to use it to sunbathe. Everything that falls in a forest helps something else rise. Love the angles, also nice continuation of your signature wavy-shadow-reflection style, Linda.
Fallen Category Award: 1 Carolina Parakeet aluminum John James Audubon bird print (19 5/8" x 24") (Carolina Parakeets are extinct, and so I chose a fallen species for this award. Although now that sort of feels like a downer, but that also relates to the idea fallen, does it not?)
Second Place: Tammy Coghill
Overall Score: 88.75
My Comments: This was also very popular with the judges, and a great example of something that has fallen. Red Maples have wing-like seeds officially called "samaras" (though I prefer the more scientific "helicopters" or "whirligigs") that slow their fall in order to disperse across a larger area, but here's the thing- Red Maples cannot grow out of the water. So why are there so many Red Maples scattered throughout the swamp? Pure luck. If a Red Maple seed lands on a log, stump, or even a living cypress knee, there's a chance it will sprout. Then if the sapling can get its roots into the ground before its own weight takes it down or its support rots out from underneath it, it will survive even if surrounded by water. Great angle, great framing, great photo, Tammy!
Alt Text is metadata attached to images so that people with visual disabilities can still access the content through apps that will read out whatever text has been attached to an image. For this category, most of the points were awarded to how well participants described their photo, which is a totally different skillset and mindset from photography. A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes you only have 250 characters to describe said photo. If you'd like to learn more about alt text check out this website.
First Place: David Bedard
"The full-bodied Barred owl is parti-striped in brown and white. The owl perches on the right foot, and cocks up the left foot with a gnarled claw. It leans its head forward to preen the left leg feathers."
Overall Score: 85.5
My Comments: Once again David comes swooping in to attack our judges' sensibilities with a candid shot of a favored animal. Is there no end to your wanton manipulation of the hearts and minds of our judges, sir? You also managed to keep your description down to 204 characters, flauntingly displaying no need for the remaining 46. But what can I say, this image overcame the judges and your description is both apt and concise. Congratulations on a second win!
Alt Text Category Award: 1 Beidler Membership for 2023 (actually it's for 2023 and part of 2024 considering it's basically March but you know)
Second Place: Linda LeFave
"Darkness has fallen and we are walking on the boardwalk, our steps loud despite our efforts to walk gently through the quiet of the night. The moon has just started to create a soft glow at the horizon. Tall trees rise above us all around, their gnarled winter limbs bare of leaves, their branches thinning to a soft texture at the ends. But those stars! So bright, and the color of Mars so clearly red. Black trees, gray sky, a hundred little points of light, a handful of diamonds tossed into the air."
Overall Score: 81.33... (repeating, of course)
My Comments: Linda's photo evokes a mysterious atmosphere whose depths are revealed by her description. However, I should remind our viewers that one of the requirements for this category was to keep the length of one's description under 250 characters, and Linda's pursuit of romanticism left her at 503 characters (actually it was 508 but there were double-spaces between sentences that I edited out- Ho! Treachery!). This meant her description was too long to fit entirely into the alt text metadata field for the image. However, since hardly anyone made an effort to keep their descriptions below 250 characters, I ultimately decided to not ask the judges to withhold points based on length. I didn't want to penalize folks for something that they may have never tried to do before, and Linda's description as it is sure is purty.
Update: Linda has painstakingly grappled with the character limit (being a lover of run-on sentences myself I struggle with character limits, personally) and we have added it here:
"On the boardwalk, the moon glows softly at the horizon. Trees rise high above, their gnarled limbs bare, branches thinning to a soft texture. Black trees, gray sky, Mars so clearly red. And those stars! A handful of diamonds tossed into the air."
Just so you know the goal of this category was to submit bad photos, photos that might have been great, if they had only turned out so. Points were given for blurriness, terrible lighting, poor composition, and how great the photo might have been.
First Place: Teri Griffin
"Who knew these little guys were so stinkin' fast?! Not me. I had never seen a Ruby Crowned Kinglet before and by the looks of this fuzz-ball-of-a-picture, I wouldn't be able to convince anyone that I had seen one either! I was not prepared for the hippity-hoppity, stealth moving, snack grabbing, uncooperative big eyed, little...precious beauty that he was...aaaaand it shows!"
Overall Score: 84.2205882352941
My Comments: As Teri reveals in her description of the image she has utterly failed to take a quality photo of this Ruby-crowned Kinglet. If she has any skill at photography at all it remains unbeknownst to us, and now unbeknownst to you as well. However, from the photo alone we could still reasonably identify what species this bird is, so while she lost points for that the judges still determined that her photo was the best lost opportunity. And I agree with her on the challenge of photographing kinglets, not only are they at most the length of your index finger they also weigh about 1/5th of a golf ball and can fly at around 30 miles per hour. They tend to stay up high, nesting up to a hundred feet in the air, and are much easier to hear than see. Thank you for expressing this degree of frustration, Teri.
We savored it.
The One That Got Away Category Award: 1 Beidler Grab Bag (we do not have a Beidler-themed handkerchief to console yourself with but we'll put in some good stuff for you)
Second Place: Robert Peterson
"Focus, focus, focus!
Exposure, exposure, exposure!
Money shot (warbler near nest with food in beak) a total disappointment.
This beauty cooperated but the "reveal" was a mess."
Overall Score: 83.0367647058823
My Comments: Oh my my my. Look at this abject failure. Prothonotary Warbler males are great at posing for significant periods, and yet Robert has failed to achieve both proper lighting and focus. This photo was on the heels of the 1st place winner so the sympathy among the judges is clear, but just like its original attempt, it failed to succeed once again. That's okay, because there's always this upcoming spring rife with new opportunities to fail. And who can argue against the fact that indeed, Robert saw a Prothonotary with food for its young, at least there's proof of that, whatever little comfort it may give.
First Place: Teri Griffin
Overall Score: 96.25
My Comments: Well well well, it seems that after Teri failed to capture a bird between the railing she decided to just photograph the railing instead. And yet, the result is obvious, a wonderful cadence of texture, singing with colors and shapes, revealing a chorus of life even on the most mundane of surfaces. Lichen and moss compete for space in what to us is an eternally slow timeframe, these lifeforms surviving only on rain, sunlight, and perhaps occasional nutrients from raccoon poop. Also, it is worth noting that with a score of 96.25 out of a 100 this photo was scored the highest from our judges out of all the photos submitted, and while I would award this the Best of Show;
There is no Best of Show award for this contest.
Still, Teri has redeemed herself entirely in our eyes, nay, with elevated status than before, and hopefully in the eyes of the public, as well. Congratulations Teri, the texture is so apparent in this photo we can feel it by just looking at it.
Texture Category Award: 1 11"x8.5" black and white swamp illustration from a local artist (I will draw you something nice, maybe a Ruby-crowned Kinglet)
Second Place: Juliette Shealy
Overall Score: 90.5
My Comments: Jules, who henceforth shall be known as Juliette, also took a photo you can feel. In fact, close your eyes and imagine running your fingers over this textured surface. I know this stump and I've done it for real, only it wasn't weird like you're making it now. While we pride ourselves in being one of two forests left in this state that have never been logged, that doesn't mean that no tree has ever been cut down. This tree is right next to the boardwalk and had died standing, and since trees falling on people are problematic because they cause quite a bit of paperwork we ultimately decided to cut it down beforehand. This personally is one of my favorite photos in this category, but since I wasn't a judge that didn't help you in the slightest, Juliette. Still, nice work.
First Place: Robert Peterson
"Why is this my favorite spot?
Because I am finally "here".
I have made the long drive, chatted a bit, looked at the who-saw-what board, and I'm finally on my way.
I am full of anticipation knowing that I will never be disappointed.
This is the spot where all the other spots start.
I took this just after rain. That added an extra dimension to the photo and the feeling."
Overall Score: 90.5
My Comments: It appears that Robert is also worthy of a redemption arc following the devastating blow dealt to his ego following that Prothonotary encounter. Judges also awarded points for participant's descriptions of their favorite spot, and who can argue with that optimism. Optimism, despite being cloying and obtuse (emphasis mine), is admittedly the perfect counter for failure. After all, we do learn more from failure, except those who don't, but clearly Robert has the potential and the skill required despite previous inquiries. I'm glad that he (and others) feels that sense of anticipation when walking out onto the boardwalk. You never know what you're going to see, and the swamp has so much to share. Even after a decade of working here, I still feel it, too.
Favorite Spot Category Award: 2 Guest Family Passes (so you can share this place with others, or scalp them as tickets, we won't know the difference)
Second Place: Tammy Coghill
"So many spots come to mind as a favorite - from the active bird feeders on the new Grasslands Trail, to the bend in the walkway that seems to go on forever, to the lookout point at the Lake. This particular spot, however, always makes me pause and smile. It puts me in mind, alternatively, of a happy sloth and a contemplative Yoda. Something about the curve of the back and the neck, and the deep shadow it makes on the water. It's also evocative of the randomness of all the cypress knees - smooth yet mottled, curved yet strong, abundance of color in an almost monochromatic environment."
Overall Score: 90.25
My Comments: Tammy has taken a great photo of what is the World's Most Famous Cypress Knee Located in Four Holes Swamp. Big enough to sit on, and when the water is low, big enough to sit in for some. I love her description, both literal and metaphoric, and judges were clearly conflicted between this photo and the previous one, or at least I'm going to assume that they're still lying awake at night thinking about whether they made the right choice. But rest well, Tammy, for this is a great photo across the board and among the top 5 when it comes to total score and for me personally in the top three.
Honorable Mention: Because I Wanted To
I was not a judge during this contest, I only organized it and made some shiny excel files and color commentary for the results. I did my best to keep my opinions to myself until writing this article to not corrupt the opinions of those who decided the fates of all of our participants. However, there are a few photos that I especially liked and wanted to share, heedless of structure and impartialness.
Honorable Mention: Jessica Adams
My Comments: Lens flares are risky and capricious to capture, but I love the purposeful and successful attempt to capture it here. Jessica submitted this photo for the Shadow category and it absolutely stood out from the rest. Sunlight takes 8 minutes to reach earth, but some people spend a lifetime without ever stopping to see how cool things can be if viewed at just the right angle.
Honorable Mention: Donald Richardson
My Comments: This was such a brazen display of audacity (and humor) that it could not be ignored. Donald submitted this photo for the Shadow Category. I can agree that there is a shadow cast in the image and after a field survey I was able to confirm that this was taken on site, on one of the bridges along our grassland-woodland trail, making it a valid entry. As to why that shadow is coming from a California Raisin, which is clearly not endemic to South Carolina, remains a mystery. As for how this image scored, I can tell you truthfully that it received high marks for both focus and lighting, which is fair, and received above average marks for the composition, but only one of our judges could get past the subject itself, which clearly indicates that this is a controversial image which in a way makes it have a degree of merit in of itself. It is at the point of contention where we see the most excitement, the most energy. You ruffled some feathers in a good way, sir, and so for that I grant you affirmation of your efforts.