The 2021 Audubon Photography Awards

Came across this bird photography site and though this might be liked:

In a few days, July 13th, the top 100 for 2021 will be posted.


The older I get and the more I despise art contests and awards. Besides vanity, what purpose do they serve ? Especially in photography, there are so many different contests, it seems that if you had no luck with one jury (composed of people you never heard about before), you can still try dozens of others (and maybe keep paying entry fees). Although, I get that, in the commercial world, it’s a cheap way for brands to select free work and make you “win” an unpaid feature in their next campain.

At the end of the day, only two questions remain:

  1. are you happy with your art ?
  2. does it sell ?

If yes and yes, then happy you. If yes and no, then people are dumb. If no and yes, then you are dumb. If no and no, then take classes.


I’m not one for contests either as I never win them myself but if you’re in business I imagine the notoriety might help? We have a number of photo contests locally being in a scenic region of the US and it seems the same three or four big name local professionals win them all and chest thump about it each year.

It’s the same basic reason a lot of photographers are on Instagram for marketing. Cash and prizes aside I reckon. Outside of business and promotional reasons (if one wins) I don’t really see any point in them. Constantly entering and losing them does wear on your mind though. Hopefully the people who didn’t make it have enough sense to not put too much stock in these things and not get depressed.

Personally I long arrived at “that’s just like your opinion man” when it came to what others thought of my work. Particularly strangers I don’t really know. A “you suck” lobbed in my direction is usually replied promptly with “don’t care” these days. Perks of getting older, you stop seeking so much approval from others.


For this particular collection its more about the subjects for me. I love to look at the birds. There is a Nikon Bird group I look in on with FB as well. Some of the shots are amazing but its really just about see cool birds in nature for me and less about the photography…

First of all: Did you enjoy the images? I sure did!

I’m not so sure I would qualify this as art. Beautiful, (high) quality photography doesn’t necessarily make it art in my opinion. But that is another discussion full of strong opinions and rather subjective at times. Not going to go there.

Why do I mention this nonetheless? You saying this is art and needs to be marketable might put this discussion in a different light.


Point one is partially valid; Being happy about what you create/do at a basic level is important, but feeling rather good about getting positive feedback from others is also ingrained in most of us. Add to that a biological driven competitiveness and entering a competition/contest might be a nice way to get a boosted feeling good moment. You seem to call that vanity, I say it is normal and biologically ingrained (normal as long as it stays healthy).

The second point I find moot. Making money of something that you like to do, or are good at, might be the economically viable thing to chase after but it sure as hell isn’t the driving force for most of us amatuers that “just like taking good pictures”. Switching from your day-job to your hobby that you excel in to make a living entails a lot more then being good at something. So please refrain from calling people stupid that have lots of fun shooting great images and do not make any money by doing that. Not having to worry about the next pay-check while exercising your hobby might even make you feel good (see point 1).

About this specific contest: I do not approach this as art, but do hope to see some good quality photos when I visit a site like this. A lot of these shots are amazing and I surely appreciate the patience and dedication that was put into each and everyone of them.

All photography is art. The lens and sensor are different tools from the brush and canvas, but both consist of composition, light, colour, subject matter, expression, etc…

There are indeed lots of excellent shots on that site. Still, you can find lots of similarly excellent shots by browsing flickr, to pick just one site, without the competition. I am not against competition, per se, it can be fun, so long as you treat it that way, but I don’t place any significance on the results. First, they can be easily rigged, thus by entering you don’t just waste money, but actively pay for injustice to prosper. Second, your merit is decided on the whim of a select few judges who you may know nothing about. What makes their opinion more valuable than your own, or your peers? Many judges opinions I would not care for a bit, and consider it a compliment if they do not consider me best, simply for disagreement in taste. But then, you can’t impress anyone with that on a resume, which I guess is a major draw card for the larger competitions.

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I do not agree with this. Photojournalism or (social) documentary photography, for instance, isn’t art. Touching, really important and worth looking at: Yes! But not art.

I’m definitely not saying that photography isn’t art per se, I am saying that I do not think the images I linked to are art. They are high quality images, though!

But as I stated in my previous reply: This goes into the realm of what one thinks is(n’t) art. Not worth starting that up again :grin:

I agree with that, that is one of the reasons I decided to share this one and refrain from sharing others; They include 100 non-winners for us to enjoy (that along with the fact that this is a mixed amateur/professional setup).

These contests and how they are judged are somewhat subjective and if you would want to enter one you do good to investigate previous results and reasoning. This will also give you a good understanding of what it is the judges are looking for (and if you agree with this).

Good explanations to why some image is (dis)liked by the judging team would be something that can benefit the participant.

Bit of a negative way to look at things from the start isn’t it… I’m not naive, but I’m not this gloomy.

To circle back to Aurélien’s does it sell point: If you do want to make money with photography you do need to adhere to what “they” like and want to spend money on. Participating in selective contests that seem to be up ones alley and that include feedback might give you pointers to what that actually is.

I don’t think that Pixls, Instagram, Flicker or what-have-you opinions are all that valuable compared to a, what I can only presume to be, knowledgeable judging team. At least the latter will give you a reason why they (dis)like an entry, which will be, in part, based on some objective technical standards. I see too often that people get up/down voted on the afore mentioned boards without any explanation whatsoever.

Here I am, thinking I started a leisurely thread about some nice bird pics and waking up to this discussion :rofl:

But to me this is a leisurely discussion!

Yes, rather than trying to define what art is, how about I simply say there is an art to all photography. Even photojournalism. Even documentary photography. It is not all equal in quality, and that quality is an artistic one.

Yes, but all too often realistic. Once we understand that famous people, those who get their work in large galleries, and those who win large competitions, do so not based on merit, but on personal and family connections, we understand a large part of how the world works. Once we understand a lot of that material exists not to showcase quality, but to push agenda and shape society in ways that suit the extremely wealthy, we understand a large part of how the world works (although this part is probably not applicable in pretty bird competitions). Which is not to say all this work has no merit, only that merit of the work is often not considered the most important aspect, and in some cases, isn’t really considered at all.

Key word is presume. I won’t presume anyone’s opinion to be of higher value just because of their position or social status. I have seen bullshit works of art win competitions or get gallery spots just because they were accompanied by an oh-so-meaningful blurb, which said more than the artwork ever could. What knowledgeable idiot decided that? (The birds you presented were not bullshit, so I am speaking generally here). As much as possible, I will come to value one’s opinion when I can see their work, and hear their thoughts. Thus, no presumptions.

It is good when you can get this, but it does not always happen. Once upon I time I wrote fiction, and submitted it to literary journals. In order to submit, you had to subscribe, which was the only reason I did so, for their content was not to my taste. You might say I should only have submitted to those with appealing content, but if so, I would not have submitted at all, for they were all similar! I was rejected about twenty times before giving up. Out of twenty rejections, I received only one critique - and it was generally positive, so I never really learnt why it wasn’t accepted.

I don’t know what role biology has in this, if it even has one. All that seems mostly cultural and passed through education. The whole educative system is based on competition (fucking Jesuites). However, sociology has shown that cooperation instead of competiton leads to better results, in school as in corporate industries (see how poorly performs the GE management…). I don’t think there is ever a healthy way to feel good about crushing others. In sports, competition is against yourself, but then the criterion of success is objective: the first one arrived or the one that scored the more goals is not up to a jury.

That whole amateurism thing would be nice if it wasn’t bullshit. First, because photography is an expensive hobby, so you cast away the lower tier of the income distribution. Then, because if you really want to commit to it, you need to allocate it enough time (if only to learn the skills). I don’t need to explain how time equals money, but selling and making profit is not a curse, it might be a blessing for those you could barely afford a camera in the first place. There is a level of commitment where you need to free time and invest resources in it, and where it puts your living at risk if there is no payback. Otherwise, photography stays — again — a vanity hobby for the upper class. Let’s face it… “no need for money” means “I’m already upper class”. Money gets the projects going.

Not having to worry about getting all your photo projects done on sundays only because you need to be back at “real job” the day after at 8:00 is not bad either.

Well, if it’s not art, then it’s worthless.

Nope. I don’t see the point.

Photojournalism is an art too, that matter has been settled a long time ago. A photojournalist is not a Google 360° camera, he puts opinions and creative decisions in the making. A picture is a reduction of reality inside a temporal and spatial frame, someone had to choose these frames depending of what they wanted to express.

Nah, the point I was making is: if you are going to look for external approval and validation, do it from a money perspective, at least the purpose is clear. Not for validation from a few randos who self-appointed as experts and judges among the amateurs, and are the ones who actually get paid from the entry fees. The fact is the jury is not the customer (just see how cinema entries draw a completely different perspective than what cinema critics write in the leisure and culture pages of magazines).

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Side note, it’s the 4th time I have to argue with Dutch guys that photography is art while the rest of the World seems to have accepted the idea, I’m starting to wonder if your Rembrandt/Vermeer/etc. legacy has not mislead you into thinking that only masterpieces qualify for “art”. That would be a bias, and it seems fairly deterministic. Bad art is still art. Art is the nature of the thing, bad or good is its property. You don’t change nature because of one property.

It does: 1, 2, 3, 4

It isn’t (see next part).

That’s just utter bull. I know of enough low income people, amateurs, that use their mobile phone or a cheap camera and free software and have a lot of fun shooting images as a hobby when time permits. They really don’t care about being the best, making a profit or really committing to it. They just want to go out on a nice day, enjoy themself while shooting some nice pictures and have something to look back on. Or put differently: Get away from their shitty day-job for a while.

They don’t care if their gear and/or images aren’t the best-of-the-best!

You seem to be rather privileged for as far as I can tell and be able to live your life the way you want it to, that is not the case for the majority. I’m rather astounded that you don’t seem to realize this.

That’s the difference between a hobby and work: If it is a hobby you do not have deadlines that end 23:00 on Sunday. Not having that pressure to perform within a certain time frame is, partially, what makes it enjoyable.

Art vs skilful. Not the same thing. You seem to think those are the same. The way you seem to look at it (also looking at your Dutch guys reply) is that everything is art. If that is the case then nothing is art would be equally true.

No, do it because you enjoy doing it. Which would be the maximum that the fast majority of the people would be able to get out of this. Getting the occasional validation that others like what you do is just icing on that cake.

It seems like you read the title of this thread, did not look at the content it is linked, or maybe quickly glanced over it, and thought it a good idea to give your highly opinionated ideas about something that isn’t really relevant to the thread in the first place. In doing so setting a rather negative mood for something that was supposed to be enjoyable (Yeah, yeah, I know: Enjoying pretty pictures shouldn’t be worth your time /s).

I find this somewhat offensive to be honest! Please consider starting a blog or a separate thread for these opinionated rants/statements.

Without any desire to jump into the debate, I discovered that three friends of mine made it to the Audubon top 100 for 2021 One photo was from the same sunflower field where I took my Indigo Bunting play raw, possibly on the same day.

There’s only one shot that shows a Sunflower field (#85). Probably not fair to compare your shot and his without more context and having a look at the full end product. Both are nice but I do like yours over his: Just that much closer to enjoy more of the bird and it seems to be actively singing.

Anyway: What are the chances that 1 person knows 3 of the top-100 contestants :slight_smile:

@Jade_NL, thanks… I appreciate the thought. I’m doubly fortunate to be living in a suburban area that’s close to a lot of wildlife friendly parks and to have met up with so many talented photographers. We even had someone in our group who took first place in the Audubon contest a couple of years ago. I don’t expect to get to that caliber, but I keep on trying.