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The Beauty of Birds

This assignment ran from Nov 1 to Nov 22, 2018.

National Geographic joined with the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birdlife International, and many other leading organizations have declared 2018 the Year of the Bird. For this assignment, we invite you to share photos depicting the simple beauty of birds. From birds in your backyard to birds in nature, from everyday sparrows to majestic eagles, and everything in between.

The Year of the Bird marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, visionary legislation that the National Geographic Society helped pass in 1918 as one of the earliest federal laws protecting wildlife. In honor of this milestone we partnered with to help birds today and for the next hundred years.

Now, the theme of this assignment is “the beauty of birds,” so I’d encourage you not to simply make a picture of a bird and think you’re done. Take advantage of the light, play with your composition, capture a lovely moment. You might identify a beautiful detail or creatively use location to add perspective to your frame.

Before you dismiss bird photography as “not my thing” or something you’ve never done, consider how photographing birds in action can sharpen your abilities to photograph other kinds of action—like sports or street photography. Photographing birds will challenge you to anticipate moments and plan your composition.

If you love landscape photography, find a place where birds live and make images in good light. If documentary photography is more your speed, find someone who raises chickens (maybe it’s you). An assignment outside your comfort zone can be a great opportunity to exercise a whole different set of creative muscles.

This assignment may force you to slow down and observe creatures you might have previously overlooked, but there is beauty in taking a step back and challenging yourself to look differently at birds around our world.

We look forward to seeing the Beauty of Birds around us!

Curated by:

Kristen McNicholas
Associate Photo Editor, Nat Geo Your Shot
Assignment Status
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Published Dec 10, 2018.
Thank you for your contributions!

Off to a great start!

Posted nov 9, 2018

Hi everyone! This assignment is off to a great start and I'm already really impressed with what you all are sharing. 

As we enter the second week of the assignment, I want you to think about ways to photograph that shows us what makes birds interesting creatures. What qualities about them set them apart from other animals? After all, they are the dinosaurs that didn't die!

I want you all to think about how to keep bird photography interesting. Sure, you can make an image of just a bird with a clean background but, what if you made a wider frame and the bird became a smaller focus in your frame so we have a sense of place? What if you zoomed in really close and created an abstraction of a bird? Get creative with this! 

Many male birds have fantastic feathers to impress during mating rituals. We've all seen the peacock's iconic feathers, but maybe you can show us a different side to the peacock or peahen that we might not see as often? Tell us stories about birds in your photo...their mannerisms, their behaviors, their characteristics. What makes them special? As always, include information in your caption! It's okay not to know the exact species of a bird but you can still include information about what is happening in the frame.

Other ways to get you thinking... What is your state or country's official bird? What was the first bird you learned about? What is a bird you see everyday on your commute? Do you know someone who makes art about birds? Make an environment portrait in their studio with their bird art. Think about the culture around birds. Bird watching communities, hunting to feed a family, farming, feather collections... The possibilities are endless. 

I would be wary to think of this assignment as only an assignment that wants pictures of birds front and center. Keep in mind the beauty of birds that transcends just a portrait of a pretty bird. 

Keep up the good work and as David Y. Lee always says, "Make me care."

Kristen McNicholas

Kristen McNicholas

Associate Photo Editor, Nat Geo Your Shot
Kristen is an Associate Photo Editor with the Your Shot team. She interned at the White House Photo Office under the Obama Administration as well as Education Week. A proud RIT alumna, dessert enthusiast and Finger Lakes, NY native, Kristen is excited to guide your photographic journey!