Audubon Magazine

Each year, Audubon Magazine holds their annual photography awards contest. The contest is divided into 3 categories; youth, amateur and professional. Professional photographers are those who earn more than $5,000/yr with their photography. This year’s contest had over 900 entrants and over 6000 photographs entered. A first-place winner is chosen for each category and a grand prize winner is chosen from all images.

As I do every year, I submit a few images into the contest believing that I have little chance to be one of the four award winners. Actually, I can only be one of two as I am considered an amateur per the rules, and and I am well beyond being eligible for the youth category. With so many wonderful images being submitted, my hope is to place in the top 100 honored images. Those images are not published in the Audubon Magazine, but they are shown in a slide show on their website and they are published in the spring edition of Nature’s Best magazine. Although I won first-place with an image I submitted in Digital Photo magazine’s Your Best Shot contest last year, I don’t consider my work good enough to compete, let alone win, in the high-end contests like BBC, Winland Rice and Audubon. But as a friend of mine once told me, you can’t win if you don’t enter. So I always enter these contest as you just never know.

I must admit that this was sage advice (thank you Nancy) and I’m glad that I took it. In early November, I got an email from the Managing Editor at Audubon Magazine informing me that my image, Reaching for the Heavens, was a finalist in the contest. I was quite thrilled and happy with that as if nothing else, I was certainly going to achieve my goal of making the top 100 images in the contest. You might remember that I mentioned this image in my last post. Click the images to view larger.

Audubon Magazine
Reaching For The Heavens. Great Blue Heron

When I told Faith that I was a finalist, she was so happy for me and told me what an honor it was to be a finalist. I agreed with her, but I told her “I want to WIN!”. Being a finalist is a great honor, but winning is that much sweeter.

As part of the contest rules, I had to submit the original RAW file from the camera and a high resolution image suitable for printing. The RAW image is required so that the judges can determine if I altered the image in any way and thereby violated any of the rules of the contest. I submitted my images within a day and began the process of waiting. The method that the magazine uses to submit the RAW and high resolution images allows any of the finalists to review the competition for a short period of time while the images are being submitted. As other finalist (there were 10) submitted their photos, I took a peek at them and became convinced that mine wasn’t going to win. There were several excellent images selected as finalists and I just didn’t think mine measured up.

Thanksgiving came and went and I had not heard anything more about the contest. 3+ weeks had passed by and I was sure that the judges had finished the judging and selection process. And I was right. A decision had been made and I received a call from the Managing Editor the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. I saw on the caller ID that it was Audubon Magazine calling and I had two thoughts. First, they were calling for a year-end donation. But they could also be calling with the results of the contest. As the phone continued to ring, I then realized that they would not be calling me to tell me that I had lost, so it would probably be a good idea to pick up the phone.

After brief introductions, the editor said that he wanted to call me and personally tell me that I had won the grand prize in the contest. After he said that, there was a long moment of silence. When my brain started working again, I politely told him that I had misunderstood him. I said “I’m sorry, I thought you said I was the grand prize winner, but you meant to say that I won first-place in the amateur division, right?”. He replied that I had heard correctly and that I was indeed the grand prize winner and that my image would be on the cover of the January – February 2014 edition of Audubon Magazine. My image scored higher than any of the other 6000+ images that were submitted.

More silence.

After the paramedics restarted my heart, I began to babble something of a thank you and that I was honored to have been selected.

Audubon Magazine
Audubon Magazine cover January – February 2014

The editor went on to tell me that as soon as the image was submitted, their art department printed out the image and hung it on the wall in their department. They wanted the image for the cover and were hoping that it would win. The art department employees do not participate in the judging, so they were keeping their fingers crossed that the image would win as it makes an excellent image for a magazine cover. Vertical images always do better for magazine covers than horizontal ones as they don’t have to be cropped to fit the magazine vertical format. This image also works well because it has so much “white space” which allows for the masthead and other text blocks to fit nicely without competing with the image itself.

The editor then told me what the grand prize would be a cruise for two along the Norwegian coast. I remembered reading about the prizes months ago and thinking that I would rather have cash than the actual prizes. Norway (or the other destination for first-place amateur) wasn’t on my short list of places I wanted to visit. New camera gear is always on my list, and cash certainly helps to pay the photography bills. The cruise is sponsored through Hurtigruten and is not on a traditional mammoth cruise ship that you might think of. Instead, it is on a working ship that makes 34 stops along the Norwegian coast over a 7 day period. Many of the stops are at night or for very short durations. The primary purpose of the ship is to act as a mode of transportation to small cities along the coast. Norwegians use the ships to go from one city to the next, and the ships carry commerce and supplies from larger cities to smaller cities. They also carry tourists who are interested in seeing the beautiful coastline and small towns along the coast. The trip starts in southern Norway in Bergen and ends up above the Arctic Circle in Kirkenes. The more I read about the cruise, the more excited I have become and I’m certainly glad I didn’t dismiss the prize out of hand. Faith and I are looking forward to an October cruise where we hope to see some fall colors and perhaps the northern lights once we cross the Arctic Circle.

After I got off the phone and took a few minutes to compose myself, I looked around for someone to share this with. The editor asked me not to say anything until the magazine hit the mailboxes, which is why I haven’t written this post before now. I was allowed to tell Faith, but Faith wasn’t home. She was in Pennsylvania visiting her mother. Only our dog Hannah was home with me. I told Hannah that I had won and she got all excited about that. But then I realized she just wanted to go outside. So I had to settle for calling Faith and telling her over the phone. I can still hear the scream of delight that she shouted when I told her.

Being selected as the grand prize winner is a huge honor for me and even though I’ve known now for about 6 weeks, I still can’t believe that I won. Having my images recognized like this has been a goal of mine since I started doing wildlife and nature photography seriously 5 years ago. I still have a long way to go and I have many more goals I want to achieve, but this is a huge confidence booster. The magazine is just now arriving in mailboxes, and the Audubon Magazine website just posted the online magazine earlier this week, so I haven’t had enough time to evaluate the exposure to my work yet. I’m hopeful the additional exposure translates in to new and exciting opportunities for me and my photography. But even if the additional exposure doesn’t translate into new opportunities, I’m having the time of my life. I keep thinking this is a dream and that I simply haven’t woken up yet.

Somebody pinch me!

I would also like to express my sincere gratitude and thanks for those of you who have encouraged and supported me over the years. I appreciate each and every one of you and I am most grateful for your friendship.


  • Heather Green

    January 23, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Congratulations Michael! A gorgeous image and a truly deserving win! I’ll look forward to those Norway photos 😉

    • Michael

      January 23, 2014 at 10:22 pm

      Thanks, Heather! I’m sure I’ll have some Norway photos to share.

  • dinajohnston

    January 23, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Dude!!! Congrats! Perfect picture. I think I can fit in your suitcase. Every time I ride the boat ride in Norway at Epcot I think “I really want to visit there”

    • Michael

      January 23, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Thanks, Dina! I’m not sure about the suitcase, but we’ll see how much camera gear I can leave behind to squeeze you in.

      Your Facebook comment caused me to laugh! I can just imagine you doing that too. Thanks for your kind comments.

  • Denise Ippolito/A Creative Adventure

    January 23, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Michael, Fantastic image! A well deserved win!

  • Lee Schiller

    January 23, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    It has been many years as I watched you grow in your talent and I have shown many friends your work. Congrats. I am looking for a wall which will display your works.

  • Scott Helfrich

    January 23, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Great Work Mike

  • Michael

    January 23, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Thank you Denise and Scott!

    Lee, it has been a long time. Great to hear from you and I hope you are doing well. Thanks for your kind comments.

  • Debbie Tubridy

    January 24, 2014 at 1:35 am

    Big time CONGRATULATIONS! We’ll deserved as well!

    • Michael

      January 24, 2014 at 7:21 am

      Thank you, Debbie!

  • Jenny Meenach

    January 24, 2014 at 9:00 am

    You certainly deserve this and I know more wonderful opportunities are just around the corner 🙂

  • Donna Faylo

    January 24, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Michael, I am just so excited and proud of you for winning this prestigious award. You deserve this! Every since I’ve known you, one of your goals has been to continually improve in your work, and to get your photos out there to be seen and appreciated by the public. You have truly accomplished this now! This is only the beginning for you…

  • Michael

    January 24, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Thank you Jenny and Donna. I greatly appreciate your support and encouragement along the way.

  • Sebastien Grobelny

    January 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Congratulations Michael!
    Just discovered your blog through Dina (
    Great picture and a well deserved win!

  • i am pam

    January 27, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Congratulations. Love the photo. You always are persistent and patient when I see you out there birding. It is working! And keep pinching yourself! So exciting.

    • Michael

      January 27, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      Thank you, Pam!

  • Leonard

    January 30, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Michael – Excellent shot. Congratulations! What is the story behind this photo? Was he flying over you?

    • Michael

      January 31, 2014 at 9:05 am

      He was standing atop a cabbage palm with his neck stretched vertical towards the sky.

  • Meg Puente

    March 1, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    So well deserved, Michael, you’re a wonderful, talented photographer and artist…Congratulations!

    • Michael

      March 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm

      Thank you for your kind comments, Meg! I hope you are doing well.