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Winning images from 2020 Bird Photographer of the Year competition

An impressionistic image of European Shags by Majed AlZa’abi from Kuwait took top prize in the 2020 Bird Photographer of the Year contest, which is run by the UK-based conservation charity Birds on the Brink. Majed wins the top prize of £5,000 (about $6,500) and the title “Bird Photographer of the Year 2020.” Majed’s image was also the winning image in the Best Portrait category of the competition, and for that he wins a pair of Swarovski Optik binoculars.

The judging team, which included BirdWatching Contributing Editor Brian Small and Editor Matt Mendenhall, said this about the shag photo: 

“To win this competition, it takes a very special photograph. Technical perfection is simply not enough; it is the imaginative eye and a mind that seeks out the unusual and the artistic in the everyday that will do well. The vast majority of the 15,000 images entered annually are of an amazing standard, sufficient eye-candy to feed even the most visually gluttonous. But create a photograph that makes us sick with envy or cry out with uncontained excitement, then you are in with a chance. When that collective shout from the judges is ‘I wish I had taken that myself’, then you are onto a winner. Well done Majed for sharing this stunning image with us – it is a well-deserved winner.”

The slideshow below features the Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners of each category, as well as the contest’s Inspirational Encounters Award, which conveys a photographer’s significant moment with a bird. The images here represent some of the very best bird photographs we have ever seen. Enjoy! 

Overall Winner & Best Portrait Gold Award

Overall Winner & Best Portrait Gold Award

END OF THE DAY by Majed AlZa’abi, Kuwait.

European Shag, Vardø, Norway.

Photographer's Story: I took this shot in April 2019 while on a visit to the famous Norwegian seabird island of Vardø, a location packed full of birds that provide endless opportunities for photography. It was my first visit to the island, one that was prompted by hearing about its birdlife. Despite being forewarned, I was really amazed by what I saw: hundreds of birds flying all the time, all day during the five days we visited. It was my plan to stay with a particular subject over an entire day: one day with Atlantic Puffins, another day with European Shags, and so on. Also, there are a lot of opportunities for creative composition, playing with foreground and background; here I like the out-of-focus shag framing the in-focus individual, plus the bokeh of the sea as sunset approached. By experimenting, I aimed to create artistic and impressionistic shots of shags, and I hope I achieved my goal with this image.

Nikon D850 with AF-S Nikkor 180–400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR lens. Focal length 550mm; 1/1,000 second; f/5.6; ISO 160. Hand-held.

More photo contest winners

2019 Bird Photographer of the Year winners  

2020 BirdWatching Photography Awards winners

Audubon’s 2020 photo contest winners

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