This year, amateur bird photographer Kathrin Swoboda achieved a career-changing shot. Like many photographs of birds, her portrait of a blackbird stars a perched, singing subject. What sets this photograph apart from others, however, is that viewers can actually see his song—an element expertly captured by the strategic photographer.
Early on March 17, 2019, Swoboda set out toward Huntley Meadows Park, an island in Virginia favored by nature photographers for its wildlife-friendly wetlands. Here, she hoped to photograph the male red-wing blackbird, a robin-sized species of bird known for its crimson shoulder markings and distinctive throaty song. “Specifically,” Swoboda tells , “I wanted to photograph their breath, which when expelled would condense in the cold air.”
Fortunately, Swoboda found a suitable subject: a “quite vociferous” blackbird. As he vigorously called out for a potential mate, the bird began “forming smoke rings with his spring song.” Due to both the chilly early morning temperatures and her strategic use of the morning sun as backlighting, Swoboda was able to capture this phenomenon in a pair of stunning photographs, with one even earning Swoboda the grand prize of this year’s Audubon Photography Awards.
While Swoboda’s portraits of the red-wing blackbird are now her most well-known works, this species is not the only bird she enjoys photographing. You can explore an aviary of exceptional photographs on her website.