Let’s Be Real

Not only do the best visuals look impressive; they also reflect what’s true.
Older man with gray hair and a goatee seated in an office in front of book shelves and holding a wooden decoy Atlantic Puffin

How do you plan to spend your Fourth of July? We have advice, but it will be extremely hard to beat the way Steve Kress commemorated the holiday in 1981. That was the day the first Atlantic Puffins returned to Maine’s Eastern Egg Rock to breed, eight summers after he began releasing fledglings from its shores for a daring new experiment.

Project Puffin’s first glimmer of success—as measured by a beakful of fish—was just the beginning of a five-decade scientific adventure and, ultimately, a stunning achievement for seabird restoration. To celebrate Project Puffin on its 50th anniversary, we spent six months immersing ourselves in its history. Audubon’s photo team combed through archives of prints, slides, film, and field journals for visuals. And contributing editor Rene Ebersole conducted 30 hours of interviews to piece together a firsthand account. We’re eager to publish a version of this fascinating story later in July that provides a multimedia experience we couldn’t offer in the print version—stay tuned. 

Representing such a story faithfully takes time and effort, as does the best photography. The winners of the 2023 Audubon Photography Awards spent months or years honing the skills and knowledge needed to capture those images. Some—like Shane Kalyn, who was visiting Iceland when he photographed the Atlantic Puffin on our cover—also traveled a great distance for a quintessential picture of a bird in its native habitat.

Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, can now generate convincing images of wildlife in seconds—a development we’ve been watching with interest and some trepidation. AI is an exciting, transformative technology. It’s also unsettling. The methods that underpin Project Puffin involve luring birds with decoys but, as Allen Murabayashi asks, what are the unintended consequences—for society or conservation photography—when people are duped?

Our commitment to authenticity has long guided our journalism and it’s baked into the fabric of the photo contest, too. Alongside Murabayashi’s essay, we share some of the steps we take to ensure images have not been manipulated in a way that misleads viewers or taken in a way that harms birds.

We applied the same values to our visual approach to Jenny McKee’s story about how some young scientists feel unsafe in the outdoors—and why this holds back efforts to make science more inclusive. We felt it was important to show the story’s sources in the real places where they work. The portraits reinforce that they belong there.

We take pride in the intention and care we bring to making Audubon. That’s why we’re so pleased to have received our fifth consecutive National Magazine Award nomination for General Excellence—a rare achievement for any publication. Even as this issue goes to press, we’re hard at work bringing it to life online. Visit audubon.org later in July for more Project Puffin galleries and video from inside Audubon’s decoy-making workshop. After all, it’s an anniversary worth extra pomp and circumstance.

This piece originally ran in the Summer 2023 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.