Sharing photos on social media is common for bird lovers for pretty much the same reason it's common for everyone else—people love showing off.
Sharing one’s worst bird photo is . . . less common. That is, until the recent success of the meme #WorstBirdPic, a phenomenon the website The Dodo called “the best thing on Twitter so far this year.”
Most internet memes seem to emerge out of the ether, but I happen to know how this one started. When I posted a terrible photo of an Eastern Bluebird on Twitter one day (see below), I was just making fun of a photographic failure.
I will win your bad-photo contest. Just put my name on the plaque already. pic.twitter.com/q4PjHnltX2— The Inept Birder (@TheIneptBirder) December 31, 2014
Actually, I’m the kind of person who sort of tries to make light of most of my failures, particularly on Twitter. Most of the time I’m just pathetic by myself. But my Twitter pal @AmOrnithologist shortly replied with his own terrible photo:
@TheIneptBirder @AudubonCA Can we make this happen? #WorstBirdPic (a magnificent varied thrush) pic.twitter.com/ajxnVq1Hxj— Amateurnithologist (@AmOrnithologist) December 31, 2014
@AmOrnithologist is Jesse Kovalcik, a therapist in the Bay Area who began birding a few years ago. His blog, amateurnithologist, is a collection of decidedly not-terrible photos along with funny and smart commentary on the birds he sees.
Jesse’s “Can we make this happen?” was mostly a joke, but he found a willing accomplice in Audubon California. Within a couple days, #WorstBirdPic was the “Gangnam Style” of ignominious bird photography. Photo libraries everywhere clearly held a pent-up supply of awful bird pics. The photos piled up on Twitter and made the rounds on social media.
For birders, #WorstBirdPic was like group therapy. Many of us carry cameras on our outings (not to mention smartphones), and it can be hard to resist taking photos of what we see. But bird photography is difficult, and soon we have hard drives brimming with blurry photos. I alone have thousands of terrible photos—it’s not hoarding if it’s digital, right? I might (defensively) call them “diagnostic” photos; even a bad pic of a bird’s distinguishing marks proves that I saw it, even if my camera didn’t.
#WorstBirdPic turned out to be an accidental revolution. People continue to share their photography mishaps on social media, and last month, many participated in the National Audubon Society's Instagram contest. Here are some of the worst entries:
Congrats to @tagsmithintarsia for snapping this #WorstBirdPic winning shot! "I think every wildlife photographer will be familiar with those 'head in hands' moments when your autofocus manages to lock on to a single twig…” Stay tuned as we reveal the other winning photos this week. #Audubon #birds #birding #wildlifephotography #wildlife #nature