Semi-professional photographer and aerospace engineer Daniel Biber of Hilzingen, Germany, has always held a strong belief that the best photographs are taken organically, not digitally manipulated later.
As a result, the nature enthusiast and photography fan hadn’t realized that he’d captured one of the most incredible photographs of the year until he got home and uploaded the photos from his camera—he’d been so caught up in the moment that he completely missed just how unique his own photograph ended up being!
Biber was photographing a flock of starlings in the area near Sant Pere Pescador in Catalonia, Spain, when he ended up capturing the flock as they coincidentally metamorphosed themselves into the shape of a giant bird.
— Yahoo News UK (@YahooNewsUK) January 4, 2018
European starlings, small dark-colored birds that travel in enormous flocks, are considered to be a bit of a nuisance because of the size of the flocks they fly in. They travel in such massive numbers that they can disrupt urban areas with their roosts, decimate fruit orchards, and even cause problems with air travel during their migration paths and other en masse flights.
It was precisely because of their gregarious traveling habits, though, that they made such an incredible silhouette possible for Biber to photograph.
“For years, I have been observing huge swarms of starlings in the area,” Biber said. “This time I had scouted over several days, where the starlings gather in the evening to sleep and tried to capture this impressive spectacle.
“I took thousands of shots and here I had the incredible luck of witnessing the rushing swarm taking on the unique shape of a huge, flying bird (no retouching!)”
Perhaps even more impressive, though, was that the gorgeous image wasn’t a solo picture. According to Biber, the flock rearranged themselves just moments later—yet managed to project yet another bird-like image with the second formation, which he also managed to capture.
“[The flock then] disintegrated again to form itself into an impressive, large, pecking bird … There’s a special name for a large groups of starlings, which is referred to as a murmuration.”
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) February 28, 2018
Murmuration is a special defense mechanism that starlings exhibit when there’s a predator in the area, typically a hawk or another larger bird. The smaller birds flock together forming a larger pattern making it difficult to find a single target—and, as you can see, that larger pattern is a work of art to behold!
He was so impressed by the rare pair of photographs that he submitted the series to a photography competition run by Vogelwarte Sempach in Switzerland back in 2017, beating out a whopping 6,800 other images—submitted by 540 different photographers from 15 countries—to win with his stunning images.
He went on to submit the photos to a second competition in 2018, aiming to take home a $25,000 grand prize at the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. Although he didn’t manage to win for his category, Natural World and Wildlife, he did earn commendation as one of the shortlist finalists for the incredible series of stills.