The Avian World looks beyond the everyday to create a new reality shaped from the exquisite and sublime beauty of nature.

When working in the field to photograph birds and landscapes, and then later in my studio to select and combine the related imagery to include in my final images, I take creative liberties by commingling the birds, their scale, and their fantasy environments. I create the essence of paradise and weave a visual narrative, echoing the Hudson River Valley artists who blended multiple scenes from field notes and memory to create their idealized, romantic, and emotional paintings.

The images in the overall Envisioning Habitat series were photographed in the wild: the Greater Flamingo I in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador; the Great Blue Heron At Rest in the Viera Wetlands, Florida; and the White Ibis With Fish at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico. The Grey Crowned Cranes were photographed in the Masai Mara, and I took the liberty of placing them at the foot of Mt Kenya. Examples of how my images turn into fantasy are apparent when looking at my juxtaposition of the Roseate spoonbills next to ocean waves rather than the calm, shallow waters of Florida, and relocating the Great Egret In the Desert to Death Valley, where they are rarely seen.

Passion, preservation, and a life in harmony with nature are some of the reasons I am a photographer. My hope is the viewer will connect with those feelings—those ideals—through my images, and remember the fragile beauty of life.

—Cheryl Medow

Editors’ Note: Don’t miss the work of all the other winners and finalists from the LensCulture Earth Awards 2015. In total, you’ll find 34 unique points of view inspired by the earth, nature and our shared surroundings. Beauty, destruction, wonder and hope—these are timely, important works that shouldn’t be missed!