Each year the United States Postal Service receives tens of thousands of images to be considered as artwork for new stamps; last year they received more than 40,000 entries, but they chose fewer than 25 to publish. One of this year’s new stamps, the Nebraska Sesquicentennial stamp, is a photograph made by Michael Forsberg. It’s a stunning picture of sandhill cranes in flight (at the top of this post), and it’s clear that Forsberg is a master of his craft. There’re two things I’d like to point out about his success in being published in such a monumental way.

You can’t win if you don’t try

First of all, you should submit your photos. Forsberg didn’t just publish his photo on Instagram and wait around hoping it would be picked up for licensing. He submitted it, and even though there were 39,999 other entries, his was chosen. The same could go be true for you: if you submit your work, there’s a 1/40,000 chance you could be chosen. If you don’t, there’s a 100% certainty you won’t be chosen. I say go for it and know that all of us at Photofocus are rooting for you.

Hard work pays off

Secondly, Forsberg is a master of his craft. Take a look at his website and you’ll see only incredibly well made, interesting photographs of wildlife and nature. He doesn’t simply show up one afternoon at the bird refuge and shoot pictures with his kit lens hoping for a good one. He uses tools specifically for the purpose, and he plans for success; it took him weeks sitting in a blind (a small camouflaged hideout so the birds can’t see him) to make this image.

Check out some of these items from his gear bag:

Wildlife photography is one genre where the gear really does matter, and you’ve got to bring the right tools. Having said that, there are many photographs you can make with the tools you have right now. Check out Michael Forsberg’s website, get inspired, and go make some pictures. Then follow this link to submit your work for consideration as a USPS stamp.

Here’s the rest of the press release from the USPS

“Growing up in Nebraska, Forsberg has dedicated much of his career to photographing wildlife on North America’s Great Plains. The first time he photographed sandhill cranes was in high school. Over the years he has become very familiar with their routine.

Sandhills can grow to nearly 4 ft. tall with a wingspan of nearly 6 ft. Their migration patterns begin as far away as Siberia and Alaska. They winter in parts of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California and Mexico. At the onset of spring, half a million of these ancient birds return to the Platte River during their annual migration — a spectacle unique to Nebraska. After a day spent feeding in crop fields, wetlands and prairies nearby, they are seen in Forsberg’s photograph scouting for shallow sandbars that provide nighttime roosts safe from riverbank predators.

“Each March, the Platte River in south-central Nebraska is the stage for one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in North America,” said Forsberg. “Here, millions of migrating birds in the Central Flyway, including a half million cranes, funnel through the Platte River Valley for weeks to rest and refuel while on a long migratory journey between southern wintering grounds and northern nesting grounds. It is the largest gathering of cranes anywhere in the world.

For this photo, I wanted an image that pulled back and tied together the river, prairie, sunset and cranes flying through the frame. It required scouting a blind location weeks in advance of their passage,” he said.

He constructed his small one-man blind of garden fence and hay and left it there for weeks, undisturbed, to blend naturally into the riverbank and unnoticeable to the cranes. Clad in a camouflage suit from head to toe and armed with a wide angle lens and sleeping bag he would get into the blind in the afternoon while birds were away feeding and remain there on the ready — before they flew in near sunset and not leave until after they flew away the next morning.

“It’s not unusual to go days without getting the shot you want. Wildlife photography is a profession where you accept failure on a regular basis, and it requires patience, persistence and a lot of luck. It took me most of the month of March to finally make this photo.

Nebraska is a prairie state and is driven by an agricultural economy. Thanks to dedicated conservation efforts and a strong history of stewardship, part of our natural heritage still survives,” he added. “In addition to these massive migrations, Nebraska also is home to bison, river otters, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, swift fox, prairie chickens and burrowing owls just to name a few. I bet that surprises a lot of people that think Nebraska is just one big cornfield.””