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How this wildlife photog made his mark with an incredible postage stamp shot

michael forsberg postage stamp nebraskastamp

The photograph on this stamp took a month of planning by wildlife photographer Michael Forsberg. The stamp, a trademark and copyright of the U.S. Postal Service, was designed by Derry Noyes.

United States Postal Service / Michael Forsberg
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Fewer than one percent of submitted shots actually become postage stamps. Here's what it took to make one of them.

Out of about 4,000 submissions, the United States Post Office only picks about 20 to 25 graphics to make it on a stamp every year — so how did wildlife photographer Michael Forsberg land that coveted upper right envelope space? Both timing the shot with a celebratory event, the 150th anniversary of Nebraska’s statehood, and spending nearly an entire month to get the shot helped Forsberg’s work become a Forever stamp.

On March 1, the Postal Service unveiled the stamp depicting migrating sandhill cranes at sunset on the Platte River, celebrating Nebraska’s sesquicentennial after becoming the 37th state in 1867.

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Near the start of spring, around half a million sandhill cranes stop at the Platte River during the spring migration every year. With the birds coming from areas of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, and Mexico, the sight of so many of them is one that’s unique to Nebraska.

Forsberg, a Nebraska native, says he’s been photographing the sandhill cranes since high school. Familiar with the bird’s patterns, he planned his shoot around a specific vision he had in mind.

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

After finding a location that fit his vision, he took some garden fence and hay and crafted a small, single person blind — one that he would eventually spent the night in for the shoot. Forsberg left the blind there for a few weeks to help it blend with the surroundings.

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With the birds expected in their annual stop, Forsberg headed out with a camouflage suit, sleeping bag, and a wide-angle lens. He watched the birds feed in the afternoon and stayed put until the cranes continued their journey the next morning.

As a wildlife photographer, Forsberg is accustomed to spending days to get the exact shot — the image now on a postage stamp took most of last March to plan for and capture.

“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,” he said.

The Forever Stamp was designed around Forsberg’s image by art director Derry Noyes, of Washington, D.C.