So you have just won best in show or a top award at the poultry show, full of pride and justifiably so, you want a commemorative photograph of your prize bird and pull out your phone or handy camera and snap away.
All seems great until you get home and view the pictures on your P.C when suddenly that magical moment is lost when you realise the head is cut off or the image is blurred and out of focus, not in frame, the bird is looking the wrong way, there’s a sign in the background or somebody’s face is peering through the bars on the other side of the cage. Even if you remove the bird from the cage, there can be shadows from people or objects nearby and a myriad of other things in the background to distract from the bird you want to capture.
So how do you go about improving your photographs without a studio set up costing you a small mortgage? Well, with a little prior thought, a few basic bits of photographic equipment and some basic knowledge of photography you can suddenly change your photos from happy snaps to something you will cherish forever.
Start with your subject.
Lets start with your bird first, training at home to be steady will greatly improve your results, a nice steady bird is so much easier to photograph as it will feel comfortable and settled with all the fuss going on around it, but more importantly as it will feel settled, it will stand correctly as you gently put it into the right position for its breed requirements. Next, make sure its feet are clean, they really show up in the picture. Lastly (and I can’t emphasise this enough), give it time to settle down, some birds settle almost immediately , others take 10 minutes but most will eventually settle and allow you to take a much better picture than a stressed bird sat down or huddled in a corner.
Choice of Camera
Cameras come in a wide and varied choice from big to small, professional to telephone types, but even the most basic of cameras these days take reasonably good photos. Use the largest image size you can set on your camera (which corresponds to the largest number of pixels in the image) then set it to the ‘auto’ (automatic) setting which will take the hard work out of using the camera. Automatic mode will read the available information going into the camera and automatically adjust the settings to take the best photos it can with what it reads. This will allow you to concentrate on taking the photo at the right moment.
If your camera is not taking very good photos in the automatic mode, you could try putting it into manual and adjusting the settings. The biggest problem at typical poultry shows is the lack of light and this can be overcome by increasing the ISO or sensitivity to light and setting a slower shutter speed to allow more light in. Be careful though because if your bird moves (and some are constantly moving!) then the movement will show as a blur at slower shutter speeds. Try to hold your camera steady or rest it on something like the edge of the cage to stop camera shake causing a blur. Ask a friend to hold the door of the cage open for you. A flash can be used of course to light up your subject instead but a short range into a cage, can reflect back to give you a washed out image as well as upset your bird.
Backgrounds will greatly improve your photos and for a modest outlay are possibly the best investment you can make. A graduated background card available from most good photographic stores for around £60 will really enhance your pictures. White to light blue seems to work best for most poultry, these give a lovely smooth look to the picture without hard lines or edges but most importantly , they remove features such as cage bars, brick walls, people and hard outlines.
If you want you can just pin or clamp these background cards to a wall and support them on a portable table, investing in a portable studio stand depends on how serious you want to get or how much space the venue has to offer to take your photographs in, remember some venues do charge for stands and it is often their valuable trade stand space that pays towards hiring the venue.
Lighting will greatly help your photos and there is an array of different light system available.
Low energy constant lights mounted on stands will cover most situations and are the cheapest option available although you face the same problem with getting space to set them up at the venue with the added problem of finding electricity to power them. You will need to balance the lights so they don’t cast opposing shadows and always cast your light from above.
If you do not want to stretch to buying lights, much expense or equipment, then try and set up your photo near a window with the natural light coming in from behind you, fluorescent lights and canvas turn your photos yellow so try and adjust your camera settings to allow for the kind of lighting. Most modern cameras have a choice of light settings to compensate for this.
Lastly, most people with a digital camera have a computer to view the photos on so you can easily adjust your photos to remove unwanted areas, change brightness, contrast and a host of other things. Play with the photo package until you are satisfied with your adjustments.
With a little thought you can take that photo of a lifetime that will grace your wall forever or indeed you may even make front cover or get a show feature in your favourite poultry magazine!