Over the years we have been approached by dozens of fanciers who have "had a go" at photographing their winners and champions.
You can bet that by the time they have contacted us for advice, they have probably kicked the cat, clobbered the dog & started to tear out their hair in desperation or at least have thought about it. At the very least, their darling champion performer has now had a name change ...from something like "Champion Ocean Warrior".... to ......"B**tard Bird" .... and in the process of the photo attempts...... has lost quite a few feathers.
Don't feel so bad if you fall into this catagory. It's normal. Over the years I have had thousands of pigeons called "B**tard".
Being into Astronomy for quite a few years, we started out photographing the stars and planets. This was reasonably easy given the right equipment. It was only normal that being long - time pigeon fanciers, that our astro photography pastime would sooner or later focus on pigeons. Sometimes I wish it hadn't !!! The big difference is that stars & planets don't move........(if they do, check your choice of drink or the amount consumed).... whereas pigeons don't know how to stand still....unless they are stuffed and mounted on the mantle - piece.
There are several different techniques and methods by which to photograph pigeons.
Framed with performance details.
Method 1, "The Scissors".
The pigeon is photo'd, the print blown up to a decent size, then scissors are used to cut around the birds outline so as to give it a decent shape. This cut-out pigeon image is then glued onto a piece of paper and re-photo'd. This method is used mainly by European pigeon photographers so as to get several pigeons in the one picture. There is no natural background to the photo and the bird sometimes looks like it has been "hacked to death".
Disadvantages.....every photo looks like the wings and tail are too short (a decent portion of the photo was cut away so as to give "sweeping lines" to the bird.) Also the feet have a "cut" look about them with sometimes a decent portion of the toes missing. The tail has an unreal straight wedge shape.
Method 2. The "Adobe" method.
The pigeon is photographed. The photo scanned into the computer and then treated within the Adobe Photoshop program so that the image is digitally cropped of its background. This also gives a nice clean look to the pigeon with feathers and feet etc cropped to give pleasing lines. These photos can be "dropped" into any background colour as you will see when browsing the pigeon magazines.
Disadvantages....... The birds look like they are standing in space. There is no sense of depth to the photos. Can result in looking "out of scale".
Method 3. "Natural"
The difficult way to photograph pigeons but probably the most rewarding in terms of personal satisfaction to the photographer
Most of the time numerous shots are required to get the bird to pose in an acceptable manner. No two photos look alike in stance or pose. All of the photograph image is retained with no scissor cropping being used to eliminate flaws or faults. What you see is what you get. Patience is of the essence and totally necessary if you want to get a half decent result. Cunning, stealth, sometimes even outright violence (yes, I have a big prodding stick), is necessary in order to get a decent picture.
This is the way we have opted to go. In addition to the method employed, the most important factor in getting good results is the lighting. Eliminating shadows is very important if you want your subject to "stand out". Nothing worse than a great pigeon pose but you need a torch to see the bird. Our birds think that they have been "microwaved" after the flash's go off. Most of the time the results vary from.... pathetic....ranging up to excellent. Sometimes even "Brilliant", "Great"..... and it's these photos that spur you on to try for even better. There are probably other methods, but those outlined here are the main ones employed by pigeon picture takers.
Every single time I load a roll of film, I feel a creative urge and sense of anticipation that this roll will produce the "ultimate" pigeon photo. It is an ongoing challenge. Since 2004 we have opted to go completely digital with our Nikon D100.
Do we photograph the birds in a box? ............ yes of course!! Sometimes in the middle of the night because it's quieter and without distractions and not many people hear you swear. Our guard dogs think that my birds all have the same name, "*$%#" !! Our best work has been done in the evening hours assisted by a few cold Fosters.
Over the years we have built several "photo boxes", some with rotating floors, inbuilt lighting, changeable backdrops, yes, all sorts of different ideas so as to get a decent picture. Some ideas worked, many did not. The main thing is...when you get it right....stick to it but never give up trying for better.
Brenty, hard at work.
Cameras & equipment used in our studios at St Clair...... Nikon F90.....Nikon F100 complete with macro lenses.....Canon AE1 + Program (2 units).....Kodak Digital Camera system.......Various slave flash systems........Wall mounted boom arm system for eyesign photography........numerous colour filters etc. Plus tonnes of patience.........lots of it.
Don't forget the light meter....it's the most important bit of gear you can own!!!!
Also forget about photo'ing pigeons under artificial light with normal fim. Slide film is the go. Results are 50 times better. Those 1 hour film lab computers are set up for skin tones. With articial lighting, normal film processed with 1-hour film labs....blue bars can turn out like mealies. The colours are usually all wrong unless the owner of the computer in the lab wants to spend hours getting the machine to manually get the colours right.
Nowadays we use ...... a 6.2 megapixel digital Nikon D100. That way we can control the whole process. It's just a lot of reading & learning...plus a fair dollop of cash to buy the gear. Look at the pigeon near the top of this page....all digital!!!.... in 10 minutes after putting the bird in the pen the photo was on the Net. No photo lab, travelling, loading cameras etc etc.
Never make the mistake of believing that a pigeon photographer is making a big dollar......... By the time he pays for the gear and adds up his time,... not to mention the two trips to the photography lab to pick up the film.......... he should be paid double.
If you want to have a crack at pigeon photography yourself, put the bird into a sunny well lit pen. Get in the pen with the bird. Use a zoom lens if possible with a fill in flash...even on bright days (the fill in flash will get rid of the shadow of the pen wire).......... the results can be really good if you think about the job at hand. This way you will always have a record of that favourite bird.
Many years efforts and untold expense goes into being able to obtain results like these.