Studio tips: tropical bird photography
Meet Walter, a ten-month old Senegal Parrot. This gregarious tropical bird is very much at home in front of the camera. Here are some tips for setting up and photographing pet birds in your studio.
- Turf – birds tend to be territorial and may not be so cooperative on their own turf when they are introduced to a new human (i.e. the photographer) and unfamiliar elements, such as photography equipment. At the owner’s recommendation, we photographed Walter in my studio, rather than his own home. Walter was docile in my studio environment; he accepted me as a new “flock” and didn’t perceive me as encroaching on his own territory. If you are a bird owner and photographer, shooting in your pet’s own domain shouldn’t ruffle your bird. Moving your feathered-friend to a studio setting will offer you greater lighting control.
- Put your subject at ease – as any professional photographer will tell you, spending time getting to know your subject is an integral part of a successful shoot. I talked to Walter; got him accustom to my voice, movement and new surroundings before I snapped the first frame.
- Lighting – my lighting set up is shown below. I opted for the clean, smooth lighting of a softbox for my main light, with a snoot fill to create nice rim lighting around Walter’s head and beak for better separation from the background. I used Rosco Strobist color filters — Roscosun ¼ Color Temperature Orange (CTO) — on my Canon Speedlites to convert the white flash to a warmer light (4500K). Because the parrot had relatively small surface area, I used a reflector to bounce light back onto his underside and legs. I used the gold reflective surface to harmonize with the CTO gels on the Speedlites.
- Lens and settings – I opted for my trusty Canon 85mm f1.8. This inexpensive yet high-quality lens produces beautify sharp photos and lovely bokeh. This fast prime lens has superb optics with minimal distortion and is a great portrait lens. My subject to lens range was fairly tight, as I wanted to capture Walter’s feather detail. I shot with an aperture value of f4.5 for reasonable soft background and sharp subject, while still being able to shoot at a high shutter speed to freeze Walter’s motion. Walter’s movement was smooth and predictable, but smaller species may have a more constant flutter and twitchiness that may require an even fast shutter. My photos were shot at 1/200 sec at ISO 200.
- Perch – I created an impromptu perch using a natural tree limb clamped to a light stand. The limb was about 5 feet in length, cantilevered out some distance to avoid having the stand in the frame. Use sandbag weights to make sure the perch is stable.
Happy shooting! Please comment and add any links to your bird photos.
Gear used in this photo shoot:
- Canon 5D Mk II DLSR
- Canon 85mm f1.8 lens
- Canon 580 EX and EX II
- Impact Quikbox Softbox (24 x 24″)
- Speedlite Foldable Snoot
- Phottix Odin TTL Flash Trigger and Receiver
- Manfrotto 190XProB tripod with Kirk BH-3 Ball Head
- Really Right Stuff L-Plate