Welcome to my article about chicken photography. I'm going to attempt to explain some basic methods of photography and setting up shots, as well as photo editing after the fact. I'm afraid there won't be much on manual camera settings in here, as I'm useless at that—maybe I'll add some information on it when I've figured it out myself.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for photography. I encourage you to play around with everything mentioned here and more. I have broken every "rule" mentioned here and still gotten some pretty fair shots. Don't be afraid to experiment: these are just some ideas to get you going if your aim is to get high quality images.
Before we delve into the setup, I'm going to quickly cover some terms and methods.
Foreground, Middleground, and Background
Foreground, middleground, and background are important parts of an image. Using all three is easy to do and gives a beautiful depth to an image by making it seem 3-D rather than flat. They are exactly what the name implies: the front, middle, and back 'sections' in an image, split by objects, scenery, or implied depth. Instead of trying to explain this more, I am going to shamelessly cheat and use pictures I pulled off of Google.
See how using all three really gives depth and life to an image? It draws your eye in and eliminates the tendency towards a flat picture.
Framing is the use of light or an object to block out parts of an image and draw attention to a subject. It has many other benefits, including context, a sense of depth, and lending a sort of mystery to the photograph. It is often, but not always, in the foreground.
Photo examples of framing:
The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a simple tip that makes all the difference in your photos. It is done by dividing your photo, either with imaginary lines or your viewfinder, into nine parts. Three each direction. Place points of interest on the places where the lines intersect, and the natural separations that occur in an image along one of the horizontal or vertical lines.
The eye is naturally drawn to these locations; don't centre the subject/points of interest or your image will often seem too rigid and not pleasing to look at.
In this image below I placed the end and side of the road right along the left vertical and top horizontal lines.
There are multiple kinds of balance that are used in artwork and photography. The first is symmetrical balance. If you divided the image in half right along the centre line both halves would appear identical. While a good standby for, say, a background image on your computer, it is not visually exciting and gets to be quite dull after a while.
Radial balance has the elements spread outwards from one place. This is a good balance to use if you wish to really emphasize the focal point.
My personal favourite is asymmetrical balance. It is much more interesting and draws your eye back for a second look. If you divided a photo with asymmetrical balance into two pieces, they would not be identical. Despite this, it seems balanced to your eye. It is done by multiple factors that influence perceived weight within the image, making the "weight" seem equal on both sides.
1. Value: Dark parts of an image are heavier than the light parts.
2. Size: smaller objects seem to carry less weight.
3. Texture: heavily textured things carry more weight than blurred or smooth things.
4. Colour: Warm colours are heavier than cool tones.
5. Quantity: One large object paired with several smaller ones can keep a nice balance.
When these things are done harmoniously with each other, they give an image both balance and excitement.
One other not used in chicken photography is crystallographic balance. It is formed by repetition within the image, like, for instance, a honeycomb. By repeating the same shape over and over again it seems balanced. It doesn't have a specific focal point.
Got all that? Great. We'll move on.
The most common mistake that appears in photographs is a bad background. No matter how pretty your chicken is, how nice the lighting is, or how perfectly they're posed, you still can't capture a good picture without a good background. If you know what you're doing with camera settings, unlike me, you can change the depth of field to blur things in the background.
For outdoor photos:
1. Try to have minimal dirt in the image. Brown is not an exciting colour, especially if overused.
2. No Poop. Do I really need to explain this one?
3. Try and match the background to the chicken. For instance, don't photograph white chickens in the snow.
4. If you need a good background but don't have one, try looking up from underneath the chicken to the sky. This is best done on a day with dramatic colouring in the clouds or something else that makes it not be boring.
5. Avoid pictures in the coop. The average coop is not clean or well lit, making it hard to get anything halfway decent. Even if you're lucky and manage to keep the coop clean it isn't that interesting as a background. One definite exception is using the edge of the coop as framing, like I did in the shot up in the framing section.
6. If photographing in a flock, avoid random body parts from other chickens getting in on the action. Everyone has had that nice shot spoiled by the nosy extra cockerel sticking his tail in the photo.
7. No trash, garbage cans, etc in your picture. I've had more pictures than I can count spoiled by that bright red treat container in the corner, or the empty feed bags stacked behind the chooks.
9. No chicken wire\hardware cloth. It's distracting, ugly, and a boring background. Sure, sure, you can use it artistically, but for the sake of simplicity I'm just going to say no chicken wire.
For indoor photos:
My favourite prop has to be a bath towel. Yup, that's all. It provides a clean and simple background for focusing on the chicken. I like a light purple or green, it goes well with many different colours and breeds of chickens. I will sometimes use flowers in an image if I think it needs more interest.
Light and Weather Conditions
My favourite time to take pictures is the golden hour just before sunset or sunrise. It has a soft light that doesn't give any glare to the image, and the shadow patterns it can throw really help upgrade your image as a whole. I find it to be much more interesting than plain overcast lighting with no brighter bits.
This is the kind of lighting I'm looking for.
With photographing animals, you really do want nice weather. In landscape photography, the generally accepted rule is the more exotic the weather the better, but this doesn't work well with chickens. Ever tried to keep a chicken still in a rain storm?
Some things such as puddles may work in your favour if it's done raining, but wet chickens aren't exactly purty to look at. That's just my take on it.
This is a remarkably controversial topic in the photography world. Some feel photo editing is like lying or cheating, making things appear better than they are. Me, I think a little photo editing is a good tool to have in your bag of photography tricks and it has saved many an image. Just note that some contests may have requirements of no editing.
I use PicMonkey for my photo edits. It is easier to use than Photoshop or Gimp, making it a good choice for the amateur that has no clue what they're doing. It does cost money for the full version, but I think it's worth it.
Say you're taking pictures in low light and you end up with an image that isn't blurry and has the subject in a decent pose, but it's too dark. Using the automatic exposure adjust really helps eliminate some of that gloom that can wreck pictures. The curve tool (next to clone, see later images) also changes exposure and is better than changing one element at a time. Is one part of an image too light? Use "Burn" to give a subtle darkening. Is one too dark? "Dodge" will fix that.
My favourite feature (Premium members only) is the "Clone" tool. It's really helpful for getting photobombers out of an otherwise great image.
Re-select a distance and angle frequently, or it will end up looking repetitive and odd, like you can see in the light brown area.
That's it for this article... thanks for reading, and comment below if you have any suggestions for improvement or points of uncertainty. Now, go and take some pictures.