2016 PHOTOCHALLENGE WEEK 16: Domestic Bird Portrait – GUEST POST

Finches photographed in a ‘studio’ cage.

Finches photographed in a ‘studio’ cage.

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsDomestic birds come in many shapes and forms; barnyard chickens, pet finches, ducks, parrots, peacocks and even domestic pigeons. You should be able to find one somewhere, be it caged birds at the pet store or birds at a zoo or exhibition, or maybe you have domestic birds of your own like chickens or a canary.

These shots should be portrait type shots. We aren’t looking for big flocks or birds from a great distance. Aim for a flattering posed shot of one bird. Small groups can make nice portraits too.

Try using treats to get the bird to pose where you want.

Try using treats to get the bird to pose where you want.

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsFirst lets look at small birds. Birds in a cage can be shot through an open cage door, if you feel safe doing so, or through the wire. You can make the wire essentially disappear if you get close enough, put the camera right up to the wire and shoot between the bars (rest your lens against the wire). The shallow depth of field from a wide aperture may even blur the wire into non-existence from a little further away. This technique also works on larger cages at the zoo or exhibition.

I shoot between the bars at local exhibitions to get better photos of the chickens. This is a Brown Red Modern Game Bantam rooster.

Brown Red Modern Game Bantam rooster

Brown Red Modern Game Bantam rooster

The problem with getting up and personal with the wire is that you can scare the birds. So go very slow and be patient. Perhaps setup a tripod and let the bird settle down and get used to the camera by its cage. Make sure you aim at a perch that the bird favors. Some birds are curious enough to come down and inspect the camera, make sure you are ready to shoot when that happens.

From further back the cage bars are blurred and Zuko (our light backed Zebra Finch) peers at the camera.

With the camera touching the cage I can capture Zuko without bars, although one is visible in the very bottom of this shot.


If you shoot through an open door, try to be close enough to discourage the bird from coming out through the door. I find this the best way to shoot my birds because it is easier to get a cleaner shot. Also, you can back off from the cage a little more which is less scary for the bird.

Our canary, Gryphon, came right up and posed for pictures when I opened the door and backed off some. The focus is a bit off because the camera focused on the teacup rather than the twitchy bird.


Pay attention to the background! Often cages are busy and messy. Putting a backdrop in the cage is usually not a good option, but you can compromise by putting a backdrop (like a plain sheet) on the outside of the cage to block the view of the room or bright windows. If you are really ambitious you can remove distracting toys and feeders temporarily for the photo shoot.

African Grey Parrot, full body//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Larger birds that you take out of the cage can be easier, pose them on a perch or someone’s hand. Pick something un-cluttered for a background or setup a backdrop. Use natural diffused light if you can.

Hen and chicks//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Chickens and other barnyard birds can make great domestic bird portraits. Remember to get down at their level for optimal results and again pay attention to the background. You don’t want ugly feed bags or a brightly colored water dish in your shot if you can help it. Food or treats can encourage chickens to pose where you want them, find a good spot to shoot and throw a handful of black sunflower seeds for them.

Our local zoo has peacocks wandering around, they make great photo subjects.


Be patient and take lots of photos! Birds move around a lot, so you need to take lots of shots to get a good one. A higher shutter speed can help freeze the motion as well.

If you absolutely can’t find a good domestic bird to shoot, try to get a nice portrait of a wild bird instead.

A little more about the finch photo at the top: https://buyousef.net/2010/03/04/the-zebra-finches/#more-2286 I would love to get photos like this of my birds, maybe some day I will setup a special cage and try it.

Challenge by Sarah Foote: I’m an amateur photographer from Nova Scotia, Canada, who loves taking pictures everywhere I go, be it camping, wilderness walks, family gatherings or just shots around home.  https://www.facebook.com/teafinchphotos/

The rules are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge.org or #photochallenge2015.
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • The posted image should be a photograph, not a video.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2016 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

About Steve Troletti

I'm a Location Scout, Editorial, Nature, Wildlife and Environmental Photographer based in Malibu, California. I specialize in Nature and Urban Nature photography including Infrared Landscapes. The Bulk of my work takes place in the Los Angeles, California area, Greater Montreal Region, Canada, Switzerland, France and Varese in Northern Italy. Ethical wildlife photography is the main priority and focus of my work. A minimum disturbance of the animals, their habitat and the environment is my top priority. This applies as much to total wilderness areas as it does to urban nature environments. Ongoing education of environmental issues and building awareness for the protection of wildlife and wilderness areas around the world is what drives me to document the beauty that surrounds us.