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Taking Photos of Your Silkies

by Valerie Hirvela
October 3, 2000

Most of us from time to time want to take pictures of our beloved Silkies, to share with others and to have for our own enjoyment. And how many times have we gotten the photos back, and they just don't look like what we were expecting?

I am not a professional photographer, but I have worked in the publishing business for years, and have done my share of trial and error as far as taking pictures for my newspaper is concerned. So I have listed a few tips here that will hopefully give you a better photograph. With the advent of the fully automatic "point and shoot" idiot proof 35mm cameras - a lot of the hard part of figuring the shutter speed and F Stop, or aperture opening has been eliminated. And these automatic 35 mm's do a good job - though I would imagine that really top notch photographers will disagree!

One of the main concerns is lighting. Our eyes are much better at discerning and filtering light than a camera lense. Even though many instructions on the film package say to take in direct sunlight, on a really sunny day, taking pictures in direct sun will give you lots of white spots where the sun is reflecting off the subject, the colors for the most part are very washed out, and the shadows created by the subject are pitch black, so that you cannot see any detail in those shadows. Go ahead and take the picture in shade - though not dense shade or in a direct shadow of a building. But be careful that you don't place your Silkie in a spot where there are large bits of sunlight hitting it. Those little spots of light will turn out white. If the day is really bright, you may want to turn off your automatic flash setting and take some of these pictures without the flash, and then turn it back on and take a few with the flash. It really depends on just how dark the shade is that you are in.

On overcast or cloudy days you should get out in the open and not be in shade. Actually some of the best pictures can be made with this lighting. There are no really hard shadows being created by the sun, and if it is not too cloudy, the color is a little more true. Again, experiment and turn off your flash and then turn it back on. The same mistakes can be made with shooting in too dark of an area too. Take a good look at the lighting, and try to see the subject as a camera would. If there are lots of dark shadows on the subject, they will look even darker with less detail in a photo. In speaking of shadows, watch where you are standing: is your shadow being cast on the subject? If so, then position yourself so that it isn't. Also, taking pictures into the sun will just give you a shadow for a picture, because the subject's shadow is falling between your camera and the subject.

The next common mistake made is not getting up close enough to your subject. Don't expect much detail if you are standing more than 10 feet away from your Silkie. If you want to take a flock picture, you will have to move back, or if you are in a situation where you can't get within five or so feet, most of the automatic 35 mm's have some sort of zoom on their lense, so zoom in as close as possible. If taking pictures from further away in filtered light or shade, do use the flash - though most flashes are not effective if you are over 15 or 20 feet away.

Get your Silkie eye level. Don't try to take a picture of it on the ground in front of you while you are standing. If you have nothing to set the Silkie on top of, then you will have to at least get down on your knees and crouch down so that the subject is somewhere close to eye level. Again, keep in mind a camera lense is not as good as our eye. Taking pictures from above or way below, too, will have a considerable amount of distortion. If at all possible, put your Silkie up on something a few feet off the ground.

Another thing to keep in mind is the color of your Silkie. If it is a dark color, try to have a light colored background, even if it is the side of a pen, or bushes. The same holds true for your light Silkies - especially the whites; be sure there is a darker background to offset the light color. The whites and the blacks are the hardest colors to photograph. The blacks are too dark, so a lot of detail is lost; you will probably need to use a flash on them. The whites just about put off a glare, and you get a lot of that "white wash" having no details at all, so in most cases you will want to turn off your flash on the whites.

Try to avoid a lot of clutter in the background. The side of a building or making some sort of a solid screen is nice, and even bushes or flowers can be great backgrounds as long as the subject isn't in the shadows of the plants.

The next consideration is posing your Silkie. When you are getting ready to take the picture, you see it move - you can see the "ambiance" and personality of your bird. The camera just captures an image that split second that the shutter is depressed. Chances are the Silkie may be in the middle of a movement and in an awkward pose. The best position to capture on film is one taken from the full side and if that's not possible, what would be termed a three quarters shot. That is, not taken with the Silkie positioned straight on from the front, but turned a little to the side. Get your Silkie squared up, so that it's neck isn't being held out at some weird angle, or a foot sticking out. The best Silkie position is with it's head held up, chest out just a bit and the neck just a bit tucked in with the whole body relaxed as much as possible. Many Silkies will tend to crouch and crane their necks a bit - especially if up on some type of pedestal for taking the picture. Give it time to get used to being up there and let him or her look around a bit. Then of course there are those individuals who if given too much time will get the confidence up to jump OFF of your picture-taking pedestal. Positioning any chicken requires lots of patience! They just don't pose for any length of time, so don't just shoot one photo. Be prepared to go through at least 6-8 shots on one single bird! But posing makes all the difference in the world as to how good your Silkie will look.

If you are taking photos at a show - inside, you will more than likely need a flash. If your Silkies are being shown in Large Fowl cages, it is much easier to photograph them. Just open the door to the cage and try to get them to pose in the middle of the cage. However, since most shows have both bantam and large fowl cages, chances are the Silkies will be shown in a bantam cage. If you have noticed - the door openings on bantam cages are a lot smaller! You will probably have to take your Silkie out of it's cage and either place it on top of the cage or a carrier, or possibly there may be an area available to photograph your Silkie. Don't try to take the picture through the bars of the cage. The metal will reflect off the flash, and you can just barely see the subject because of all the glares from the bars. It really does detract from the photo.

Film and processing are costly, but you will have to go through a few rolls of film if you want that "perfect picture" of your Silkies. Even professional photographers bring lots of film because chances are one picture won't be enough. You will have to experiment a bit - take a few shots with the flash on, then a few with the flash off, even the distance between yourself and your Silkie will affect the photo. Stand back 5 or 6 feet and use the zoom on your lense to bring the subject in, then get within 3 feet or so. Always try to have the Silkie filling up as much of the view as safely possible - without cropping off head, feet or tail - of course! The time, effort and thought given to taking a photo of your Silkie are well worth it if you get a few really nice pictures that you can frame and keep, and if your picture is going to be published, you want your Silkie to look as good as possible for all to see!

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