During my undergraduate college days, I majored in communication and television production. My training included introductory through advanced photography classes. Back then, black and white photography was transitioning from science to an art. At the same time, Kodak, a major influence in the field, was having trouble keeping financially afloat. Despite the competitive registration, increasing cost of film and darkroom chemicals, I followed the call–hook, line, and sinker, and began a new journey of seeing life through a camera’s eye. A journey, which continues to unfold itself today after more than twenty-five years!
The first camera I purchased was a 35mm workhorse. Manufactured by Pentax, the K1000 was a single lens reflex camera that made a wonderful and unique clicking sound when the shutter release button was pressed. It had a manual focus, manual film advance, and manual exposure controls. Its sturdy metal body survived several accidental drops without needing any repairs. It was discontinued not too long ago, and the company has since replaced the K1000 model with a fully automated digital version. But it was the Pentax workhorse with which I’d won several first and second place photographic awards and recognitions. And, it was this workhorse with which I began a teaching career. I’ll never forget the feel of my Pentax camera.
Since the purchase of my first camera, the field of photography has changed. Previously, the image of a photographer was oftentimes portrayed, especially in film, as a solitary figure living life on the edge waiting for that single mystical moment when light and object meet. In contrast to this romantic image, today’s photographer’s concerns can be mind-boggling! A computerized camera now provides precision control over an image’s pixel content. And, with the press of a few buttons or finger swipes, the average consumer can turn an image captured by a cell phone into instant photographic artwork!
However, as hardware and software continually change, I find, that a major challenge to serious photographers remains that of subject selection. New and seasoned photographers are always searching for the unusual or curious object as the center of their focus. To keep their skills honed they must continue to critically question their work by asking such questions as: What makes a good photographic subject? What story does it tell? What story does this subject offer that another can’t? Can some subjects speak more clearly than others to the viewer?
In my recent transition from southern California to Virginia, I had the opportunity to stay at the ranch house of my sister and her husband. The surrounding Appalachian Mountains woo a photographer’s soul. It is easy to see why visitors to the area, are captured by the sights of the hollows, hills, and mountaintops. For me, however, it was something very different that caught the attention of my digital lens. Found in just about every backyard, it was the simple wooden birdhouse that captured my visual interest. I have yet to find any two alike; each one has its own unique story to tell.
To share my newly found interest, you’ll find a brief how-to in photographing a bird’s house just below. In contrast to the romantic image of the solitary figure, this how-to was developed in collaboration with my sister, Professor Sullivan who teaches computer engineering courses at a nearby community college. She is an emerging photographer whose photographic work centers on farm life. The images featured on this page are her birdhouses. We have worked together on several other projects and I think you’ll enjoy the challenge presented here. As always, remember to get permission to go on another’s property. Be sure to take all necessary precautions when attempting any photographic fieldwork. And, perhaps most importantly, invite a friend along to share the fun and excitement!
Birdhouses, as a photographic subject, are compelling. These miniature barn-like structures are located around the world. The texture of weathered wood offers plenty of visual excitement. They act as temporary and permanent homes for some of the world’s most colorful birds.
In preparing to photograph a bird’s house, remember to allow yourself time to fully enjoy all of its visual intricacies; there are no two alike. Ask yourself: What is it about the house that attracts you the most? How does it make you feel? What type of lighting will help to capture that feeling?
Here are three steps to consider when preparing to capture the essence of a birdhouse:
Step 1. Choose your angle. To give your birdhouse a majestic feel, shoot looking upwards. For a simplistic or down-to-earth feel, find an angle where you can shoot looking down on the birdhouse.
Step 2. Choose your lighting. Early morning light has a mystical feel to it especially when combined with clouds or mist. Use a late afternoon sun with strong shadows to capture a more dramatic effect.
Step 3. Choose your distance. Select your position well because it tells your story. Up-close-and-personal allows your viewer to “touch” the elements of your birdhouse and gives a feel of reality. Capture the birdhouse at a distance further away and you capture a larger story giving your viewer a sense of the “big picture.”
Living life in 2011,