Valerie Shaff’s Professional Tips For Photographing Chickens

New York-based animal photographer Valerie Schaff reveals five key things you can do to take better pictures when photographing chickens.

by Phillip Mlynar
PHOTO: images by Valerie Schaff

“I got interested in photographing roosters because they are so colorful and spectacular and showy,” says Valerie Shaff, a photographer with a revered reputation for creating vivid eye-catching poultry images.

“The roosters led to the chickens because so many people I now know keep chickens. And you develop an eye for these things,” continues Shaff, whose poultry portraits can also be enjoyed via a collection of home pillows. “I’d see a great looking chicken and keep asking people if I could photograph their chickens!”

Calling on Shaff’s expertise and experience, we spoke to her about five ways you can get better results when photographing chickens.

1. Control the Situation

Whether shooting in a studio setting or in someone’s barn, Shaff says that setting up the situation is key.

“To get the shot you want is not about running after the animal—you really have to control the situation, especially with animals that are skittish, like chickens.”

In practice, this can mean selecting an uncluttered location for the photos, aiming to shoot when the light is most beneficial and taking into account the temperament of your chickens.

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photographing chickens

2. Use Feed to Capture Poses

Once Shaff has set up the environment for a photo shoot, she likes to call on the help of a second pair of hands to assist with the photography process.

“I’m not gonna try to herd chickens and look after them,” says Shaff. “They need to be held. Another person, which is usually the owner of the chickens, feeds them through. Chickens don’t stand still for long, and they’re not as responsive as other animals are to sounds, like dogs, or like cats with a feather on a fishing rod. So to get them where you want the lighting is, put some feed down. Quite predictably, they start eating!”

photograph chickens

3. Be Patient & Be Quick

Once the feed is presented, Shaff says that it’s important to show a lot of patience and to act quickly.

“You might be able to get a great photo while they’re coming into frame or towards the feed. Or they might look up after you flash a couple of times,” she explains. “But you have to be very quick to capture those moments. So create as much control as you can with the circumstances.”

photographing chickens

4. Photograph The Whole Chicken

Shaff likes to use a small aperture when photographing chickens. “This is so they will be sharply in focus,” she explains. “Chickens are too small an animal to try and get the face in focus with the tail feathers soft.”

Also, don’t forget to include the feet, which Shaff says “have remarkable details.”

photograph chickens

5. Seek Out Flat Lighting

When photographing chickens, Shaff prefers to use flat lighting. “From my standpoint, I find that bright sunlight breaks up the picture plane, because it’s too contrasty,” she says. “I like to be able to see things without them being affected with such hard light where you get so many dark shadows. For example, I like to see all of the details of the plumage of the birds.”

Follow Valerie Shaff on Instagram.

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