How to take better pictures of your chickens

Confession time, I used to be a wedding photographer. I know you can't tell from looking at some of my pictures on here because I'm too lazy to haul a real camera out these days, used to be my thing. Chicken photography is a whole 'nother animal though! Chickens are notoriously hard to photograph because they move a lot, and chicks move even  more! Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you get that perfect shot of your pets.

Fluffy white chicken, a perfect picture. Tutorial.

I know most of us have a cellphone in our pockets all the time so logically that's the camera we use the most. Many people will say you need a DSLR or a 'real camera' but that's simply not true anymore. Most newer cell phone cameras are really good these days, and they have some options that make taking pictures super simple. 

For instance, portrait mode on newer cell phones will focus on one spot while gently blurring the background. It creates a small depth of field. This is a technique called bokeh and can be used to keep distractions to a minimum, drawing your attention to the focused part of the image. The rooster picture below was taken in portrait mode on a cell phone.

Image of rooster taken in portrait mode to show focus effect

Now this is not quite the same as manual photography, but it's close. If you were to do this manually, everything closer to and further than the rooster in this picture would be out of focus. The rooster would be the only crisp part of this image. 

Now look through the part of his tail closest to his back, the background is in focus. (click on the picture to expand it for a better view) Also the longest tail feather blurs at the end. So not perfect, but still a pretty good shot! 

Cell phones use more of a focus area with no difference for depth, but it still gives a nice result! This is a really good mode to shoot in when there's stuff like poop in the background that we'd rather not see. Or just to kind of mute the distractions a little bit.

So yes, cell phones can take great pictures. Whether your using a point n shoot, DSLR or your cell phone, you can get great shots of your chicks by keeping a few things in mind.

How to photograph chickens

I'll try to add as many examples as I can here, since I find pictures better than words when describing this stuff.

Squat down: 

The first thing you're going to want to do is get down to the chickens level. You are way taller than them which means you're shooting down which is going to leave you with a rather uninteresting photo. Get down to their level and aim your camera at them from their front or side, not above their head.

Above and side views of the same chicken to show angle differences

Lots of bright indirect light: 

You need lots of light or the details of the chicken (especially the feathers) don't stand out. However, direct sunshine is harsh! Like horribly harsh, leaving crazy shadows all over the place. While you want to take photos on a bright sunny day, take them under the shade of a tree, porch roof etc to prevent harsh shadows. 

Aim for the golden hour: 

They call the hour before sunset and after sunrise 'the golden hour' because the angle of the sunlight is softer and warmer than any other time of day. This makes for really pretty pictures without harsh shadows.

Never have the light behind the chicken: 

If the light is coming from behind the chicks and your taking a picture facing the chicks and the light, the details will wash out in the shadows. Just walk around to the other side of your subject and aim away from the sun. The light should be coming from above, behind or to the side of you.

I can't seem to describe that right so I made you a graphic.

graphic of how to shoot pictures of chicks in sun

Zoom in: 

A tightly cropped shot is always going to give more detail than a wider shot. This is especially true when dealing with chicks since they're so tiny. 

Far and near pictures of the same chick

Sports mode: 

Most cell phones and cameras have a sports or play mode. These are generally set to have a faster shutter speed which can catch motion more easily. Chickens tend to move around a lot so if you're having trouble getting clear pictures, switch to sports mode and give it a try. If your phone has a burst feature then it takes a bunch of pictures within a few seconds. This can help you to get an infocus shot of chicks moving around. 

Take a ton of photos: 

Take lots of pictures and you're bound to get a few good ones. Photographers shoot for hours to get a few perfect shots, trust me there's no shame in taking a bunch. Sure sometimes you get the perfect shot the first time, but if you didn't you're going to have to try to recreate it. It's easier to just take a bunch and delete the ones you don't like. 

row of chicken pictures from photo shoot

Pick a good background: 

Chose something that the chick can really stand out against. A white chick next to white flowers isn't going to be as striking as a blue chick next to the white flowers. 

Example: same chick 3 backgrounds...window box, quad seat, grass background. I thought that chick was going to look so cute on that flower box, instead she blended too well with the shadows. She stands out much more against darker and brighter backgrounds.

same gray chick in 3 pictures with different settings

Aim for one at a time: 

You have a better chance of getting a good clear shot if you take pictures of 1 chicken at a time. The camera focuses on a particular area, and when you have chicks in all different distances from the lens, they all won't be in focus. Some will be too far back, or too far forward to the camera to record all their details. 

Cell phones do tend to have a wider range of focus than a regular camera, but it still has a hard time getting all the details in a spread out group. Plus, one or two will be moving at any given time so some chicks will be clear and others blurry. Group shots are cute, but you'll almost never get everyone still at the same time.

Turn off the red bulbs: 

If you want to take brooder pictures you're just not going to get a good picture with a glaring red light above the chicks. I know in person you can make out all the details even with the red bulb, but it's going to throw the white balance off in the photo. This makes the whole image look warmer than it should.

If you want to take a brooder photo, switch off the red bulb for a few seconds and reach down to the chicks level with your camera to get the right angle. Chicks tend to be a little skittish, so you may have to hold that position for a few minutes till they resume their regular behavior.

Avoid the flash: 

I know sometimes you have no choice, but avoid the flash whenever you can. It's going to give you a harsh, unnatural light. Built in flashes are notoriously bad, even the flash on a DSLR is junk. Which is why you always see photographers with flashes mounted above their cameras. 

Obviously if you need a picture of something like an injury at night, use a flash, but otherwise save your pictures for when there's daylight. They'll turn out much better.

You could try the kleenex trick. Get a tissue and separate it so you have a single layer. Hold this single layer over your flash while you take pictures. It diffuses the light that gets through giving a much softer look. 

Unfortunately this isn't going to work if your flash and camera are in the same spot on your phone. If yours are super close together, a small piece of matte scotch tape can be placed over the flash to dull it a bit. It has to be the transparent tape, not the shiny clear tape... that one won't work. Leave enough tape hanging off the edge so you can easily pull it off when done.

So there you have it, a few of my favorite tips to help you get better pictures of your chickens. Now go out there and take some pics and tag me on social media so I can see them too!

Want to know more about raising chickens? Check out Chicken Keeping For Beginners.


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