The “Homing Pigeon Collection” is a visual study of pigeons in flight by photojournalist (and pigeon fancier) David Stephenson. In order to make the images, Stephenson set up a mini-studio in a loft space, clamping a black backdrop on one wall, and hanging three strobes in order to light the birds in flight. “There is always a sweet spot that I need them to fly into and they often don’t,” Stephen told PDN via email. “If they fly out of that range the exposures are either too hot or too under exposed – especially with the solid white or solid black birds.”
The birds, he says, are tame and generally easy to work with. Stephenson works with a handler (usually his wife), who will toss a bird into the air. As it flies to a set of perches, Stephenson has time for one shot. Then they catch the bird, and try again. The path and wing positions of the bird are unpredictable, so it takes many attempts to get the right shot. “The birds fly so quickly that you can never visually comprehend all that their wings and feathers are doing in flight with your naked eye. And from a scientific point of view, it is really quite revealing how a wing and feathers function.” Lately Stephenson has been experimenting with slow motion video on the iPhone 6 which reveals the beauty of their motion in flight, he says.
Stephenson began raising pigeons as a kid, and his first photo subjects were pigeons and doves. Today, he races homing pigeons in his backyard in Lexington, Kentucky.
“Since I’m always working with my birds for racing, there are many opportunities for taking photos outside of the loft. I feed them twice a day, and during racing season I am training with them almost every day.”
Stephenson licenses images from “The Homing Collection” as stock. He’s also self-published a calendar. “I sold over 600 copies this year – a good lesson on social media marketing,” he says. Eventually he hopes to produce an exhibit at the American Pigeon Museum (who knew!). These images have been published on NBC News’ Week in Pictures feature, as well as in various books, research papers and publications such as Audubon magazine. For more, follow Stephenson on Instagram and Twitter.