Posted by David Travis on 1 Mar 2021


I recently came across the work of artist Sarah Siltala. Sarah paints pictures of garden birds but places them in still life compositions.

I thought it would be an interesting challenge to create photographic versions of this idea. It gave me the opportunity to look back at the photographs I've taken of birds in my garden and find ones that would fit the concept of 'tamed'.

I'm sure it's obvious, but just to emphasise, these are photographic composites: no birds were harmed (or stuffed!) in the making of these pictures.

For the technically minded, these were taken with an Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mk 2. I used the Olympus 45mm lens at f/8, 1/200s, ISO 200. I was aiming for classical, painterly-style light, so I used a large softbox to camera left housing a Godox AD200. The backdrop and table are vinyls from clubbackdrops.com.

Tea for two

I've noticed that Sarah uses tea cups in her compositions, so I tried using these as a prop. This was one pose that I thought would fit the tea cup idea.

In flight

One problem with this kind of compositing is that it's easy to mistake the birds for stuffed animals. So I thought I'd try this example of a bird in flight to emphasise the birds are alive.

In song

Again, I chose this bird to make the viewer realise the bird isn't stuffed. The prop I'm using here is an incense diffuser: ideal as it comes with its own sticks for perching!


I borrowed some of Mrs T's knitting paraphenalia for this still life.


As before, but with different coloured wool.


One problem with using tea cups and knitting paraphenalia as props is that the images can appear a little twee. I preferred using a more natural perch, and this certainly makes the compositing process easier. This is because the birds are already sitting on a mossy branch so it's easier to blend in their claws.


This is a slightly more interesting perch than in the previous image. I also wanted to try moving the bottle to the left of the picture to see if this helped 'read' the image from left to right.

Pause for thought.

I struggle with finding the right composition for still life images. I want to keep them simple but at the same time you need a certain amount of detail to make them work. In this example with a Long Tailed Tit, I tried a more interesting perch — it's more complex but at the same time I think it makes the image work better.

About to fly

In the original image, the bird is in a similar orientation, and again this makes the compositing simpler. I still needed to make a few adjustments to its body, and Photoshop's Puppet Warp feature is perfect for this.

The visitor

Same blue tit, different perch. I found this fantastic mossy perch while out on a dog walk. It's like a Bonsai tree. It's covered in moss and lichen and I think works really well in this composition. This is my favourite image of the set: I thought that adding the Siskind created more of a story. That said, I worry that it makes the image veer a little towards a twee, greeting card picture.

If you liked this, try…

Backyard Bird Photography

13 Jun 2019

Cloud Inversion at the Roaches

21 Feb 2021

Imbolc: Return of the light

1 Feb 2021

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