“Unveiling the Beauty of Misunderstood Pigeons Through Formal Portraits: A Photographer’s Journey”

Fancy pigeons

The photographer Brendan Burden has taken a new approach to showcase pigeons in a more positive light. Despite being commonly known as “flying rats” and being found all over the world, Burden believes that they are misunderstood creatures. Through a series of formal portraits taken in a studio setting, Burden aims to raise the profile of these birds. He learned that they are feral domesticated birds that have been bred for their beauty for thousands of years. Prior to undertaking this project, he had assumed that they were wild and had some form of symbiotic relationship with humans similar to rats or mice. The project, titled “Fancy Pigeons,” provides a new perspective on these birds and highlights their unique beauty.

Ring necked dove.

The dove with a ring around its neck.

Racing pigeon.

The hobby of keeping and racing pigeons is quite popular among a certain group of enthusiasts. It involves training a group of pigeons to fly home from a specific location, typically over long distances, and then racing them against other pigeons. The birds are specially bred for their speed, strength, and homing instincts, and their owners take great care to ensure that they are fed, housed, and trained properly. While it may seem like an unusual pastime to some, those who participate in pigeon racing find it to be a thrilling and rewarding experience.

Bald head roller.

The inspiration for “Fancy Pigeons” struck Burden when he stumbled upon an image of a Jacobin pigeon, a majestic bird with a feathered hood. He was surprised to discover the vast array of beautiful wild and domestic pigeon breeds and wondered if he could apply formal portrait techniques to these birds. Burden sought to challenge the common negative perception of pigeons through his photography. With the help of the Canadian Pigeon Fancier’s Association, he set up makeshift studios at pigeon keepers’ homes and learned that domestic pigeons do not typically fly away and are used to being handled by their owners, making capturing them for his portraits much easier than expected.

Indian fantail.

Let’s talk about the Indian fantail bird. This particular breed of bird is known for its unique and attractive appearance. With its long, elegant tail feathers and vibrant coloring, it’s hard to miss these birds when you see them flying around. They are a popular choice among bird enthusiasts, especially in India where they originate from. Despite their beauty, Indian fantails are also known for their intelligence and friendly personalities, making them great pets for those who enjoy bird-watching or simply want a unique addition to their household. If you’re looking for a fascinating and captivating bird species to admire, the Indian fantail is definitely worth considering.

Copper black wing archangel.

An archangel with wings in a deep shade of copper black.

Diamond dove.

To capture stunning portraits of pigeons, the photographer built a mobile studio from a spacious show cage. He used a paper backdrop and positioned his camera through the swing door for the perfect shot. The photographer utilized strobes to illuminate the portraits, using a 100cm deep octa as a fill and a 7-inch reflector with a honeycomb grid as the key light. Depending on the color and position of the pigeon, he may add a third light for the background. Despite the unpredictability of the subject, the photographer aims for separation between the bird and the background. Due to the small size of the subject, the 7-inch reflector alone does not provide sufficient light without the honeycomb grid for added definition and drama.

English long faced tumbler.

The English long-faced tumbler is a particular breed of pigeon.

Domestic flight.

Flying within the country.

Komorner tumbler.

The Komorner tumbler is a type of pigeon that can be difficult to photograph. According to Burden, capturing their portraits can be as challenging as taking pictures of human subjects since they may not always pose as desired. Sometimes, you must allow them to do their own thing. It is essential to note that what we commonly call pigeons are, in fact, rock doves. While doves are often associated with purity, many people view pigeons as dirty birds. However, both are the same creature. According to Gordon Corera, the BBC security correspondent and author of The Secret Pigeon Service, what sets pigeons apart is their friendly nature towards humans. They are at ease in human environments and can even be domesticated, making them easy to handle.

Crested pigeon.

The crested pigeon is a fascinating bird that can be found in various parts of Australia. It’s known for its distinctive appearance, with a feathery crest on top of its head and a beautiful blend of brown, gray, and white feathers. These pigeons are commonly seen in urban areas and can often be found in parks and gardens searching for food. They have a unique way of moving, with a distinctive bobbing motion as they walk or run. Despite being a common sight in Australia, the crested pigeon is still a delightful bird to observe, whether in the wild or in urban settings.

Egyptian swift.

The Egyptian swift is a bird species that is found in Egypt.


According to Corera, pigeons have been human companions since ancient times and possess a unique superpower – their homing ability. Even when taken far away from their home, these incredible birds can fly straight back to it, baffling scientists who are yet to fully understand how they do it. Burden’s photos of pigeons often surprise people as they showcase the birds’ beauty and the wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors they come in. The contrast of the formal photographic approach with the humble subject matter is also something that many find appealing and amusing. Maybe, someday soon, humans will love these unassuming creatures again as our ancestors did.

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