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Tim Flach’s pretty flamingos

The latest project by Tim Flach HonFRPS focuses on birds in all their extraordinary variety. Here he tells the story behind one of those images.

‘American flamingo’ from the series Birds by Tim Flach HonFRPS

“When doing a book about birds there are certain essential subjects and flamingos are definitely among the must-have candidates. If you’re going to have flamingos you have to go for American flamingos, which is the only variety that’s truly pink.

“Flamingos are waders and I decided I wanted to communicate that fact. I thought, let’s see if we can get them reflecting in the water while feeding. They are the only birds that can feed upside down and have specialised beaks that enable them to do so.

“I wanted to go very stylised with this image, to be consistent with the rest of the project. We had already done a shoot with small ducks in the studio, floating in a small tray of water lined with black material, and I quite liked the way it was working. It was displaying the birds as they might display to each other. That gave us confidence to try a similar approach, but on a bigger scale. 

“We decided to do the shoot in a barn, near to where the flamingos were being kept. We prepared a pool of water, around 15ftx18ft, which was lined with black plastic. Behind, I had this big sheet of velvet, around 18ft long, which is my general go-to background and sucks out any light.

“When we put the flamingos in the water they settled quickly because they were being kept quite nearby and didn’t have the stress of a journey. They were more concerned with their own pecking order and were happy to stay in the middle of the water.

“I wanted to get some rippling in the water surface, but not so much that it broke up the snake-like reflection which gives that sense of intriguing abstraction. Too much ripple and the reflection breaks up, but too little and it’s not very interesting.

“When lighting the birds, the challenge was to get the lighting coming across them without lighting the black material underneath. I used a couple of banks of light, fitted with honeycombs, that acted texturally as one light source. I also had to be careful that the black beaks didn’t disappear against the black background.”

Birds by Tim Flach is published by Abrams on 14 October 2021. Read more about Flach’s latest project in the September/October 2021 issue of the RPS Journal.

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