A birds-eye view
This project is in its infancy, and I don’t know where it will go, but I’m having a lot of fun.
First, a big thank you to the pigeon fanciers who have done most of the work to raise these amazing birds. They have been open to this experiment. I am grateful for the trust they have placed in me with their birds.
Why attach a camera to pigeons?
At first, I attached a camera to a pigeon to see if it is possible, but now I’m facing the question of the real purpose. I’m a photographer, so I naturally think of this as a photo project, possibly to be published in a magazine or in a book.
I travel a lot for my photo assignments, so I would like to meet pigeon fanciers worldwide and work with them to photograph their pigeons and their pigeon’s flights.
Maybe it is to make a pretty set of photos from a new perspective. Maybe it is to develop the technology so pigeon fanciers can study and understand their birds in a new way. Maybe there is an underlying story behind the trends in pigeon racing. There are a lot of possibilities, and I am open to suggestions.
How did I start pigeon photography?
My curiosity about pigeons began almost 20 years ago in China. I saw flocks of tumbling pigeons circling over Kashgar. I spoke enough Uighur to find a coop owner and ask some basic questions. But there was much more to learn. I returned to pigeon coops many times in Egypt. The owners were always welcoming. Their height above the city streets made them a refuge.
One of my favorite projects has been this series of portraits of pigeons.
In Egypt, drones are illegal, hard to import, and a good way to get arrested. But there was a moment of openness when I got to thinking about trying to attach a GoPro to a pigeon. Unfortunately, the technology was too heavy, and the bird couldn’t get off the ground.
But in the last five years, the technology has improved, the cameras have gotten smaller, and the threat of arrest in the U.S. is much lower. So I’m trying again.
How do I make a pigeon harness?
I have gone through several designs for making these harnesses and have found a few tricks to make them strong and light.
After a few iterations of designs, I have a pigeon harness that works well. As you can see, nothing is particularly strong because a pigeon in flight doesn’t have a lot of force. I think of how a bird is engineered with feathers and bones so thin that they easily break, and I design it with a similar philosophy.
The clasps and elastic are from a fabric store. The plastic or cardboard chest plate is from the trash. The back is made from a twisty tie. I use a bit of sewing for the loops that connect the camera, but I also use super glue and gaffer tape where necessary.
My original design used a shorter cardboard chest plate, which allowed the camera to flex around too much, so I am trying a longer, stiffer plastic chest plate on this iteration.
I found one rule of thumb repeated many places across the internet “Pigeons weigh between 300 and 500 grams and can carry up to 10 percent of their body weight, or about 30 to 50 grams”
So I designed the camera+harness to be about 30 grams. The camera is a Insta360 Go 2, which weighs 26 grams. So the harness is about 5-6 grams.
Who else has attached a camera to pigeons?
One of my favorite finds was a book called The Pigeon Photographer about Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary who submitted a patent application for a new invention: the pigeon camera in 1907.
I found The New Pigeon Guy on youtube, who made a pigeon video more than ten years ago.