Portfolio: Taylor Wessing prize-winner Spencer Murphy's portraits of birds of prey

 

When Spencer Murphy wanted to carry out a study that captured the art of motion, he immediately looked to birds of prey. "I've always been drawn to them," he says. "Not that I could name them in the sky. There's just something that gets me when I see them. When it came to doing motion studies, I couldn't think of much more beautiful a movement than a bird of prey in flight."

Murphy hired the birds from a specialist animal agency, and two handlers accompanied them on the shoot in April. He then sought to capture their likeness both in flight and sitting still – and photographing them motionless proved really tricky.

"It was a very foreign environment for them," recalls Murphy. "The main challenge was keeping them calm. Some were more comfortable than others. You were usually warned which ones would nip you if you offered them a hand. You can't really tell them how to behave, only direct them with sound and food or try to put them at ease.

"We had a couple of instances of birds nearly landing on my head or perching on equipment out of reach, but in general they were a pleasure to work with."

 

The 35-year-old photographer is more used to taking portraits of celebrities: a shot of the jump jockey Katie Walsh won him the prestigious Taylor Wessing prize last year. So who is easier to work with: wildlife or the famous?

"They each have their pros and cons. Neither can stand still for very long. I was keen to take portraits of birds that wouldn't look out of place alongside human portraits. It was as much about trying to convey some sort of emotive connection as about the technicalities of the shoot."

For more: spencermurphy.co.uk/project/traces; limited-edition prints are available from the photographer

Supported by: Thomas Podkolinski, RiDa Studios, Adrian Wolfson, Pixi Pixel, Green Film Kit and Labyrinth Photographic

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