Watch the birdie!

  • Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    The phrase originates with the practice of professional photographers taking a photograph of a small child. They will often try to distract them with an interesting toy held to the side of the camera so that the child will be looking toward the camera when the picture is taken.
     

    Daffodil100

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you very much, everyone.

    Copyright:

    It was very thoughtful of you to offer the links of the English idioms that I might have understood.


    Myridon:

    If the toy the photographer took was not birdie, for example a teddy bear, could he still say watch the birdie? I guess yes, but I need you or someone confirm it.


    Thanks again!
     
    Last edited:

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    It has become a set jokey phrase whenever a photo is taken of anybody, along with Say cheese!. It's just a verbal signal that the photo is about to be taken. Of course people don't say "cheese". They say anything except cheese then smile and laugh at their own and other people's wit.

    But these days a photographer would ask a child to look at whatever the toy was. They would not tell a child to "look at the birdie" while showing it a teddy bear. I don't think they tell children to look anywhere in fact. They usually give the child the toy and talk to it or get the accompanying adult to talk to it while taking 100's of shots to get the most natural.

    Hermione
     

    Mr Keith

    New Member
    English
    I am a professional photographer and was once told the phrase relates to a rubber bulb shaped thing connected by a tube to the camera shutter (like a cable release). When squeezed, the air would push through the tube to trip the shutter. The bulb, by its shape looked a bit like a bird and was held by the photographer close to the camera. 'Watch the Birdie' therefore meant, look towards the camera, and was just a fun thing to say!
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I am a professional photographer and was once told the phrase relates to a rubber bulb shaped thing connected by a tube to the camera shutter (like a cable release). When squeezed, the air would push through the tube to trip the shutter. The bulb, by its shape looked a bit like a bird and was held by the photographer close to the camera. 'Watch the Birdie' therefore meant, look towards the camera, and was just a fun thing to say!
    I used to have a portrait studio, and the problem with shooting children is that invariably there are parents and siblings in the room and they distract the attention of the child. The "bulb" is a pneumatic version of a modern day cable release (remote trigger) and I always worked with one leaving the camera on a camera stand so I could have eye contact with the subject. "Watch the birdie" could have been that rubber bulb or it could have been a toy bird that the photographer held aloft.

    According to this article it was originally a real (live) Canary. It should be noted that early photography required exposures measured in minutes rather than fractions of a second.

    Watch The Birdie
    An issue of Photographic News contained an article about a man named C.W. Davis who had been training a live canary to sing on his direction to relax a subject who in those days would have had to remain still in a fixed position for many minutes while the camera took the photo.
     
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