Pet Photography 101

Photographing Pets by Lara Blair

Photographers tend to photograph that which is closest to them more often than anything else.  For me, that means photographing my dog.  My dog is such a good dog too.  She sits when I ask her to sit, stays when I tell her to stay, shake, and all the rest.  But I’ve not had the best of success in taking pictures of her.  Every once in a while, I got lucky in a shot or two, but something was missing.  After reading Lara Blair’s book from Amherst Media: Photographing Dogs: Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers, I sort of head-smacked myself and said “Well, where was this book five years ago?!”

Maggie on the Bed - Looking Cute!

Maggie From AboveTilted Head

Are You Kidding Me?

She offers insights in her book that only an experienced pro can really give you.  For instance, as much as I love my dog and her trotting to me – I can’t tell you how often I’ve let her barge into me and my camera, thus resulting in my sending gear in for repairs from scratches, nicks, and re-alignments.  One would think I’d learn from mistakes, but until Lara said:

“I hold mine high above my head when a dog is running at me”

I just kept on missing the obvious!  Now I know better…just in time for my beloved pet to be the most docile and non-running pet in the world (sad to say, she is in her twilight years…every day I have left with her is precious!). Other great insights include shooting dogs from a lower angle (it makes them look larger than life, which is what owners want), anticipating session behavior (timid and aggressive dogs), and yes, handling the inevitable messiness to clean up from your studio!

Not only are her insights valuable, but her sample portfolio she includes to demonstrate various techniques, as well as insights on how and where to market yourself as a dog/pet photographer make this book an ideal resource for both the photographer turning to pet portraiture, as well as principles for setting up a pet-friendly studio.  If you’re looking to make an entry or transition into pet photography, this is definitely one to include.  My one nit for this book is that a substantial portion of the book is devoted to the business side.  Lara talks a lot about branding, what outlets to visit, setting up your business, and other aspects of a pet studio.  While these are very useful insights, these aren’t really specific to pet photography techniques.  The technique portion is really only about 1/3rd of the book.

Don’t get me wrong though – it’s a great read, and very easy to get through.  Often how-to books like this get either too wordy, or do not really have enough substance to them.  Lara provides both, but does have a good portion that is tangential to the main topic. It’s all good content though, so it’s a very minor nit. Thanks go out to the folks at Amherst Media for sending me the review copy too!  And that does mean that some lucky reader will be in the running to win this, along with several other prizes to close out 2012!

For a quick link to purchase though (if you can’t wait until year-end), hit the link below:

Photographing Pets by Lara Blair
Photographing Dogs: Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers

Another book review is coming up later this week on human portraiture, so stay tuned!

Shooting for fun or money


For this first of two holiday weeks for the eyar, the blog will be turning to more of an esoteric theme.  Tips, tricks, tutorials, and the like are all fine and dandy, but this week I’d like to pose a question fo whether we are shooting for fun or money!

While clearly we all start in the craft because we love it as a form of expression.  We are captivated by capturing the moment, painting a scene with light and color.  if we learn the craft well enough, and our eye gets discerning enough, others may ask us to take pictures for them!  Or even better, ask if they can have a copy of something we’ve already done.  Praise is a wonderful ego boost and source of flattery, and while we all may mask it with self-deprecating remarks, humor, or coyness – no one likes the compliment better than someone who wants to pay them for their work!

“Getting paid to do something you love” is an oft-quoted sentiment, as is the idea that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”.  But, truth be told, if you make your living in photography, there is going to be a certain amount of pressure to perform – or produce results.  And the minute to take something you love and try to earn a living at it – the pressures of running the business side will reduce the passion you have for the subject.  It’s the nature of the beast.  You have to eat.  You have to have shelter.  If you can’t afford those two necessities, how much will you really “love” working as a professional photograper?

The shot today is a perfect example…I absolutely love this shot:


From a critique perspective, this is a horrible shot.  The angle is all wonky, the horizon isn’t straight, there is really no subject, and I probably butchered the saturation in post production.  But, for me…when I was canoeing with my family this last summer, we were cooling off in Raquette Lake, and I was sipping a lukewarm beer.  My brother and brother-in-law were to my left and right…the nephews were out galavanting around being pirates or whatever young kids pretend on trips like this.  We were cut off from the world (well, not really, but as close as one can get since there was no cell reception, and only a 9-5 Park Ranger available to sell you firewood at $5 a bundle)., and this shot reminds me of that day.  I loved that day, and for that reason, I love this shot!

This shot will never sell though – for no one else except those on this trip, this shot is meaningless until now.  I cannot make anything off of this picture.  Yet I feature it today on the blog because I took this shot for fun…

The comparison shot I am about to show you actually sold for me on iStock.  Now granted, it’s not like I’ve made a ton of money off of it (it only sold once or twice), but it actually sold!

Brick Worker

I was on a photo walk, scouting out areas for the South Carolina Photography Guild (now defunct),  and the shadow of the guy on the crane, along with the wet bricks from where he was repairing and cleaning the masonry work just stuck out for a reason.  I took it from a few angles and this one was the best of the 3 or 4.  In the end, it was kind of a boring shot, but it was pretty tack sharp, and when I opened my first iStock account ages ago, figured it’d be a good sample to submit to show I had enough of a grip to consider stock work.  The image was approved, along with 4 or 5 others, and my istock account was opened.  Within a few days, there was a sale on this shot.  Do I like it?  Not really.  It’s probably on some construction workers website, or someone wanted it for a church bulletin, or a school project or other long-since completed project.  It doesn’t really inspire me though.

Which image brought me more satisfaction?  Which one brought you more?  Would you pay huge amounts of money for either shot?  Probably not.  I wouldn’t either.  Thus, this is the dilemma we face.

It’s no secret that most photographers don’t make huge amounts of money.  Yet, somehow the ability to say that “I am a professional photographer” is something said often with a sense of pride.  Is it because you know the crap out of pixels, shutters, and apertures?  Or is it because you made 50.1% of your revenue from photography last year?  Or is it because you love to hear the sound of the click?  Last but not least, could it be the excitement at seeing something you made come out beautifully on either a printed tangible piece of paper or in a web page…saying “this is my artistic vision that I want to share with you”.  Why do you take pictures?  What motivates you?

Time to go…SLOW


Well, the folks at Craft and Vision have done it again.  Of course, they release new eBooks about once a month, but this time they hit on a subject that is really near and dear to me.  As you may recall, in the past I’ve talked about ways to stabilize the camera.  Ranging from various ways to hand hold a number of different cameras, to tripods, monopods, and much more – I’ve pretty much run the gamut.  It only goes to show you that stabilizing your camera is just one way to think about the world around you.

Andrew Gibson has, in one fell swoop, completely turned a 180 on this notion with the introduction of his book – SLOW: The Magic of Long Exposure Photography

This eBook, now available on the C&V website, highlights a multitude of ways to capture the whole idea of motion in your photography.  This sounds counter-intuitive, but there are some great techniques mentioned in here, including panning your camera, motion blur, and yes, even intentional camera motion – all producing some pretty stellar photography!  I’ve gotten to be quite discerning in the quality of what I read from various authors, and even have been known to cut into a few for some things I’ve not liked in the past.  Very few cut the muster with me in this regard:  David DuChemin is among my favorite writers these days, so content coming from his corner of the photo-sphere gets a little bit extra consideration, and I was glad I considered Andrews recent publication here – it is definitely a notch above most of the chaffe in the reading realm these days!

I’ve not been a fan of all of Andrew’s work – but his last few have been quite impressive, and SLOW is among the better of them.  I also enjoyed his prior work titled Beyond Thids, which I reviewed here.  Not only is he articulate and able to get his point across succinctly, but he’s got great examples of photos to show exactly how to produce various effects.  He’s got quite a stable of books on the C&V website, including three dedicated to black and white photography.  With eight total books, there, I could totally see the value of getting the entire collection!  Yeah, it’s $5 per book, but you can save 20% if you get the whole collection at once.

If you’ve got some of the previous ones, then I’d recommend just sticking to this latest one on the art of capturing motion in your photos with SLOW.  He’ll show you how to blur water, how to get a grungy look from the shores, and how to really bring out the sense of motion in anything you set your mind to.  For having done a fair portion of beach scenes at sunrise and sunset, I thought I had this skill well-oiled into my wheelhouse, but Andrew gave me some pointers that I’d not used before.  Finally, he’s got some great charts and refernce guides for what to expect with various shutter speeds with and without ND filters.  Last but not least, I learned that long exposure noise reduction is not intended for use with RAW files!  (only JPG’s)  I did not know that before!

That’s just one of several nuggets, tips and tools you can pick up in this latest release from Andrew over at Craft & Vision.  Normally $5, it’s on sale for the initial release with the normal 20% off deal (so only $4).  make sure you use the coupon code SLOW4 to get the savings.  Here’s the link again in case you missed it from the images and other references above!  Hurry as this is a limited time offer.