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

Weeds

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:

Weeds

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?

Monopods can Make Music

Waterfalls

So often, photos that inspire you are ones taken from new angles, or from angles that you can’t normally get to, or think to get to.  Monopods are great tools in this regard…you can extend a monopod up over your head for more of an aerial perspective, or even turn it upside down to get an angle that might be otherwise pretty awkward or uncomfortable to get into just to get a unique shot.  I love my monopod!

While the good money will always add features and functions that don’t exist on lower end models, I do think that even the most basic of monopods can be useful – to the degree that even going with a Wal-mart brand or generic named vendor can be a sound investment.  If you are talking about just getting to a place you can’t get to on your own (or even with a tripod), the difference between aluminum and carbon fiber on a monopod doesn’t have as much impact here in my opinion.

Now if you are going for the stability factor, yes, a sturdier monopod would likely yield better results, but how much better do you expect from a single-legged support mechanism?  Seriously – even with your own two feet, you can get pretty steady with your shots if you use a good holding technique, tucking your arms in, leaning on a wall or tree, and going between breaths (or shooting between heartbeats as my former Drill Sergeant said in the Army.)  How is one foot going to get you more stability than two feet?  On it’s own, not much, so I don’t sweat much over the vendor here…

Check out these aerial and low angle shots I got with just a Wal-mart tripod and some creative thinking:

Tail Lights

This shot was taken with my monopod and the camera braced against a streetlight.  EXIF Data:  ISO 800 22mm f/22 4 second exposure

Waterfalls

I shot this waterfall with the camera upsidedown and me holding the foot of my monopod while the camera was as close as I felt comfortable putting it close to the base of the waterfall.  EXIF Data:  ISO 100 21mm f/11 2.5 second exposure

Boats at Sunset

This serene harbor was shot with the monopod, and the camera braced up against a tack shop.  EXIF data:  ISO 100 18mm f/11 5 second exposure

Downtown Denver

The Denver Art Museum, shot near midnight.  The camera again, was upside down (I rotated it in post), and I held the foot of the monopod to get this low view.  EXIF Data:  ISO 100 33mm f/8 8 second exposure (it’s a tad blurry when you zoom in…)

Denver Photo Walk

This was done when I was shooting with my good friend Tim Tonge as we scouted routes for a photo walk.  I liked this one so much it made it’s way into my eBook as a photo tip.  Again, camera against the ground, upside down, me holding the foot.  EXIF Data:  ISO 800 10mm f/8 1/125th Exposure (note the exposure time here – I could have hand held this, but not at as low an angle as this was..the monopod made the shot!)

The Reward

Here, the monopod was collapsed all the way down to one extension so the camera was just above my beer.  The monopod itself was braced against the table, and I nudged the beer and coaster in until I got this composition.  EXIF Data:  ISO 800 20mm f/2.8 1/30th of a second exposure time

*****

Have you tried a monopod?  The results may surprise you!