I love being outdoors and seeing what the universe has to offer for the day but I must admit, throw a dog into the scenery and I am elated. The scenery often becomes secondary at least for those brief moments that I watch them. They are never more joyful than on a new adventure. A few people messaged me recently because they liked some pet photos I posted on Facebook so here are a few tips. Take a lot of pictures. A photographer will take hundreds of images and may end up only liking one. The digital world has made that possible. You have the ability to shoot infinitely without wasting any resource but your time. You will find that the delete button on your computer gets well used but the odds of getting a great shot increase exponentially. And you will find out quickly that it doesn’t matter how much you love your subject and your subject loves you, you will always have more success with a helper. It is insanely difficult to manage a camera and multiple moving subjects while keeping all of the factors involved working in your favor. Most of the images of our dogs have been taken with two people present. One wrangles and one shoots. We work together and often switch jobs part way through the shoot rather than having two cameras. And even with two people, you need tremendous patience because most images can’t be forced and often, you have to wait for them to happen. You may occasionally have the good fortune to get a pet who poses, who will sit still or do what you want on command, but that is rare. Finn, our yorkie cross is an exception. Finn will pose on logs or by trees and stay in those poses and if there are no distractions, he will wait to be released. This doesn’t work with a lot of dogs and especially not with multiple dogs in one shoot. And when I say we pose animals, for the most part they are in some sort of natural position that we have waited for or coaxed them into. It isn’t always a simple process and it doesn’t always work. You also need to pay attention to what is in the background. You often can’t control this because the pets end up where they end up but you can control what your camera sees and whether it is blurry or sharp. If the pets are sharp and the background (that you don’t like) is blurry, you have achieved some success. Set your f-stop to control the depth of field and contain the focus to the subject in the foreground. And if you decide to use the background, make sure it is worthy of the image. Make it a landscape that could stand alone otherwise you might as well do a close up of your pet and avoid the scenery. Finally, lighting is essential. You can’t get a great photo without great light. We have thousands of images where our dogs look cute but the light is poor because that is what Mother nature had to offer that particular day. They fail as photos because they lack depth without the light to shape them. The word photography translates as painting or drawing with light so without light, there is nothing of note to capture. And unless you have a beautifully backlit subject, is essential that the pet has light in his or her eyes. That light will create the life force in the photo and without it, the image might be cute but it will lack impact. All that said, sometimes all it takes to have a great photo is action. That action can make the image dynamic enough to stand alone and you can ignore everything else if it is present. In fact, quite often ignoring all the rules is enough to make a photo great.
I have posted a few examples of some of the images we have been happy with and a brief description of what getting the image entailed. I hope some of you might find this of interest to you and your animal loving friends, so please share this post if you think someone might find it usedful. I will happily answer any questions. And if you are good with a camera and love animals, rescue organizations can always use help. A good photo of an animal up for adoption will dramatically improve his or her chances of finding a home. Volunteer your skills!
This will likely forever be one of my favorite photographs of Finn. He is our first dog and has never really been a dog. He still doesn't have many dog like behaviors but this is one of the few. We used to hide treats inside snowballs so he would go pummel the snowball to get the treat. We quickly found out that pummeling snowballs is great fun even without the treat in it. To this day, it is one of the few things that he still gets excited about. Terry took this shot lying on her belly in the snow in our back yard in Okotoks. I threw snowballs and she shot. There was a bit of a slope and she was at the bottom of it so it helped make him seem a bit larger than life. I cheated a bit when I processed the image because you could only see light in one eye. I added it to the other. It has all the elements I like in an outdoor pet photo.
Interestingly enough, Terry took my favorite photo of our second dog as well. This is Shasta. It was taken in our yard in Ainsworth. She is coming over a bank along side our driveway that puts her right at eye level with the camera. It doesn't have the greatest light but it captures her spirit and her joy in that moment and is beautifully framed by the tree branch that curves over her head.
Action! Action! Action!
Sometimes you get lucky and have action and great light and a shutter speed set high enough to freeze that action in mid air.
It doesn't always work out. I could show you folders full of near misses so don't be afraid to try. I have kept many images of our dogs racing, chasing snowballs, or jumping over little creeks on hikes up the mountain. The lighting is poor and the focus is a bit off but I smile every time I look at them. I wouldn't post them but they capture very joyful moments for us and often that is enough.
Some days you get lucky and your dogs appear to pose. Back when Finn was an only dog, I took a lot of images down by the river in Okotoks on logs or the shoreline. It was easy with one. Things become more complicated with additional dogs but I am fortunate most of the time to have help now. I took most of these images with my wrangler, Terry, either by the lake or up the mountain from our home. Terry took the last image of Shasta which is another favorite of mine as she looks quite regal. That is tough to do with a plaid wearing Kootenay girl. And yes I am referring to the dog.
And finally, these are some images we did to help support animal rescue. We met some amazing dogs and some phenomenal people. We worked on a great calendar with No Borders Animal Rescue and also photographed some lovely dogs in the Okotoks area to promote rescue.