It’s pretty safe to say that I’m a little obsessive when it comes to photographing my bears, but that wasn’t always the case. I got my first big girl camera about 9 months ago, after I’d pretty much maxed out my iPhone’s photographic capabilities, and since Bee made a ton of friends on Instagram in no time, and Hey Gorgeous was born, I decided it was time to take it seriously. And I’ve been in love ever since.
A few of you have asked for some photography tips and tricks, so I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned over the last few months.
1. Light is Everything.
Yep, I’m a total light diva around 6pm. I’d strongly recommend that you stay out of my way while I try to take as many pictures as possible before the sun sets and I lose my mind. This is such a huge subject to cover here, but to make it easier, here are some key points to remember.
- Watch out for the midday sun. It has the ability to ruin your photos with over exposed highlights, and dark, detail destroying shadows. I’d always recommend shooting in the morning and late afternoon light (the golden hour just after sunrise and just before sunset) or on cloudy days. People who don’t take photos won’t get why you’d be excited about an over cast day, but you’ll love the soft defused light, and your puppies will look amazing.
- Look for spots with open shade, like the full shade of a tree, a building shadow, under cover spots, like the wagon my bears dig under etc. I often use the garage in our house, because the full wall of windows and the open garage doors make it the perfect place during the day to photograph.
- Turn off your flash. Those reflective, scary demon eyes don’t do your angels any justice.
- Watch out for photographing in doors. You may have noticed that I very, very rarely photograph inside my house. It’s not because we’re hoarders or I’m embarrassed about furniture choices, but rather because the light is terrible in there. If you must shoot inside, get your pup to hang out near a big window or sliding door. Wait for your puppy to be sleepy, or calm to avoid blurry photos.
- If you photograph in sunlight, be aware of where the sun is to ensure your subject is evenly illuminated. This works best when the sun is behind you (ish) so be careful not to cast shadows.
- Once you know the rules, break them in fun ways. Experiment.
2. Focus Perfect.
When doing any kind of portrait work, you should almost always be focused on your subject’s eyes. This is a great tip to help your audience connect with your puppy. Pay careful attention to where the focus point on your camera is before pressing the shutter.
Getting your dog’s attention is pretty key here too. Bentley and I have been working on this for so long that getting him to look at the camera is a pretty simple command. I use our photo shoots as a training opportunity. He practises sitting, lying down, sleeping and most importantly, staying. To keep your dog engaged, looking at you and the camera, find things to entertain them. Treats, toys, squeakies, silly noises will all help you to get better shots. For those with young puppies, have your focus ready and waiting on where you think they’ll look when you engage them, and press the shutter when they move to that spot. It takes patience, ninja-like reflexes and sometimes persistence but it’s worth it. Always keep it fun, play with your dog between photos, give them lots of praise when they’re doing what you ask them to, and all models should get ‘paid’ for their work on set.
Whenever I take photos of my dogs, I’m very much aware of everything around me. For example, when Floydie goes for a swim, it’s less important for me to take in the trees, the entire pool, the pile of towels, the clothes strewn around the garden, than to actually just focus on him. It should be clear that he’s in the pool, without the pool being the overwhelming element in my ‘story’.
Less is definitely more, especially in portrait photography. Simplify your backgrounds either by moving your subject to a more neutral location (like my garage), or by playing with depth of field. Watch out for really bright or dark backgrounds, as they can sometimes result in your subject being too underexposed or overexposed.
Finally, crop! So many people don’t realize what a big difference this makes. Lose parts of your image that are distracting, that don’t contribute to the ‘feeling’ or ‘story’ or that do it no justice.
4. Squats 3 reps x10.
Get down on your dog’s level. This is really important for getting perspective right and avoiding warped images. It also helps create an intimate connection between your dog and the audience, shows off their size (in the case of newfies, this is really helpful) and sets you apart from all the other dog owners who stand while taking photos of their dogs. You also get to see things from your dog’s perspective too, which helps to tell their story. And, not least of all, you’re working your bum and thighs. Phew.
5. Have an Action Plan.
This may sound silly, but quite often I spend the morning considering what kind of photos I’d like to do for the day. Perhaps I’ll take the bears to the garage and have them interact with some props, maybe we’ll play dress up, maybe we’ll run in the garden, or go to the beach, maybe it’s a special occasion, like someone’s birthday, or Valentine’s Day, or maybe I’ll just wait for them to take a nap together and photograph their dreamy faces etc.
Sometimes I buy things that I want to share, and I consider entire colour schemes before I’ve even taken my camera out. I find having a theme or a selection of colours really helps me to treat the whole thing as a creative process, instead of just randomly shooting away and hoping that I’ll be able to tie everything in. Even though I don’t take dog portraits professionally, I like the idea of treating it like a professional would, so having a plan really helps me.