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12 Tips For Puppy Photography

23 Jun
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In case you hadn’t noticed, some excellent advice on puppy photography was written up on the FREE Forums last week! It was so good, I wanted to make sure everyone was able to learn from it here on the blog. Thank you @buddingphotographer for these 12 great tips!

 

@hannahm, this topic is written especially for you. I saw your puppy pictures that you submitted for the PRO Critique webinar, and mentioned it to my sister. She said, “We should do a write-up of some tips for puppy photography, since we do quite a bit of puppy photography ourselves!”

So, without further ado, here are 12 tips for photographing puppies.

TIP #1: Have oodles of patience

Puppy photography is not something where you just go out and snap a few photos and come back with adorable pictures. You have to work to get a good picture of a puppy!

TIP #2: Enlist some aid, find a good helper

We have taken thousands of puppy photos, and believe me, an extra set of hands is invaluable! The photographer is supposed to be taking the pictures, not trying to pose the puppy and make it sit still. . . . You as the photographer have to be ready to capture that split-second when the puppy is holding still and looking good! Let the assistant be the one to run after it when it dashes off, catch it, and try to make it look good.

TIP #3: Watch the background

As @jamesstaddon mentioned in the PRO Critique webinar, your background is also very important to the success of your photo. Since we have lots of puppy photos, we can probably give plenty of examples of bad and good backgrounds. We just went looking through our files, and came up with a few. . . .

In this example, I was taking pictures for some of my relatives. I was shooting indoors because it was wintertime, and the lighting was rather bad. I did not have my speedlight at that time, so I was shooting at high ISO. It was near Christmastime, so we put their little Christmas tree in the background. Good idea, but bad implementation… It almost looks as if the tree is growing out of the puppy’s head. (That’s not a good thing).

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Here’s a slightly better background, using the “real” big Christmas tree.

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This might be a slightly “better” example of a bad background. In this case I didn’t have a helper, so I had to put the puppy on the picnic table bench so it wouldn’t run off! As a result, I didn’t have much control over the background. One redeeming factor in this case is that the background is nicely blurred. And that is a tip for later on. . . .

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And here’s an example of a better background. It’s definitely not perfect by any stretch, but it’s a good step in the right direction anyway! I usually shoot a little bit more to the right, so that bright area in the left wouldn’t show up, but the puppy had a mind of it’s own! Sometimes it’s a compromise between a good background, and a cute pose.

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TIP #4: Get down to the puppy’s level

I’m often lying on my stomach in the grass to get pictures like the one above.

TIP #5: Watch your puppy’s ears

A dog’s face shows it’s mood just like humans do. And the position of it’s ears has a lot to do with how happy (or sad/angry) it’s feeling. On multiple occasions I have had 2 nearly identical pictures, but in one the puppy had perked up it’s ears a little, making a much cuter, more pleasing picture.

TIP #5-1/2: Try to keep the puppy’s head up

He’ll look better if he’s looking right at the camera, not down at the ground, or up in the sky.

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TIP #6: Don’t be afraid to take lots of pictures!

It’s not uncommon for me to do a photoshoot for a litter of puppies and come away with a couple of hundred images. I know that the last thing you want to do is sort through 250 pictures after putting up with wriggly puppies for the last hour and a half, but that’s part of being a puppy photographer!

TIP #7: Keep out of direct sunlight

This is one rule that you really shouldn’t break. It shouldn’t be too hard to find some shade somewhere! Also, as@jamesstaddon mentioned, you could try some fill-flash if the eyes are a little on the dark side. Thankfully you’re starting out with light-colored puppies! I have the hardest time properly exposing black puppies!

TIP #8: Improvise

Speaking of light colors; if you have to photograph indoors for any reason, try a light blue or pink pillowcase/sheet for a background. If nothing else, a white background is a good neutral one. Here’s an example of a light background taken indoors (with a speedlight):

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TIP #9: Use some props for interest’s sake

A nice prop can make a good picture into a great picture! We’ve used many many different props, from pumpkins, to potted flowers, to baskets, to clothes baskets, to little red wagons!

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TIP #10: Make the subject pretty

Take a minute or two to brush the puppy’s fur and make sure there’s not any “goop” in their eyes. It’s amazing how something like that won’t show up until you get a perfect pose, and then it’s hair is all mussed, and it’s eyes are draining.

TIP #11: Make sure that your picture is sharp, of course

If you spend a little time browsing puppyfind.com, you’ll see plenty of blurry photos. There are 2 major challenges to overcome, motion blur and improper focus. To prevent the motion blur problem, keep your shutter speed to aminimum of 1/100, ideally more like 1/160 or 1/200 (Or even higher if you have enough light). As for focus, well that’s a little more tricky. . . . Manually select a focus point for sure, don’t let the camera try to guess where you’re wanting to focus. I usually use the center focus point since they’re generally the most accurate (at least in older cameras). If you’re worried about breaking the rule of thirds by always having the subject in the middle, then try backing off, and cropping to a thrid later in post-processing. Shoot in lots of light, camera AF systems are getting better all the time, but the more light you have, the better chance they have of achieving a good focus. Remember that AF systems work by detecting contrasts. So don’t put your AF point on the broadside of a brown puppy’s body, and expect it to be able to tell when it’s in focus. If puppy has dark eyes/nose, use that as a good contrast point to focus on. The eyes are the most important thing to be sharp; if you can get the puppy’s eyes in focus, then you’ve got a good photo (sharpness-wise anyway).

TIP #12: Sharpen in post

Speaking of sharp . . . there’s some computer work involved as well! And one of the most important things is sharpening. Puppy hair and whiskers almost always need a little sharpening to make them pop and look really sharp (when they’re viewed at web-size especially.) If you’re using Lightroom, set the “Radius” for sharpening to at least 2, or 2.5

TIP #13 BONUS: Buy yourself a “Nifty Fifty” lens (optional)

In your case, it’s the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 One of the best things I did to help my puppy photography was to buy the nifty fifty. It has a nice wide aperture, so you can get lovely out-of-focus backgrounds. It’s also plenty long in focal length so that you don’t get wide-angle distortion. Being a prime, you don’t have to worry about zooming in or out, and no problems with variable apertures either! I recommend that you shoot between f/2 and f/3.5 as a good compromise between optimal sharpness and good background blur.

Whew, is that enough to get you started? Let me know if you have any questions! I’m sure you’ll have some after trying to decipher my writing!

 

Now isn’t that some great advice! You can read the entire thread here: 12 Tips for Puppy Photography. As I hope you can see, the Lenspiration Forums are a great place to grow. A member recently posted:

Thank you for the tips! This forum has been so helpful for me to learn from, and I’ll be practicing everything discussed here!

Feel free to ask any question of your own on the Lenspiration Forums! It’s free for everyone.

A Few Ways To Improved A Wedding Photoshoot

22 Jun
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I had the most incredible time photographing Benjamin & Marina’s wedding not too long ago! With each wedding I photograph, the more I enjoy photographing them!

I tried several new things this time. One was posing the group shot, with all the extended family, in the shape of a big heart!

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I kept a list of posing ideas in my pocket, example images on my cell phone, to give me fresh ideas in case I drew a blank during the photoshoots with the bridal party before the ceremony. This posing idea was one I had to set up beforehand.

Another thing I did differently this wedding was to shoot with two different cameras. I kept a telephoto lens on one and a wide angle lens on the other basically the entire time. That way I didn’t have to keep swapping lenses! And as the single shooter, it REALLY helped me not miss special moments due to swapping lenses all the time. The groom happened to be a photographer so his camera was the second one. However, because I enjoyed it so much, I have gone ahead and bought a second camera so I wouldn’t never be stranded with only one camera at a wedding again!

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Another thing I had never done before was . . . during the immediate family portraits, I forgot to take pictures of the bride and groom with one of the sets of grandparents! Now that’s a big mistake! So I had to do it last minute in a different location just before the ceremony started. Whew.

Another thing I tried to do was edit some of the pictures in B&W. I like my traditional way of editing in color, but it never hurts to throw in lots of variation! So, as I was going through the pictures in post, when I came across pictures that were less formal, or told a story in sequence, or simply weren’t perfectly tack sharp, I processed them in B&W for a more fun or artistic flare. For example:

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In Lightroom, auto-convert leaves B&W photos looking quite bland, so thankfully Lightroom provides a way for us to really make our B&W photos pop. I covered this trick in last night’s Lenspiration Livecast. We’re you able to watch it? If not, and if you’re a PRO Member, go find the email I sent you afterwards with a link to watch a replay. If you’re not a PRO Member, than well, you’ll just have to go sign up here.

Photo Critique of Emu at Sunrise

14 Jun
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With 4 questions to discuss and 7 pictures to critique, the PRO Critique and Q&A webinar with the PRO Members earlier this month went really well. So well, in fact, that we went over the 1-hour time slot I had originally allotted for the webinar!

Here’s a short video clip of one of the pictures we critiqued during the webinar:

https://youtu.be/DbPXsMZD59o?t=11s&rel=0

 

If you would like to have one of your own photos critiqued, click here to join PRO.

How The Shot Was Taken: Timber Island

31 May
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I heard that the Jonsrud View Point was a good place to photograph Mt. Hood without having to travel very far outside of Portland. And I suppose it would be a good overlook if there weren’t any clouds to obstruct the view. But since it happened to be quite cloudy on the only two opportunities I had to stop in at this overlook during a quick camping trip in the Columbia River Gorge last month, I figured it was a good opportunity to change strategies. Instead of shooting for the big landscape, I challenged myself to work the scene to capture what would probably have been missed in my disappointment.

If what you’re expecting doesn’t exist, go look for the unexpected.

So, below I’ve written out the story of how I worked the scene to find the unexpected.

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Timber Island
Jonsrud View Point, Sandy, Oregon

 

I arrived at Jonsrud View Point well before sunrise. It was freezing cold for an April morning! I was hoping the clouds would break up a little when it got light, but they never did. This was the scene I had before me to work with:

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At first, I thought the light green pasture off in the distance might make for a good anchor in a picture, so I zoomed in a bit and composed a shot that looked like this:

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I wasn’t feeling it. So next I turned my attention to the mist’s interaction with the trees a little closer to me. I’ve always liked looking at pictures of trees floating in mist so I figured this was probably the time to try to come up with my own version. First attempt:

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The island of trees had caught my eye so I zoomed in as far as I could to see what I could do with it. Perhaps some cropping in post could make it work, but again, it just didn’t seem right. In working a scene, I always try out different framing possibilities, so here was another idea:

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Better. The mist was moving through the valley slowly and unpredictably, so it was neat to see the island standing out more. I liked that. But I didn’t really like the composition. Too much going on at the bottom of the image. So I re-composed the shot again to put the tree-island back on the right to be balanced by the mass of white mist on the left. This is the original shot:

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I liked the composition a lot. It just felt right to me. But I didn’t stop there because I was continuing my search for the unexpected. Who knows if there might be an even better composition than what I had just taken! I had all the time in the world to work the scene, so why stop? Here’s another shot from soon after:

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And another shot:

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But in my opinion, only one of them turned out.

With each shot, I was trying to capture something that caught my eye in the scene as the mist moved through the valley. I wasn’t shooting haphazardly. I wasn’t taking millions of shots hoping one would stand out among the rest. I only took 29 pictures in the two hours I spent at that overlook. With each composition I was doing my very best to put everything I knew about composition into practice. I was trying to make every shot a “wow” shot. But they didn’t all turn out as “wow” shots. No, only that one really stood out to me as capturing the feeling I was looking for. Sometimes a composition I think I’m going to like will work, and sometimes it just won’t. And is this a discouragement? No, it’s just a signal to help me yield my expectations and look for the unexpected again. Sounds a lot like the Christian life, doesn’t it?

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” –Isaiah 43:19

A Few Portraiture Tips From My Interview With A Pro

30 May
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I was putting together the PRO Report for the PRO members today and spent some time making a transcript from an interview I had broadcasted with fine art portrait photographer Laura Johnson of Laura Christine Portraits.The hour-long interview was all about how to help young people get started in portrait photography and covered so many different subjects that it took three Lenspiration Livecast segments to complete.

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Since I was putting together a transcript today, I thought a little piece of it might be helpful to share here on the blog.

James: What process do you follow in guiding a family portrait session from beginning to end?

Laura: It’s such a broad question I can’t get into a lot of detail, but I can give you a general outline for now.

You want to greet them with a smile and a handshake, be confident, and not leave them waiting around. They will be uncomfortable if they don’t know what they are going to do, so you need to go in right away, be the professional, and take charge.

Starting out with the family portrait is usually best unless not everyone is there. If groups in multiple cars don’t show up at the same time, than sometimes you’ll have to start out with some of the breakdowns, but preferably start out with the family portrait.

Then, depending on the ages of the kids, you can do another family portrait just to give variety and interest, or you can do some breakdowns to give the kids some time to run around and have fun. I have puppets for the kids and different surprises that I bring out at different points during the session because it’s best to always have something unexpected that they don’t know what’s going to come. Keep their attention on you, because if you are not the most interesting thing there, their eyes are going to be somewhere else, and it will be a lot harder to get those eyes back to you. So try to have a lot of things up your sleeve.

We will do all sorts of breakdowns, whether it’s the whole family, then the mom and dad together, the kids together, mom and the girls, dad and the guys, or visa verse, and then different siblings and individual portraits. I’ve also asked ahead of time what is most important for the mom because sometimes she has something that I haven’t thought of, or didn’t value as that important, but to her is really important or signify something in their lives that is important.

You have to go with their family feeling. Some families are laid back, they want to enjoy stuff, they want to have fun, they want to just laugh. Some families are very much “Lets get it done”, “Let’s get it done fast and quickly”. So if you joke around too much or if you do other stuff that isn’t important to them, then they will get frustrated. So, try to feel who they are.

And then, after the session, I take them up to my view and order room. I show them different portrait sizes, options, and we talk a little bit about price, and what to expect. I have toys there for the kids to play with while I’m talking with the grown ups, and a little treasure chest for the kids as a reward after their session . . .

And I could go on and on from there! In fact, that’s not even the end of that one question. And yet that was only one of many questions! Here are some of the other things we talked about:

  • The type of equipment you need for portraiture
  • What kind of portraits sell
  • Where to get pictures printed
  • How to get natural looking expressions
  • What to bring with you on a photoshoot
  • Number of poses to do during a photoshoot
  • Considerations on how to present yourself during a photoshoot
  • How to manage and expedite the editing process
  • How to get customers to take you seriously

This sort of material makes for great content in things like the PRO Reports! If you are looking for training in a specific area of photography, or simply want to take your photography to a deeper level, consider joining the PRO Membership and we’ll find a professional who will help us learn and grow in the areas that mean the most to you.

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