Pet Photography

JRXT7877By John Rourke

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerNot many people realise it, but before I started travelling and shooting Motorsport, photographing pets was a major part of my business. I would shoot a lot of equine and dog portraits with the odd cat, snake or rat thrown in now and then. I still run Pawfolio, but it’s now more a project of love, or reserved for when people who know me as ‘the pet photographer’ really want me to shoot their most beloved….. not the kids, yep it’s always the dog!

I see a lot of people posting photos of their pets on instagram lately, with some pets even having their own pages. So I thought I would put a few tips together that might be fun to try out if you want to get a great shot of your own pooch…. some of the tips might even work on pictures of the kids too!

For my doggy model, I’m going to use Bria aka ‘The Beast’, my beautiful Sprocker Spaniel. These shots all involve natural light as I wanted this article to be of use to everyone. As long as you have a camera and a lens you can get stunning shots of your beast without expensive lighting.

Preparation

In my ‘Pawfolio’ bag. Don’t panic! You don’t need all of this! this is just some of the equipment I use on various shoots… If you have only one lens and a camera you’ll be fine 🙂

Camera: XPro1, XT1, XT10
Lenses: 18mm F2, 35mm F1.4, 10-24 F4, 90mm F2, 50-140mm F2.8
Lighting: Ambient/Natural Light
Extras: Dog, lead, willing assistant (wife, kid, person you met on a dog walk?), dog treats / squeaky toy / bouncy ball / whistle, silly voice, insurance (if you want to shoot other peoples dogs!), mobile phone

Top Tip! Things become massively easy in life once a dog knows how to sit, stay, and look at food!! this is where all that training pays off! You will need a few basics such as;
Sit, Paw, Down/Sleep, Stay, Come…
(We had to learn some of these commands in polish once for a clients dog we photographed.)

A food-orientated dog is perfect, if this isn’t working then it’s down to the favourite toy, bouncy ball or failing that, making stupid noises…..dogs love this! The right noise will get a dog to tilt it’s head in a way that looks cute but whilst saying ‘what are you doing, human?’

Play with your beast first;

  1. this builds a little trust between the dog and yourself.
  2. It’s fun for both of you,
  3. it burns off the dog’s energy reserve

A few minutes playing around the kit isn’t a bad thing either, it lets the dog know that the camera is nothing to be worried about and not something strange and dangerous…

Around the house – Your own dog

Ideal for practice and often the easiest of images to shoot are where the dog is relaxed in their own surroundings or favourite spot. I normally wait for ‘Beast’ to find somewhere nice to settle or I encourage her to sit roughly in the right place. Quite often I’ll pap her as she drifts off to sleep. These are candid based shots but can turn into gorgeous intimate photos.
DSCF3957

I use any of the following 18mm f2, 35mm f1.4 and the 90mm F2 mostly to achieve the shallow depth of field for this type of shot. The XF35mm f2, XF16, XF23 and XF56mm would be amazing also. Any lens at  F1.2 – F2 will make a stunning image. I often use the X-Pro1 and X-T1. The OVF on the X-Pro1 can be really useful in hybrid mode during low light if the EVF wont preview the shot.

#Tip – You can put the Fuji camera to silent mode if the dog is too distracted by the shutter sound. Beast used to hear the shutter then pounce on me because she thought the sound meant that the shoot was over.

The candid shots I usually try to get for every dog shoot are:

Nose

That big snuffler is amazing. Shot at 1.2 or on a Macro it makes a stunning detailed image.
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Paws

The texture of the pads or the hairy paw is beautiful. If it’s your dog, hold the paw and capture a paw & hand selfie #TooCute

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Face

Poor beast with the collar of shame
Poor beast with the collar of shame
"What's going on down there?"
“What’s going on down there?”

Like any face or portrait I shoot, I always focus on the eye closest to me. If you shoot the furthest one and the closer one is blurred, the image just looks wrong – please don’t do it!!

#Tip – Try shooting the dog from ‘a dogs view’ or from below the dog looking up. Crawling around in the dirt is just an everyday thing for me, but I think it’s really worth getting the unusual perspective. This is also now where the flip out screen is genius and the X-T1 or X-T10 becomes king.

That said, don’t rule out the standing up traditional viewpoint. Sometimes if you stand right over the dog looking down, you get that ‘puppy face’ beaming back up at you, and there is nothing cuter.
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Outdoors

For outdoor shots, choose a nice spot your dog is going to love and that has some features or atmosphere about it. The beach is an awesome place for dogs, and one of our favourites, with lots of space, great light, and lots of zooming. For this a 90mm, 50-140 or the new 100-400 is ideal because the animal can move around freely but you can still fill the frame. This situation is ideal for the X-T1 or X-T10 because of their high frame rate. I would probably go for the X-T1 more to help keep the sand, salt and spray out of the camera. I would also recommend the weather resistant lenses for this type of shoot. A rogue wave splash or a shake down from the Beast can spray your gear from a surprising distance.

You won't believe the range on this thing!
You won’t believe the range on this thing!

Rivers are great too, but always check the current is safe. Look for a spot on the bank with space and great moody lighting, perhaps between some trees. You should make sure your beast can get in and out easily, and I always have someone with me to throw a ball or something safe for the dog to chase, or I sometimes just sit and watch the animal play and have fun on their own.

My favourite lens for outdoor dog shoots has to be the 50-140 F2.8. With good flexibility and a shallow depth of field at F2.8 there’s always gorgeous bokeh in the background. I try to keep the shutter up between 2000th and 4000th of a second to keep the motion frozen. If the light is changing or the dog is running through light and dark patches, try ‘auto ISO’.

Set the the auto ISO range function to work between ISO 200 and 6400. To control the aperture, try to stay in the range of F2.8 – F4/5.6 or if you want some amazing textural shots and there is loads of light, dial in F8 – F11. Again get low… I have the tilt screen for this, or just get in the dirt and sand and the shots will be amazing.

You could also try the 16-55 F2.8 if you want the shot to be a little more environmental, shoot wide and get more of the landscape in your photos. When you print this type of shot they look great printed large.

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If you want to get really creative try ‘panning’ the dog. This is a technique we use on the track to shoot cars at the races. Select a shutter speed between 1/8th (very creative) up to 1/200th (suggest you start there and work your way down to 1/8th), and rotate your body at the hips following and tracking your dog as it runs past. You want to work your shots at slower and slower shutter speeds to create a wonderful action arty shot…

Dog pan
Doggy pan

More about the author

John + Beast
John + Beast

John Rourke has been shooting professionally for 15 years and is the owner of Adrenal Media, the Official Photography Agency for the FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship), and the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) including the world famous ‘Le Mans 24hr’. He shoots all of his professional and personal work on Fujifilm X series cameras.

Links
Adrenal Media on instagram
John Rourke website
Adrenal Media website
Pawfolio Facebook

 

Tutorial: Understanding exposure & using it creatively

exposure

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Exposure”?

We’ve all taken them – an amazing once-in-a-lifetime photo but when we look closer, the photo is too dark or too bright or the subject doesn’t pop enough. A properly “exposed” photo will show details in both the lighter and darker areas of a photo AND show the subject and background in proper focus.
exposure triangle
Exposure can be defined as the amount of light that enters the front of the lens and hits the sensor of your camera.

There are 3 elements that determine the correct Exposure and they are heavily dependent on each other – ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. There are many combinations of these 3 elements that can produce a correctly exposed photo BUT the “effect” of each combination will drastically impact the creative look of the photo. Let’s look at each element.


ISO = Film speed

If you’re old enough to remember using a film camera, you would have bought various “speeds” of film depending on the lighting conditions you were shooting in. ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light.

Today’s digital cameras allow you to adjust the ISO (aka film speed) either through an ISO dial or through the menu system. The downsides of using a high ISO is that the photo will become “grainy” or noisy. It might be properly exposed but it will not be as sharp.

Generally, you don’t need to fiddle with ISO, as it has the least effect on the creative side of your image out of the 3 elements. To minimise the grainy effect simply set your maximum AUTO ISO to 1600 through your menu system and your photos should never appear grainy. Or if you prefer, you can also set your ISO to a specific number like 200 or 400 and adjust the other 2 elements to get the correct exposure. You may need to use a higher ISO if you have manually set the other 2 elements and your camera is still warning your photo is underexposed. Most cameras have the capability to shoot at ISO 12,800 or higher if needed, but generally you are ok at ISO 3200 before you will see any “noise”.


Aperture = Focus Depth of Field

We’ve all seen them. Those professional looking photos of Aunt May where only she is in focus and the background is blurry. This is easily achieved by adjusting the Aperture setting on your camera. Aperture is the amount of light that can pass through the camera lens and determines how much of a photo will be in focus (called depth of field).

Depth of field example

Click here to learn more about Depth of Field

Setting the correct Aperture setting (called f-stop) will provide you with the desired effect for your photo. BEFORE you set the Aperture you need to know what type of “effect” you want depending on what scene you are shooting.

Aperture blades at different f/stops

If you are shooting a landscape, for example, you will want to have everything in focus so an F-stop of F8 or higher should be used. If you are shooting close-ups or portraits, you will want to blur out the background to make the subject stand out so you should use the lowest F-stop your lens allows like F2.8 or F1.4. Or if you are shooting in low light, you will need as much light as possible so an F-Stop like F2.8 will be adequate. Each lens you use will have different F-stop ranges so be sure you use the right lens depending on what you are shooting.


Shutter Speed = Controls motion

Next to Aperture, Shutter Speed is probably the next element that you will adjust the most. Shutter Speed is defined as how long the sensor is exposed to the light and scene you are shooting. The longer the exposure (slower shutter speed), the more light that hits the sensor and the more movement will be captured. The shorter the exposure (faster shutter speed), the less light and less movement will be captured.

Shutter Speed comes into play mostly when you are shooting moving objects OR low light scenes. Again, you will need to determine beforehand what kind of “effect” you want your photo to show. If you are shooting a moving object like your child playing soccer or a friend playing badminton, you can “freeze” the action by selecting a high shutter speed of 1/500 or faster.

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Fast shutter speed used to freeze the movement in the image.

Likewise, if you are shooting a moving object like a flowing water, you can show “movement” by selecting a slow shutter speed of ½ second or even longer with the use of a tripod.

Slow shutter speed used to increase movement and create a fog-like water effect.

You can even use a slow shutter speed to help capture the drama in an image by panning with the subject as you take the shot.

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Shutter speed set to: 1/40 – image taken whilst panning with the car.

Or if you are shooting low light scenes, like a night sky, where fast moving objects is not an issue, you can select a slow shutter speed of 1 to 30 seconds with the use of a tripod. You can also use slow shutter speeds to create light trails from cars and other similar light sources.

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Slow shutter speed used to capture the light trails from car headlights

Keep in mind, that slow shutter speeds will usually require a tripod as even the smallest hand movement will cause a blurry image. General rule for hand holding, is to take the focal length you are shooting at, say 100mm, and use the reciprocal number for the min shutter speed 1/(focal length) or 1/100. Any slower, and chances are you will get a blurry picture.

One of the hardest photos to take is an action shot in low light, like your child’s school play. You will need a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action and prevent “blur” due to camera shake so an f-stop like F2.8 or lower is required to allow as much light in as possible. In this instance, you may need to increase the ISO setting to ensure the photo is properly exposed up to 1600 or higher.

How do you know if your scene is properly exposed BEFORE you shoot? Most of our Fujifilm cameras will either show on the LCD screen the shutter speed or aperture settings you have selected in RED if it’s not exposed properly. OR your LCD screen will actually preview the exposure on the LCD screen itself before you shoot.

We know that this topic is probably one of the hardest ones to get your head around at first, but don’t worry, you definitely will and it’ll be sooner than you think!

Happy snapping! 🙂