Monday, August 10, 2015

Pet Portraits

The dog days of summer are here and it's just too hot to shoot outside. Hey, no sweat, you can get amazing results shooting your pet indoors!

Gear and Equipment
Use your favorite portrait lens. If you don't have one (or aren't sure) just use any lens you have that is capable of a shallow DOF. You want to be able to focus on your pet's face and to blur the background, highlighting your subject.


Potential distracting clutter in the background is rendered as a blur, focusing the eye on the subject. 
If you just want to catch your dog in his/her environment indoors, natural light is the way to go. Choose a room with a large window that gets southern (or in a pinch, northern) light. If you can't avoid the sun streaming in, then try to diffuse the light a bit with a white sheer curtain. Use a stuffed animal or pillow in a similar color to your dog to stage the shot and check the light. Avoid using flash, or risk turning your dog’s eyes a glassy green (the canine version of red eye). If you need to balance out natural light a bit and are determined to use flash, you can get a great diffuser to soften the light out like these from LumiQuest. 

It’s very important to keep the camera still, because your pet may not be. This is especially important when you are not using flash. The camera needs to be able to use all the available light to produce the image, so shoot with a tripod. If you don’t have time to set up a tripod, you can stack the camera up on some books, or use a bag of rice or lentils on a hard surface and then plop the camera on top.


An exception to the lighting rule: The high-contrast works here to capture this little imp who loves to sunbathe. Notice we're right down on the pup's level (more about that later).


Sometimes breaking the rules RULES! Strong sunlight makes for a high contrast, dramatic shot.

These puppies were also shot from the floor with a large glass door behind the photographer. It was an overcast day so the light was naturally diffused, yet still hitting the puppies in their faces. A lens with a shallow DOF was used so there's not much of anything visible in the background, perfect for when your pet is looking photogenic and you don’t have time to clean up.
The shallow DOF really highlights the dog in the center. 
This image can be cropped even closer to eliminate the distracting light area on the left of the frame.

Tips
Get down to your dog's level! As you can see in the examples above, for a dog’s eye view, you can't beat getting down on the floor or the ground. The camera should be at eye-level to the dog or slightly (a foot or two) above.

Of course there are always exceptions, and here's one.


We can crop out the distracting yellow sneakers in post.
Is there a favorite toy, or a special characteristic that makes your dog special? Can s/he smell food or hear the treat bin opening from two rooms away? Zero in on that nose, ears, feet or whatever body part or trait makes your dog unique!
Someone, somewhere said, "food." 


Most dogs don't need any props, but if there's a favorite toy by all means use it to encourage your dog to sit and pay attention. Wave a treat or toy just above the camera lens to get your dog to face the camera for a full face shot, hold it out at arm's length for a 3/4 shot, or wait until s/he focuses on something across the room to snap a more candid canine.
Treat held just above the lens.
Toy in left hand, outstretched, shooting with right hand. 


Relaxed and looking at something else.


For a more formal portrait, it's a nice idea to remove your dog's collar, or at least take some of the tags off as it's less distracting. As with our corgi friend who's pretty in pink above, of course there are exceptions to this rule, but only attempt a doggie portrait with your dog dressed up if s/he is already used to wearing whatever accessories you choose, or there's a good chance your dog will not be able to sit still AND look relaxed at the same time!

Too doggone hot to shoot outside? We hear you! Crank up the air conditioning and capture some great pet portraits during the dog days of summer!

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