As a Maryland photographer specializing in pets, I hear it all the time. People see my images of dogs standing alone against a beautiful natural landscape or a cool urban setting and say, “I could never have my dog off leash like that outdoors. He’d be gone in a second!”
Truth is, almost none of my photo images are made with the dog off-leash – even some studio images are made with the dog being controlled on leash. I keep dogs on a leash or long-line and remove it later in the editing process. Heck, sometime I even remove entire humans who are next to the dog, holding him/her in place! I do it this way primarily for safety reasons, but it also necessary for the style of images I produce. I shoot almost everything with studio lighting – even outdoor images. That’s what sets my images apart and makes me one of Maryland’s premier pet photographers. As a result, I need my subject to stay where the lights are placed/aimed and I’ve found very few animals that can follow instructions like, “OK, now move one foot to your left.” Actually, none of them can follow directions like that. Not even my guy, Griffin, who is a modeling pro! Leashes provide both safety and control so that everyone -- the dog, the owner and the photographer -- can remain calm during the shoot. Safety should be rule #1 for any pet photographer you hire.
So, here are a few examples of leash removal from my pet photography.
During this shoot, we wanted to depict a little of Paris’ past (she was picked up as a stray and later adopted) and capture what is somewhat of a local iconic roadway -- the Academy Bridge in Annapolis, MD. No matter what sort of “stay” command Paris did or did not have, I wouldn’t have thought for a second to rely on that next to a busy roadway like this. She was tied – tightly – to the railing on the bridge. But once that’s removed, it makes for a very cool image…
Scout was being handled during this shoot by his foster-sister, Mollie. I wasn’t quite ready to begin this portion of the session, but when Scout struck that pose there was no time to reposition Mollie. I started shooting and then, using another image in which Mollie had moved off the bench, cleaned things up in the editing process afterwards.
This is Neon, a Lab being raised in the Guiding Eyes for the Blind program. As you might expect, even at the young age of nine months he has some excellent obedience skills but I never even considered taking advantage of that. The winds were howling this day and occasionally a leaf or something would go flying past Neon and he'd break his stay and give chase. I was working alone so, in this case, I put Neon on a long line that was attached to a sturdy post, just outside of the frame to the viewer’s left.
In this last image I didn’t remove the leash/long-line, I just hid it. Bonnie, who has enough energy to power a small town, wanted to do nothing more than go leaping and bounding through all these tall grasses. So I put her on a long leash that was connected to a stake that I had screwed into the ground among the grasses behind her.
In short, don’t think that you need to have an exceptionally well trained dog to get images like these. We can make big, bold, beautiful, epic images that’ll become the center of conversation in your family room whether your pup has a world-class “stay,” or simply sees the outside world as his/her personal playground.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we make certain all the pups do get time to relax, run and play during the photo shoots too!
I love making environmental portraits and have acquired photo equipment with that specific purpose in mind. What does that mean?
An "environmental portrait" is more than just a picture taken outdoors. First and foremost, it's a PORTRAIT. That is, it's an image of a person, persons or (as I am known to include) an animal that places the photographic emphasis on the subject. That emphasis can be created in different ways, but my preferred style is by the use of lighting (more on that later). The surrounding environment in the image is there to add context; it plays a secondary, but important, role in the portrait image. The context it provides should be a reflection of the heart and sole of the subject, whether directly (think: actor photographed in a theater) or through just the mood which the environment creates. No matter the subject and the environment, when I'm making these images I'm envisioning them as wall art. That is, I am striving to create an image that will be produced in large format and hung proudly in the subject's home, as any good portrait should be.
My photo gear has been selected almost entirely with this type of image in mind. Most important, is my ability to take studio "portrait" lighting anywhere. That means using studio strobes that are battery operated. Recognize that in order for the photographer to truly control the light outside, we need strobe lights that create a light that is brighter than the natural sunlight. Fortunately, today's technology allows manufacturers to make battery operated strobe lights that have sufficient power to do exactly that. But that's not all. I need to control and shape the light. So when I arrive on location for a shoot you'll see me pulling all sorts of things out of the trunk of my car -- soft boxes, beauty dishes, umbrellas, snoots, grids, reflectors, and more. Different images require different modification of the light and there is a tool for every job.
Secondly, I've selected lenses that are known to be flattering to humans and also create beautiful, blurred backgrounds (referred to as "bokeh" by photographers). Longer focal lengths generally make individuals appear slimmer. For dogs, I often go in the opposite direction -- short focal lengths that allow me to work close to the dog (for control) while still capturing lots of the surrounding environment. These short focal lengths also add an essence of caricature to these images, which we generally like when photographing our goofy, furry friends. Besides, dogs never complain that their nose looks too big!
Notice I haven't yet mentioned my actual camera. Proper lighting equipment and lenses are far more important. Frankly, any decent DSLR camera body can capture the information coming in through the lens. But like everything, it's "garbage in/garbage out." If the lighting isn't right, or the lens isn't doing a good job of transferring what it sees to the camera's sensor....well, game over. That said, I use pretty darn good Nikon camera bodies to compliment all the Nikon "glass" in which I've invested.
All in all, I estimate that I carry about $20,000 worth of gear to a shoot -- all so that I can capture a uniquely stunning portrait that my clients will cherish forever. To me, it's worth every penny to see the reaction clients have to their images.
Have a child, dog, or other family member that you'd like to capture in a very special environmental portrait? Please call me at 443-326-2050. Mention this blog post and I'll offer a special discount for any portrait session booked in August. Additionally, please know that I offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If you're not happy with the images, there is no charge.
I love inclement weather for photo sessions! Some of my most dramatic and memorable images are due to a weather forecast that is something less than "sunny and blue skies." I pride myself in making the effort to get outdoors and make images when one's natural instinct is to grab a favorite beverage and relax in front of the fire or television.
That was the case on Christmas day. The temperature was mild, but otherwise it was a dreary day. Given the weather and the spirit of the day, it would have been perfectly acceptable to sit in the house, enjoy my wife's holiday cooking, grab a beer and watch some football. Instead, I forced myself to load the gear into the car, brush Griffin, and head out. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was much more fog near the water than there was at our house. Suddenly, I was excited about making some images.
We "played" with the Academy Bridge, which connects Annapolis and the Naval Academy with the Broadneck peninsula, using it's sweeping curves and receding light poles that faded into the fog to create an interesting sense of perspective. At first, we were on the bridge where the sight of lightstands and a dog that poses was catching the eye of every passerby (lots of runners and cyclist out taking advantage of the warm temperature). Then we headed under the bridge. It was there that I decided to use a lighting technique that enables the photographer to "kill" the ambient light, while maintaining a proper exposure on the subject. When taken to its extreme, this technique can literally turn day into night. The result is this image, made at 1:30pm. Except for some minor tweaking and cropping, this image is essentially SOOC (straight out of camera).
Because of my efforts, I know have an image of Griffin that is unlike any other, and certainly much different from a typical pet portrait. Unfortunately, photo sessions like this can't be planned in advance with a client, but it does suggest that if the day you've scheduled for your photo session is less than "perfect," don't fret. A good photographer can use that to your advantage.
I've always thought it would be possible to have clients that want to be on a "dramatic weather call list." These would be people who are local and would love to have an equally dramatic portrait of their dog and/or family members. They'd be willing and able to drop what they're doing when the situation presents itself and head out for a very special photo session. What do you think? Would it work?
If you're reading this and are in the Annapolis area, please let me know if you'd like to be on such a call list.
A girlfriend of mine once grabbed my camera and took some pictures of me when I had just returned from a run and was washing my car. I complained at the time that I looked terrible -- soaking in sweat. I distinctly recall her saying, "Trust me, one day you will be very happy you have these images." That day has come. I don't think I'll ever again have the fitness -- and the physique -- that is evident in those images.
Photographs truly capture time. I think that is why we are so consumed by them. They provide a means of stopping time so that we can revisit a moment many years later. With that in mind, I think it is particularly important that we capture and preserve quality images of those that are close to our hearts while they are young because, as we all know, they change swiftly at that age.
Whether it is a child...
Or a furry, four-legged family member...
Make certain you have some quality images. How soon after these images were taken would it have been impossible to replicate them? A few weeks? A couple of months?
In today's digital world, capturing the moment is only the first step. Equally important, have them professionally printed with archival inks and paper. Prints are, undoubtably, the best way to preserve and enjoy your photographs in the years to come. Imagine if all your best images from years past were stored on a floppy disk. Could you even access them today?
Naturally, I'd like to be the photographer you select and trust to capture those moments, before the time passes.
To be honest, I was tempted to title this post something like "Why You Need a Pro Photographer" or "Simply Having a DSLR Doesn't Cut It." You see, while technology has advanced to a point where just about anyone with a DSLR camera can capture a well exposed image, that doesn't mean anyone can create a photograph that is truly worthy of becoming wall art.
For example, take this image. This photo is SOOC (straight-out-of-camera) based on the settings that the computer in the camera thought were correct in aperture-priority mode. An image like this is the first step I take to make a final image. I'm not concerned at all about the dog's expression at this point; I'm not taking these images with the intent of actually using them; I'm just beginning to find the camera settings that'll give me the exposure I want.
For a typical amateur photographer, the above image may be the final result. But for me this image represents just a starting point. Note that while the exposure on the dog's face is OK, the colors in the background are washed out. When exposing the above image I selected the aperture I knew I wanted to use in the final image (among other things, the choice of aperture effects which parts of the image are in focus, or not) and I let the camera select what it thought was the correct shutter speed, given that aperture setting. That shutter speed tells me, in very rough fashion, where I'll want to start before making adjustments for the final image.
In this next image, I've changed the camera to "manual" mode so that I can override the camera's computer and have made an adjustment to the shutter speed. In doing so, I'm looking for the correct exposure for the background, not the dog.
In this second image you see I've begun to bring the color back in the leaves and the background. I've lost all details in the portion of the dog that is in shadow, but at this point that is irrelevant. I know I'm going to be lighting that side of the dog with the portable studio lighting I've carried to this location, but I haven't turned on the lighting yet. At this point in the process I'm still not concerned with the dog's expression, but in this case Jade was looking very majestic anyway.
Finally, I've determined the camera and light settings I want. Only now do I begin taking photos that I know may be used in the final presentation to the client. For the final image below I've made adjustments to my position for what I think is a more dramatic composition. In Photoshop, I've spent additional time to remove the leash and add what I refer to as my "special sauce" to enhanced the beautiful fall colors. The later is a technique/style that I have developed over the years and, frankly, is my own "trade secret" that I do not share.
The final image is one that I know the owners will want printed large, framed, and hung in a prominent place. It will become a very personal piece of the wall art they have on display in their home -- both beautiful and meaningful.
Making exceptional images takes planning, thought, expertise, and skill. When you hire a professional photographer, you are hiring someone who has spent countless hours -- perhaps years -- to acquire the knowledge and skill to make the ordinary appear extraordinary, and capture that in a photograph that you'll cherish for a lifetime. The time they've invested to perfect their craft is what makes an artist a professional and, if you've made your selection carefully, that will be evident in the results they deliver to you.