Archive for the ‘Pet’ Category

Fun Things to Photograph on a Wet Day

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Ever planned a day out indulging in your favourite hobby (photography, naturally) only to wake up to the sound of raindrops hitting the window like gravel on a drum. Well rather than roll over and snuggle down into the quilt, why not get creative, pick up your camera and discover what do indoors instead. I remember the first time I tried this, I ended up with one of my photographs gracing the pages of Practical Photography – and I even got paid for the privilege.

Indoor photography is very entertaining and if all you have is a camera, then that’s just exactly what you need. If you have a flash gun, you have a little more versatility. If you have several flashguns, there’s little you won’t be able to achieve. Stuff you have lying around the house can be pressed into service. Windows, table lamps, torches, even candles can all be pressed into service to provide that beautiful play of light and shadow that will lift your images above the ordinary. Bits of plywood, mdf or hardboard from the shed make excellent backgrounds, and if there’s a bit of leftover paint you can make use of that too. Although you may not have any lying around I have quite a few pieces of mount board for framing that I frequently make use of – so next time you’re near an art supply shop, pop in and get a few sheets in different colours. White boards not only make great backgrounds but also make really good reflectors to fill in shadow areas. Quite often the only light I use is a single flash coupled with a large white mount board to bounce a little light back into the shadow side of the subject.

A tripod is really handy, I find the tabletop Joby Gorillapod really useful. Otherwise you will have to find some other way to support your camera – books are handy for this. And if you don’t have a cable release use the self-timer to fire the shutter. Unless you are using flash, light levels indoors will be much lower than outside, consequently shutter speeds will be slow and if you try to hand hold your camera you will just get blurry photographs – that’s why your camera needs to be supported. Try it with and without and you’ll see the reason when you look at your images. Finally, you will need a table. I have a small folding one that that I just use for photography. It provides me with a lovely reflective black surface (see the Lego Truck, below). And is the perfect height for small objects. Before I got this I just commandeered the dining table for a little while. Once I even used two speaker cabinets to support a Perspex shelf so I could light some transparent glassware from below using a Metz flashgun resting on the floor and pointing upwards.

Unless your camera has an effective macro setting you may have to choose large objects so you can still fill the frame at the closest focusing distance. The more the subject fills the frame, the less background you have to worry about and the more impact your photography will have.

You will probably have lots of your own ideas by now, but if you need a little inspiration to get you started, here are seven suggestions.

1. Flowers


Flowers are a good choice, because of their own inherent beauty they photograph well. Choose a background that complements the colour of the flowers. Think about how you are going to light it, if you use window light be aware that light levels drop off quite dramatically across the width of a typical room. If you use a single flash, use it off the camera and even consider lighting the flower from behind so that the petals glow with transmitted light.

2. Fruit


Fruit is that staple of the still life or you might consider the odd vegetable too. Use a single fruit like an orange and practice lighting it from different directions, side, top, front, back, and if you’ve got something translucent or transparent to stand it on (or even an old lightbox from your film days) then you can even light it from beneath. Just doing this teaches you a lot about lighting. When you tire of that, add a few different fruits to make a still life, add some props – a bowl, a knife and a sliced fruit perhaps. Let your imagination have fun.

3. Food


Food is one of my favourite subjects: cake, cookies, chocolate, cook something or persuade someone else to do that and dress it up, napkins on the table, a fork, glass, wine so that your photograph looks like you caught it just in time before someone ate it. With food photography it is the accessories and background that make or break the picture.

4. Ornaments

Lego Truck

Ornaments, toys even, can be pressed into service. Be mindful though that if you are taking close-ups that scratches and marks will be more obvious and may need a lot of Photoshopping to correct afterwards. Take your photograph from an unusual angle so the object is not seen the way it normally is.

5. Pets


If you have pets in the house then press them into service as models. Spend an hour or two stalking them and playing with and watching for a cute pose. Make sure you focus on their eyes. Just be mindful if they start to tire of the game. Leave them in peace and come back to it a little later. Check out CritterStudio if you want to see how it’s done.

6. Family & Friends


Members of your family, or friends, may be persuaded to model for you. If you are using window light you may want to consider using a white board, a sheet or some other white surface to provide a little fill to lighten the shadow side of the face.

7. Puzzles


Go around the house and make a collection of about a dozen or so objects and then take close-ups from unusual angles. Go into your photo-editing software and assemble them together as one jpeg and then email it to all your friends and ask them to identify the objects.

And if all this gives you that taste of adventure and you realise that you could do so much better with a small equipment upgrade then check out these cameras and maybe have a look at some low cost lighting to give you that creative edge so you can continue to enjoy your hobby whatever the weather.

Michael Hadfield

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How to Take Better Pet Pictures

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

How to Take Better Pet Pictures by Michael Hadfield
Our pets are part of the family and it’s so important to include them in the family album and have a record of them growing up and enjoying themselves. But pets, especially dogs, are lively and sometimes difficult to capture well. So here are a few tips and tricks that we use in CritterStudio that will help you to take pictures you’ll be proud to hang on your wall.

1 The Eyes Have It


The eyes are the single most important features in a pet photograph. They must be in focus and you must be able to see them, unless you are shooting a profile, in which case you can get away with seeing just one eye looking straight ahead. Watch for the direction of the gaze, too much eye white looks very unattractive, so catch your pet looking at you when you click the shutter. Eye contact in an image creates an intimacy that is otherwise lacking. This intimacy is what creates the emotional response that you seek to capture when you view the picture – the ‘ahhh’ factor, if you like. Have a look here for some examples.

2 Had Enough
If you are having a photography session with your pet, then be mindful of their level of fascination with what’s going on. Different animals will have a different tolerance to being posed so you need to watch out for the warning signs indicating a loss of interest. When they start to get fed-up stop and give them a rest or continue on another occasion. I find that dogs, in the studio, will generally take about 30 – 40 minutes of me sticking a lens in their face and firing bright lights at them. That’s plenty of time to get some excellent shots, but it’s pointless to continue after that because their lack of alertness will show in the photograph.

3 Ready… Camera… Action…


Movement takes practice, and a little knowledge of how your camera works, to capture well, so don’t be put off if your first attempts don’t come out the way you want them to. So even though your action shots are more difficult to pull off, with a digital camera, you can shoot away as much as you like. I am not, however, suggesting the ‘machine gun’ approach that many people use with digital SLRs. Just click the shutter, critically inspect your image on the camera’s view screen and use that to learn how to improve your timing – and your photographs. Be aware that on many cameras, especially low-end compacts, there is quite a delay between pressing the shutter button and the shutter actually firing, so you will have to learn to adapt to this, pressing the shutter a few moments before the point at which you want to capture your pet. If this is preventing you from getting the images you want then consider investing in an entry level Digital SLR like the Canon EOS 1000D or Nikon D3000 Aim to catch the peak of the action, switch your camera to shutter priority (Tv), and set the value to either 1/500, or faster, in order to freeze the action, or around 1/30 (you may also need to switch on Image Stabilisation with this speed) to create a very attractive blur that will show the movement off nicely. You may have to burrow into the camera’s menu system to change these settings on a compact digital camera. They are usually easier to find on a dSLR

4 Be Relaxed
Pets have minds of their own. Some are more sedentary than others, but they are unpredictable and taking pictures of them requires a very different approach to, say, producing a portrait of a person who will respond to direction. Because of this, patience is your biggest ally. You need a willingness to wait and watch and be ready to click the shutter when everything is just so. If you are impatient, or in a hurry to get your pictures then you will probably be disappointed with the results. Animals do not have our concept of time and you will produce much better results if you can slip into their timeless state while you seek to capture images of them.

5 See What You Don’t See

Holly copy

The background can make or break a photograph. Backgrounds that are sympathetic to the subject will almost be unnoticed, but how often have you looked at an otherwise good image and found that something in the background was pulling your eye away from the subject? The reason we so often get unsightly backgrounds is that the eye tends to focus on the centre of interest and ignore everything else. So you need to make a conscious effort to sweep your eye around the frame (whether you are using a traditional viewfinder or a viewscreen) to see what else you are photographing along with your pet. Things to watch out for are bits of other people, strong lines (pavement, posts) that cut through the subject, bright colours (red/yellow/orange especially), anything in fact that catches the eye and draws attention away from the subject. Natural backgrounds – rocks, foliage, sea/sand, sky – tend to work very well. Watch out also for clutter and litter.

6 How Close
Robert Capa once said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” And he wasn’t suggesting that you use your zoom control to zoom in or Photoshop to crop out the excess and create the illusion of closeness. When you are physically close to your subject there is an interaction between you and your subject that shows in the photograph. It makes the subject of the photograph more real, more alive. This is so crucial with pet photographs as often the photographs are all we have left to keep that memory alive. So make sure they are good ones.

7 If You Haven’t Got It, You Can’t Use It
Your camera needs to be with you when you are out with your pet (and I don’t mean the camera in your phone). If you haven’t got it, then you cannot capture your pet in that cute, once in a blue moon action; that spectacular pattern of mud or mess; or that loving way your pet looks into your eyes asking for forgiveness because they just know they’ve done something wrong. So make it a point to carry your camera and if your camera is a heavy DSLR then buy a high quality compact like the Canon PowerShot G12 to keep in your pocket. That way you will never miss that special moment and create a collection of photographs of your pet that you can be proud of.

Have fun.

Michael Hadfield is one of the photographers running CritterStudio. CritterStudio is a successful Pet Photography business, creating beautiful images of your pet to hang on your wall.

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