Category Archives: tips & tricks

One minute to better dog portraits

To be fair, I think photography is one of those skills that is best developed over time with consistent practice, which is pretty much like every other skill that a person might learn.  That said, here’s my abbreviated guide to get you started.  Do you think I missed anything?  Let me know in the comments.

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Tips for working with senior dogs

Lyle will be turning sixteen in a few days.  I wasn’t a photographer when we adopted him as a scrawny little puppy but it wasn’t long after we brought him home that I bought my first digital camera.  While I can’t say that he loves modeling like Spring did, he’s still spent a fair bit of time in front of my camera and we have quite a number of pictures of him through the years.  When he was younger, he was fairly easy to work with and pose but over the last few years, his decreased mobility has changed the nature of our sessions.  Today’s post shares a bit about that journey and offers tips for working with senior dogs.

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In a lot of ways, working with seniors is like working with puppies; they both have short attention spans and they (can) have other limitations making it difficult or impossible to create certain types of photos.  The key here, as it really is for all pet photography, is to understand your pet’s abilities and work within those limits.  Lyle was perhaps the easiest puppy I’ve ever known.  Part of that comes from his personality but I also credit our girl Little Bit for showing him the ropes.  Still, he didn’t come magically understanding what we wanted of him and it took some time to teach him the basics like sit, stay, and down.  Those three commands go a very long way towards making great photos.  The other aspect is trust; once you have that, the sky’s the limit.

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Over the years, Lyle has allowed me to make a wide variety of photos and, for the most part, he was happy to participate because he knew he’d be well rewarded.   Now that he is a senior, I really stick to just a handful of poses because he is physically limited in what he can do during a session.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t continue to make new portraits, but rather that I make them with his current abilities in mind.  With that said, here are my tips for working with senior dogs:

  • Know your dog’s current abilities. While our senior girl, Maebe, has her full range of motion, Lyle is no longer able to sit comfortably so I don’t ask him to pose sitting for portraits.
  • Always respect what your pet is telling you. Lyle has good days and days where he is too tired or is in pain.  On those days, it is best to let him rest.
  • Be liberal with your treats and praise. These sessions should remain fun for both of you.  Just be sure to use treats that won’t cause an upset stomach.
  • Keep the sessions short. It is important to finish the session early enough so that your dog has plenty of energy to make it comfortably through the rest of the day.
  • Don’t skip the candids in favor of posed portraits.  Those everyday moments are just as important as the formal portraits.  Photograph them when they walk, nap, play, snuggle, and whenever the inspiration strikes.

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Most of all, shower your seniors with love and affection.  Whether it’s days, weeks, or years, our time with them is never long enough.

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Scanning old photos with an eye toward restoration

We all have old photographs that have faded and discolored over the years.   Oftentimes, these snapshots of our lives were printed at consumer labs (i.e., at the grocery store or pharmacy) and have been sitting on a table or desk in an inexpensive frame for many years.  If you saved your negatives or original digital files, you can always just reprint them and, without a doubt, this will give you the best possible print.  Unfortunately, though, those originals are often lost to us, and when that’s the case, scanning the prints offers our only chance at restoration.  In this post, I will walk you through the steps to create the best possible scan for your starting point in the restoration process.

This photo was originally printed about 10 years ago at a Walmart photo lab on Kodak DuraLife Paper. It has been exposed to the light in a frame without any UV protection. Notice how the colors are better on the edges that were hidden from view by the frame itself.

This photo was originally printed about ten years ago at a Walmart photo lab on Kodak DuraLife Paper. It has been exposed to the light in a frame without any UV protection. Notice how the colors are better on the edges that were hidden from view by the frame itself.

Before getting started, I think it’s worth pointing out that today’s digital cameras offer an alternate route to creating a new digital file.  While scanners can be used to convert old slides to digital format, I’d actually opt for using a camera based set up for reproducing those photographs.  However, when it comes to prints, I don’t believe cameras offer the best solution because it can be very difficult to evenly light the print in such a way that avoids reflection.

I’ll be using an Epson Perfection V500 Photo scanner for my demonstration.  My scanner is a few years old now, but the same basic concepts will apply to any flatbed scanner you use.  I do not recommend a tray feeder based scanner for this use as those were created to primarily reproduce office documents.  The key to making a good scan is to capture as much detail as possible.  That being said, there are two specific settings where I typically use settings that are good enough rather than the best possible and I’ll point those out when I show you the settings.  Finally, I’ve embedded the screenshots in this post formatted to fit the content, but I know that can mean the text is difficult to read so if you click on the image, it will open a higher resolution version allowing you to better read the displayed text.  With that out of the way, let’s get started.

The Epson scan utility as it looks when it is first opened.

The Epson Scan utility as it looks when it is first opened.

Just as your camera comes with fully automated settings, your scanner utility will by default assume you want an optimized file.  This is okay when your goal is to reproduce a legible document but is less than ideal for photo restoration.

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The first thing that you’ll need to do is to turn off the fully automatic mode. I use the ‘Professional Mode’ so that I can override any automatic settings.

The next step is to make sure that no information is lost due to automatically applied optimization. By selecting the 'Histogram Adjustment' button, you can see that the black and white points were all significantly modified with the default setting (note the numbers under the histogram).

The next step is to make sure that no information is lost due to automatically applied optimization. By selecting the ‘Histogram Adjustment’ button, you can see that the black and white points were all significantly modified with the default setting (note the numbers under the histogram).

Notice how the settings were changed back to their default values here and that the resulting tone curve is now a flat diagonal line. These values are the same that you would see in a Photoshop Levels dialog.

Notice how the settings were changed back to their default values here and that the resulting tone curve is now a flat diagonal line. These values are the same that you would see in a Photoshop Levels dialog window.

The next button reveals the 'Tone Correction' dialog. This window corresponds to a Photoshop Curves window and it can be used to modify the individual Red, Green, and Blue channels. Make sure that the tone curve name reads Linear and that the resulting tone curve only shows one straight black diagonal line. Anything else means the settings must be reset.

The next button reveals the ‘Tone Correction’ dialog. This window corresponds to a Photoshop Curves window, and it can be used to modify the individual Red, Green, and Blue channels. Make sure that the tone curve name reads Linear and that the resulting tone curve only shows one straight black diagonal line. Anything else means the settings must be reset.

This next button allows you to adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, as well as the balance between the primary colors and their opposites. All values should be at zero.

This next button allows you to adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, as well as the balance between the primary colors and their opposites. All values should be at zero.

The final button opens a dialog that allows you to change color relations based on a simplified visual dialog. Here the 'Reset' button is grayed out showing that no changes have been applied. If the button is available, then click to reset to the default.

The final button opens a dialog that allows you to change color relations based on a simplified visual dialog. Here the ‘Reset’ button is grayed out showing that no changes have been applied. If the button is available, then click to reset to the default.

The 'Reflective' setting is the correct one for any print. The 'Film' setting can be used for negatives or slides, but again, may not be your best option.

The ‘Reflective’ setting is the correct one for any print. The ‘Film’ setting can be used for negatives or slides, but again, may not be your best option.

Next, make sure that you are using the highest possible bit depth for color. In Photoshop, we think about this in terms of 8-bit or 16-bit color. Scanners represent this same information as a multiple of three (for each of the Red, Green, and Blue color channels) so 24 bit color results in an 8-bit photo whereas 48 bit color results in a 16-bit image.

Next, make sure that you are using the highest possible bit depth for color. In Photoshop, we think about this in terms of 8-bit or 16-bit color. Scanners represent this same information as a multiple of three (for each of the Red, Green, and Blue color channels) so 24-bit color results in an 8-bit photo whereas 48-bit color results in a 16-bit image.

The resolution is one of the places that I do not choose the highest possible setting. For a scanned photograph, scans ranging from 300 to 720 dpi are adequate (if you plan to enlarge, go toward the higher end of the range). The higher dpi numbers will result in a very large file. Those options are meant for scanning negatives and slides.

The resolution is one of the places that I do not choose the highest possible setting. For a scanned photograph, scans ranging from 300 to 720 dpi are adequate (if you plan to enlarge, go toward the higher end of the range). The higher dpi numbers will result in a very large file. Those options are meant for scanning negatives and slides.

Finally, make sure that you are not automatically resizing the file after it is scanned. Photoshop will allow much better options for resizing. Also note that all optimizing settings (sharpening, dust removal, et cetera) have been deselected. Those are also best done in Photoshop.

Finally, make sure that you are not automatically resizing the file after it is scanned. Photoshop will allow much better options for resizing. Also note that all optimizing settings (sharpening, dust removal, et cetera) have been deselected. Those are also best done in Photoshop.

Once you’ve optimized your settings, it is time to preview, select the area around your image, and scan.  Depending on your scanner, you’ll have the option to choose the file name and format either before or after your scan.  This is the second place where I do not typically use the best possible settings.  TIFF images represent uncompressed (i.e., modified) pixel data meaning that the TIFF format will best protect your scan; but that comes at a cost – high file sizes.  You may know that JPEG files are compressed and are referred to as a ‘lossy’ format.  While this is accurate, if a file is saved at the highest quality setting, the compression is minimal making the much smaller file size worthwhile.  The very important caveat here is that each time a JPEG file is re-saved, the potential for additional loss is compounded so, while the JPEG format is okay for the original file, once the retouching work begins, an alternate format should be used (Photoshop’s PSD or TIFF are both good options).  The reason I feel JPEG files are a reasonable compromise here is because the retouching work isn’t always done by the person scanning the image and the much smaller JPEG file size makes it ideal for sharing.

The scan in progress resulted in the above shared image.

The scan in progress resulted in the above shared image.

The goal with these settings is to produce an image that has the most possible information to serve as a starting point for the restoration process.   I very firmly believe that if a print is worth scanning to preserve, then the restoration process needs to be done in post-processing rather than using default settings which lead to the further loss of data.  After all, if preserving the photograph wasn’t the goal, then there would be no point in taking the time to scan it in the first place.

This is the scanned photo from above after a some restoration. It is still a work in progress but it is much closer to the original image.

This is the scanned photo from above after a some restoration. It is still a work in progress, but it is much closer to the original image.

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Composition tips for better pet portraits

Composition is something that is a part of every single photograph yet all too often we simply capture the scene as we come to it without giving thought about how best to organize the image visually.  Today I’d like to offer a few simple and practical guidelines to help you make better pet portraits.

M_Kloth_Pantera_5756One of the easiest ways to make stronger pet portraits is to get down on their level (or bring them to your level).  For the most part, our pets are considerably shorter than we are so if we point a camera at them, chances are pretty good that the floor (or ground) will play a big part of the composition.  That can be fine of course, but there are a lot of other interesting backgrounds out there to choose from too.  Mixing up your point of view will add visual diversity to your portraits.

Shooting down on your pet can make for some cute photos...

Shooting down on your pet can make for some cute photos…

But getting down on their level not on can make for a more intimate portrait, but it can make for a much more interesting background. Had I photographed Maebe from above, I would have had a dirt background instead of the colorful flowers I used for this portrait.

But getting down to their level makes for a more intimate portrait and it often offers a much more interesting background. Had I photographed Maebe from above, I would have had a dirt background instead of the colorful flowers in this portrait.

A second way to add visual diversity to your portraits is to consider your framing.  Without a doubt, there is a place for centering your pet right in the middle of the frame.  I often use this composition for headshots when my subjects are looking directly into the camera.  I find these portraits to be very engaging, but there are great reasons why you might want to move your pet around in the frame.  One obvious reason to push your subject off center might be to give a sense of the location.  If you take the time to visit someplace beautiful for your portraits, then make the beauty of the scene part of the image.

In this portrait I wanted to show a sense of the park's trees. I brought Jack Jack up off the ground so that I was lower than him and positioned in on the right side of the frame. The park isn't the main subject because it isn't in focus but by making these small changes, I embraced the location.

In this portrait, I wanted to show a sense of the park’s trees. I brought Jack-Jack up off the ground so that I was lower than him and positioned him in towards the right side of the frame. The park isn’t the main subject, but by making these small changes, I embraced the location.

Finally, consider how the negative space plays a role in the composition.  You can think of negative space as the area in a photograph that does not contain your main subject.  The simplest way to begin working with negative space is to photograph your pet against a plain background.  This might mean using a plain wall or perhaps using a shallow depth of field to blur the background – either of these setups can offer the perfect opportunity for you to play with the concept.    When you position (and pose) your pet with the negative space in mind, you add a new layer of interest to your portrait.  As an added bonus, negative space is useful if you plan to add text to your photograph.

The way that the negative space is used in conjunction with the kitten's pose introduces a conceptual element into the composition.

The way that the negative space is used in conjunction with the kitten’s pose introduces a conceptual element into the composition.

Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought.  If there is one take-home lesson that I’d like you to consider it’s this:  experiment with your compositions.  Of course, you should take  photos from a perspective that appeals to you, but once you have that, give yourself the freedom to try new approaches to photographing your pet.

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Introduction to the new Lightroom CC

Adobe recently made a significant change to their Lightroom platform and in doing so, indicated the direction that they see for the future of post-processing.  For the past several years, Adobe has been working to add online functionality to the program but this update makes it clear that they have fully embraced cloud computing.  Granted, when they switched to the Creative Cloud subscription format a few years back, it was pretty clear what they had in mind from their branding of the service, but I think this recent update shows that they believe that that future of post-processing starts today.    Don’t worry if you aren’t ready to fully embrace it yourself.  For the time being, Adobe is offering the new Lightroom CC app alongside the old familiar version that we’ve all come to know and love, however, they’ve indicated that we are probably coming to the end of the line for the stand alone version as they’ve rebranded it as Lightroom Classic CC.

I’ve created a short introduction to the new Lightroom CC program to get you started.  I plan to make additional videos showing some of the new features in the weeks to come.  Send me a note if you have any questions and I’ll be sure to address them as I help you learn Lightroom CC.

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