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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This image was made in the Cotoye Ridge Corrections Center in Eastern Washington as part of the Ridge Dogs programs. Inmates worked with dogs that were deemed difficult to adopt by the local animal control facility. They lived with and trained the dogs in all aspects of basic training. The program was a huge success for both the dogs and the men they lived with in the facility.
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.
One 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.