Tag Archives: photography lessons

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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Lightroom’s guided upright transform tool

Downtown Tucson

Downtown Tucson

The guided upright transform tool is especially useful architectural photography and specifically for correcting perspective issues introduced by the relative angle of your camera’s sensor in relation to the building.   This tool works very well for correcting wide angle lens distortions; however, it is important to note that guideline placement is important.  For this tutorial, I’m using a city view created with a wide-angle lens (24 mm on a full frame camera), I was about one story above ground level, and I slightly angled my camera up to ensure that I’d have plenty of blue sky about the tallest building.

 

 

Happy editing and let me know if you have any questions.

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Photoshop’s Divide blending mode

This tutorial illustrates one way that Photoshop’s Divide blending mode can be used to create areas of pure white within an image. This trick is especially useful for working with objects or models photographed against a white seamless background however it can also be useful for other types of images with bright white areas (for example, snowy landscapes).  Feel free to leave any comments or questions about the technique below.

 

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I bought it – can I photograph it?

So, here’s a question for you – have you ever bought something then immediately turned around and photographed it? And have you thought about using that photo to make a few dollars by licensing it as stock photography? We do that with props all of the time but that might not always be appropriate. I’ve written before about property releases but it seems that we sometimes don’t really consider just what, exactly, needs to be released.

Over the years, Robin and I have filled our home with a variety of art and other decoration and, as I’m sure you know, I’ve made photos in and around our home. I think it’s safe to say that’s something we all have done, and what’s more, given the advent of quality cameras on our phones, we all tend to do it with some frequency. Today I’d like to discuss the potential pitfalls that may be associated with those kinds of images.

We bought this dog from a Mexican artist and I think it makes for a great image - is this photo copyright infringement?

We bought this dog from a Mexican artist and I think it makes for a great image – is this photo copyright infringement?

You might remember that I shared with you a discussion about appropriation artist Sherrie Levine and photographer Walker Evans. I’d written that Levine photographed one of Evans’s photos while it was on display at a museum and she then marketed her resulting photograph as After Walker Evans. In person, it might be possible to distinguish the two photos when compared side-by-side, but it is safe to say that for all practical purposes, they are virtually identical and Levine was promptly sued for copyright infringement by the Evans estate. All of which is to say that sometimes it is definitely wrong to photograph somebody else’s art. That also holds true for company trademarks. Of course, it also goes without saying that sometimes copyright and trademark owners don’t mind if their intellectual property is photographed and you just can’t tell unless you ask (and ideally secure a property release).

It's okay to make the photograph but I cannot use it for commercial use (including stock photography).

It’s okay to make the photograph but I cannot use it for commercial use (including stock photography).

If you are photographing something for your own benefit and you don’t plan to share those images (including on social media), then there’s little harm to come from photographing anything you want (within reason) because photography is something that is protected by our first amendment right to free speech. Anything beyond that and things can get a little complicated; especially when you think you might want to use that photograph to earn revenue. The real risk comes when you decide to license it for commercial use (e.g. as a stock photograph).
To be clear, the only completely safe route is to secure property releases for everything in an image that could be reasonably be expected to fall under copyright or trademark protection. An example of the former might be a painting and an example of the latter could be something as simple as a logo on a piece of clothing. Unfortunately, that isn’t really a practical solution and the best we can do sometimes is to use our judgment as to whether or not an element in the scene must be released. And of course, depending on our point of view, best judgment can mean very different things to different individuals. It can be enough to paralyze a photographer into inaction.

From my Urban Abstract series.

From my Urban Abstract series.

The concept that I want to introduce you to today is referred to as de minimis. The idea here is that in order for you to use a protected element in your image, it needs to be a minor enough element in the overall image that it can be disregarded. I’m sure you can see the problem – just what exactly qualifies as insignificant in an image? In some cases, that might mean showing only a small portion of the overall composition. Consider my Urban Abstract series, you probably know that much of that portfolio is made up of macro photos focusing in on just a small section of paintings – specifically graffiti – and while graffiti is oftentimes illegal under property damage laws, the paintings themselves are copyright protected. Focusing in on small areas of the overall composition meets the de minimis standard. At times, I’ll include larger elements of the composition and when I do that, my liability increases because those images may or may not be considered to be an insignificant part of the composition.

This photo, made around the same time as the above Urban Abstract, isn't appropriate for commercial use because the copyrighted painting is too much a part of the overall composition.

This photo, made around the same time as the above Urban Abstract, isn’t appropriate for commercial use because the copyrighted painting is too much a part of the overall composition.

Another way to meet the de minimis standard is to make sure that the protected element is just a small part of the overall composition. When taking that approach, a good rule of thumb is to consider whether or not the art is an essential part of the photo’s narrative. For example, a painting on the wall in the background might give the scene a sense of home (which might be important for the image) but if the overall scene would be just as strong if the image were swapped out with another painting, then it is much more likely to pass muster. You can tip the balance by using a shallower depth of field for the photo. The idea here is that out of focus elements by default an insignificant part of the composition.

Even with a shallow depth of field, this photo is probably not appropriate for commercial use because the book is an important element of the overall composition. (In case you were wondering, it doesn't matter that my name is on the spine - I own the copyright for the text and the photos in the book but the publisher owns the copyright for the design of the book.)

Even with a shallow depth of field, this photo is probably not appropriate for commercial use because the book is an important element of the overall composition. (In case you were wondering, it doesn’t matter that my name is on the spine – I own the copyright for the text and the photos in the book but the publisher owns the copyright for the design of the book.)

I’ll leave you with one last thought for the day. Including art protected by copyright law in a commercial photograph (or video) without the copyright owner’s explicit permission comes with some risk. While we can work to minimize that risk, it can’t entirely be eliminated. My final thought then is this – if you are interested in licensing your images for commercial use, then protect yourself by securing a solid business insurance policy that includes all of the appropriate liability coverage.

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