Thursday, September 29, 2011

Use of a Subject and Background

One of the very common mistakes made by beginning photographers when photographing a person (or dog) and a background is to put the subject so far back in the image that the photo has to include a caption - "Cousin Meg at the Grand Canyon." Then, viewers have to pull out a magnifying glass to see cousin Meg.
Jeff Schuller took his Newfoundland, Sophie, out for a photo shoot with the goal of incorporating the majestic Grand Tetons where they live - and he nailed it! Rather than push her back into the frame, he brought her forward, giving her prominence, while keeping those fabulous mountains as the setting.
Jeff did a lot of things right. He took about 50 images that day, but edited them down to 5 favorites. Bravo! One of the first thing a professional learns is to dump the images that don't work. If you show just one great image, and scratch the 99 so-so ones, you appear to be a much better photographer! Edit, edit, edit.

Then, Jeff did a bit of digital work on the photos. It is always best to get an image right in the camera, but when you are photographing dogs, sometimes you do what is safest, and that can mean leaving collars and sometimes even leashes attached with the goal of removing them later. There is nothing wrong with that.
Cameras can only handle so much contrast and photographing a black dog against white snow is a challenge, but Jeff kept his detail in Sophie, then in Photoshop, he darkened the snow a bit. Nice job. (The second image posted here shows what his photo looked like before he sent it to me, with the collar on and less detail in the snow.)
He questioned removing the shrubs at the bottom of the frame - and I agree - my eye keeps dropping to them - so I played with the photo a bit and quickly removed them. I incorporated one of my favorite tricks of darkening the edges, I lightened the dog's fur a bit more and then added a bit more shading on the left - particularly the bottom left - because that is so light my eye kept falling down there. Finally, I removed the - I guess is that a dark tree-line behind her? Because it so contrasts with the rest of the background, my eye keeps going back there and the line it created in the frame cuts the photo up. Sometimes you can't avoid having something like that in the frame but if you can get to a different vantage point - that would be a great thing to remove digitally later.
I mentioned that Jeff had posted 5 images that he took of Sophie that day. I'm going to post two other images here that I also loved. One just shows a slightly different head angle. I go back and forth on whether I like the top of her head above or below the line of the mountain range but in the second image her ears are up, her eye is bright and focused on something…… A squirrel? A treat?

Jeff's choice is a softer look but I kind of lean towards the more alert Sophie.  The other image I like is the shot taken from below.  The viewer gets a nice sense of her size and she appears very majestic.  In all of them, she has this funny spiky hair shooting straight off the top of her head, which is as much a piece of her personality as that dopey hair was on Alfalfa of Little Rascals fame.  While it is a bit of a distraction, I wouldn't change it for the world!  It is great comic relief.
It is very easy to get a scene and a shot in your head and not vary things but Jeff has gotten close and pulled back for a variety of images that tell a nice story about a truly beautiful dog.
Thanks for sharing, Jeff. Please send in more examples of what you are working on as they come along!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Difficult Choices

Photographing a black dog is tough - I've said it before and you will hear me say it often. I don't want people to beat themselves up because they are having trouble with this - because we ALL do. I STILL have trouble!

Robin Welter sent in this great shot of Walter, who is owned by Deb and Todd Bridge. (I was really hoping this was Robin's dog, because I just love the name Walter Welter….. Oh, well.)

The photograph has nice color and detail in the background but the dog's side, belly and face are lost in the shadows.

There are a couple things you can do to help counter this situation. First, pop on that flash. Most flashes, especially higher-end ones, will allow you to set the amount of light which it outputs. Flashes normally emit an amount of flash which equals the existing light. This works great if you are photographing someone and want to open up the shadow areas in their eyes. but, to keep the detail in the "black hole" of a wet Newfoundland dog, we need MORE light than the surroundings. So set your flash to one or even two stops OVER exposure. (Check your camera or flash unit's guidebook to see how to do this.)

If you are photographing a water trial, adding a flash may be a distraction to the dog, OR just added weight and bother, so then, you have to make some decisions. Try overexposing your photographs by one stop. This doubles the amount of light entering the camera, which is going to give you the effect of the second photo I've posted here. You have lost some richness in the back and foreground, but your subject is starting to pick up more detail. That's what you want - detail in the dog! You could overexpose by a stop and a half but then you really risk the loss of a lot of background!

Some photo editing programs have a feature called "fill flash." For the third image, I added a bit of this digital fill to the image, which brought Walter out a bit more without sacrificing more of the background. We lost a little more, but not as much as if we'd decreased the exposure another half stop.

Now, in the old days, we'd get this image in the darkroom and begin to "burn" or give additional exposure time to the trees and beach to darken that area - but now, we do that on the computer. Notice how the bottom of this image is blown out? I added a wee bit of shading to bring detail back into that area in the final example.

Then, I popped on a slight darkening that covers all the edges, bringing down the top, sides and bottom and pulling your eye back to the subject, Walter.

Robin has done a great job capturing Walter at work, but, she fell victim to the black dog (black hole!) exposure syndrome.

Do you have a photo you would like me to critique? Please drop me a comment and I'll be glad to take a look. And, thank you to those of you who have sent in other images for me to review. I'm getting to them!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Beach Party!

For a true Newf owner, there is nothing better than taking the dog (or dogs) to the beach and enjoying the sheer joy of watching them do what they were born to do - work and play in the water!

Photos of these moments are priceless, and kudos to those of you who go out armed with dogs AND a camera. I have to admit, I tend to focus on the moment and rarely combine play time at the beach with my camera, but that is my loss. For me, it is easier to photograph when I have someone along I can delegate the dogs to, freeing me to focus on shooting, so I rarely mix the two activities.

Carol Stohlgren sent this priceless image of her two dogs, Bo and Storm, playing at a beach near San Simeon CA. She says it is her favorite photo, in part because it captures the two dog's relationship, both with the water and with each other. She uses it for her Facebook page and her computer wallpaper - as well she should! She's captured the two dogs in a wonderful moment of happiness, they are close-up so you can even see the whites of the black newfy's eye, there is wonderful detail in the fur - it is just great!

Are there problems with this image? After studying the image for a while, I realized that there is a black collar or something hanging off the Landseer that I'd like to pick off - but it isn't immediately apparent. And, I suppose a purist would point out lack of detail in the waves - but we aren't shooting for Ansel Adams perfection and when you are photographing a black Newfoundland and the crashing of waves - there is just so much the camera can record. The point is that she got great detail where she wanted it - in her subjects!

Could I improve this image? Oh, I tried. I brought a wee bit more detail into the Landseer's white fur, and I played with actually extending the background a bit so the dogs are in one third of the frame. And I darkened the edges a hair, but honestly - she nailed this in camera - where it needs to be done!

I will give you something to think about, though, if you are taking your dogs out to shoot at the beach, like this. Look for alternate angles. Might there be a more interesting background that doesn't distract from the dogs? (Maybe, maybe not!)

A photo I took last year of Arayo and her pal Gracie in Nova Scotia is very similar to Carol's. I wish I'd been as close to the dogs in my photo as Carol was in her's, but I do like the inclusion of the coastline to give the image a sense of place.

But, everyone's view of the world and of their Newfoundlands is different. Thank goodness! And, much of what I like about photography is trying new things. This blog is to give you a few pointers, and a couple ideas of things to try when you next head out with camera and dog. Carol - thank you for sharing this lovely image with us. Beautiful shot!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Photographing into Trees

How many times have I heard it - clients who assure me we can do a photo shoot in their backyard because they have all these great trees on their property. I NEVER agree to photograph in a location I've not looked at first, and tend to use the same spots over and over because I know the lighting, the location's assets and its challenges.

Jack Voller sent this beautiful photograph of his girl, Shasta, taken in the snow against a tree-line. His posing is perfect! You get a nice view of her body without it being a full profile, and she is looking right into the camera. Great exposure - you can see lots of detail in the fur.

Jack put thought into his background, avoided just sticking the dog in the driveway and photographing her against the house, the car, the neighbors walking by, etc. But, he has made the mistake we all make when we first begin getting serious about photography and he's backed Shasta right up to the trees. Now, if he were photographing this in the Northwest - you would be hard pressed to find the dog because the trees would be so dark and dense that there would be no contrast between the dog and the trees. (I've discussed how your Newfoundland can become a black hole? Well, same with a dense forest - its like photographing into a cave or a basement - no detail, just black!)

When posed with a situation like this, there are a couple things you can do. First, simply bring the dog forward 20 feet, 30 feet or more and use a shallow depth of field. For those of you just getting into photography - you want to set your aperture at the smallest number possible. That will help to throw the background out of focus. By moving the dog forward, we've also gotten her away from those pesky little branches that are nipping at her. (I used to go to every photo shoot with a bunch of string and little snippers so I could either clip off offending branches or tie them out of the way.)

The second thing to do is to photograph, not INTO the trees but along the tree-line at an angle. Not every place is going to work for this because there may be other distractions, but if Jack had swung Shasta so her rear was about where her shadow is hitting in the snow in this photo, he MAY have found a softer background. Go outside and try it. Look along the tree-line. Get the right angle and the trees become nice texture and not the individual and often distracting units you see when you look directly into the trees.

Had Jack moved Shasta like that for this photo, he also would have changed the lighting. See how Shasta's back is lit by the sun? You see every bit of detail in the fur along the back. So, your eye immediately starts at her face and chest and then keeps wanting to run back to her body which is brighter. Well, had he moved her, her face and chest would be lit more strongly.

Just as an example, I blurred the background to show what it would look like if you'd move her forward or had a very shallow depth of field. I also got rid of the little stick that was nipping at her face. (I'd also like those twigs on the bottom right outta there.) Finally, since there isn't much information on the sides of the shot that is adding anything to the photograph I gave it a square crop and slightly darkened the edges to keep your eye from drifting.

But, none of this photoshop malarkey is a replacement for getting it right in the camera.

Jack, give this another try. You may find this tree-line doesn't work for you because you can't move forward or shooting at an angle has other distractions, but take a look. That's probably 75% of the challenge of photography - finding that perfect location, and it isn't always easy.

Otherwise - fabulous job! She's a gorgeous girl and the photo is almost a masterpiece!