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!

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