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!

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