Unleashed Education Blog

Christine's Mentoring Session with Juno the Border Collie

mentoring Feb 06, 2015

Launching into a career in pet photography can be an incredibly exciting but often overwhelming process. Not only do you need to develop the photography and editing skills, there's also the whole "running a business" side to contend with. From my own experiences, being a pet photographer is 10% taking photos and the rest of the time I spend in front of the computer - editing, marketing, dealing with clients, branding, processing orders, working on website and social media - the list goes on!

When Christine decided to follow her passion for dogs and photography and combine the two interests, I was so glad she came across me. Having a lovely supportive husband was a plus too, as it was he who secretly purchased the mentoring session for her birthday last July after knowing how much my e-books helped her out with the shooting side of things.

Between weather reschedules and family commitments over the holiday season, it was February this year before we managed to make the mentoring sessions happen and Christine flew up to Brisbane from the NSW Central Coast. Knowing that the business components were going to be big important steps in launching her business, we designed a custom mentoring package for which included shooting, editing and business topics.

Shooting action was one of the photography topics Christine indicated she'd like to cover, so I arranged a suitable dog who would be happy to race around for us repeatedly while we fiddled with camera settings and tried various techniques. Juno was submitted to my dog model database and I just loved his colouring and markings. It also helps that he's super well trained and has a smoochy lovely nature, always willing to please.

The most predictable type of action shot would have to be the "run to me" shot - where you set up the shot so the dog runs directly towards the camera. To mix things up a little, we instead did some diagonal runs along with ball bounces and jumps. This really tests the photographer and camera's tracking skills!

Shooting with a Canon 6D, Christine quickly discovered the focus point and tracking options are more limited than the 5D series or my own 1D-x. This really does make a difference - so much of being able to capture action relies on the photographer's tracking skills - but a camera body that simply cannot keep up does make things harder.

By the end of the day, I think Christine had pretty much decided it was time to upgrade her camera body. I firmly believe that if you're photographing dogs in action (especially this kind of random action), a good body is an absolute must. Dogs (especially the very athletic Juno!) move so very quickly and randomly that unfortunately the lower model bodies just aren't able to keep up in these more challenging action situations.

Another shooting topic that Christine indicated she'd like to cover was working with light, and getting the best out of locations. The session was at New Farm Park in Brisbane, which can be a challenging location due to the urban park-like environment and many distractions. Cutting through the clutter is best done with a longer zoom lens, so we picked a spot to place Juno on a hill and shot upwards into one of the big old Moreton Bay Fig trees that surround the park.

With the light coming from behind the tree, it cast a soft rim light on Juno and created some pretty bokeh in the background.

What I would consider to be the number one thing to remember when backlighting, is to make sure the front of your subject is receiving enough illumination to balance the light coming from behind. In the shot below, we placed Juno (who had a most excellent stay command) in front of some trees, but at quite some distance away from them. He was actually sitting in a big open area with lots of sky above to help illuminate the front of his body - rather than sitting directly under the shade of the trees.

This is especially important to remember when shooting late in the day with the sun directly behind your subject - the backlight can be incredibly bright! So the background doesn't blow out completely - there needs to be lots of light illuminated the "in-shadow" side that's facing you to help balance it.

In addition to working at a distance with a long lens, we also had some one-on-one time with Juno practising that "puppy dog eyes" view at wide angle - what I consider to be a staple shot at most of my sessions. I always look for even lighting and an interesting colour or texture on the ground. Often this is just grass, but pavers, wood chips, pebbles, sand and various other surfaces can all look great when out of focus in the background.

Capturing different expressions helps give the owner choice when it comes time to decide which images they'd like to purchase. There might be a particular expression that they love or one that just captures their dog as they know them best. Using treats, random noises and even just talking to your doggy subject helps encourage the dog to interact and give you various expressions to work with.

In just a few seconds Juno went from serious...

... to super happy!

One of the most interesting things about using different focal length lenses is the way they expand or compress perspective, and how that can be used to create an interesting shot. Telephoto lenses compress perspective - which means they appear to bring background elements further forwards and make them bigger when compared to how your own eyes see the scene.

In the shot below, Juno was quite a long way from the tree behind him, but using a long lens (200mm) brings it closer and makes it the main feature of the background.

Juno was a real champion for us all the way through the session, and special thanks must go to his mum Jacquie who handled him so well on the day. I always like to see my mentoring students make a real connection with the dogs they photograph too - mission accomplished in this instance - I think Christine nearly stole Juno and took him home with her!

Here's what Christine had to say about her mentoring session experience:

"Overall I had an absolute fantastic experience! Charlotte was easy to talk to, answered all my questions and then some, and was an awesome teacher. Our hands on shooting time was customised to my level of experience and learning needs which made it an invaluable part of the day! I would highly recommend a mentoring day with Charlotte to anyone looking to learn more about professional pet photography."

If you'd like to check out Christine's pet photography business, pay her a visit at Christine Yardy Photography.

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