Now that the price of Digital SLR cameras are becoming quite reasonable, I know a lot of you out there have one. And is there anything better out there to photograph than your pet? Alright, maybe your kids, but your pet has to be a close second at the very least.
I created a slideshow last week for the Lethbridge Photography Club's Photofusion event. I don't think I really realized just how different my photography style is from people who do more traditional photography (landscapes, travel photography, etc.) until that night. I was surprised by the questions that I received from some pretty seasoned photographers.
So while I'm hardly an expert, I thought some of you might benefit from hearing what I do. As far as I am concerned there is no right or wrong way, just different ways.
While my advice isn't necessarily catered to those with a digital SLR camera, I find "point and shoot" cameras don't capture action very well (and that is what I am usually trying to capture) due to their lag time and slower focusing speeds.
Tip 1: Get down on the ground. While I take the occasional photo from a standing position, most of the time I am sitting or laying on the ground. If you are taking the photo from the dog's level you will be more likely to capture them looking directly at the camera while still keeping their head at a natural angle. This winter I went out and bought snow pants so that I could still comfortably sit on the ground. They were the best purchase I made all year!
Tip 2: Get nice and close. If what you are trying to capture is the dog's expression then make sure you zoom in or get nice and close to the dog. If you aren't interested in the surroundings, don't include them in the photo. The more the dog fills the frame, the more details you'll be able to make out.
Tip 3: Try different angles. Try putting the camera under the dog, behind the dog, over the dog, to the side of the dog. Don't be afraid to try something new or different. Some times you'll be surprised at what you'll get. If it doesn't work, oh well, it didn't cost you anything other than a little time.
If getting the camera under the dog sounds uncomfortable and a little impossible, just remember you don't actually have to be looking through the view finder to take the photo. Digital photos are free. You can take as many as you want. I often point the camera in the general direction of what I want and hope for the best. Some times I get nothing useful, other times I get something magical. Some of my favourite photos were taken without looking through the viewfinder.
Tip 4: Take LOTS of photos. As I mentioned above, take lots of photos. I keep my camera on burst mode all the time. When you are trying to take a picture of your dog running, there are lots of variables that can make it attractive or unattractive - what part of their stride are they in, are their eyes open or closed, are their ears going in wild and crazy directions (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not!). And most importantly is the photo in focus. Sometimes you camera or lens can't always focus fast enough to keep up with your speedy dog so you are really taking a chance if you only take one photo that all the variables will be perfect.
If you are trying to get a picture of your dog catching a toy mid air, you might need to try more than once or twice. Here it helps to have a fetch obsessed dog that doesn't mind repeating their performance 5, 10, or even a 100 times so that you can get it just right.
Tip 5: Be aware of your surroundings. I hate taking photographs in my backyard. The clutter of the rain barrel, the deck and the ugly fence drive me crazy. It doesn't help that I don't have beautiful landscaping, if I did, it would be a different story. So if you don't have beautiful surroundings in your backyard, go somewhere else. The wonderful thing about the prairies is that there is no clutter in your backgrounds - you can just focus on your subjects.
Tip 6: Don't be afraid to crop off part of your dog. Your photos don't need to include every inch of your dog to be "right". Don't worry about zooming in so tight you cut off part of their feet, or their tail. Sometimes it is more interesting to just focus on part of them.
Tip 7: Focus on their eyes. If nothing else is in focus other than their eyes, you can still have a beautiful image, but if their eyes are out of focus, the photo looks weird. Don't ask why, I don't know.
Tip 8: Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice and try things the more often you get "aha" moments. Once you get something that you like, try and figure out what you did to get it again. That is when the learning really happens.
I can't take a decent landscape photo to save my life and that is because I never practice doing it! So to start, I'd suggest you pick a subject you are passionate about (whether that be your pets, your kids, beautiful landscapes, wildlife or the local architecture) and focus your efforts on that. Once you've mastered that subject and want to branch out, go for it. It will be a lot easier to learn just one skill set at a time. Trust me, they are all very different. And besides, all different types of photography require different types of equipment and if you are on any kind of budget you aren't going to want to be buying everything you need at once.
Tip 9: Take a course. I took a few courses from a local photographer - Henriette Plas and it literally changed my photography overnight. When you understand how your camera works, you can better figure out how to get what you want. I'm sure there are other photographers that offer good courses, but I know for sure Henriette does!
Tip 10: Know your subject. The more you know your subject, the more you'll be able to capture them acting naturally.
Tip 11: Have Fun!