When I wrote the post 6 Tips for Photographing Fido, I consulted my blogging friend Laurie Bartolo. I admired her canine photography, and I knew she would have helpful tips to offer. And she didn’t disappoint! I thought her answers were so good that you should see them in full. So now I present a Q & A with dog lover, dog photographer, dog graphic artist, and dog blogger, Laurie Bartolo. You can check out Laurie’s awesome work at her eponymous blog and the new Doggone Artsy.
Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Laurie Bartolo
Andrea: What is your experience as a photographer?
Laurie: I am completely self-taught as a photographer and my interest in photography was inspired by my love of dogs. I started out drawing and painting dogs, and quickly realized that I would need good reference photos for my drawings and paintings since it is somewhat difficult to draw or paint a subject that moves. My husband bought me a digital SLR camera for that purpose and I almost immediately became obsessed with photographing dogs. Since then, I have spent my days scouting out the canine subjects that appear in my photographs. I’ve been doing this as a serious hobby for several years, and I’m working towards doing photography and art full time. In 2012, I’m planning to take a cross-country road trip where I’ll capture photos of dogs across America.
Andrea: What do you consider when composing a photograph of a dog?
Laurie: For me, composition comes into play before, during and after any photo shoot. And getting the composition I want takes a combination of planning and spontaneity. In all of my compositions, my goal is to capture dogs in a candid, natural state, just dogs being dogs. With the exception of my own dogs, I do not know most of the dogs I photograph – they are simply dogs I encounter as I’m out scouting for dog photo opps. I will literally stop my car to photograph a dog I see on the side of the road while traffic piles up behind me. While these photos end up being quite spontaneous, they often do require planning as well.
As far as planning goes, I have a list of ideas for photographs that I hope to capture like “dogs riding in cars” or “shop dogs”. There are also individual dogs that I want to photograph, and places I frequent where I know dogs are usually present. I have found that by thinking in advance about potential photographs like this, I am much more likely to (1) go out and hunt for the desired composition, and (2) to actually stop traffic to take the photo if/when the opportunity presents itself. Trust me, it’s inconvenient to lug my gear everywhere I go, but the few times I didn’t do it, I missed major dog-photo goodness.
During the photo shoot, I am taking cues from the dog and the environment. I frequently move around and look for different points of view, and have found that you can find a much better composition simply by moving a few feet. I’m also thinking about what I can and can’t change later in Photoshop.
After the photo shoot, I use Photoshop to make small enhancements to the photo. I frequently convert my photos to black and white or another monochrome effect like a sepia tone. To me, this makes the dog stand out more and gives the photo a classic look. Cropping a photo is another simple way that I improve my compositions.
Andrea: What are your tips for capturing dogs in action? Specifically, how do you prevent blurry pictures? What setting(s) on a DSLR might you use?
Laurie: Many DSLR cameras have a “sports” or “action” setting that takes the guesswork out of it. So if you are not sure about things like shutter speed, you can choose this setting and let the camera do the work for you. Sometimes you may want a blurry shot – for example, some blurriness in a photo of a moving dog can emphasize the movement. This may be cool if you wanted to show a dog’s tail wagging crazily, or showcase the athleticism of a dog running after a ball. Manipulating shutter speed to get the desired effect takes practice, but generally speaking, a faster shutter speed will freeze the action so you don’t get the blurring, while a lower shutter speed will have a blurring effect.
There are other things to consider with blurry pictures. Blurriness may not just be from the moving dog, it can be caused by the movements of the photographer too. “Camera shake” (shaky hands) or moving around while trying to capture the photo will also cause blurriness. One way to overcome this is to use a tripod, if it’s practical for your photo shoot. I have photographed my own dogs using a tripod and the photos are noticeably sharper. Some photographers will even use a remote shutter release for a camera on a tripod to further reduce “camera shake.”
Another important tip with dogs in action is to take lots and lots of photos. Remember those flip books with a different illustration on each page, and when you flipped through the pages, you saw the characters in action? This is the same idea – you are catching every single movement – some of those are awkward (which can also be fun) and some are keepers. The great thing about digital cameras is that you can take as many pictures as you want. If you take hundreds of photos, a few of them are likely to be really good. But if you only take 2-3, your odds of getting a good photo are much less likely.
Andrea: What are your tips for getting great close-ups of dogs (especially if the dog is coming toward your camera)?
Laurie: Good question – I have often ended up with nose prints on my lens! There are a few options here, and most of it depends on the dog and your equipment. But foremost, for close-ups, unless you have a really well-behaved dog who is used to being photographed, don’t try to pose them and then take a photo. Rather, be prepared to take some spontaneous photos and spend some time getting those shots – you’ll be rewarded with a great candid, close-up photo of your dog.
We have a tendency to wait until our canine subject is perfectly posed and then we start photographing. But by then, the dog is up and walking towards you. Take photos even when you don’t think it’s a shot you want to capture – you are doing two things here: (1) you are getting the dog used to being photographed, and (2) you are increasing your odds of capturing a totally spontaneous and unexpected great photo. Even as the dog is approaching you, just click-click-click away. It may not seem like you’re capturing great photos this way, but you’ll see when you upload them to your computer that some came out great.
Remember that dogs are really not interested in the photo shoot. They have no idea what is going on or how they are supposed to behave, and no interest in the outcome (which is hopefully a good photo!). Additionally, some dogs are quite curious about that thing you’re holding up to your head and aiming at them. When dogs wants to check something out, they do it with their nose, which is often why they will come towards you and stick their nose on your camera lens! Rather than jumping up, grabbing your camera and saying, “we are going to take dog photos now,” try easing your dog into the photo shoot. Let them check your camera out (while you’ve still got the lens cap on!) and maybe burn off some energy before you start clicking.
If you have a long lens, you can take “close-ups” from far away (most of my canine subjects are off in the distance, and I have a really long lens for this reason). If you have a zoom lens, you can adjust your lens as the dog approaches you, but this takes quick hands as well as patience and repetition. The best trick here is persistence – resist the urge to give up just because you just missed the “perfect shot” – another perfect shot is right around the corner, so keep clicking away.
When I’m working with a dog that habitually moves towards me while I’m photographing him (my dog Webster is guilty of this), I’ll throw something for him so he goes after it, putting distance between us. And then I’ll start shooting him as he is approaching me, clicking almost constantly, while adjusting the zoom as he gets closer. Or I’ll enlist the help of an assistant who can manage him with treats or attention, while I take a ton of photographs. When all else fails, bribing your dog with treats is a good option.
Check out this article on Dogster that Laurie suggested with more tips for dog photography. The article discusses whether taking better pictures of shelter animals can help them get adopted more quickly, a topic I find really interesting, so I will be posting more on it later.
Thank you to Laurie Bartolo for her time and insights!
Dukie Update: Thank you for all of your positive thoughts and prayers for Duke! He is doing well. We’re doing physical therapy every day, he’s taking a boatload of meds, and he’s actually already at the point of wanting to do more activity than he’s allowed. For now, he can only go outside on leash to potty, which is especially disappointing for him on a day like this–it’s 65 degrees and sunny today! He can’t do stairs or get on the furniture either, although his Grandma Terri got him a plush new dog bed, so he can snuggle on that in lieu of curling up on the couch in our family room. :)