If you are at all like me, you have already upgraded the storage on your iPhone twice because you have taken so many pictures of your kitty and pup and you can't bring yourself to blow away even an out-of-focus, not-enough-light blur if you can make out a sweet, furry face in it. It is a disease of all pet owners and a plague for pet professionals.
Let's face it, the digital age allows us to have an amazing quantity of pictures. It doesn't speak at all to quality but we are all having such a good time with so many pictures that it doesn't matter. Until it does.
Thursday evening, James Morrissey of Wild Coyote Studio worked with a group of us, one on one, to highlight ways we can acheive quality as well. James has been the official portrait photographer of the Westminster Dog Show for the past four years. Listening, watching and seeing his results, we understood why.
The first ingredient for producing a spectacular photo of your pup is patience. Relax, and your pet will relax - eventually. If you become tense and start giving commands in words unfamiliar to pup you will confuse him, he will be overstimulated and any chance of communication will be lost. We didn't have any pussy cats in our workshop but we can only imagine.....
The next rule James shared is to never use treats as bait. This goes under the heading of "avoid over stimulting". Plus, in many dogs a treat induces drool, not something you really want in a formal portrait. A favorite toy, a tennis ball, a duck call, these all can produce an alert - and dry - look.
James' favorite lure is the pet's owner, a technique he used on subjects at the workshop. He had someone hold the leash and stand out of camera range. He had the owner stand by his side, urging the pup and in each case, pup responded on cue and the results were beautiful.
James spoke how he worked to get the personality of each dog into his portrait. For most dogs he stands at eye level with the dog. But for a very little furry one, he might stand on a ladder and shoot down, emphasizing how small they are.
Large dogs are the opposite. For a mastiff or a mountain dog, James comes in close so they fill the frame with their mass.
Ears up? Ears down? It depends on the breed. Sitting? Lying? Standing? Again, the breed and the pup's personality dictate the best pose.
James shared that the owners who were shooting their own pups through the workshop had a big advantage over him. They know their pup's personality and they were a familiar and comfortable entity whom pup wouldn't feel compelled to meet, sniff and try to engage.
Some attendees brought their smart phones to use, others brought their SLRs. James feels you can get fabulous photos with either, the main advantages of an SLR is speed of response when you press the button and ability to adjust depth of field and zoom. He joked that camera-phones will eventually put him our of business.
Owners shot their dogs and then James posed each pup for a quick, formal photo shoot. He spoke of shooting into the light, how the best light is just after sunrise and just before sunset for its softness and absence of shadowing and selecting background. He explained and then he shot.
Surprisingly - or maybe not suprisingly at all - James only took two, at the most three, pictures of each pup. He reviewed each group of shots with the owner to be sure they saw something which pleased.
Once the images were in James' camera, the group went inside where he loaded the newly taken images into his laptop and projected them on a waiting screen. He referred to these as "raw" and went through each one showing how he would do touch ups - always removing the leash, cleaning up spots of dirt, darkening to compensate for use of flash, and removing reflections.
The seminar ended at 9:00 pm and by 1:00 am James had sent us the finished images.
James makes house calls. He feels his best work is in the environment where pup or kitty is the most comfortable. If you would like to contact him, his email is James@MorrisseyPhotography.com and phone is 212-544-9655.
The next seminar in the Brooklyn Bark/FIDO series: Your Dog is Smart, Now it's Your Turn will be on June 13th, featuring three of Brooklyn's top dog trainers discussing Fear & Agression in dogs. At that seminar, Brooklyn Bark will officially be presented with the Platinum Paw, which was awarded to BBark for producing this series with FIDO dog owner advocacy group.