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  • Writer's pictureGareth Partington

How difficult can it be too photograph a puppy?

This was the question I was asking myself during the photoshoot I did with my six month old Welsh Collie puppy. How hard can it be too photograph a puppy? Very hard it turned out!

Puppies do not play ball when there is a multitude of new things going on, paper background, studio lights, cameras and flashing lights. It was stimulation over load and Harvey was having a great time, but would he sit and listen to me? Nope, but this was to be expected.

Relax and don't put pressure on yourself

So when it came to this photoshoot I really wanted to try and capture some great images of Harvey. I had put quite a lot of pressure on myself as with Lockdown in full force and having just let my job, I thought perhaps dog photography would be an avenue I could explore. If I was going to do this though I thought I needed a unique approach and a way I could stand out from the crowd.

My original idea was to try and do some dramatic photos out on location with studio lights. So I jumped in the car and drove to Cannock Chase.

I trekked down to the woods and set myself with a single studio light with the idea of creating some dramatic light on Harvey. This did not go to plan at all! Harvey got so excited about the new experience he ran around like a loon, barking, jumping, attacking, digging. I managed to get a few photos but 90% of the images were out of focus, badly framed or he had knocked the camera out of my hand.

This final photo really does show off his personality, a happy go lucky dog, full of life and beans, but I failed to capture the dramatic light I was hoping to create.

Let's try again

In a previous blog post I talked about the importance of failing and how it is the best way to learn. So from my on location experiment I learnt the best way to do the photos was to set up and wait for Harvey to walk into the spot I had focused on. Trying to get him to perform for the camera was pointless, he was having too much fun and I didn't want to chastise him for doing so. So when I next head out into the woods to try this, that's exactly what I will try and do.

For the second attempt I decided to set up a studio in the lounge and see if I could capture some studio portraits of the puppy. I was thinking of doing some dramatic lighting here but the more I researched about dog photography, it turned out there was a very specific way to photograph a dog in the studio and I thought I'd give it ago.

It involves a three light set up. One light to act as a separation light to help highlight the fur, one light to act as the main source and a second to fill in the shadows. It's similar to a beauty set up but instead of wanting to remove details in skin, I wanted to capture all the detail in Harveys face and fur.

Photographing a dog in the studio

From my previous attempt at photographing Harvey with studio lights at Christmas, I learnt he would be very excited and inquisitive of all the equipment. So my plan was to have everything set up and then let him explore before I tried to photograph him.

As soon as he was let free into the lounge he went a bit mental, exploring everything, biting at the light stands, running around and generally just been a puppy. After a while I tried to photograph him but he would not sit still, look at the camera or listen to me. He's bucket had defiantly overflowed and it was proving to be quite testing, as I didn't want the equipment to get damaged.

The lure of sausage

So how do you get the attention of a puppy who is having the best time? The only thing that would hold his attention for a few seconds was small bits of sausage from the local butcher. I would have to hold the sausage just out in front him whilst in the other hand, using a remote release to fire the camera and just hope he was in focus. There were so many of the photos which were blurry and Harvey loved to lie down at just the moment the camera fired.

They say to never work with animals or children and I can see why. I had learnt a new respect of dog photographers out there but it was so much fun. I resorted to just firing away and hoping when it came to the edit something would be in focus. I knew the lighting was looking good so I just played around and spent some time with my dog. It was when I relaxed and took the pressure off myself I started to have fun.

The final photos

Look how beautiful he looks in this shot!

Due to his white fur it did prove very difficult to get the exposure of the lights to be correct.

You can see how white his fur is as he reflects the blue of his bed in his face as he lied down. This was the most relaxed he was during the whole shoot and it only lasted a few moments.

It is amazing how well behaved he is for a six month old puppy. It has taken months of hard work to get him to this stage but I think it's starting to pay off now.

When I got the photos onto the computer I was amazed at how well I did, look at the detail in his eyes, the highlighted fur and the range of poses he actually went into.

A black and white edit

I wanted to see how the photos would look in black and white so I decided to have a go at converting one image into monochrome. I think it works well but because Harvey has such beautiful colouring I feel the colour images are the most successful.

At times it was very frustrating trying to photograph Harvey especially when I had a vision in my head I couldn't bring to life, but as soon I stopped putting pressure on myself I started to have fun. I was really pleased with the final studio images and it's definitely something I am going to explore more of with other dogs in the future.

Have you ever tried to photograph your dog and how did you find the experience? If you have any tips on how I could improve I'd love to hear them in the comments, messages or where ever you'd like to contact me.

I shall end this post with a few images of Harvey and me as I tired to figure out the lighting. He is such a good boy.

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