Jodie’s Mentoring Session with Shay the Border Collie
Aspiring pet photographers book mentoring sessions with me for a range of reasons. Sometimes, they might need a bit of practice working with a dog that is not their own. Sometimes they might want to concentrate on how to get sharp action shots. Sometimes they aren’t quite sure what they want to concentrate on, they just want to improve in every aspect!
When I checked out Jodie’s work I was pretty impressed and was curious to know what she felt she could learn from me. Her work appeared to be sharp, well exposed, creative and nicely edited. In the questionnaire I send my mentoring students, Jodie indicated that the main things she wanted to concentrate on were finding the best light – and confidence in making all the little decisions that go with running a session for a client.
So those are the things we focused on!
Our model for the afternoon was Shay – a stunning sable Border Collie owned by Jan – who also owned another favourite model of mine – Zephyr. Both gorgeous dogs and beautifully trained!
There’s nothing like having a win to increase your confidence when shooting, so we started off with some action shooting in the full afternoon sun. With lots of light, it’s easier for the camera to focus. Being able to use a nice fast shutter speed helps too – the above was shot at 1/8000 sec. Jodie shoots with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III body which has some excellent focusing and tracking abilities, but even still, Shay was SUPER fast and actually quite challenging! Especially when we had her leaping and jumping around after her ball.
Backlit action is always a challenge so we gave ourselves the best chance of success by running Shay through an open area with no trees overhead which helped maximise the available light. Most of her “track” was actually in full shade, except for a stripe of sunshine running through about halfway. We practiced tracking the whole run, but shooting only when she passed through the sunshine, to get some gorgeous backlit action shots like this.
As energizer-bunny-like as she appeared to be, it was eventually time to give Shay a rest from all the running around. We found a spot in the gardens for her to sit with her back towards the sunshine and lots of ambient light to illuminate the shaded side of her (her front). Using a long lens (200mm) cut through the clutter of the gardens and isolated her against a small, pretty slice of background. I often use a long focal length to cut through clutter in a busy location.
We also played around with creating interest through various layers introduced in the foreground, middle ground and background. One thing I don’t like about shooting at New Farm Park are the ugly concrete garden edges – so by shooting over a bush in the foreground, it takes the attention away from that by concealing the garden edges.
If you’ve read my book Dog Shots, you’ll know a staple shot type of mine is the “puppy dog eyes” shot. Looking down on the dog facing upwards towards you, with an alert, engaged expression, this shot is great for pet rescue profiles as it plays on the emotions of the viewer. It’s also an appealing shot for dog owners, as this is the little face they see looking up at them every day and most owners strongly identify with it.
This kind of shot can be done in open shade, but I like to add a bit of interest by introducing some gentle backlighting.We talked about the best spot to place Shay so that the light fell on the back of her.
It’s also important not to shoot at too high of an angle, as if the sun is not very low in the sky, some direct sunshine may bleed over the top of their head and land on their nose.
Next, we headed to some shade under the big fig trees. Angle was really important here too, as if we shot from above – there would be very little of interest in the shot other than the bench and the ground. If we shot straight-on – the background would be almost totally blown out as it was much brighter.
To create interest, we instead shot from a very low angle, up towards the branches of the tree. The sunshine falling on the leaves created pinpoints of light, which turns to beautiful sparkly bokeh when using a shallow depth of field. The below image was shot with my Canon 35mm f1.4L lens at f2.
On our way to the buildings and the textures and possibilities that awaited us there, we walked past this building (actually, the toilet block!) that had some colourful graffiti, including Homer Simpson! I couldn’t resist making the call to put Shay in front of the building in some open shade for a few shots.
The Powerhouse is probably one of the most photographed buildings in Brisbane – and for good reason! The original structure dates from the 1920’s and when it was restored in the 90’s after lying derelict for many years, they thankfully retained some of the building features, including this rustic brickwork.
The wall faces west so receives the full force of the sun in the afternoon. We’d made the decision not to shoot here earlier as it was a bit hot, but came back to it later when the sun was further down and the area had cooled down a little.
Knowing your location is a really good way of building confidence when shooting. Having to scout and improvise immediately at a previously unknown location puts the pressure on, and when you have so many other things to think about, it can be overwhelming making decisions about which spots to use.
I created a Location Guide that I send to clients when they book, which includes a bunch of different location options to choose from. Clients also have the option to have the session at their home if it’s suitable, or they can suggest a location not in the guide, but I always make sure I go and scout before the day of the shoot so I know what I will have to work with.
Shooting at regular spots can mean you fall into the trap of taking the same type of shots for each client, but I like to try and challenge myself to mix it up a little and find new little spots or new ways of using existing spots, at every shoot.
Something I like about this particular spot is that it’s possible to use it differently, depending on your choice of focal length and angle. There are so many possibilities!
Shooting with a long focal length straight-on brings the wall visually closer and allows you to isolate your subject against a small slice of background. This image was shot at 200mm.
Switching to a wider lens (35mm) and from a lower angle creates a completely different look.
Part of the shooting and editing mentoring package I offer is the homework image review, where I ask the student to send through 5 of their best shots from the day for critique. When Jodie sent through her images, I was blown away! She is certainly a quiet achiever. Apart from a suggestion about white balance for one of the images, I had nothing to contribute – in fact – one of the images I would be more than happy to have in my own portfolio!
As a little extra for this blog post, I asked Jodie to send through her images for me to post. If you want to see more of Jodie’s work, you can follow her Facebook page.
Dive in and get your paws dirty!
If you're keen to learn everything you can about pet photography, you should probably be on my mailing list. New FREE content is published weekly!