Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Favorite Resources

Next week starts my graduate studies in earnest, so this will likely be my last post to this particular blog. Although I never say never, as you never know 😉 As noted in previous posts, I will keep the The Art of Schutzhund Photography blog live for those who are looking for inspiration and ideas on photographing IPO (Schutzhund) dogs are work. I have truly enjoyed posting and sharing my journey with you. I also appreciate your support and visits. Thank you!

In wrapping up my posts, below is a list of my favorite resources that have helped and inspired me these past years. I encourage you to visit these sites. Some are free; some not. Some investments are very reasonable, while others are a bit more expensive. But like most things, an investment of time and money is needed to make significant progress. I hope there is enough variety in this list for you to find something of value.

Note: I left the URLs where you can see them, rather than as links, to avoid broken links and what not.  If a URL is not included, I tried to indicate a possible source.

Books (Hard Copy and E-Books)

Blair. L. Photographing Dogs: Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers. 2013. Amherst Media, Inc. Available from Amazon.

Digital Photography School. Publisher of e-books, tips and tutorials. Excellent resource. www.digital-photography-school.com

Hisch R. 2012. Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age. Focal Press. Available from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Light-Lens-Photography-Digital-Age/dp/024081827X/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

Kanashkevich M. Natural Light: Mastering A Photographer’s Most Powerfule Tool (e-book). Digital Photography School. http://digital-photography-school.com/book/naturallight/

Laird, S. Artistic Elements (e-books). Using textures and layers to create digital photographic artwork. Stunning! http://www.stephanielaird.com/psd.html

Patel J. What the Heck is a HISTOGRAM. (e-book) Jay Patel Photography. All of Jay Patel’s e-books covering a wide array of photography topics may be found at http://visualwilderness.com/learn

Peterson B. Understanding Exposure. Revised Edition. 2004. Amphoto Books.

Peterson B. Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography. Revised Edition. 2003. Amphoto Books.

Peterson. B. Understanding Shutter Speed. 2008. Amphoto Books.

Peterson B. Understanding Photography Field Guide. 2010. Amphoto Books.

All of Bryan Peterson’s books are available on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_11?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=brian+peterson+photography+books&sprefix=Brian+Peter%2Caps%2C209

Pflughoet, J. Beautiful Beasties: A Creative Guide for Modern Pet Photography. 2012. John Wiley & Sons. Available from Amazon.

Articles of Note / Websites / Blogs

Action Photography. Photographic Magazine. August 2003. Reprinted with permission on Steephill.tv Bike Travelouge. http://www.steephill.tv/photography/action-photography-tips.html

Bigman, A. PPI vs. DPI: What’s the Difference? 99Designs Blog. February 26, 3013. http://99designs.com/designer-blog/2013/02/26/ppi-vs-dpi-whats-the-difference/

Copyright Guidelines. Reprinted with permission by the Photo Marketing Association International. http://www.kodak.com/cluster/global/en/consumer/doingMore/copyright.shtml

Creamer, D. Understanding Resolution and the Meaning of DPI, PPI, SPI & LPI. Ideas Training.com. 2012. http://www.ideastraining.com/PDFs/UnderstandingResolution.pdf

Johnston. M. Bokeh in Pictures. The Luminous Landscape. April 4, 2004. http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/sm-04-04-04.shtml

Sloma K. Exploring with a Camera: Printed Aspect Ratios. Kat-Eye Studio blog post. November 18, 2011. http://kateyestudio.com/2011/11/exploring-with-a-camera-printed-aspect-ratios.html

Organizations / Tutorials

KelbyOne (previous National Association of Photoshop Professionals). A website full of amazing tutorials for Photoshop, Lightroom and Creative Cloud, plus a subscription to Photoshop User magazine. www.kelbyone.com

Professional Photographers of America. Atlanta, GA. www.ppa.com. Excellent organization with many resources for emerging professionals and long time professionals as well. Dues are stiff, but worth it.

Caponigro, JP. John Paul Caponigro Illuminating Creativity. His website includes online tutorials, DVDs, ebooks and printed books. www.johnpaulcaponigro.com

Cheat Sheets, Online Tools

CameraSim. Simulates camera settings; great way to play with lighting, distance, focal length, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. http://camerasim.com/apps/camera-simulator/

Color Temperature. Useful chart. http://www.3drender.com/glossary/colortemp.jpg

Cost of Doing Business Calculator. National Press Photographers Association. https://nppa.org/calculator

DOF Master. Depth of Field Calculator. http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

The Photo Argus. Cheat sheets for portrait lighting, photography, photo tips, light fall off, reflectors, plus more. This site also features tutorials and other resources. http://www.thephotoargus.com/resources/helpful-photography-cheat-sheets-to-make-you-life-easier/

PhotoBert CheatSheets and Accessories. http://www.photocheatsheets.com

Photopoly. Another great resource. http://www.photopoly.net/22-useful-photography-and-photo-editing-cheat-sheets/

Ultimate Exposure Calcultor. Fred Parker Photography. http://www.fredparker.com/ultexp1.htm

Web Design Ledger. 13 Super Useful Photography Cheat Sheets. http://webdesignledger.com/resources/13-super-useful-photography-cheat-sheets

Until next time…Happy Shooting – and again thank you for visiting!


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As discussed in parts one and two of this series, histograms are very useful for assessing dynamic range, contrast and exposure while in the field and using what histograms show to adjust camera settings. Histograms also are useful after the shot in making adjustments on your computer, referred to as post processing. As noted, this series of posts shares some excellent material from Varina and Jay Patel’s ebook, entitled “What the heck is a HISTOGRAM?”  For a more detailed discussion on how to use histograms in post processing, check out their ebook. It’s excellent!

All Schutzhund photographers struggle to conquer the ever-present challenge of properly exposing for the background and the dog. Often, these are conflicting goals, as by themselves the dog and the background more often than not require completely different settings to achieve proper exposure. And, unlike landscape and portrait photography, our subjects don’t sit still, so using HDR and bracketing techniques is not an option. Shooting in RAW, while preferable, also is not practical when shooting in burst mode, at least not in my experience.

Consider this image and its histogram:

Histograms Orig 1

Histograms Org RGB 1

The background and the dog appear to be similarly exposed; that is, the dog is not significantly darker or lighter than the background and the quality of the detail and color are compatible. The level of detail also is apparent in the histogram as the bars are tall. Yet the image is a bit dark, except for the bleachers, which are bright white. This is indicated in the histogram as the spike up against the right (highlights) wall. Most of the other pixels trend towards the left (shadows) side of the histogram.

In post-processing, histograms are helpful in adjusting contrast to bring out the color and details as well as overall dynamic range to brighten highlights and deepen shadows. In this image, the shadows are already pretty deep.

Within photo editing programs, such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop (the two I use), photographers make these adjustments using curves or levels tools. First step is to adjust the dynamic range by moving the white point at the top of the curve or the far right in levels and the black point at the bottom of the curve or the far left in levels “so that they line up with the outer edges of the histogram. Jay and Varina caution to be sure to watch the histogram to “avoid lost detail in the highlights or shadows. But don’t ignore the image itelf. Extreme adjustments can add unwanted noise, artifacts and banding.”

The next step is to adjust the mid-tones. In curves, adding a “simple s-curve adds mid-tone contrast without eliminating details in the shadows and highlights…Pulling the right half of the curve upward stretches the right side of the histogram outward – effectively adding contrast to the brighter tones, with out moving the white point.” Pulling the curve in the opposite direction or downward opens up the left side of the histogram “adding contrast in the darker tones without moving the black point.” In the levels tool. these same effects may be achieved by moving the middle arrow.

Which tool you use is personal preference. I prefer the levels adjustment tool, but many other photographers like the curves adjustment tool.

These adjustments can be seen both in the image and the histogram below. Notice that the bleachers have been removed and the image cropped to bring greater emphasis on the dog. The histogram shifted more towards the middle and the spike next to the right (highlights) wall is significantly reduced. There is also more detail in the highlights area that was missing in the original photo.
Histograms Adjust 1
Histograms Adjust RGB 1
When confronted with a background that is brighter than the dog or a dog that is significantly darker than the background, the best bet is to isolate each area and adjust each one separately. Consider the image below with its histogram. Both the background and the dog are very dark, yet I know from experience that if I adjust both together, the brighter areas of the dog and dumbbell will end up looking really weird, with some blown out highlights. The histogram bears out how dark the image is, yet there is a lot of detail.
Histograms Orig 2
Histograms Orig RGB 2
First step is to isolate the dog and adjust to bring the shadow area of the histogram towards the mid-tones, which will brighten up the darker areas of the dog. When I selected the dog, I did not select the dumbbell or the dogs legs and feet. They are more closely aligned with the background, so I elected to adjust them with the background. Once satisfied, inverse the selection and then adjust the background. I also used the burn tool, set on mid-tones at about 20 to 30 percent opacity, in Photoshop to fine tune the dumbbell and the tan fur on the dog’s legs. Below are the results, with the histogram at the top right:
Histograms Adjusted Image 2
The image is brighter, the dog’s face shows more detail, and the one really bright area along the dogs back leg is toned down. The dog and background look in balance. I could have brightened up the image even more, but it was taken early in the morning, so I wanted to be sure to retain the warmth of the light at that time of day. Notice how the histogram in the upper right is broader and extends into the mid-tones area, while still retaining the nice bell curve shape.

This series is just an introduction to histograms and how you can use them to enhance your photography. I encourage you to read Jay and Varina’s ebook, as well as view tutorials on the curves and levels tools. As always, thanks for visiting and Happy Shooting!

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Note: I have been trying to write this post for three weeks! Seriously! While it is my intention to post at least biweekly, these past few months have been very challenging. Here’s hoping the rest of 2013 is calmer, which will translate into more regular postings. Happy Shooting – and thanks for your patience!

A very cool feature on DSLR cameras is the histogram, yet many photographers do not take advantage of this tool while shooting or in post processing. Histograms can be very helpful to Schutzhund photographers as we often shoot fast moving dogs in varying and adverse lighting conditions. Histograms really are not as mysterious as they seem. The goal of this series of three posts is to demystify histograms and to offer tips and ideas on how to use them to improve your photography.

In researching this series of posts, I came across an excellent e-book by Varina and Jay Patel, entitled “What the heck is a HISTOGRAM?” I recommend it, and I am grateful to Varina and Jay for giving me permission to share some of their material.

Defining Histograms

Simply stated, histograms “provide a simple, and highly effective map of your image, based upon tonal values…the distribution of light and dark in an image – from the darkest black on the left to the brightest white on the right.”

An 8-bit histogram is comprised of 256 bars, each representing a tonal value. From left to right, 0 on the far left show true black, while 255 on the far right shows true white. The left third of the histogram represents shadows and the right third represents highlights. The middle area, which overlaps both the shadows and highlights areas, represents the mid-tones. The height of each bar indicates number of pixels in the image for that particular tonal value. A 16-bit histogram represents the same information, but the tonal values shown (number of bars) range from 0 to 65,535.

Below is an example:

Histograms Image 2

Histograms Image 2 RGB

This histogram shows the bars “spread out over the entire range of tones…The tallest bars are near the center of the histogram.” The bell-shape curve illustrates “an image with lots of brighter-mid-tone values,” although there is a small spike on the far right.

Many photographers drive themselves barking mad as they think that all the histograms for all their images must show a bell-shaped curve to be correct. This is a misnomer as there is no one correct histogram shape.  Consider the two images below:

Histograms Image 4

Histograms Image 4 RGB

The histogram for this image is more heavily weighted to the darker tones and shows higher spikes toward the 0 value or true black. It flattens out across the shadows section of the histogram and then shows more of a bell-shaped curve in the mid-tones, before gently dropping off to essentially no bars towards the 255 value or true white. This is not surprising given that the dog is black and there are a lot of shadows in the background. The tall spikes on the left side, especially near the left wall of the histogram, are indicative of the loss of detail in the ears, under the dog’s chin and along its belly.

Histograms Image 5

Histograms Image 5 RGB

In the image above, you can see there is no detail in the bright sun or the silhouetted tree line. This is shown in the histogram by the spikes along the left (shadows / blacks) and the right (highlights / white) walls. The mid-tonal area in-between is the sky. As you can see, both images look fine, but neither has a histogram with a classic bell-shaped curve.

A quick note about the terms “clipping” and “blown-out highlights.” In the image above, the dark tones and the tones in the center of sun have been clipped; that is there is no detail. “Blown-out highlights” is another term that essentially means the same thing; detail has been lost. Blowing out highlights most often occurs when an image is over exposed. These are just very general definitions. A future post, after this series on histograms, will look at these terms in more detail.

Types of Histograms

The most commonly used is the RGB histogram, which is a “composite that combines the tonal values for each color channel (red, green and blue) into a single graph.” Recall that digital images are “made up of pixels, and each pixel contains color information for red, green and blue. Every color you see in your image is actually made up on a combination of those three colors in varying amounts.”  Each channel has its own histogram, which are merged to create the RGB histogram.

Color histograms show all three channels individually and appear on a single graph. “Colors other that red, green and blue…indicate areas where the graphs overlap…[and] make it easier for us to read the histogram and compare channels.” Photographers use color histograms to see “how the color intensity is distributed throughout the image.” It also is useful for “determining which individual channel is clipped…[and] exactly where the detail is lost.”

Luminosity histograms “take into account the fact that the human eye is more sensitive to green light and less sensitive to red or blue light…It shows a perceived brightness.” It does this by showing “average values adjusted for human perception of light.” For a more in-depth discussion of the types of histograms, see Jay and Varina’s book.

The next post in this series will discuss how to interpret RGB histograms, as again these are the most commonly used, and based on what the histogram is telling you what you can do in the field to adjust exposures to avoid clipping or blown out highlights. This series of posts will conclude with some tips on how to adjust your images in post-processing using the histogram as your guide. Until then, Happy Shooting!

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While at Photoshop World 2012: Washington, DC, I had the privilege of attending a seminar offered by Jay Maisel, who is well-known for his ability to capture light, color and gesture in every day life. His talk spanned his 40-plus year career as he showed us many of his most famous images as well as family and travel photos.

Jay started his career in photography in 1954, decades before digital photography! Remarkably, he does not edit his images in any digital editing program nor does he use artificial light.  What you see is how they were taken! He did admit that in recent years he has taken to cropping images every now and then, but mostly he leaves them alone and publishes only the ones he likes.

Also of note, he carries his camera with him all the time. He uses one camera body and one lens. He also leaves his lens cap off, so he’s ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Check out his website – Jay Maisel Photography – to see samples of his work. I think you’ll agree he is a master of his craft!

As with most truly profound insights, his advice was simple.

Light: Be aware of the air and atmosphere, as it can set the mood of the entire image. Light mostly comes forward in photographs. Viewers will follow the light, so use the light to guide the eye to the focal point of the image.

Color: Do not be too quick to color-correct your images, as the color can be part of the story. When the sun goes under a cloud, color comes out. This makes sense, as the sun, especially in midday, can wash out a scene pretty quick or turn dark or black dogs into blobs.

Gesture: This includes an expression, a hand or paw, anything that creates movement or captures the eye. Jay particularly likes to take candids and loves images where he gets found out; in other words, someone notices he’s taking their pictures and gives him an interesting look. Consider the trigger of why taking a image now rather than 10 seconds later would make a difference. In other words, go for the unique moment. That’s easy enough to do in Schutzhund, as almost every moment with a dog is unique.

General: Fill the frame with your subject. Too much extra space equates to wall paper; in other words, empty, un-interesting space that detracts and diminishes the image. On the other hand, scale varies the impact. Consider whether your subject is better shown larger or smaller within the context of the composition. Be careful not to create empty space, as noted. Look at the background, foreground, edges and corners. Jay really likes architecture, so he looks for patterns and other focal points to guide the viewer’s eye.

Consider the images in the following slide show in the context of Jay’s comments. Each of these images was chosen to accentuate the concepts of using light, color and gesture to create more interesting and dramatic images. Look at the light; the dog, handler or helper’s faces and other gestures; and how the subjects are framed. After listening to Jay’s comments, he has inspired me to look more carefully at a scene, to always be aware of these elements and to use my camera to tell a story rather than to take a snapshot. Let me know what you think!


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Photojournalist Robert Capa (1913 – 1954) once said,

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

I have been thinking about this statement since I read it in Robert Hirsch’s Light and Lens: Photography for the Digital Age (strongly recommended resource). There is great wisdom in this one statement. Consider, which photos looks better, Picture 1 or Picture 2 below?  Which shows the most drama and captivates your eye?  The tendency is to try to capture all the action and/or the entire Schutzhund field, thus providing too much information and no focal point for the photograph. When composing pictures, think about what it is you want to show – not just the action but the mood, the drama, the overall emotional impression. What are you trying to say to the viewer or would like the viewer to take away from your photo? What I hope these questions will elicit is a shift in focus (pun intended) and for you to consider looking beyond your photographs as just great action shots, but approaching your Schutzhund photography as creating art.

Picture 1 - Dog Playing Ball Far Away

Picture 2 - Dog Playing Ball Up Close

Speaking of creating art, there is a new trend in Schutzhund photography of using selective coloring. I really like this technique, as it is a very effective method to de-emphasize the background and dramatically emphasize the key subjects (action) in the photo. Creating selective colored images is not hard. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, here is a quick tutorial. If you are not familiar with Photoshop and need more detail, please message me with your e-mail address, and I’ll send you an expanded tutorial with everything you need to know.

Open the photo in Photoshop.

  1. Make any necessary adjustments to the image.
  2. Create a Hue – Saturation Adjustment Layer on top of the image layer.
  3. Slide the Saturation slider all the way to the left to create a black and white photo.
  4. Using the magic selection brush / wand, select the area you wish to color.
  5. Using the eraser tool (and make sure the brush color is white and the brush saturation is 100 percent), brush the selected area to bring back the color from the layer below. What you are doing is erasing the Hue / Saturation layer mask. By selecting the area first, you can brush freely over the area without concern that you’ll erase more than you wish to.
  6. De-select the selection. You can clean up any missed areas (such as areas that didn’t get selected) by making the eraser brush smaller. If you make a mistake, change the brush color to black, which will add the Hue / Saturday layer mask back in.

A cautionary note: As this technique is easy and fun to do, it is tempting to use it frequently. Be careful not to overdo, less your photos begin to look all the same. This is definitely a technique where less is more. Also, this technique works well with photos where the selected color area is strongly contrasted with the background; that is, selectively coloring a black or dark sable dog on a dark background may not be as effective as selectively coloring a tan or lighter sable dog. Selectively coloring shadowed areas also may not work as well for the same reason. Of course, the opposite is true. If you have a very light background, selectively coloring a black or dark sable dog may work just fine.

The following two pictures are examples of this technique, as well as the power of getting close yielding good photos.

In the image above, I really like the spectators watching the training. Schutzhund cannot be learned entirely from books and videos; it is very much an oral tradition. So watching the training is as important as actually doing the training. This photo depicts this, but I didn’t want the viewer’s eye to be drawn too much to the crowd, less it take away from the dog and helper engaged in the moment right before the re-attack. Also, notice that the crowd is in the upper left of the photo. This is the first place most western viewers will look, as we read left to right. The spectators’ eyes take the viewer to the dog and helper, and the dog’s eyes lead the viewer to the point of the whole exercise to get to the sleeve (at least from the dog’s point of view).

I tried mightily to remove the truck and post from the photo above, but I couldn’t get it to look just right, so I decided to leave it in. By selectively coloring the dog, I was able to de-emphasize the undesirable elements in the background and bring the viewers’ focus (yes, another focus pun) to the dog. I also wanted to emphasize this dog’s gorgeous coloring and eyes. Another option would be to move the dog to another background.

Let me know if you have any questions and if the tips in this posting help you. As always, thank you for visiting!

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Master Photographer Peter Lik takes his best pictures just after sunrise and just before sunset when the suns rays are barely visible and the lighting is very soft and full of color. He also bemoans shooting midday as the light is harsh, colors wash out and it is difficult to capture detail. While Peter will get no argument from me about shooting in the midday sun, we Schutzhund photographers do not often have the luxury of photographing our subjects in ideal lighting conditions or standing still.

A challenging scenario is bright midday sun and dark sable or black dogs, especially at trials. It is enough to make even the most stable photographer go barking mad! The following offers some tips that I hope will be helpful and keep you from howling in frustration.

My thanks to Betty Lindblom of 5 Dogs Photography for her advice, which is reflected in this post. By the way, if you’re not familiar with Peter’s work, I recommend checking out his website or better yet stop in at one of his galleries to view some amazing landscape photography. We have visited a couple of them in our travels; truly inspiring.

Always be aware of the sun’s angle and the background.  More so than any other time of the year, your position relative to the sun and the background are critical considerations for getting great shots. The sun’s rays are stronger, vertical during midday hours, more intense in the summer and reflect off of everything! See the photos below. Notice how the detail of the dog is lost among the brightness of the wood background in the first photo and how the grass and sky serve as massive reflectors in the second photo to wash out the helper and the dog. In addition, the very bright sky throws off the camera’s ability to produce a balanced exposure. I often use a circle polarizer filter  or neutral density filters to minimize the glare and enhance colors. Also, try to shoot at a slight angle to the subject. Take a lot of photos and be patient. Between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, there really is not much you can do about the harsh lighting. Resign yourself to taking a lot of photos, with slightly different settings, and realize that more photos than not may turn out over exposed, with focus problems or the dog will be a black blob.

Focus in tight. The next photo shows how going for a tighter shot takes away the problems produced by the sky and large reflective backgrounds, such as grass, buildings or wood platforms, leaving a much better exposure with good detail, color and contrast. A little touch up with the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop was all that was needed to give this photo a little extra punch. The dodge tool allows for selective lightening, while the burn tool allows for selective darkening. Very useful for toning down bright spots or adding in some color depth, without having to do a lot of detailed selections and time-consuming layer adjustments.

More About Angles. Shadows produced by the blind itself are a major challenge especially during the summer months. The first photo below has many of the same problems already discussed, but by shooting from a position where the lighting is fairly even in the blind – more from the side – the shadows are minimized. With cropping and some adjustments with the dodge and burn tools, the second photo is much better. Another reason why I like the dodge and burn tools is overall adjustments do not work well when part of the image is very bright and part is very dark. To me, the results seem to mute the color and vibrance of the photo.

Contrasting handler’s clothes with the dog’s coat color. Many handlers think it’s cool to wear black slacks when training or showing their dog in trial. This is not necessarily the best costume for garnishing great photos, especially in the summer. Think about it! Dark or black dog against black pants, how is the camera to distinguish one from another? Encourage handlers to wear slacks that contrast with their dog’s coloring. Blue jeans and tan khakis work very well for dark sable or black dogs. See the photo below.

Portraits in the sun – well maybe not.  This time of year is ideal for taking portraits. Look for even lighting conditions, such as shade with maybe a little bit of sun coming through the trees for a dappling effect. Again, be aware of the sun’s angle and shoot at a slight angle to the dog with the sun over your shoulder. If you are shooting in bright light, again shoot at an angle. Try not to have the sun directly front light the dog as you may lose color and detail. Dogs, especially dark sable or black dogs, look great in green grass, but watch out for color reflections on their fur. If at all possible, take portrait shots early or late in the day. See below for several examples.

Do you have any tips you can offer? Share them here or let me know for a future post. Thank you for visiting!

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Guest blogger Dee Clark shares her tips and tricks for taking gorgeous holiday photos of Schutzhund dogs. In earlier posts, she also shared her experiences and insights about Schutzhund photography. See the “In Their Own Words” category to view those posts.  Thanks, Dee!

It’s that time of the year when those of us who are dog obsessed take time to humiliate our Schutzhund dogs in an effort to spread good cheer to family and friends. We bestow upon our faithful companions the obligatory Santa hat, reindeer antlers and elf costume, and hope we get one photograph that we can use on the family holiday card. After all, with the well-trained dogs we have, it is often easier to work with them than it is to get the whole family together for that shot that says Happy Holidays From All of Us!

So, how do you go about getting that perfect holiday photograph that makes friends and family go, “Awwww” without taking away all of your dog’s dignity? The following are the steps I follow and what I think about in setting up and taking what I hope will be the perfect holiday photograph:

First, decide if want a photograph with all of your dogs or just single one out.

Second, set the scene. The scene and the lighting are the hardest part of any holiday shoot. If you want to dress up that special dog in a holiday outfit, and you want to use the outside as a scene, natural light can be your hero or your nemesis. If you are dressing your dog in something red, morning light is better to make the red more vibrant. Should you choose green then afternoon light will cast the golden hues that will make the green pop out of the photograph. Royal blue works best in midday natural light, as it will actually tone the blue down somewhat. Pictures with Santa and his helpers are always nice; however, indoor light without the proper lighting equipment is very difficult, and the environment can be too hectic.

Third, set the environment. I do not even begin to bring the dog(s) into the scene until I have figured out exactly how I want the scene to appear. Evaluate the background. Is it a fence? woods? the house? snow? The background can make or break the shot, depending on the light or what props you use. If you are taking pictures outside, first take shots from several angles at a specific time of day. Mark each angle you shoot from on the ground so you know which angle gives you the desired affect. Then place the props into the scene and evaluate how the light and shadows will cast on the background.

If you want your holiday photograph to be inside with a Christmas tree, you still should play around with shooting the tree and surrounding area at different times of the day, different angles and with different lights. Sit on the floor and take shots from that level, and try different camera heights to get various effects. It may help to put some low-level watt lighting behind the tree to give it a glow.  If you want a plain background, it usually helps to stay away from white, as it can be too stark or become blue in hue. You will then have to use photo-editing software to change the background back to white.

Gold is one of the best backdrop colors to use, because it works well with the coat color of most dogs. A gold tablecloth or bed linen works great, as long as it is without wrinkles. Tack the sheet up on a wall, leaving enough to act as a stage on the floor. You can then decorate the backdrop in festive lights, stockings, saved Christmas cards or recent family photographs.

Fourth, consider how to dress your dog(s) for the shoot – but don’t dress them ahead of time. With holiday photos, often simple is best. If you want to dress your dog(s) in an elf costume, then consider a simple background. If you want to use your beautifully decorated tree as the background, then think about a simple bow on the dog(s). Are you planning to use a Santa hat or antlers? Duct tape is your friend. Fold over the duct tape and place it on the inside rim of the Santa hat, one piece on each side. This will help keep the hat in place and not slide when the dog moves its head. If Santa hat does not fit right or does not hold its form correctly, stuff the hat with some paper towels. That will help mold it into the set you want. Using antlers? Again, duct tape under the plastic band that goes on the dog’s head will help stabilize the antlers. Once you decide how to dress your dog(s), wait until you’ve placed them into the scene (see step six).

Fifth, mark where you want to place your dog(s) for the shoot and find an assistant. Consider whether you want the dog sitting, standing or lying down. If you are using multiple dogs, think about how large the shot will have to be and whether some should sit, down or stand. Setting your environment and the marking the places for the dog(s) before you bring them into the scene is less stressful for you and for them. This way, when you do bring them in, you can concentrate on getting that perfect shot.

It really helps to have a friend or family member who can handle the dog(s) while you take the picture. You may need a squeak toy, ball or treats to get that special expression from the dog(s), and your assistant can manage these accessories for you.

Sixth, putting it all together. Before you bring the dog(s) into the picture, have the camera positioned and ready to go. Place the dog(s) and then add the costume or props. A lot of really good yummy food treats will go a long way in getting your dog(s) to cooperate.

Take several shots, and ask your assistant to give the dog(s) treats after each shot. Remember to look at how the ears are set, and use reinforcements to get the ears up and in correct position. The squeaky toy comes in handy for this part of the shoot, as well as having your assistant hold the ball on a rope behind you to get the dog’s attention. If you want the dog(s) to be looking in a different direction than at the camera, have your assistant move to another location to draw the dog’s attention to h/her position.

Seventh, finish in a photo-editing program. Once you have the photo you want, use a photo- editing program to frame the picture and bring the colors up a notch.  See below for two sets of before and after pictures.

Before Polishing and Framing

After Polishing and Framing

Before Polishing and Framing

After Polishing and Framing

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